How to make your words rise to the occasion

by Halina St James

Words have a wonderful knack of rising to the occasion.

Beautiful words, spoken from the heart, graced Canada’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa.

Some of those memorable words were from speakers who’d had a chance to refine and rehearse their tributes. Like the military chaplain who paid tribute to Cpl Nathan Cirillo, murdered last month while on guard duty at Canada’s National War Memorial. The chaplain recalled how, in that moment of horror, the Unknown Soldier and a young soldier suddenly and heartbreakingly known to everyone lay together on the steps of the memorial.

Or like Governor General David Johnston, who noted that Canadians were people of peace, of tolerance, of kindness and honour. They held those qualities as precious. And the people being remembered today believed those qualities precious enough to die for.

But some of the memorable words came from people who had no chance to polish or practice their lines. Like the 94 year-old veteran talking about the friends he saw die on the battlefield.

Or the young woman in the crowd talking about the need to honour those who put their country before their own lives.

Or the young student who gave a teenager’s perspective on selfless service and sacrifice.

These people didn’t need to practice their words. They spoke from the heart. They spoke simply. They spoke conversationally.

There will always be times in our lives when we need to find the right words for the occasion: at weddings, funerals, retirement, graduations… any gathering that demands insight, inspiration and encouragement.

If you want to stir an emotion in an audience, if you want to plant a thought that lingers in the brain of the listener, take a lesson from those whose words struck a chord in Ottawa today.

Have something to say. Believe in it. Say it simply. And, if you can, lodge an image in the minds of your listeners. Those simple thoughts will help your words rise to the occasion.

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