We’ve all been through this.
It happened in our first-ever presentation to our classmates; our first-ever presentation to the Board of Directors; when our name was called on stage to give a speech at a conference or a local community event, and in any other occasion that involved our having to speak in front of an audience.
For the “untrained” mind, a plethora of self-doubting thoughts rushes through our veins the second we’re presented with the opportunity to share our ideas with others.
“What will they think of me if I lose my thoughts and stutter?”
“What if I have something in between my teeth?”
“I’m really not having a good hair day today.”
“They probably won’t like what I have to say.”
The list goes on.
The lesser known the audience is to us on a personal level, the more stressful the act of speaking to them becomes, regardless of how large the audience is.
Yes, public speaking and, more broadly speaking, communicating with others, can be nerve-racking.
As a test, based on lessons learned from experts such as Simon Sinek, John C. Maxwell, David J. Shwartz, and others, I’d like to invite you to practice incorporating the following 3 principles into your upcoming communication endeavors.
I summarized them from reading books, listening to, attending, and giving speeches, and other insights learned from great communicators of our current and past generations.
As Shane Parrish introduces every episode in his Knowledge Project podcast: “It’s time to listen and learn.”
Principle #1: To activate others, you must first activate yourself
David Shwartz writes in The Magic of Thinking Big, “make your attitudes your allies.”
Attitudes are the mirrors of the mind. They reflect your thinking.
Professor Erwin H. Shell, one of America’s most respected authorities on leadership throughout the first half of the 20th century, builds on this thought by adding that “when our attitude is right, our abilities reach a maximum of effectiveness and good results inevitably follow.”
If you hope to activate others, whether it be within the audience to whom you’re speaking at a conference or in a webinar; during your weekly scrum meetings with your team; or any other circumstance that involves communication— in other words, if you hope to get people excited and enthusiastic — you must first be enthusiastic yourself.
“A man who lacks enthusiasm never develops it in another. But a person who is enthusiastic soon has enthusiastic followers.” — David J. Shwartz
Fall genuinely in love with what you have to say, and it will naturally exhibit itself to those around you, regardless of your posture, how eloquent you sound, or the way you dress on any particular day.
Feeling enthusiastic about what you have to say will help life up your talks. James F. Bender, author of How to Talk Well, says,
“Is your ‘Good morning!’ really good? Are your ‘Congratulations!’ enthusiastic? Does your ‘How are you?’ sound interested? When you make a habit of coloring your words with sincere feelings, you’ll notice a great uptake in your ability to hold attention.”
Principle #2: Believe with 100% certainty that it’s important, and that it doesn’t have to be important to 100% of your audience
You’re not speaking to please everyone. Even Tony Robbins has had his fair share of haters.
Companies aren’t selling products or services marketed to everyone.
Start small. Think big.
This is similar to what Kevin Kelly refers to as your “1,000 True Fans”: “A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the “best-of” DVD version of your free youtube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month.”
“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”
Shift the focus of your thinking away from yourself and place it onto the valuable insights you have to share. There’s a reason people are here to listen to you.
You, beloved human, are here not to promote yourself, build up your personal brand, and feed your ego with appraisal. You are standing here to add value to those who are here, with you. The former will eventually come as a result of the latter. Doing it the other way around would be short-sighted and yield limited results.
“We’re created and designed to be people who help each other. Society and culture work best when we are our Brother’s keeper and lifter; when we value other people… Focus has to be on others, not just myself. What happens when I put value on people is that I respect them in such a way that I will add value to them.” — John C. Maxwell
Surely, you’re bound to see frowning or confused individuals in your audience. Some will be looking at their phones, or speaking to the person next to them. If you’re in luck, you might even find (or hear) a few yawns.
Don’t focus on them.
Focus on those who are smiling, nodding, and looking straight into your eyes. Those who are showing enthusiasm in what you’re communicating to them as a by-product of your own enthusiasm.
Those are your true fans.
Principle #3: Think of today as your opportunity to become a better communicator tomorrow
We’ve all heard things like “Life is a never ending learning journey.” And it is.
No perfectly crafted skill comes to us perfectly crafted. Everything is, and can be, learned. With this in mind, think of your next speaking opportunity as a raw “work-in-progress”, not something to be perfectly delivered and accepted.
If you integrate into your line of thinking and doing principle #1 (to activate others, you must first activate yourself) and principle #2 (believe with 100% certainty that what you have to say is important), you’re already setting yourself up for success.
However, you may still find struggles in your own delivery. And that’s okay.
Your interview with a prospective employer may have gone more sour than you had anticipated. Tougher, unexpected questions were asked. You forgot one important element that you had planned to communicate to your audience.
Don’t dwell on what you should have done.
Learn from it, let go of it, and focus on what you can do in your next opportunity.
Enjoy the process of failure. After all, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”
“A failure is a man who has blundered and is not able to cash in on the experience.” — Orville Hobbard
So… what *does* a fulfilled life look like?
If you constantly preoccupy yourself with the way you sound, how you look, or how much depth you have, then you begin to put limitations on your communication skills.
If you want to be a great communicator, just get over yourself.
If you want to live a fulfilled life — get over yourself.
Is what you’re saying, sharing, doing, adding value to others?
Or only to yourself?
“If you want to feel happy, do something for yourself. If you want to feel fulfilled, do something for someone else.” — Simon Sinek
Special nugget 🤑
Did you ever feel like you have to pee right before you’re asked to come up on stage or in front of your boardroom to present?
Do you get nervous when you know you want to ask a question to the speaker?
The same feelings apply to everyone who’s ever tried bungee jumping or, even worse, jumping off a plane.
As one paratrooper trainer once said:
“The jump really isn’t so bad. It’s the waiting to jump that gets a fellow. It’s happened more than once that a trainee thought too much about what may happen and panicked. If we can’t get him to jump on the next trip, he’s through as a paratrooper.”
Waiting makes us nervous. Even experts in their own craft, whether it be professional news broadcasters, actors, and any other field feel it. But once they’re in action, fear disappears. It may take a few seconds or minutes to settle in and feel more comfortable, but one thing is for certain: the only cure for stage fright is action.
Getting right out there before the audience (whichever audience that may be) is the cure for dread, worry, fear.
Build confidence and destroy fear through action.
Do what you fear, and fear disappears.
I will let Benjamin Franklin conclude this thought with one of his own:
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”