Wow! I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, teaching 12 workshops in 2 weeks.  This trip was an outstanding collaboration with the American Embassy and Consulate, former colleagues, and the Israel-US Chamber of Commerce. My audiences were entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, nonprofit leaders, politicians, journalists, students, and peace activists.

Normally, I focus on helping people speak powerfully in English, no matter what their native language. But for this trip, I would be helping people speak more powerfully – in English, Hebrew or Arabic! This would be the first time I taught in Hebrew and the first time I taught in English with consecutive/simultaneous translation into Arabic.

To help people speak in their native language, I needed to clarify what is universal in public speaking and what is cultural. For instance:

  • Nervousness is universal: Everyone gets nervous, no matter their age, industry, or background. And the ways to overcome nervousness are universal: breathing, preparation, and knowing one’s audience.
  • Eye contact is cultural: Eye contact is important everywhere, but the amount of eye contact can depend on the gender, age, and culture of both the speaker and the audience.

Here are a few highlights from the trip:

  1. Traveling by motorcade to An Najah University in Nablus to teach workshops for students, journalists, and women entrepreneurs, with State Department alumni joining by videoconference from Gaza.
  2. Offering a demo workshop sponsored by Google Israel and the Israel-US Chamber of Commerce for VPs of Human Resources at Israeli companies and Israeli offices of major US companies.
  3. Privately coaching an Israeli political leader on an impending speech to the heads of a political party.

I also had a chance to work with several groups of Palestinian women: students and entrepreneurs at An Najah University, businesswomen and entrepreneurs in Ramallah, and municipal councilmembers from throughout the West Bank. Similar to my workshops in East Africa last month, it was fascinating to see how women around the world face similar challenges when speaking in public, whether it’s a potentially hostile audience or an unsupportive cultural environment. I was impressed by how these women were able to advise one another on ways  to overcome these challenges.

Overall, I returned from this trip filled with a sense of purpose and mission and convinced more than ever of the universal importance of public speaking skills – no matter the language, the industry, or the culture. And I realized that no matter what our political beliefs, the more we are able to convey our stories and our experiences in clear and authentic language, the more we can connect with one another as human beings.