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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.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Don Reedy

    February 11, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Curt, you are “like so right on, dude.” Everyone, as you say, has his/her own story. Mine goes as follows, and I’m only sharing briefly because your article will help me fix a problem.
    I am easy going, love puns and words, and pay attention to people…so much more than I think most do. That habit makes we want to share and share and share. But when speaking I tend to talk too long, write too long, communicate too long.
    So thanks for the advice on changing old habits. Today, while I could go on and on, I’ll just say thanks for letting me know I should “practice” what I “know.”

  2. Chip Eichelberger

    February 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    The best way to see if you do suck, is to record your presentation ideally with video, it takes guts to record it and more to watch it. Are you interesting to listen to and watch? Likely not. Get some. Coaching.

    • Curt Steinhorst

      February 11, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Excellent insight Chip…coming from one of the best in the business.

  3. Missy Caulk

    February 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    I tend to speak from the heart my passion. If I start to use notes…it is not good. Therefore I never take on something I truly don’t believe it. Any recommendations for me?

    • Curt Steinhorst

      February 12, 2013 at 10:03 am

      I’m sure you are not alone. I would have to see you speak to give precise feedback. As a general rule, organized thinking (I recommend a detailed outline) is necessary for effective communication. What you are describing sounds like an anxiety issue. We reduce anxiety by taking hold of the lies we let float through our head prior to a speech (I’m going to forget, people won’t laugh, people will laugh at me…etc) and replacing them with truth.

      I’m happy to chat more about this offline.

  4. Richard I. Garber

    February 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Curt:

    Another lie that lots of people fall for is that public speaking is the number one or the greatest fear. If you look beyond the silly old 1977 Book of Lists, you will see that’s nonsense:
    https://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2012/10/either-way-you-look-at-it-public_23.html

    Richard

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Business Entrepreneur

How to know when it’s time to go freelance full time

(ENTREPRENEUR) There may come a point when traditional work becomes burdensome. Know how to spot when it is time to go full freelance.

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Freelancing is often thought of as a mythical concept, something that is almost too good to be true. While it isn’t all about hanging out at home in your pajamas all day, being a freelance is something that is completely possible to be successful – assuming you do your homework.

Recently, a friend of mine who is a licensed esthetician was no longer happy with her position at the salon and spa she worked for. The set hours were becoming a burden, as was having to divvy up appointments between another esthetician within the salon.

She noticed an increasing number of people asking her if she could perform services (eyebrow and lip waxing) from her home, as they preferred not to go into the hectic salon. My friend also found an increase in requests for her to travel to bridal parties for their makeup, rather than the parties coming into the salon.

It was around this time that my friend began to seriously consider becoming a freelance esthetician, rather than a salon employee. After about six months of research and consideration, she decided that this was the best route for her.

Below are the reasons she felt ready to pursue this option, and if they resonate with you, you may be ready for a full time freelance career.

1. She had a number of built-in clients and a list of people she could contact to announce her at-home services. Doing this at the start of one’s career would be very difficult without a contact list and word-of-mouth references, so it’s important to have…

2. …experience! My friend had worked for a number of salons over the years, and had the experience of working with all different types of clients. She also learned what she liked and didn’t like about each salon, which were pieces that factored into her own work-from-home space.

3. Since she had years of experience and had done all of the necessary aforementioned research, she knew what was expected of her and knew that getting a freelance career off the ground wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Operating a freelance career is completely on you, so you have to be 100 percent dedicated to making it work – it won’t just happen for you.

4. Once she began thinking about this idea nonstop and became more excited, she knew it was time to move forward. At first, the “what ifs” were daunting, but became more positive as time went on. If the idea of being a freelancer elicits more smiles than frowns, definitely take the time to consider this option.

5. In addition to the clients she already had, she also had an amazing support system who helped her develop her freelance brand and get her at-home business up and running. Having a solid group of people in your life that will help you is crucial, and any offer for help should be appreciated.

Other things to consider are: do you have enough money saved in case the freelance venture takes longer than planned to take off? If not, maybe stick with the day job until you feel more financially secure.

Jumping into something too quickly can cause you to become overwhelmed and drown in the stress. Make sure you’ve covered every single base before making this leap. Good luck, freelancers!

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Business Entrepreneur

Teach kids music and they’ll learn entrepreneurship

(ENTREPRENEUR) Sowing the seed of music education and appreciation in your child when they’re young is a great way to produce the fruit of entrepreneurship when they’re older.

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With all the focus sports gets as the petri dish for producing driven adults, I’d like to offer up a different extracurricular activity for your consideration: music. Supporting your child as they learn how to harmonize with others will help set them up for success later in life, as music cultivates many of the characteristics that entrepreneurs rely on every day.

Iteration

Anybody who’s played an instrument or been a part of a choir can tell you that the number one thing you’ll learn in a musical group is that you won’t make it unless you practice, practice, practice. Although in the moment it’s not that great to hear little Timmy or Ginny run through their C-scale a hundred times, a few years down the line when all those hours of iterating result in the lilt of Beethoven through your household, you can be sure that your kid has learned that repeating the little steps helps them achieve large goals.

