Public speaking turned my life around. But I never thought I would be a public speaker one day. When I was young, I dreamt of becoming a doctor, an architect, and an engineer. In high school, I thought of becoming a lawyer, then a priest. I never imagined that public speaking would turn my life around.
I did not pursue my dreams to be a doctor, an architect, an engineer, or a lawyer—those were dreams. And when I was growing in the slums, dreaming was like wishing. There was no way it would happen. I left the Catholic Seminary after two years.
I entered the seminary because I wanted to be a priest. Of course, it was also the easiest path to getting a degree. Five families sponsored my education.
Where’s the public speaking angle here?
I learned much about public speaking as a seminarian. Watching seminarians prepare for their speeches was like seeing athletes prepare for the Olympic games.
But my fascination started a year earlier. I became enchanted with public speaking when I was in my third year in high school.
It was an Easter Sunday mass.
“You only need to tell your story. The priest will give you 15 minutes to speak. You will be the third speaker.” The seminarian tapped me on my shoulder.
The seminarian disappeared. That was when I began to panic.
I felt I had nothing important to say.
I did not know what to say or how to speak. There was no way that 1000 students would listen to me. Students who did the first two readings have beautiful accents. They speak English well. And the two speakers who would talk before me were likely to be good speakers too.
The first two students spoke about how they overcame their trials in life. The first struggled with the death of her cat. The second got frustrated for not getting the #1 spot in his class. They were good speakers. They speak good English. They have beautiful, fair skin.
I was small and thin. I have dark skin, burnt by the unforgiving afternoon sun. I only had 2 pesos in my pocket, good enough for a tricycle ride when we get back to Antipolo. I don’t speak English. I could try harder, of course. But I was sure that my pronunciation and grammar would betray me.
All I had to offer was my miserable life.
When my name got called, I went to the stage.
I stood at the center, about three meters from the edge. A seminarian encouraged me to move forward. I stepped one, two, three, and four but very slowly.
I stared at the crowd. Teachers and students were waiting for me to speak. But I could not open my mouth. I did not know how to talk to them about my life.
” Hiram sa Diyos ang atin buhay. Kaya bagaman sa palagay mo na madilim ang buhay mo ngayon, gawin mo na ang mabuting maaring gawin mo ngayon”.
I paused. I barely heard my words. I had no idea what to say next. But I continued.
At first, it was challenging to find a word and complete a sentence. But I soon felt the momentum.
I felt my legs still shaking, my palms were sweating, and my heartbeats raced like trying to catch each other.
I told them about my life in the slums.
That every day, we worry about where to find the next meal. That “lugaw” and “asin” saved us from hunger so many times.
Then, I told them about my mother, who some months back got confined in a hospital. That I had to peddle goods in the morning, went to school in the afternoon, and commuted for two hours to take care of my mother in the hospital. My siblings could not do go there themselves because there were still very young.
I told them of one misery after another.
I told them how my teachers told my classmates that I was the best example of an “intelligent but lazy” student. It hurt because they had no idea how tired and sad I was working so we siblings could eat and help my mother stay alive, for there was no one who supported me. I was carrying a cross I did not ask, and people are mocking me for the crimes I did not commit.
I tried hard not to shed a tear. But my voice cracked.
I don’t remember how I ended my speech.
When I went down from the stage, I noticed that there were tears in everyone’s eyes.
After the mass, teachers and students approached me. They told me they got inspired by my message and that I had shown them real courage.
But the speech changed me.
I did realize that I did not need to speak in English to be heard. That it was okay to be small and thin and dark. That as long as I am sincere to myself and allow myself to be vulnerable, I can speak with courage and conviction. That it was okay to be me because my message is greater than my excuses.
Today, I speak not only to share my stories. Today, I use public speaking to encourage, educate, equip, and empower people. I have been to four Asian countries delivering speeches to leaders. I have spoken to hundreds of events all over the Philippines. That one Easter Sunday mass speech was my turning point.
Public speaking turned my life around.