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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 avoid the sting of loneliness while solopreneuring

(ENTREPRENEUR) If you haven’t yet given up on humanity, check out these tips for avoiding loneliness while freelancing / solopreneuring.

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For all the aspects of freelancing that people romanticize, there’s one that they always leave out: the crushing existential loneliness of working by oneself.

If you’re tired of staring into the abyss (alone) every night as you wait for the 30 coffee cups’ worth of caffeine to exit your system, we’ve got your covered—here are a few ways to alleviate your loneliness (and couple of those voices in your head) throughout the day.

1. Stay in contact throughout the day.

Simple, yet powerful. Plenty of freelancers I know put a block on their own Facebook and Twitter pages and turn off their phones for hours at a time. Not only does doing this shut out potential clients throughout the day, it also cuts you off from the one medium of conversation you can (kind of) passively pursue: instant messaging.

Keeping up an IM or text (hell, even Snapchat) conversation with friends and family throughout the day is an easy, perfectly acceptable way to ensure that your cats and your keyboard aren’t the only recipients of your one-liners.

The downside here is that you run the risk of killing your own productivity in favor of socializing. While this method may take some finessing, you’ll feel loads better after a day of semi-constant low-level communication than you do after none at all.

If this is absolutely out of the question for you, try listening to a podcast. Throw yourself a bone, here.

2. Arrange meetings over Skype instead of emailing.

The convenience of email is pretty damn unbeatable, but staring at black words on a white background isn’t the most comforting of gestures.

Instead of communicating with your clients through a written medium, set up a video call—or, at the very least, a voice call.

In addition to helping you combat your building cabin fever, Skyping or calling your clients will help strengthen your relationship with them as well as make you stand out from the hundreds of emails they send and receive every day. It’s a twofer!

3. Phone a friend.

What do the two previous tips look like when you combine them? Virtual co-working. This is a tough maneuver to pull off if you’re the only freelancer you know, but if you can finagle a work session with a friend or colleague even one or two times a week, it’ll pay dividends.

Co-working is a bit of a tired concept when it comes to staving off invariable pangs of loneliness, but in this case, it may actually be the solution to your problem.

4. Take a mid-day break to run errands.

Taking an hour in the middle of your work day to go be around other people is remarkably refreshing, even if it’s just a trip to the local Fred Meyer (or, y’know, McDonalds).

You’ll also end up feeling better about the back half of your work day if you give yourself some time to decompress in the middle of it.

If this isn’t possible for you (I work a standard 9-5 rotation remotely), get up earlier than you need to and make your rounds or grab a cup of coffee then. Especially if you’re an introvert, you’ll get your fill of interaction by the time you clock in.

5. Learn to inherently loathe other people and adopt a hamster.

Shhhhh. Embrace the darkness.

JK, ignore number five… even if it’s tempting…

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Business Entrepreneur

Why many entrepreneurs facing mental health issues don’t get help [part two]

(BUSINESS NEWS) It isn’t a financial issue or a refusal to admit a problem – here’s why many entrepreneurs struggle with mental health challenges and never seek help.

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Nearly 44 million adults experience an episode of mental illness in any given year according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Of these, the experience of 10 million adults in the United States with mental illness was so serious that it substantially interfered with a major life activity.

A significantly higher percentage of entrepreneurs studied showed signs of mental illness than did the general population according to research conducted at the University of California in 2015.

Only 41 percent of adults who needed them received mental health services in the past year. What prevents us from getting the assistance that we so desperately need?

>>Click here to catch Part One of this series<<

Although a common problem among us, mental illness in America, in all its forms, is still marked by stigma and shame. This spurious perception of a shameless disorder has been partly responsible for individuals not getting the help they need.

“It’s much more difficult to think about an anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder helping a person excel in business,” said Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, speaking to the Harvard Business Journal.

“Stigma stems from not understanding what mental health conditions are all about, and not realizing that we all have at least some of these characteristics, “ said Kalb. “Part of the reason to learn more about these conditions is not to label people, but to better understand where people are coming from — and how, in a business setting, some of these attributes can be positive.”

While it’s very tempting to stay afraid of the stigma of a diagnosis, understand that you’re not alone, and that we all share similar problems from time to time.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Americans hoped access to personal healthcare insurance would be both easier to obtain and less costly. The U.S. Small Business Administration reported in 2014 that over 75 percent of businesses are known as “non-employer” firms. These firms create a single job — typically the business owner — and have no one else on the payroll.

