From one side of their mouths, the gurus tell professional speakers that perfection is required, and from the
other side they say that the greatest speakers are those who show their vulnerability. Hilari Weinstein succeeds
in showing us the courage it takes to achieve perfection through our vulnerability. Do you have the courage
to be vulnerable?—Column Coordinator Dale Collie, MA
On Dec. 16, 2005, my father passed away after a courageous
and brave two-year battle with
cancer. The following day, my mother asked
me to deliver a eulogy at his memorial.
I immediately agreed, but five minutes
later a schizophrenic dialogue began in
“You can’t do this.”
“Of course you can, you are a professional speaker. You help business professionals become better speakers.”
“This is different; this is the hardest speech
you will ever give.”
I sat at my computer and stared at the
screen with an unbearable lump in my
throat—struggling to put the flood of feelings and memories into words. How can I
take a man’s life, a great man, my father,
and reduce it to a matter of minutes and
words? The writer’s block was unlike anything
I had ever experienced.
“What is going on?” I asked. The answer
came to me as I quieted my mind: My
father meant so much to me that I wanted
it to be perfect. I thought others would
expect me to deliver the perfect eulogy.
I erupted in laughter at the irony, startling
my poor dogs who were hovering under my
computer desk. I’ve heard it said, “We
teach what we most need to learn.” But,
admitting the truth of this axiom is courageous and humbling.
When I let go of the belief that I had to
deliver the perfect eulogy to honor my
father, the key came to me in a single
I had so much to be thankful for. I have a
wonderful family. I am truly blessed to have
had an amazing father, even if only for 36
years. And, in spite of the pain, watching
him deteriorate for two years until his passing at age 66, I am so fortunate to have
known such a man and more fortunate to
have been able to call him my Dad.
The words, the form, the truth came—
from my heart not my head. The words did
not come from the speaking professional.
They came from the daughter who had lost
the most important man in her life.
“We are merely vessels of
experiences and wisdom,
compelled to share our truth
by something greater
As I stepped up to the lectern at my
father’s memorial service, clinging to my
speech like a security blanket, terrified and
overcome with emotion, I let myself be
perfectly human, imperfect and vulnerable. On that day, on that occasion, it was
the most courageous thing I could have
“He wasn’t a rock star, but he did a great
air band rendition of the Village People’s
YMCA at my Bat Mitzvah.
“He wasn’t Fred Astaire, but he knew how
to tear up a dance floor.
“He was no Jacque Cousteau, but he
loved the ocean.
“He was no Paul Newman, but had a
smile and eyes that could light up a room.”
“He wasn’t Phil Donahue, but he had the
ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and make them feel like he’d known
“He wasn’t a wealthy man but was generous in giving of what he had most of, love.
“Above all else, he was truly a wonderful
husband and father.
“Dad, thank you for giving me life. Who
you are and everything you’ve given me
lives on in my heart.”
Now, I continually tell my clients that in
speaking, perfection does not exist. Speaking is a science and an art, neither of which
is perfect. Besides, it isn’t about us. We are
merely vessels of experiences and wisdom,
compelled to share our truth by something
greater than ourselves.
I am a better coach, a better speaker and
a better person for the experience, for having
the courage to be really vulnerable, human
and imperfect in front of 250 people.
Hilari Weinstein, president of High Impact
Communication, is a sought-after consultant and presentation coach who has
helped countless businesss professionals in
a variety of industries to deliver more
engaging and powerful presentations. She
currently serves on the board of directors
for National Speakers Association-Arizona
Chapter. Contact Hilari
at (602) 795-5400 or
visit her Web site: