Few things are harder than taking center stage when you don’t feel adequate for the job.

Each time we opened a session of our Excellence in Speaking Institute, Ty and the rest of us saw how it affected people: sweaty palms, shaky voice, fidgeting. And each time we would hold our graduation ceremony, we saw the miracle of people who now knew they were well-equipped whenever and wherever they must take center stage, whether it’s in a sales meeting, a community service opportunity, a family discussion, or an auditorium full of people.

I’ve personally experienced that miracle. And that’s one reason I was so excited when Ty and I hit upon the idea of founding ESI in 1980.

Years before that, before Ty and I ever met and became life partners, I had the opportunity to take center stage myself when I was named the Maid of Cotton. Here in the South, the national Maid of Cotton pageant was second only to the Miss America competition in prestige. The winner was designated an international spokesperson and representative for the Cotton Council of America, a heady experience for a small-town girl with a junior college education. My selection indicates I must have been presentable looking – the prettiest girl never wins – and that I could express myself well enough under pressure. Part of the competition entailed speaking to about 3000 people, and speaking was a major part of the responsibility that came with winning.

But I had nothing of substance to share about the cotton industry, and I knew it. That lack made me feel inadequate, especially when I looked out over audiences full of experts from all over the world. Being a tall redhead suddenly seemed like a very poor qualification.

I learned under fire how to overcome that feeling of inadequacy. Speaking as often as five times a day, I learned how to connect with my audience no matter how hard my knees were knocking. I learned how to practice enough that I sounded knowledgeable even when I wasn’t. I learned how to smile and look people in the eye.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning the secrets of powerful communication.

Later, as the wife of an accomplished speaker, trainer, and communicator, I kept polishing those skills. I kept listening and learning. Ty and I knew we had something, but I don’t think either of us knew how powerful it was until we started teaching it to others.

When Ty was first asked by Tom Carpenter of Aetna and Rick Dyer with Apple Computer to teach public speaking skills to their employees, he wasn’t crazy about the idea. But he had the time in his schedule, so he said, “Why not?” Ty would watch the people in those classes walk away more confident, more capable, more powerful. Not because they were learning how to talk to others, but because they were learning how to communicate effectively with others.

That’s a big distinction and the main message we want you to carry with you: There is a world of difference between talking to others and communicating with others.

Effective communication is a million-dollar skill, a path to success in all areas of your life, personal and professional.

Ty and I have been blessed to be part of coaching men and women all over the world to improve their communication skills. We’ve been all over the U. S. and the world, coaching people from places as diverse as Russia, China, South Africa, and South America. We share the tools we know work. It is our purpose and our passion. It’s all part of the invaluable process Ty has always liked to call The Million-Dollar Toolbox.

Whether you feel inadequate or not, you can step up to the job and show up strong. You just have to do the work to become better and be willing to put yourself out there!



*See photos of Pat as the Maid of Cotton 1956 HERE