The Speech of a Lifetime

At the Monte-Carlo Television Festival, with fellow judges Tia Carrere and Jane Seymour.

      Just off the glistening sea and golden beaches of the luxurious principality of Monaco, near the French Riviera, is the setting for a glamorous television awards event, the prestigious Golden Nymph Awards. I jetted off to Monte-Carlo, where upon arriving I learned that I would be named the president of the news jury. That sounded thrilling until I found out it would require overcoming my biggest phobia. As president, I would need to present several of the documentary awards in front of a large audience including Prince Albert and much to my surprise, give speeches on live television.

     My heart pounded, and I could feel the sweat on my brow. The ceremony would take place in a week, but my palpable trepidation made me feel as if it were only moments away. Nobody had warned me that I might be speaking in front of a large crowd.

     I was not a trained public speaker. Would I be able to pull the speech off without looking like a fool? Would I get so panicky speaking that I would lose my breath, unable to overcome the nervous energy? Failure was not an option, however, so I immediately began to formulate a strategy. First, I logged into a popular online training app and started downloading courses on public speaking. My crash course in Oratory 101 involved practicing effective strategies and calming techniques a few hours each night in my hotel room.

     Similarly, I have learned that there is no management training for newsroom leaders. As a manager for a news network, I have had to learn by doing, acquiring leadership skills through hands-on experience, showing compassion to my direct reports, and developing business savvy so that our division is successful.

     That desire to improve brings me to the Communication and Leadership program at Gonzaga University. I want to add strong communication skills to my toolkit as well as the leadership abilities required to succeed further in my career. One of my goals in this program is to practice becoming a better, more confident public speaker, so the next time a similar opportunity comes my way, I am not scrambling to figure out the best approach to take.

     In Monaco, the festival organizers treated me like a rock star. Photographers snapped my glamour shots at a poolside photo shoot alongside actress Jane Seymour, film producer Jerry Bruckheimer, singer Tia Carrere, and other celebrities. My photo appeared in a magazine feature, and fellow journalists interviewed me about my career achievements. It was a truly surreal experience. Did the festival leaders think they were getting Anderson Cooper instead of Ryan Cooper? I wondered.

     After a week of screening movies and documentaries, I was moments away from taking center stage. Standing off to the side, I waited for the stage manager to tell me it was my turn. All the while, I kept silently repeating that I could do this. The power of positive thinking.

     Finally, it was time. I walked out on the platform and was cued to start speaking, so I began introducing the nominees. Things were going well. I was able to keep the butterflies flying in formation. But then something happened. The director realized he had forgotten to play a video showing the nominees, so he cut me off and rolled the montage. Afterward, I had to start over.

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Organizers featured me in their magazine.

It looked sloppy, and while it was not my fault, the experience was unnerving. After the speeches, my colleagues told me they thought I did a great job and remained calm and relaxed despite the technical snafus. Maybe it was not as bad as it felt.

     While I was glad to have it all behind me, the experience did teach me some valuable lessons: Preparation is the key to success; everyone gets stage fright. Anxiety over public speaking is normal. As Mark Twain once noted, “There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.”

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©2019 by Ryan Cooper
Los Angeles, CA
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