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Take Five: Interpreting the Commencement Address my way

May 16, 2012|By Gene Pepper

The best commencement speech I never heard was Steve Jobs’ Stanford University speech given on June 7, 2005. I urge you to Google it and commit it forever to your brain.  In about eight minutes Jobs presented a practical, realistic, and candid address to the graduates, parents and faculty.

One portion of his speech was based on thoughts he had after being diagnosed with cancer. “Your time is limited,” he said, “so don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other peoples’ thinking… have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

Along with a vision of your dreams, there are some hard practicalities.  I am slightly removed from the college scene — my own Stanford days were long ago — but I do have a distillation to offer you what I have witnessed, experienced and sometimes failed at, in many years of living. I found that bringing problems down to their simple core, having the courage to charge ahead, and taking the first steps that are necessary toward what you want to do (instead of just thinking about all of it) helped. It means that you are becoming a meaningful specific instead of a wandering generality.

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Here are three unusual ideas that can truly help you in any context. I call them pearls of wisdom:

Pearl 1- Master the skill and art of public speaking.  Conquer your fear of standing on your feet in front of any kind of audience—two or 200 people.  Take all of the speech and oratory classes you can. Get comfortable thinking and speaking in front of people. Sometimes a speech instructor may require long speeches of 30 minutes.  Go with the flow.  You have no choice if you are in a classroom environment. But when you show up in the real world, speak no longer than 15 minutes.  Ten minutes is better.

Look at your audience. Do not keep your eyes plunked down on your speech and do not read your speech. It’s deadly. As you speak, scan the room, glancing around without staring specifically at anyone. “How can I do all of this,” you will say. “I’m too scared. In fact, I’m terrified.”  Since everyone else feels the same way you do, think how much you have to gain by conquering this fear. 

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