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My Greatest Instrument

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Lindsey, an adult who uses public speaking in her career, reflects on the childhood experiences that prepared her for success.

My Greatest Instrument

Some people express themselves through beautiful art; others are masters of the page and speak silently through writing. I, on the other hand, express myself with the greatest instrument I have, my voice. I make my living by speaking to groups large and small. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than public speaking, and my interest in public speaking began when I was quite young.

At age eight I realized that I belonged in front of an audience. I started giving demonstrations and speeches in local county 4-H competitions until I was eligible to participate in state competitions. I won every state competition that I entered.

Soon other public speaking opportunities arose; I represented an artist named Ann Cross at the Art Walk in Keene and was an active participant on the debate team and the captain in eighth grade. During March of eighth grade, I had the best opportunity yet to practice my oratorical skills: I was selected, out of all the students entered in New Hampshire, to write and read a four-minute speech on national television. My job was to introduce Elizabeth Dole, who at the time was interested in running for president.

I was notified the day before the event and so had only one night to write and memorize my speech. When I arrived the next morning in Bedford, New Hampshire, I was greeted by photographers, camera crews, and newspaper reporters! Then I was escorted backstage to meet Elizabeth Dole. After speaking briefly with her and having her review my speech, we marched through a crowd of flashing bulbs to our places on the stage.

Soon it was time for my speech. I was introduced, and as I walked to the podium, I couldn’t help but smile at the audience. I had a feeling of complete exhilaration flowing through my veins. When I finished, I received a standing ovation, and Mrs. Dole surprised me by giving me a great hug and thanking me for my comments on the importance of education. But even after she finished speaking, the excitement was far from over.

I was with her for all her photographs, and I was interviewed for a few moments by WMUR and later by the Keene Sentinel. After the media finished with us, I met various supporters of Mrs. Dole’s. They were all happy to meet me and flooded me with questions and praise. I truly felt on top of the world.

After that, I participated in various competitions and events. My favorite by far was Young Chataqua, a wonderful summer program. In Chataqua I portrayed the life of Margaret Bourke-White, a pioneer photographer, in a 12-minute monologue that took a month to research, prepare, and memorize. It was an amazing experience. Although the other students and I were only expected to perform our monologues once, two other organizations asked me to speak.

After Chataqua, I participated in my first play, Everybody’s Crazy, and I organized a debate team at my high school. I continued my 4-H activities, did volunteer work, went to Chataqua each year, and participated in the American Legion’s Oratorical Contest.

Those powerful first experiences transformed my life and gave me a career that I love. As I look back on a life shaped by public speaking, I feel a great debt of gratitude to that eight-year-old girl who first got up in front of crowds at the county fair. She helped me become the person I am today.

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