I love public speaking. People who know me think that I am a natural. That I have a personal charm that is easy to transfer. I can easily walk into any audience, be it a lecture hall, a business meeting or an international conference setting. It only takes me 3 minutes max to decide what I want to communicate. I grab an A4 piece of paper and fold it in half, and then I scribble my storyline. Nothing sophisticated. Bulled-points, to a maximum of five. That is it. I am ready then to walk in anywhere.
But, let’s be real, it was not always this easy. I have been a coach for a number of people who have become national public speaking champions, who overcame they fear to speak in public. I have coached ministers, CEO’s, startups all around the world to help them polish their speeches and their engagement techniques.
So, this is my story:
I was 11 years old when I decided that I had to stand up and make personal statements. I was a winner in the Sixth Grade National Academic Olympics, 1993-1994 (each year, around 2million students participate), and a recipient of the State Medal ‘Francisco Figueroa Mata’, which acknowledges outstanding childhood academic trajectory, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. That was an academic achievement, which deserves another blog entry itself. As winners, the best 20 students of the state were invited to meet the governor, the minister of education, and then to represent the state and join the national talents, hanging out with the brightest kids of the country for a week, meeting the President of Mexico and State Ministers. It was pretty amazing. Especially for a country-side 11 years old, coming from a public elementary school in the south of Mexico. During the contests, I went to different cities and elementary schools and got to see how different they were, and how we could improve them. So, here I was, in front of the governor. I was sure he would love to know what the smartest kids of the state perceived, the reality of the classrooms and schools in the state, so I decided to address him during a breakfast that he offered with his cabinet. Here I was, I raised my hand, stood up, and got started. I was so nervous that I thought I would faint! No, I did not (phew!).
Years later, in an interview for the ‘Book of Outstanding Women in the History of the State of Guerrero’, I referred to that moment like this:
Women and men in history often speak about break-through, life-changing moments. That day, was my moment. I discovered that being an academic was good but that in order to be heard and represent people to reach bigger audiences, I needed to leave my books and stand up. I could never describe the intensity of the moment. The emotion, the fear, the nerves. I went back home and grabbed the full collection of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano books and stayed home for the summer, reading. A guy from my same town, who became known as an Academic, an Orator, a Poetry writer and teller, a Diplomat making history in Europe… wow, I thought, imagine…
Anyway, after meeting the people who were in charge of the state, I came back home with a renewed interest. I wanted to be a speaker.
I was determined. I spent every single day after classes during secondary school training. I was lucky enough that I had a really good mentor, my dad, and my secondary school teacher, Natividad Perez. Dad is an Oratory champion. I have memories of my childhood sitting in the living room as an audience to him and his students’ rehearsals.
With my father, I used to sit and learn to write speeches “for fun”, memorise them, read them out loud, trying to decide the right voice tones to use. I have a full body mirror in my bedroom back home, which served to monitor my facial and body language expressions. I used to rehearse with my father on the rooftop and everybody in the neighbourhood could hear me… Come on, as a teenager, this was not funny! it was though! Think about it, while others were trying to fit in, and hang out with other kids, I was there, with my dad, rehearsing a-zero-girly voice that would be my signature voice for the years to come.
At the same time, with my teacher Naty, I used to rehearse Poetry Recitation, again, spending hours and hours after secondary school. I adore Poetry. I rehearsed body language, facial gestures, voices to communicate different emotions. I used to practice non-stop.
When I was 14 years old, I was invited to deliver a speech on behalf of the youth in front of the pre-candidates running for governor. I said yes on the spot and jumped in, in an improvised speech in front of around 2 000 people. Was I nervous? Of course, I was! But I knew I wanted to say what young people needed to overcome and what I had seen getting to know other state’s realities, so I made a case on how and why they should care for the children and the youth. The leading pre-candidate was touched. He liked my command of speech and how I engaged with the audience. He invited me to join his team of elite speakers and to join him, during his campaign and travel all around the state when winning the nomination.
When I started high school, I used to travel every day to the capital of my state. I had a new mentor, a friend of my father, an international champion, to whom I use to go every day before school. I had to travel 1 hour every day just to get there, to the home of Human Rights of the state. He trained me during two years in Political Debate, a more elegant approach to Political Negotiation, and perfected my technique in the art of Oratory – not that is perfect at all!Then, I had to run, grab a sandwich in the naturist shop in front and catch up the public transport (combi) to head to CBTis 134 (my technical high school).
That was me, a mix between the elegance and command of an Orator and the delicate emotional touch of communicating emotions via Poetry Recitation.
It was time for another breakthrough moment.
With 15 years I joined the elite team of speakers of the candidate running for governor of state (blog post to come). My mother agreed to come with me so that I could join the campaign team during the following 4 months or so. I addressed people all around the state. We connected in such a level that they started calling me “the voice”. I interacted with all the city mayors, politicians, social leaders, but, most importantly, I got to know and understand people, the first nations communities, the farmers, I went to the local markets and sat there and learned a different reality, their reality.
Mauricio Leyva, writer, current Minister of Culture (Guerrero), would write in my biography:
Artemisa was invited to be part of the elite team of 5 speakers during the political campaign of the candidate running for Governor of Guerrero, Mexico. This activity allowed her to get to know each one of the municipalities of the state, its towns, communities, original communities, its people. She was exposed to the traditions and uses and customs of each one of the seven geographical regions of the state. She strengthened her identity not only as Mexican but as also Guerrerense, as a Tixtleca.
When I was 17, I was a proud recipient of the State Civil Merit Medal for outstanding youth life trajectory. I have been a valedictorian when graduating in all my educational levels. I had already accomplished more than 30 national, state and regional awards in public speaking, and more than 15 awards in Written Short Story, Poetry Writing and Poetry Recitation.
This skill opened doors for me and led me to my first job and passion, politics, by the age 16. The rest is history – and can be read in the Encyclopaedia of Guerrero, Mexico. Since then, I have spoken in events gathering from 2 to 5000 people for first line politicians, social leaders, congressmen and government leaders, including the Presidents of Mexico.
I have been a speaker at national and international industry and academic events in the USA, in Europe, in the Middle East, in a number of countries and universities, and I never stop thinking about that 11 years old girl, from Tixtla, Guerrero, a 4 million state, the second-highest poverty rate (69.7%) among all Mexican states, one of the most dangerous and with the highest rankings of extreme poverty in Latin America… I made it through.