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‹ View all articles11th May 2016

Maysoon Zayid: Anatomy of an Inspiring Speaker

TED Lessons
Maysoon Zayid brings lightening to the TED stage with poise and brilliant wit. The Arab-American comedian takes us on a journey of her adventures as an actress, stand-up comic, philanthropist and advocate for the disabled. She has cerebral palsy, but utterly aside from the inspiration that comes from someone with difficulties speaking up, she is gutsy, funny and a massive, massive showman. She shows us what it is to boldly bring your personality and your story onto stage – and just how powerful that is.
Here are some of the amazing ways she brings her personality:


Maysoon shows us her condition by balancing humour with a serious message and as a result she makes it so much more powerful.

"I have cerebral palsy, which means I shake all the time. [stands up] Look. It's exhausting.”

"People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world, and we are the most underrepresented in entertainment."


Humour always makes us warm to someone, especially if they’re willing to laugh at themselves and even more so if they give us something funny that we haven’t heard before.

"If there was an Oppression Olympics, I would win the gold medal. I'm Palestinian, Muslim, I'm female, I'm disabled, and I live in New Jersey."

"I'm like Shakira, Shakira meets Muhammad Ali."
"It's Christmas Eve, you're at the mall, you're driving around in circles looking for parking, and what do you see? Sixteen empty handicapped spaces. And you're like, "God, can't I just be a little disabled?"

Speaking her mind and breaking taboos

"This was before 9/11 and before politicians thought it was appropriate to use "I hate Muslims" as a campaign slogan. The people that I grew up with had no problem with my faith.They did, however, seem very concerned that I would starve to death during Ramadan. I would explain to them that I have enough fat to live off of for three whole months, so fasting from sunrise to sunset is a piece of cake.)"

"I spent my summers in a war zone,because my parents were afraid that if we didn't go back to Palestine every single summer,we'd grow up to be Madonna.”

Excellent use of a powerful, memorable phrase

"Also, I've got to tell you, I've got 99 problems, and palsy is just one."

Fantastic storytelling

Her storytelling is simple and in short anecdotes, but always visual, so we can put ourselves in her shoes.

"Summer vacations often consisted of my father trying to heal me,so I drank deer's milk, I had hot cups on my back, I was dunked in the Dead Sea, and I remember the water burning my eyes and thinking, "It's working! It's working!”
"My big break came in 2010. I was invited to be a guest on the cable news show "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." I walked in looking like I was going to the prom, and they shuffle me into a studio and seat me on a spinning, rolling chair."

 [youtube id=buRLc2eWGPQ]

Maysoon is always 100% with the audience: She knows her script, but is very much public speaking.  She’s completely with her audience and asking them to participate, rather than just doing her speech at them. She asks them to cheer and clap, responds to their reaction – and just look where she’s sat on stage; it’s like she’s sitting in the audience. All of this makes it a talk that’s truly alive. 

She’s developed her own unique style of speaking: It makes perfect sense that Maysoon is also a stand up comic, she’s fantastic isn’t she? I love her speed, her frankness, her infectious energy and her barrier-crossing insights. She’s just a little larger than life and that’s why I enjoyed her talk so much. Truly inspiring. I could listen to her all day. You just CAN'T overdo personality in public speaking. 

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