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A Stranger’s Silent Encouragement

She was nervous about giving a presentation before hundreds of people, but a friendly face in the last row calmed her fears.

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My job as community relations manager for a United Way after-school program involved providing information to parents’ groups, but while I was comfortable on the phone or speaking one-on-one, presenting to large crowds terrified me.

I’d started attending weekly Toastmasters meetings, trying to get over my fears. My boss misunderstood and assumed I was a pro. She decided I should give a fundraising speech to a stage agency of 400 employees, hoping they would make a payroll-deduction pledge.

I nervously composed my speech, incorporating attention-getting techniques and humor, just as I’d learned. I developed visual aids and compiled anecdotes. I practiced in front of the mirror. I asked God to give me confidence. On the dreaded date, I still felt inadequate.

Stepping up to the microphone, I stared into the audience. My attention was drawn to a chubby man with red hair, sitting in the back row. He was looking at me with a million-dollar smile and intense interest. Something about him put me at ease.

I delivered my whole speech, focused on the red-haired man. He laughed at every joke, nodded his head in agreement whenever I emphasized a point. He seemed to cheer me on.

The speech was well-received. I hurried down the stage stairs, eager to meet my cheerleader. Though the back row had yet to empty out, he was nowhere to be found.

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