Knocking Down Goliath

My husband and I took our kids to Italy this summer. I gushed to anyone who would listen, Our first European Vacation! I felt so grateful. I still do.

In the hills of Chianti lies a stunning masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo’s David. One afternoon, we enlisted the help of a tour guide and went to check it out.

Amidst the sea of tourists, our guide pulled us into a quiet corner and told us the story of Michelangelo’s life.

After his birth, his aristocratic mother fell ill, so he was sent to live with his wet nurse - the wife and daughter of stonemasons. Raised in her village, Michelangelo learned how to process crude, rough pieces of stone from an early age.

My three children shocked me by even being slightly interested. But then again, stories light up our brains. It’s in our DNA to tune in.

Our guide then told us about David. David was a shepherd who stepped up to fight the giant Goliath. The future of the Israelites was in his hands. David used a stone to knock Goliath to his knees and the rest is, well, history.

I was in awe. I’m well aware of all the meanings of the David and Goliath story. But at that moment I was amazed that Michelangelo the sculptor was able to look at a big block of marble and envision David, the masterpiece.

Did he see a masterpiece in the marble right away? Who knows. All I know is that he kept chipping away at it until there was nothing left to take out. Remember, he was raised by stonecutters.

But then again, I get it. When I’m in my zone of genius, I can dig into anyone’s story with clarity, compassion and intensity, and with a dash of joy and humor to boot. I can listen to your story, help you gain clarity, know what moment to start with and how to build momentum to bring people along. It’s become my superpower, not because I set out to learn it, it was what I loved to do.

Alas, when it comes to my own work, my own story, my own voice, that’s a different thing.

The very act of starting is a challenge. When I sit in front of my computer on early mornings, I see no masterpiece. All I see is a blank screen.

There is so much other stuff to do! What should I say? Someone else can say it better… and probably already has…my thoughts are my Goliath!

Bringing your story to stage or an idea to life can feel like facing your Goliath. We all must learn how to face our Goliath. I’m always learning how to manage all the thoughts, excuses and fears that still pop up when it’s time to tell my story.

You may not be commissioned for the Sistine Chapel, but you do have a message to share with the world. While I’m always here to help, here are five ways I’ve learned to get started…  on a speech or for any situation where I need to speak in front of others.

These may help you face your Goliath right now:

1)     If I’m staring at a blank screen, I get back up and take a walk. I pull out my phone and open up the Notes section. Once some thoughts come to me -- which they always do when I’m walking -- I speak into Notes with the little microphone. Jumbled thoughts later become gold. I now have a crude shape from which to start sculpting.

2)     When I sit back down to write, I often speak out loud and type as I talk. The language of speaking is very different than the language of writing. This is not an English paper. Half sentences and phrases work, I promise. I write like I talk.

3)     I allow the first draft to be shitty. I mean, really shitty. It will be a shining masterpiece, just not right away. Michelangelo took over three years to create the David. And he was raised by stonecutters! He kept chipping away it at, pardon the pun.

4)     I “storify” my message. (Yep, that’s a made-up verb.) Find a story. It doesn’t have to be profound or full of hardship. Although sharing a struggle does help the listener get inside your shoes and empathize with you. The more academic you try to sound, the more boring you are, and you will lose people. The story is what will help people connect and then the message will stick. The more personal, the better.

5)     I make sure the message can be received easily. This does not mean dumbing it down. Steve Jobs was a master at taking complex ideas and simplifying them for his audiences. Studies show you want to talk at an 8th grade level to any audience. I am not kidding. Remember KISS: Keep it Simple, Silly.

A speech or any type of communication is a work of art. Like a sculpture, it’s done when there’s nothing left to take out. 

The next time you’re faced with an opportunity to speak and you use these tips, getting started won’t feel like a big, heavy, perilous act of courage. Although it still is an act of courage, and you can do this.

And you don’t have to go at it alone! I’d love to help you get started bringing your story to stage or idea to life.

jessica bonin