I've always known I was gifted. Correction* My third grade teacher told me I was gifted after hearing my delivery during one of our rehearsals for the school's play. She told me I was different. She said that one day I would understand her decision as to why she casted me as the narrator rather than Cinderella.
At the time, I resented her. The star in me wanted to be front and center stage. What I didn't realize at the time was that it was a definitive life-changing moment that pulled me closer to my calling which is my passion for speaking. Now, every time someone asks me when I've discovered my talent, I would tell them..."Well, it started in the third grade."
You see, I was lucky. I found my talent at a very young age. I knew what made me happy. It was not about being the center of attention nor was it about being casted as a lead. None of those things mattered to me. What I enjoyed was the adrenaline rush that came right before a performance. What drew me to this particular art form was my ability to share my life experiences and lessons with others. Desperately, I wanted to be heard. Therefore the stage, for a long time, became my home, my outlet. Flash forward a couple more years, I became my high school's morning announcement speaker. "Good morning, Bolsa Grande High School this is Khanh P. Duong..." Yep, that was me. I was the girl that somehow got the entire school to stand up, place their right hands over their hearts and do the pledge of allegiance. From there, I went on to deliver tons of keynote speeches and motivational seminars. And by the time graduation came around, I somehow managed to beat the school's top scholar for a spot in delivering the Senior speech at the baccalaureate ceremony. In front of the entire Garden Grove Unified School District. (Fun fact: my legs were shaking like a madwoman underneath that blue robe)
Yeah, little ole' Khanh who wasn't casted as Cinderella also landed a front page spot in the city's newspaper the very next day. At the time, I thought I finally understood the reason why my teacher made that decision. She saw that the eight year old Khanh had something special. She was able to speak and deliver exceptionally well. And she was right, but it's more than just that.
I'm not telling you my story because I wanted to brag about my gift. No. Speaking, like every other skill, is developed through two things: time and practice. English was not my first language. I had trouble learning how to enunciate my words so I was constantly teased by my classmates. It wasn't until high school did I realize that it wasn't about a person's proficiency with the language as much as it was about the heart of the speaker. Every toast, every speech, every presentation, every word I've ever delivered to an audience (whether big or small) came from the heart. I believe in what I said; therefore, people believed in me. To this day, I still get questions from my friends and acquaintances about public speaking and how to effectively communicate to others. I've trained my peers and gave them the same rules I had given to myself years ago. In the words of Anastasia Soare, eyebrow extraordinaire and founder of a multi-million dollar company, "having talent is only 10% of the equation. The other 90 is hard-work."
As with every other talent, once you are aware of what you're good at, you now have two choices and I'll simplify it for you. You can use it for good or use it for evil. For instance, if done strategically, I could quite possibly get almost anyone to do whatever it is that I want them to do without them realizing it. Yeah, fellahs. Don't ever underestimate a woman with a strong voice. But that's called manipulation and manipulation is bad and being bad is easy. It takes a greater deal of humility, patience, and compassion to be good. And of course, I decided a long time ago that I will choose the more difficult path. My intentions are quite straightforward. I want to bring light into someone's life and my offering to this world is my voice. For me, nothing is more meaningful than living each day and knowing I was able to impact someone's thoughts, minds, and attitudes with something that I nurtured and have been blessed with.
Again, I was very fortunate enough to have found my ten percent sooner than most people my age. But it's okay, I am very confident that you will find yours too (if you haven't already). Also, what's also important to me is that I can never disregard the notion that I have spent years trying to develop and master my craft---from delivery to diction to tone to voice. In fact, I constantly seek improvement because there's always room to be better, stronger. So how do I do it? I talked to myself (a lot). I practiced in the mirror. I read books. I wrote (a lot). I studied. I listened to the most powerful speakers in the world (ie. Oprah, Obama, activists, entrepreneurs, CEOs). Speaking, to me, is not just a gift. It is a craft that I have breathed and consumed for as long as I could remember. It is a passion and I am very, very much in love with it.
That is....until I found something recently that I love just as much.
You'll be able find out what that is very soon ;)