Betty Reid Soskin is a masterful historian, story teller, and activist. Three times a week she sits in a small auditorium and tells her stories. No technology, no photos, no slide deck just one compelling park ranger sitting on a kitchen stool weaving her life experiences into yours. She has mastered story telling with such grace and power that we hear new truths, often painful truths of our American history, and still leave feeling empowered. Soskin has mastered the power and edge of story telling. Yet these are not stories, they are truths.
Betty Reid Siskin, 96, is the nations oldest National Park ranger. She works at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. This petite woman with a mighty spirit guides listeners through her life as an activist. She honors the Rosie the Riveter’s truths and with grit, grace and determination adds her own truths as an African American woman to the complex landscape of WWII. Her new book Sign My Name to Freedom, is not just about WWII but a life long effort to fight for equity.
Soskin’s historical talks at the park museum’s small theater routinely sell out, and she has become what she calls with some surprise “a D-list celebrity.” At barely five feet tall and barely 90 pounds, Soskin’s power comes from her personal history and from her willingness to talk about it plainly and honestly, not mincing words. She talks quietly and without rancor, but with an iron will.
In our world of Powerpoint, TedTalks, and social media it’s easy to get lost in technology during a presentation. Yet, sitting with a master story teller, or better said, truth teller, is an experience not to be missed. It made me think of how many times I’ve struggled to pay attention to a powerpoint presentation. Yet here in a small room, she held us all in awe and wonder with her hands, her eyes, and her story.
There are many places to learn about how to give a great presentation. Yet, what I learned from Betty is that the key to great presentations is powerful research, eyes, pauses and hands. As her eyes glided across the room she touched every person. As her hands graciously waved through the air, she invited us into her joys, losses, successes and pain. And with a voice of grace and fortitude she named the truths we did not even know we needed to learn.
As you plan your next talk, how can you weave in more story telling? How can you use your eyes and hands to engage the audience rather than an elaborate slide deck? How can you empower your audience with your grace, power and edge, and truths? How can you expose your vulnerabilities and tell your successes and joys?
Where will be your power and edge in story telling? I’d love to hear about your power and edge.