The Orator

By Sally Anne Flecker and Bill Gangluff | Winter 2012

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Mendoza senior learns public speaking is part mechanics, part connection

Paul Moya’s dream was seeded at 9 years old as he stood in the shadows of an auditorium in New Mexico, transfixed by a speaker.

Young Moya had tagged along with his father, Joseph, an adviser for the National FFA Organization, also known as the Future Farmers of America. His father often took students—and his son—to state FFA conventions.

This particular event was different—larger, more electric. The national FFA president was giving the keynote. The room was so full that Moya and his father were as far back in the auditorium as one could go. There were no seats remaining, only a small platform that the sound crew also occupied. Yet, even in the depths of the room, Moya found himself drawn to the young leader and her words. As she encouraged members to find their passion in life, the boy came upon his—public speaking.

Public speaking, that near-universal anxiety-raising specter. But to Moya, it represented the art and craft of connection, person to person, even in a room filled with thousands. He could be a point of inspiration.

And so he set off to become The Orator.

Early on, Moya tried his hand at high school state speech contests—coming in fifth the first year. Not bad, but he’s very competitive by nature. He’d set his sights on being the champion, so “not bad” wasn’t good enough.

While God gave him a head start with natural-born magnetism and confidence, Moya was learning he needed to grow his public speaking skills and authenticity.

He focused on his mechanics. He videotaped himself. He watched his movements and gestures, the pitch of his voice, and the pace he set. He practiced in front of a mirror. When he thought he had it down, he rehearsed in front of friends and family members to see if they responded in the way he wanted an audience to respond. The next year, he placed third.

He got tough with himself. How badly do I want this? Am I willing to do what it takes? He kept at it, paying attention to the different fluctuations in his voice, to where he was moving and where he paused. How the story changed if he told it fast, if he smiled, if he crouched down.

And he also focused on his heart, realizing his craft was part mechanics and part connection. He reflected on his rural upbringing and cataloged stories. The time his parents drove a stranger to a restaurant and generously paid for his food. His encounter with a homeless man who took his gift of money and immediately turned and gave it to another person in need. The combination of technique and a growing understanding of life transformed Moya into a captivating storyteller.

And Moya did it. His last year of high school—his last chance—he won the state championship.

Now he was ready to put all that he had learned about public speaking to work in presenting the messages that mattered to him. He wanted to inspire youth and business leaders to maximize their potential, to believe in themselves, to pick themselves up if they failed, to stay the course even in the face of adversity. And he wanted to speak out on issues near to his heart—world hunger and educational inequality.

The FFA, which he had joined as soon as he was old enough, provided him with the perfect opportunity—first as the New Mexico FFA state president, and two years later as the National FFA president, leading its half-million members. Moya took leave during his sophomore year at Notre Dame to assume the role.

The day came when he was the speaker standing on the platform, before 55,000 FFA members. He was 21 years old. “Don’t walk out of here thinking that the world needs the leaders sitting next to you—because we need you,” he told them as he talked about ending hunger in the world. “Don’t walk out of here thinking that you have to be rich or famous or a celebrity to make a difference, because you don’t. We just need you. And don’t walk out of here thinking that you don’t have anything to give or to offer to the world because, my friends, what the world really needs is you.”

To date, Moya has traveled to 40 states and three continents delivering keynotes or workshops to more than 200,000 people. He has spoken in boardrooms and met with members of Congress.

Moya will graduate from Notre Dame this spring with a degree in finance. Although he’ll continue to coach and do speaking engagements, he expects to point his career in the direction of business, or law or possibly public policy—all careers that can benefit from the titles he donned in the whirlwind of his youth. A connector. A storyteller. A motivator. The Orator.