“Just be yourself!” That piece advice has become cliche’ over the years.
However, I’d like to humbly give you an example of how being yourself and speaking from your heart can strike the right nerve in your audience and help you meet your goals. As opposed to being monotonous, present a story – sprinkle it with pertinent examples of experiences from your life.
First, here’s a link to one of my favourite Oscar acceptance speeches. Robert Benigni on stage after “Life is Beautiful” wins the “Best Foreign Film” award for year 1999 – he speaks from the heart when thanking the crowd and all those who made the movie possible.
It was the summer of 2015. I was sitting in the waiting room of Delhi University’s Faculty of Management Studies, waiting to be called in for my interview for admission in their Executive MBA program.
I suck at exams – am terrified of them! And when I was told that thousands had appeared for the entrance exam – I knew my chances were bleak, and I had already started preparing myself mentally for failure.
When I was finally called in; the professors asked me a few questions regarding the content of the essay I had written. I really can’t recall what the topic was – but think it was something related to taking a stance on “reservations based caste/religion in the Indian education system”. Whatever it was – I don’t think I did a pretty good job writing those few pages.
The questions then moved on to what I did for a living. I was a pre-sales engineer for Cisco. I tried to sell the interviewers on my accomplishments in my job role, and contributions I have made to the company – but I could sense that I hadn’t been able to impress these guys so far.
It was then, that one of the professors nonchalantly glanced at my application form and asked me about what I had written in the section titled – “What do you see as your accomplishments in life?”. Under that section, I had scribbled two sentences:
500 Kilogram leg press
Clocked a full marathon in 4 hrs 37 minutes.
The first professor’s exact question was – “What’s a leg press?”, to which I responded in responded in pain staking detail as to what the Leg Press is – how it’s great for the quadriceps and hamstrings and gluteus Maximus… and how, when I did the 500 KGs, there weren’t enough weight plates in the gym and we had to ask a 90 kilogram guy to sit on top of the machine.
“Do you think this accomplishment is pertinent to your application?” Asked the second professor.
In hindsight, I feel that I could have written about so many things about my career accomplishments – about how well I handled a team for project X, or how I worked up a product selling strategy for a customer Y. But that’s not what I had written on that paper, and now I had to defend what i had jotted down!
“I believe it is, ma’am.” I started out saying. I further went on by saying:
I’d like to believe that my accomplishments in the gym have made me a better person overall. Not only does a good workout make me feel rejuvenated – I find correlation between the effect of the time I spend working out, and how I spend the rest of my working day.
I also believe that the behaviour of muscle when it’s put under duress, is very similar to that of a man’s character. Neither muscle, nor one’s character, will grow unless they’re given something to push against.
Lifting weights was also a lesson in patience for me. The leg press, for example – It took many months for my leg muscles to get acclimatised to the point that I could lift that weight off the rack.
Workouts are also a lesson in tenacity; an application of the power of a human’s mind – that you can accomplish anything you can set your mind to! When each ounce of your body is telling you to give up… to let go… to not do that last rep… that the pain is not worth it… Your mind can take control and fight back to finish that set”.
The interview lasted a few more minutes – which I spent answering questions related to my educational background, after which the three luminaries politely thanked me for having participated. The interview lasted a litter over 20 minutes.
In the parking lot, I met a fellow candidate who introduced himself as an senior official in the ministry of Finance. He described his own interview stating that it lasted for close to an hour where he discussed current affairs, the economic quagmire the country is in, and his vision of how things can be fixed. Here I was ruminating about my speech on quads and hamstring muscle fibres.
The results got out a few weeks later – I had made the list of selected candidates for that year’s exec MBA program.
That day reinforced a life lesson for me – Irrespective of who I speak with, I strive to make my communication authentic and personal.
To this day, as the founder of Zindagi technologies – whenever I will present to either customers, or my team members, on any topic, technical or otherwise, I try and make it a passionate and inspiring experience for my audience – one that’s both educational and entertaining. I try and “be myself”.