Friday, September 18, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Kelley Johnson's Miss America speech on nursing

When it comes to the talent competition at the Miss America pageant, the skills on show run to lots of singing and dancing. And that was true in earlier pageants for this year's Miss Colorado, Kelley Johnson, who played piano for the talent turn.

But when she won the state title of Miss Colorado, she did so with what was dubbed a "short monologue on nursing," and she repeated that talk on national television earlier this week for the Miss America pageant. Dressed in purple scrubs, with a stethoscope hanging around her neck--a striking change from the pageant's bathing suits and ballgowns--Johnson talked about the impact she had on a patient with Alzheimer's disease--and his impact on her. The speech is so short I can include the entire transcript here for you:
Every nurse has a patient that reminds them why they became a nurse in the first place. Mine was Joe. Joe was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. He had moments with and moments without his memory, but the hardest part of the aging condition for Joe were his night terrors. He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming absolute bloody murder, but if I just went in there and held his hand for a few moments, I could usually get him to calm down.  
But then he wanted to talk. He would ask me if I could change his treatments, and I’d say, "No Joe, I can’t, I’m just a nurse. But what about my medications, can you fix those? And I’d say, no Joe, I can’t, I’m just a nurse." 
But because I couldn’t do those things for Joe, we connected on other levels. He would ask me about volleyball, we would talk about his grandbabies, and he would tease me about being the only nurse on the unit that can reach the gauze on the top shelf.  
It was a lot of laughs with Joe, but then one night, everything changed. I found him in his room, crying. And I went over to him and I lifted his head up out of his hands and I said, "Joe, I know that this is really hard, but you are not defined by this disease. You are not just Alzheimer’s, you are still Joe." And he looked right back at me, almost to look through me and said, "Nurse Kelly, then the same goes for you. Although you say it all the time, you are not just a nurse, you are my nurse, and you have changed my life because you have cared about me."  
And that’s when it hit me. Patients are people with family and friends, and I don’t want to be a nurse that ever pretends, because you’re not a room number and a diagnosis when you are in the hospital. You’re a person, very first, and Joe reminded me that day that I’m a lifesaver. I’m never going to be just a nurse.  
She didn't win the title of Miss America, but came in second. her two-minute talk was seen by more than 4.6 million people online as of this writing, and another 6.7 million on television--a bigger audience than many TED talks receive. That was in part due to her talk being mocked by the hosts of The View--all women, by the way--which resulted in its trending on Twitter as angry fellow nurses responded. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • You can have a huge impact in two minutes: Contests and pageants set time limits for these contributions, both for fairness and to move the action along. But you, too, can choose to leave your audience wanting more--the old rule from the days of vaudeville theater--and have a greater impact by limiting your time. (Some of the best TED talks, in my view, fall into the under-5-minute category.) To stay on time requires a lot of advance work, including scripting, memorizing, and practicing, but it's worth it.
  • Your platform amplifies your voice. Use it!  Johnson had a perfectly good pageant skill--playing piano--but her choice to use the time for speaking helped her stand out and amplified her message. I see lots of speakers fail to take the opportunity afforded by a big-platform opportunity, and am delighted she chose to use hers in this way.
  • Use a mirroring technique to enrich your storytelling: Johnson used one of my favorite storytelling techniques, using another character as a mirror for your viewpoint, and vice versa. That storytelling tactic adds symmetry, which is pleasing to the ear, and which also prevents the story from turning into a brag-fest.
  • Create a talk you can tell again and again: One of the wonderful qualities of a short, memorized talk is that you can use it in many settings--if you plan it right on the first go. Johnson has already used this talk to good effect in two pageants, but she also can use it as part of a longer speech, as the start of a Q&A session, in a formal presentation, and many other settings. Don't forget to write speeches that anyone can understand and appreciate. They'll do more work for you in the long run!
  • Be careful with your cadence: That last paragraph seems to be a poem and has a rhyme scheme--but delivered as it was, it was difficult to tell. Be careful about mixing up your speaking formats and cadences, and if you are about to depart from the form you are using, figure out a way to clue the audience in.
You can watch Johnson's talk here or below.

I've got two small-group workshops coming up on Creating a TED-quality talk in Washington, DC, in January. Choose the January 14 workshop or the January 28 workshop. All you need to do is bring your one big idea for a talk in the style of TED. You'll learn how to plan, write, time, practice, and deliver it in a group limited to 5 people per workshop. Join us! You get the best discount if you register by October 30, 2015.

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