My Harvard Speech

My Harvard Speech

I have just returned from Harvard where I had the privilege of working with Professor Steven D. Cohen in his program “Art of Persuasion: Communicating with Influence”.
We learnt about the techniques of public speaking, about developing a leader’s mindset, about the voice, the presence, and about the most effective ways of constructing messages that persuade others.
At the end of the program we were supposed to deliver a 4-minute-long speech to put in practice all the techniques which we had learnt.
I’m sure it sounds easy to you; just a 4-minute-long speech, right?

With Prof. Steven Cohen

With Prof. Steven Cohen

It was anything but.
Not only were we supposed to write this speech demonstrating that we had learnt all the necessary message composition tools. We were also supposed to deliver it, again demonstrating the practical use of all the theory which we had covered. Not to forget that we had only 4 minutes and 14 seconds to complete the speech! We couldn’t go over the time and everything had to be just right.
It was tough.

Clearly, we were all very stressed, even those of us who must have had hundreds of hours of public speaking under their belt (some of us were TV celebrities!). Even the most experienced of us forgot parts of the speech, changed it mid-way, went over time or simply got so flustered that their voice or body language was far from perfect.
Once again we learnt that preparation and practice are key elements of delivering a successful speech or presentation.
We were also reminded that regardless of our experience and professional know-how we are all human beings, sharing the number one fear there is: the fear of public speaking. And that even the best of us find it hard to work within a given, strict time frame especially when we have very little time to prepare (in our case we had only two hours).
We all did our very best to fulfil the task and the common desire to improve created an atmosphere where we all bonded over our stress and our frustration. We had some really good laughs and shared honest feedback.
It was a great learning experience.

As I spoke about  a meaningful subject, something I genuinely believed in and something I could truly stand behind, I thought I would also share it with you.

“I am speaking to you today because I’m worried.
I’m worried about the way our families are run.
I’m worried about the way our companies are run.
I am worried about the way our countries are run.  

We have destructive conflicts all over the world:
Syria, Ukraine and Nigeria are just three examples of deadly conflicts which bring misery to millions, most of them women and children.
We live in the times of crises: financial crisis, climate crisis, energy crisis.
We see children who should be educated and fed, but aren’t.
We see diseases which could be treated, but aren’t.
We see humanitarian emergencies which could be answered, but aren’t.

Yes, we live in a troubled world, and many of the problems which we face today as a civilisation come from the same place: from corrupt and bankrupt leadership.
And the only way to  solve these problems is a change of leadership style.

Today, we need leaders who really listen. We need leaders who can truly communicate with others.
We need leaders who solve problems through a dialogue and mediation instead of confrontation and commanding.
We need women leaders.

I strongly believe that we women can bring new quality and more mindfulness to leadership.

And this is why I’m speaking to you today: to encourage you to leave your comfort zone and to reach out for leadership positions. Only with our talents and our constructive approach to power and leadership we can correct the course of this world and save it from chaos and destruction which might become the future of our children if we don’t.
I know that this is hard, and I know you are afraid. I am afraid too. But I know that we have to be the change we want to see in the world, that’s why I’m pushing the limits of my comfort zone to lead through my own example.  And if I can do it, so can you. 

If you are a woman, dare to reach for more power. Don’t shy away from more responsibility.
If you are a man, support the women in your families and organizations and help them grow in their leadership roles. Share the power and allow women to lead softly and complement your own style.
We need both Ying and Yang to create a balanced world.

In the words of a leadership expert Simon Sinek: “True leadership isn’t the bastion of a few who sit at the top. It’s the responsibility of anyone who belongs to a group, and that means all of us. We all need to step up, take the risk and put our interests second—not always—but when it counts.” 

You can learn how to take action at the website or you can contact me at for ideas and guidance, so that together we can create the change the world so desperately needs. Thank you.

Over to you:

I look forward to your comments! You can share your thoughts about the speech topic, by answering the questions below or by sharing your tested and trusted ways to prepare for public speaking!

  • In what areas are you not speaking up because of fear?
  • What, and how, can you prepare better to be more successful?
  • In what situations do you feel stressed about time pressure and what strategies have you developed to deal with this?

If you want to learn more about the art of public speaking, read up about it in Professor Cohen’s book: Public Speaking: The Path to Success.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Izabela, I am very impressed by your speech. The style and the rhythm of the speech are fascinating and very engaging. It got me thinking about the problem. You have highly inspired and motivated me to support my female colleagues in my department. Thank you for speaking up about this. Ralf
  2. […] is what I believe, too, with all my heart  as I explained in my speech last year. Women’s issues, are human issues. Let’s remember this simple fact today, […]

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