Because of the changes in insurance laws, many of these individuals were faced with having to leave health care options that they many have had under prior insurers and face higher rates on the new healthcare exchanges for insurance plans that were less comprehensive.

Premiums for some insured have risen nearly 10 percent in the past two years, and depending upon the state in which they live and income targets, many individuals are bracing for steep increases in insurance prices this year, with estimates ranging from 16 percent to 65 percent increases.

As the publisher of the Washington Post, Newsweek, and owner of multiple television and radio stations, Phil Graham was a man with money and power. Yet, despite his wealth and privilege, he was not immune to mental illness. His journey with severe mental illness began in 1957 and continued for years thereafter.

Katherine Graham never forgot her husband’s tears, even decades later. “He was in real tears and desperation,” she told The Baltimore Sun, “he was…powerless, immobilized.”

In an era in which the stigma was profound and the treatment options severely limited, there was little help that could be found, and Phil’s rapid descent into illness included hospitalization and invasive electroshock therapy, all to no avail. Throughout it all, Katherine carried out the doctor’s orders, trying to talk Phil out of manic depressive episodes, speaking for hours on end to try to bolster his spirits.

We know that we ask our loved ones to carry large burdens for us an entrepreneurs, and try to ease their load. Yet, by not looking for help in an attempt to not be a bother to them, we don’t help them.

A study by Rogers, Stafford, and Garland at Baylor University found that for family members of those with mental illness, there were high levels of both subjective and objective burdens reported, with many family members struggling to process through their own feelings about the mental illness and their loved one.

We do not ease the path for our loved ones by refusing to seek and get the help we need, but instead damn them with a heavier burden, despite our well-meaning intentions.

In her powerful work, The Dangers of Willful Blindness, Margaret Heffernan, discusses the all-too-familiar concept of people not wanting to allow themselves to think about things that end in conflict or that rock the boat, personally or professionally.

“We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial,” writes Heffernan. “We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs.”

For many of us, it’s not that we don’t want to admit that we need help, but rather that we simply cannot allow ourselves to see it — even in the best of times! If you’re struggling to see life clearly through the lens of a mental illness, it is even more difficult.

Being open with one’s self about things that are real and things that are not, and acknowledging that things might not be okay, is the first step to finding assistance.

You don’t have to find help all alone. Reaching out to someone for help can often be uncomfortable, especially about a topic that is as personal as your own health, but doing so is the critical step towards recovery. Find a trustworthy partner for your recovery who you trust to help you find someone who can provide the level of assistance you need.

While your healthcare provider is the best first stop to discuss things that are going on with you physically or emotionally, it’s important to have a support network who can be there for you in between doctor visits.

There are other, more immediate resources for those who need them:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by going to their website and engaging in an online chat.

For those who prefer texting options with qualified crisis counselors, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 by texting “Go” to 741741. Both options are confidential and are immediate supports for you and your family.

Once you’ve begun treatment or counseling, stay educated and informed about the challenges that you face. You share control of your pathway to recovery with your doctor or counselor; find out all that you can from reputable sources about the specific challenge you face, and stay involved in making informed treatment decisions about your care.

You’re the most important thing in the world to your family, not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you. If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.

>>Click here to catch Part One of this series<<

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Business Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs face higher rates of mental illness [part one]

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) For many entrepreneurs, carrying out the work that they feel that they were meant to do comes with the cost of psychological turmoil, a cost often left unchecked.

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From the outside looking in, the entrepreneur’s calling is charming and magical. Being one’s own boss, making the decisions, and doing what one loves makes many people who work for someone other than themselves a tad jealous. For all your neighbor’s reveries about how the entrepreneurial life is a series of unbridled successes, you well know the price you pay, including those that no one else ever sees or hears about.

For many entrepreneurs, carrying out the work that they feel that they were meant to do comes with the cost of psychological turmoil, a cost often left unchecked.

As an entrepreneur, you balance the responsibility for the health and welfare of your company with the need to preserve your own health. There are pressures to maintain a public façade for the perceived benefit of your brand that may well be at odds with what’s going on in the inside.

