I usually enjoy public speaking but a couple weeks ago I had the terrifying experience of giving a speech in front of a small group of thirty-odd strangers, half of whom were either judging me (literally with judging sheets and a stopwatch) or competing with me for Georgia Teacher of the Year. The thing that frightened me more than anything was the three-minute time limit. It is nearly impossible for me to fit a biography, teaching philosophy, moving story, and a bunch of statistics into less than five minutes, without feeling rushed and anxious. As soon as I started talking, however, I saw a small woman sitting behind a name tag that said, "Ann." She looked at me, smiled broadly, and nodded constantly, as I spoke, as if to say, "Yes! Yes, children learn best with hands on projects! I agree; creativity belongs in school!" Nothing is more calming than a friendly reassuring presence in the audience. And it wasn't just for me; she smiled and nodded for every speaker, including the Georgia Power executive who welcomed everyone to the luncheon.
The moment I sat down, I decided to be like Ann for the speakers that followed me, so I made a conscious effort to use my body language to cheer each competitor and help them feel at ease. When the speeches were finished I tapped Ann on the shoulder to thank her, but before I could say a word, she turned to give me, a stranger, a big hug and tell me what a great job I'd done.
In a world where hyper-criticism is hyper-present, we need more Anns: accepting, reassuring, radiating beams of positive energy in human forms. We can be that light for those in our lives, even those in our lives for a brief moment on a stressful afternoon.