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Why you suck at public speaking: you’ve been lied to

Every professional is involved in public speaking, be it a client presentation or on a conference stage, and most people are quite bad at it – here are some truths to combat the “do what feels natural” lie.

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Public speaking: we all do it, but we’re not all good at it

“Communication is all about doing what feels natural… I have a style that works for me, and you should find your style as well.”

I’m over it. I can’t count the number of times I have heard some variation of the above phrase. It infuriates me every time. Why? Because it’s stupid. It’s lazy. It’s ignorant. And it’s pervasive.

Employees roll their eyes when you stand up to speak. Clients don’t buy from you. Industry conferences don’t ask you to join the panel (or invite you back). And yet- you continue doing the same thing.

You are not unique. I see it all the time, particularly among people who speak often. They become victims to what I call the “curse of the compliment.” In an audience of 1000, two people tell them the speech is great. That must mean everyone thinks they are great, right? Wrong. The speech sucked and they will never grow their business if they don’t improve. Good luck telling them that, though.

You might not be speaking in front of thousands, but you do presentations and public speaking, whether you like it or not. As Tony Jeary’s book articulates so well, “Life is a Series of Presentations.”

Don’t be a victim of “do what feels natural”

People approach communication in its various forms (meetings, presentations, interviews) unlike they approach any other activity. Like Happy Gilmore’s golf strategy- they do what feels natural. Unfortunately, this is not a movie. In real life, if you hit a golf ball like you are playing Hockey- you will be terrible. There is a right and wrong to golf. There are best practices and worst practices. Golf is predictable. If you have a bad golf swing (Charles Barkley notwithstanding), you will be a bad golfer.

And so it goes with communication. Don’t be a victim of the “do what feels natural” lie. I offer you a few truths to combat this lie:

  1. Great communication is not ‘natural.’ As long as you believe that the skills that create influence, build rapport, and move audiences are born into your genetics, you will have no reason to actively work to improve your performance. Belief in what I call the birth myth is the surest route to your stagnation.

    Any time you think that you can’t improve- consider Bill Clinton. Lauded as one of the great rhetors of the last 30 years, he was heckled and had his mic turned off during his first speech in front of a national audience (DNC- 1988).

  2. Communication habits develop over time. The way each person communicates in a given scenario is the result of past feedback they have received. Unfortunately, we are often given bad feedback that leads us to adopt bad habits- demonstrations of aggression, fear, or indifference . At some point, typically when we are young, we had an experience that taught us that such a strategy provided our best chance to deliver the results we sought (safety, anonymity, control, power). Over time, these behaviors became habits. These habits became identity forming.
  3. We can change our behaviors. We are not stuck in the communication patterns of our past. But we are only able to change if we separate our communication strategies from who we are as people. We must think of communication like we think of golf, not like we think of our personality.

Changing long-rooted bad habits takes two elements:

  1. Knowledge: become aware of how you are perceived. Identify key areas that limit you (posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, verbal padding, voice, message clarity, etc.).
  2. Practice: actively work to improve. Habits that have taken years to develop don’t go away over night, but they can go away over time.

My question for you is this: are you willing to take the time to learn how you are perceived in your communication habits? Are you willing to do the work to change it?

Curt Steinhorst loves attention. More specifically, he loves understanding attention. How it works. Why it matters. How to get it. As someone who personally deals with ADD, he overcame the unique distractions that today’s technology creates to start a Communications Consultancy, The Promentum Group, and Speakers Bureau, Promentum Speakers, both of which he runs today. Curt’s expertise and communication style has led to more than 75 speaking engagements in the last year to organizations such as GM, Raytheon, Naval Academy, Cadillac, and World Presidents’ Organization.

Business Entrepreneur

If you’re easily distracted, you’re more likely to thrive as an entrepreneur

(ENTREPRENEUR) If monotony and boredom at work- well bores you, it’s possible you may fit with the other entrepreneurs with a quick and constantly changing career.

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When Bill Gates was a kid, he knew he liked messing around with code. He couldn’t have known how it might evolve, but he was willing to live in the distraction, focusing on details when needed, but always learning, moving on, taking risks and growing in the process.

Some of the most successful folks among us are not content to sit and make widgets every day. They cannot thrive in a detail and focused work environment. So, it may come as no surprise to know that people who are more easily distracted are also more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs.

According to this study, if you are intelligent and get distracted more easily, those two qualities combined will likely enhance your creativity. And, that creativity and ability to use distraction as an advantage can be channeled to create new things, jobs, companies, etc.

For those of us who are more easily distracted, who enjoy doing different things every day, and who like learning, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests a good option is to find a career path that provides the right amount of distraction and which is a great fit for your personality. If you do that your talent is more likely to be apparent because you are playing to your strengths. Also, if you are working in your sweet spot you will be more productive and motivated.

Maybe not surprisingly, the top job for those who live in distraction is entrepreneur. The term “easily distracted” often comes with a negative connotation, but considering an entrepreneur is taking risks, making things happen and creating companies, ideas, products that may have never existed, this spins that idea on its head. Entrepreneurs are the chief cooks and bottle washers of the world. They ideate, create, hire and inspire. None of that is possible in a monotonous work environment.

