This story is an excerpt from my book Vital Signs: Five Essential Skills Every Student Needs for Success in Education and in Life. Enjoy!
I remember my first time meeting Janai. The shy little girl was gripping her mother’s skirt, hiding behind her back as we chatted. She only peeked out to say a quick “Hi” when prompted. Then she was right back in her hiding spot.
When I first announced that I was starting a public speaking class, Janai’s parents signed her right up — to their daughter’s horror. I coached the timid girl for a year, watching her grow and grow and grow as she learned the foundational communication skills.
When we started team presentations, Janai was afraid to disagree because she didn’t want to upset anyone. But in the safe environments we facilitated, she learned to share her ideas winsomely, collaborating with others to come up with creative solutions. She gained ground as she grew in critical thinking to develop her ideas, letting her natural curiosity shine.
Soon Janai was winning awards at state and national speech competitions. When she was 16, I invited Janai to be my very first intern.
At the time of this writing, I’ve led 26 annual teams of young interns to learn and lead with my organization — and Janai was the trailblazer. She came with me to all my trainings, workshops, and convention presentations. Janai spoke alongside me on many platforms.
I’ll never forget that one conference… and the sherbet speech.
We had a gym full of homeschool and private school teachers who came to learn to teach their students to communicate better. Sweet young Janai stood in front of all 150 of them, giving an excellent presentation she had put together on her subject.
She used a metaphor of sherbet — you know, the delicious fruity frozen dessert? When she spoke, however, she made the all-too-common mistake of pronouncing it “sher-bert.”
During Janai’s presentation, a woman stood up in the middle of the gymnasium and called out: “Excuse me, but I’m a speech coach. You need to pronounce your words properly. It’s sherbet, not sherBERT. S-H-E-R-B-E-T.” The woman went on about how she and her husband argued over this word. She lectured Janai from the audience as the entire room sat in shocked silence.
Do you know what Janai did?
She stood still and listened attentively as the woman (quite literally) ranted about the pronunciation of sherbet. Then, when the self-proclaimed coach finished, Janai picked up a pen, calmly jotted something on her notes, and turned toward the woman and the audience. What she said next got everyone’s attention.
“I want to thank you, ma’am, for correcting me. As communicators, it’s important to pronounce our words correctly to get our ideas across.”
Then she smiled and continued her presentation.
Janai’s ability to give a presentation with such poise did not come just from being a competent speaker. Many of the best speakers are thrown by disruptions. She didn’t just have knowledge about her topic, or a mere sense of creativity. She was able to remain curious in front of 150 adult educators. Janai had spent years learning a collection of vital skills in safe environments that allowed her to not just participate, but to lead.
This is what I want for today’s students. I want them to have the confidence and competence to share their ideas and values with others. I want them to have the character to give those values credibility and so that they can traverse conflict with grace. I want them to be able to connect with others so they can influence the culture around them for the better.
This is the reason I’ve devoted my life to empowering the next generation to influence today’s culture. These are the students I want to train up.
Let’s train them together. Your student can develop these five vital skills to be ready for success in education and in life. Get started now by visiting the Institute for Cultural Communicators today. My team and I are here to go on the journey together with you.
Dr. Teresa Moon, founding President and CEO of the Institute for Cultural Communicators, is an internationally-recognized seminar speaker, education consultant, author, and leadership coach. Each year, she travels globally equipping students, teachers, and parents to become “cultural communicators,” transforming ordinary students into extraordinary communicators and authentic leaders.