Public speaking isn’t about being the center of attention – it’s about using your power to empower others. Here are two examples of incredible women who embody that value.

Meet Ana Yris Guzman

Ana is the co-founder of Nuestra Escuela, a nonprofit organization in Puerto Rico that provides an alternative education model combined with personal and leadership development tools for young adults.

I met Ana during the Global Ambassadors Program, a partnership between Vital Voices and Bank of America in which I get to teach public speaking and business networking. Our March 2019 program centered around women leaders whose organizations were focused on building the economy and community of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

On the first morning of our program, Ana revealed that she didn’t like public speaking. She described herself as a very powerful woman – but only from the sidelines. As she took on a more public role in her organization, she resisted stepping onto the stage. She specifically said, “I don’t like being in the spotlight.”

Over the course of our program, Ana took time to develop a vision for her organization. During our public speaking training, she realized that public speaking is not about being in the spotlight – rather, it’s about being a searchlight for others.

When preparing to speak, the most powerful question you can ask is, “Why You?”. In other words, why do you care about the work you do?

In her bright blue notebook, Ana wrote the quote, “I am in the service of others, that’s why.” She drew a circle around those words and highlighted them in yellow. They became a mantra for her every time she resisted speaking up.

After that session, Ana shared her revelation with me, “I am not in the spotlight. I am in the service of others. I want to be the best ambassador that I can be for my organization. Now I have to step up.”

[photo credit David Hume Kennerly]

Ana’s story is a powerful and inspiring lesson for all of us who resist speaking up. We do not do it to show off, we do it in the service of others.

Meet Tania Rosario-Mendez

[photo credit David Hume Kennerly]

Now meet Tania, the Executive Director of Taller Salud, a feminist organization focused on reducing health disparities, achieving gender equality, and preventing violence in communities that suffer from social exclusion in Puerto Rico.

The last line of Tania’s biography caught my attention. It read, “She is immensely and fiercely happy to be alive.”

When I asked her about it during our coaching session, Tania told me how important it is to celebrate life, especially in the face of those who try to oppress you. She revealed one of Taller Salud’s mottos: “We have to defend our joy and organize our indignation.” Powerful and inspiring words for anyone facing counteracting forces.

With a background in theater, Tania is very comfortable speaking (and performing) on stage.

[photo credit David Hume Kennerly]

However, as the organization grows, Tania realized she has to empower others in her organization to speak up. Rather than being the only person speaking on behalf of the organization, she wants to highlight her team on the ground. Taller Salud does incredible work in the community, and who better to speak about that work than the women and men who live there?

These community leaders and activists are the most powerful spokespersons on behalf of the organization. Now, Tania’s goal is give them the tools and the opportunities they need to speak up.

Public speaking is not about being in the spotlight or even about being the person on stage. It is about exercising leadership – using your voice to speak on behalf of others, or giving others the platform and tools to share their own voices.

So the next time you shy away from speaking, think about Ana and Tania. Ask “Why You? Why do you care about the work you do?” and you’ll realize that you represent something much larger than yourself.

Through speaking and helping others to speak, you can use your power to empower.