“Unsurprisingly, meta-analyses indicate that entrepreneurs tend to have higher levels of ‘openness to experience,’ so they differ from managers and leaders in that they are more curious, interested in variety and novelty, and are more prone to boredom — as well as less likely to tolerate routine and predictability,” according to the HBR story.

Other careers that are great fits for those of us (me included) who enjoy distraction are PR/Media Production, Journalism and Consultant. What these fields all have in common is, there is never a dull moment, switching from task to task is pretty commonplace, and you will do well if you can be a generalist – synthesizing information and weeding out the unnecessary.

Not sure where your strengths lie? Here’s a quick quiz to give you some feedback on how curious you really are.

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Business Entrepreneur

How can a small business beat a large competitor moving in next door?

(BUSINESS) How do you stand out when a big competitor moves to your neighborhood? Reddit has a few suggestions – some obvious, some not so much.

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Small businesses, especially restaurants have been hit hard by lockdowns. Many closed for good this year, and those that are still hanging on are in a precarious position as their local economies shift.

Last week, a user on r/smallbusiness asked a timeless question that is especially relevant right now. Reddit user longbottomjr writes: “We have a strong competitor moving in next door in a few months. Our restaurant is one that pays the bills but […] I feel that if this new competitor takes up enough market share we will lose our restaurant. Can anyone chime in with resources/ideas I can use to help put together our plan of action?”

Comments quickly pointed out what common sense would dictate.

First, ensure the basics are covered. Being clean, quick, friendly, and high quality will take you far, no matter what competition you’re up against. And as u/horsemullet said, “Customer service also happens before someone walks through the door!” So make sure that your online hours, contact info, menus and social media accounts are up to date and accurate.

Another point emerged that is less intuitive: Competing businesses will naturally gravitate towards similar locations. This is a well-established phenomenon known within game theory as Nash’s Equilibrium. In the restaurant industry, this is actually a good thing. It brings entirely new customers to the area and ultimately benefits all the other nearby businesses, too.

Take advantage of the attention by offering something other spots don’t, like loyalty rewards, specials, unique offerings, or meal deals.

Speaking of the area, a great way to stand out from larger competitors is to build relationships with the community you serve, as u/sugarface2134 emphasized. “In my city there are two Italian restaurants in the same location – just across the parking lot from each other. We always pick the smaller one because the owner truly makes you feel like a member of the family.”

That’s an advantage of being a small, local business that all the money in the world couldn’t buy. Get to know your customers personally and you will not only create loyal regulars, but friends as well.

One of the top rated responses, from u/seefooddiet2200, made an often overlooked but critically important point.

“Talk to your staff and see if they have any ideas. These are the people that are working every single day and may know one or two ‘annoying’ things that if they were switched would make things easier. Or maybe they see that there’s specific things people ask for that you don’t serve. Every single [one] of your employees is a gold mine of insight, you just need to be open to listening to them.”

That is applicable to any business owner who wants to improve their practices.

Ask employees what they think, especially the ones who have stuck around a long time. Not only do they know the ins-and-outs of their jobs, but this builds rapport and trust with your staff. A good boss realizes that employees are more than their job descriptions. They have valuable thoughts about what’s working and not working, and direct access to customer’s opinions.

Good luck, u/longbottomjr! We’ll be rooting for you.

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Business Entrepreneur

How a newly funded coffee delivery startup is thriving during COVID

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) Seattle’s Joe Coffee finds successful funding in hyper specific clientele and operations even mid-pandemic. But how did they do it?

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Amidst a pandemic, you might not expect a small company with limited clientele to thrive. Yet, Joe Coffee, a Seattle-based delivery service, is doing just that.

Joe Coffee, an aptly named coffee runner, has received millions in funding, a large chunk of which was raised mid-pandemic. Their mission is simple: to bring coffee from smaller shops to local consumers, especially without endangering either party.

There’s a lot to be said about Joe Coffee’s valuation and mission, but what’s more intriguing is their unlikely success.

A food delivery service that focuses on coffee may not seem that niche, but when you look at Joe Coffee’s determination to stick to the Seattle area, coupled with its staunch resolve for frequenting smaller shops (e.g., not Starbucks), the service begins to look pretty specific–and, in an economy that honors sweeping solutions, this is a welcome change of pace.

The way their service works is fairly simple: Joe Coffee provides shops with signs and information on how to order through the Joe network, then consumers are able to download and order through a mobile app on all of the usual platforms. Joe Coffee takes a nine percent cut of the order total, credit card fees included.

In return, customers are able to order from their favorite, local, non-chain coffee shops, both supporting them and sustaining their caffeine addiction at a time where alertness is paramount and grouchiness is all too common.

What’s truly interesting about Joe Coffee’s example is that it demonstrates an availability for small services with extreme specificity in terms of operating capacity. By sticking to unique businesses in a relatively small metropolitan area (as opposed to, say, multiple cities), the service is more likely to be successful in execution and delivery, thereby solidifying its relevance to both consumers and businesses alike.

And, by playing into the need for curbside pickup or home delivery these days, Joe Coffee only furthers the perception that its service is necessary.

If the country begins to reopen–whenever that happens–it will be no surprise to see Joe Coffee maintain a relationship between consumers and smaller businesses in the Seattle area. For anyone offering a similarly niche service, this is a perfect example of a company to which you should pay attention.

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