Being artificially strong and denying yourself the help that you need isn’t only harmful physically, but fiscally as well. Businesses in America lose $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually due to the effects of serious mental illness on employee production and associated costs.

A significantly higher percentage of entrepreneurs studied showed signs of mental illness than the general population, according to research conducted at the University of California in 2015. The authors contended that there may be a link between mental illness and creativity.

The expanded creativity of many entrepreneurs is a fantastic attribute, but also one of a host of characteristics that affect their mental well-being. One of the authors of the study, Michael A. Freeman, identified the link and called for further research. “People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” stated Freeman, speaking to Google.

Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, identified four common mental health issues that many entrepreneurs face based on the nature of their work: depression, anxiety, self-worth issues, and addiction.

Working long hours, alone for many of them, can drive entrepreneurs to be less mindful of their health. That isolation can lead some towards increased risks for depression, as well as the mindset that “time is money.”

We’re written before about the dangers of such a mindset, and maintaining it costs the entrepreneur much needed leisure and decompression time.

The pressure you feel can be healthy, a motivator to continue your efforts and network with others who can help you succeed. However, it can also be linked to extreme anxiety, which can manifest itself in multiple ways, including being so afraid to make a business decision that it leads to mental paralysis.

This incapacitating anxiousness can also lead to burnout. “It’s much more difficult to think about an anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder helping a person excel in business,” said Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, speaking to the Harvard Business Journal.

She notes, “Howard Hughes… was a successful entrepreneur, but in the latter part of his life, as his OCD characteristics became worse, he became totally isolated. He couldn’t interact with people in business or in society.”

Anxiety’s effects can be compounded by how you judge your own self-worth.

For many, your job is your identity, and your bank account a quick barometer of your importance.

In an era in which it’s no longer uncommon to have startups fail to launch or succeed for awhile before not pivoting in a market shift, failure to make your business thrive shouldn’t have the stigma that it once did.

Some of us are feedback junkies, seeking engagement with and feedback from our internal and external customers. For others, it’s the excitement of the design and launch that gets us motivated. Whatever your particular cue might be, for the serial entrepreneur, the rush that you get is palpable and you wouldn’t trade it for anything. Maybe you should, though.

There’s a fine line between persistence and obsession, and a finer line still between obsession and addiction. Morin cites a 2014 study, published in The Journal of Business Venturing, that found that the actions of serial entrepreneurs shared similar characteristics with behavioral addictions.

These characteristics included having obsessive thoughts, negative emotional outcomes, and withdrawal-engagement cycles, in which the entrepreneur withdraws and yet feels pressured by the need to reengage with his business or partners, which he does, only leading to increased frustration and resentment. The inability for the entrepreneur to understand when their behavior was potentially damaging to themselves was also noted, with a “pursue at all costs” mentality being common, despite the harm done.

The need for mental health supports knows no class boundaries, no race or gender, or age limitations. Nor does it differentiate between those with the entrepreneurial spirit and those without.

Having an issue with your mental health or maintaining your emotional equilibrium doesn’t make you weak. The work that you’ve chosen sometimes comes with hidden pitfalls that can cause a human cost; as your most important asset, be proactive in maintaining it.

You’re the most important thing in the world to your family – not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you.

If this is a fight that you currently face, or fight on the behalf of someone close to you who suffers from a mental illness, know that you are not alone.

If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.

You don’t have to find help all alone. Reaching out to someone for help can often be uncomfortable, especially about a topic that is as personal as your own health, but doing so is the critical step towards recovery. Find a trustworthy partner for your recovery who you trust to help you find someone who can provide the level of assistance you need.

While your healthcare provider is the best first stop to discuss things that are going on with you physically or emotionally, it’s important to have a support network who can be there for you in between doctor visits.

There are other, more immediate resources for those who need them:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by going to their website at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ and engaging in an online chat.

For those who prefer texting options with qualified crisis counselors, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 by texting “Go” to 741741.

Both options are confidential and are immediate supports for you and your family.

Once you’ve begun treatment or counseling, stay educated and informed about the challenges that you face. You share control of your pathway to recovery with your doctor or counselor; find out all that you can from reputable sources about the specific challenge you face, and stay involved in making informed treatment decisions about your care.

You’re the most important thing in the world to your family, not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you. If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.

>>Keep reading as Part 2 digs in even deeper…<<

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