Showmanship

A large part of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing your markets, or your audience, and able to keep their attention so that they come back to you when they need your business. Being a part of an ensemble not only teaches children to be comfortable in the spotlight but to crave putting on a show.

Teamwork

When young musicians come together to play in a band or raise their voices in a choir, they’re learning a lot about how to collaborate with others in order to achieve a goal. When a young alto sings alone, her notes may sound strange without the soprano tones filling out the melody. The duet that comes from them learning to work together and complement each other builds a strong foundation for any team venture your child will encounter later in their careers.

Competiveness

Although music provides a solid foundation in harmony, it also contains just as much grit and competition as the football field. Music groups compete in regional and national championships just as athletes do, and solos offer opportunities to self-select and advocate. Hell hath no fire like a second seat musician who dreams of being first chair.

Self Confidence

Unlike sports, music is accessible to those who might struggle with finding confidence. There are no “best” requirements to play—regardless of height, weight, and other characteristics that nobody has any control over—nearly anyone can pick up an instrument or find their voice. This perhaps may be the greatest gift that you can give your child, the confidence that no matter what they look like they can excel.

As your child begins to consider the different activities that will help them build toward their future, don’t discourage them from pursuing a musical path. When they have to stand in front of an audience of their peers and deliver a presentation with an unwavering voice, they’ll thank you for the years they spent getting comfortable in the spotlight. Especially if they pursue entrepreneurship!

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Business Entrepreneur

The 6 numbers every small business owner should have on speed dial

(ENTREPRENEUR) Don’t wait until you have an emergency to have proper business contacts, make sure you know at least these six people for your speed dial.

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As a small business owner, it’s easy to feel like you’re on your own island. But if you ever find yourself stuck in this mentality for too long, it’s probably because you’re unintentionally isolating yourself. What you need is a deep network of business services, partners, and contacts to help you succeed.

Regardless of what business you’re in, what your budget looks like, or the professional skills you have, it’s smart to develop business contacts with as many people as possible. Here are a few contacts you should always have at your fingertips:

1. Lawyer

Most small business owners think, “I can’t afford a lawyer!” But the truth is that you can’t afford to not have a lawyer. You don’t need an attorney in-house – or even need to keep one on retainer – but it’s wise to be on a first name basis with a business attorney whom you can call when you have a question or issue.

Not only will this save your rear end, but it’ll also significantly lower your stress level.

2. CPA

If you’re currently doing all of your month-to-month financial statements, expense filing, taxes, and financial planning, you’re not operating at your peak potential. Accounting is important, but it’s not something you should do yourself.

By hiring a CPA – whether through an outsourced accounting firm or as a full-time member of your team – you can keep your financials in order and free up your schedule to focus on the tasks that really matter.

3. Notary

You may or may not need documents notarized on a regular basis, but every business owner will encounter the occasional situation where a quick notary is necessary in order to push a project forward. It’s best if you have an in-house notary.

It’s not very difficult to become an official notary, so you can always encourage one of your administrative assistants to embrace the role.

4. Printing Service

Access to affordable, 24/7 printing services is a must. This enhances your flexibility and gives you the opportunity to quickly produce things like booklets, catalogs, brochures, calendars, and other promotional items.

An online service like PrintingCenterUSA is the most convenient option.

5. Banker

Having a reliable banker is good for a couple of reasons. First off, it gives you access to the right banking plan or package that fits your needs. (This cuts down on costs and ensures proper access to your liquid assets.) Secondly, it helps you with loans, lines of credit, and other financing services that are important to growing and scaling your business operations.

6. Insurance agent

Insurance isn’t something anyone enjoys talking about, but it’s one of the more integral pieces of maintaining and growing a successful business. Without the right insurance policies, you face higher risk and lower certainty.

By aligning with an insurance professional – preferably a broker who isn’t associated with one company – you instantly gain access to all of the best products that are available in the marketplace.

Most importantly, never stop networking.

People often think about business networking in terms of finding new clients and customers. However, it’s equally important to network for the purposes of establishing mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships.

Not sure where to cultivate genuine business connections? The answer is everywhere. From structured environments like small business conferences and trade shows to impromptu encounters at the supermarket or in your neighborhood, you’re surrounded by opportunities.

If the thought of putting yourself out there and networking with total strangers makes you nervous, preparation is the greatest remedy.

As entrepreneur Alyssa Gregory explains, “One of the best ways to ease any anxiety you may have as you prepare for a business networking situation is by developing an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short description of what you do, who you work with and the value you offer to your customers or clients. The goal is to be able to deliver this ‘pitch’ in 60 seconds or less, in a conversational way.”

“Conversational” is an important word in the larger context of networking. Whether you’re building a relationship with an accountant or an investor, you don’t want the interaction to feel forced and scripted. Being genuine and relatable is the best approach.

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