Speaking as Negotiating

Published on by Lisa Gates.

I believe my first public speaking engagement was in the elementary school auditorium in December of 1962, narrating the school Christmas pageant. When I spoke in public as a child (and later acted in La Mesa's "Little Theater" ~ a pre-teen farce called "Mudpack Madness") I did so with unmixed motives.  I wasn't proving myself or selling patent medicine.  My childhood public performances were not part of a "branding" effort or marketing campaign.  I wrote and spoke and acted from the purest of motives.  I was in love with the English language and with the printed and spoken word.  I believed in my voice without question then.  I was the obvious choice.  I could deliver the message more powerfully and authentically than anyone else.

The next time I looked up, I was standing in the wings of the High School production of My Fair Lady ("Mrs. Higgins" thank you very much).  An odd feeling overtook me.  I looked down at my hands and they were damp and trembling. Everyone and everything, sets, student actors, the high school orchestra and the audience of wowed parents, looked brighter and more vivid than they ever had before.  Simultaneously dazzling but oddly blurry.

And so I entered adolescence with what would one day be described as a "panic disorder."  I mustered on through speech team (dramatic and humorous interp and oratorical analysis); took one drama class in college and gave up.

When I made my first court appearance fifteen years later, I recalled My Fair Lady as my vision narrowed just before I stopped myself from passing out.

Sometime between the fifth grade and the end of junior high school, I'd lost my nerve and my voice.  Getting it back (and avoiding the loss) would consume my thirties and forties.  

Now, when I teach young lawyers deposition skills ~ particularly that of defending a witness, I instruct them to raise an objection, any objection, within their first few minutes in the conference room just to hear their own voice and occupy, if not yet rule, the room.

That's why speaking is negotiating.  Because negotiating requires us to find our voices and the confidence to raise them, asserting our market value, explaining our politics, and expressing the passion we have for our occupation ~ our calling; our purpose.

The first few voices I tried on as a lawyer (we're gonna cut 'em a few more a**holes) fit poorly, like a suit from Mr. Big & Tall hanging on the slender 20-something frame of a girl tottering into meetings in hose and heels, wearing her early '80s bow tie like a talisman against the cowboy mentality that dominated trial practice in Sacramento, California.

More than a decade would pass before I found my own voice again and was able to raise it clear and strong and true.

When we speak, we say that attention must be paid.  That we have something of value to say.  That our audience should pry their fingers from their blackberries and their eyes from their iPhones.  We must be natural, compelling, prepared and deeply honest.  We must be poised to accept rejection, even ridicule. We must know we are right while being flexible enough to acknowledge the places where we may have been wrong.  We must be professional and gracious.  We must be modest enough to learn.

In fact, the only difference between public speaking and negotiation is that we do most of the talking when we speak and nearly all the listening when we negotiate.  

We're not in middle school any longer, nor law or graduate school for that matter.  

I matter.  You matter.  We matter.  If we want the world to change or simply to get our kids to do their homework, we must be willing to raise our voices and speak our minds in the only language we can speak ~ the language that is particular to each of us.  Brave.  And true.


Published on by Lisa Gates.