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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

6 simple self-care tips to keep any busy entrepreneur sane

(ENTREPRENEUR) We don’t all have time for yoga and long baths, but self-care can keep us sane and able to keep doing what we love for work – here’s how.

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It’s no secret that Americans are stressed. A recent study shows 3 out of 4 Americans experienced a symptom of extreme stress in the past month. Throw entrepreneurship into the mix, and you’re primed for a breakdown, or burnout at the very least. The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way.

This is why self-care is important.

The term “self-care” is nowadays often associated with skincare routines and Netflix, but in reality, it’s much more than that: It’s valuing yourself and your health enough to graciously set boundaries and say no. That way, you bring the best version of yourself to your job and relationships day after day.

I’ve started several companies, sold two, and recently started a new gig as VP of Growth & Ops for Steadfast Media (hi, guys!) while running Honey & Vinegar, so it’s safe to say I’ve been one tired woman. There were times I was tired, frustrated, and honestly burnt out. At one point, I took a sabbatical for several months at the urging of several mentors, family members, and my career coach. Burnout is real, but I’ve learned ways to cultivate self-care in my professional life that allows me to have a somewhat balanced life.

(Side note: I understand there are situations out of one’s control that can contribute to burnout, including ailing family members, parenting, disabilities, etc. This article is not focused necessarily on these, rather preventing your professional life becoming your entire life. That way, you can focus on the truly important things.)

Here’s what I’ve learned about self-care thus far (mostly the hard way):

1. Set strict boundaries & turn off notifications.

The best advice I ever received was a one-off realization from my brother: gate it, don’t date it.

Meaning that if you have emails, Slack, or Trello on your phone, don’t make it available to where you check it at all times of day and night. Force a gate between you and the app. Put the app in another folder to where you don’t check it 24/7. Don’t let the notifications own you, or straight up disable them.

If you’re the boss, you get to set the standards. Check Slack and emails during certain times, and be as specific as possible when setting those times. If there’s a true emergency, have employees then call or text. Set those boundaries and stick to them. Encourage your employees to stick to them with one another, too.

2. Have friends and a life outside of your industry.

I can’t emphasize this enough, and this is also why I’ve only lived in cities that emphasize one industry. (DC and LA people, I don’t know how you do it! Props to you.)

This allows you to create a life beyond just your professional life.

When it seems like the sky is falling — i.e. you don’t get that round of funding, or that one client flips out, it’s important to have people around you who are a) grounded b) can give you perspective. Compatriots in your respective industry are helpful for support and sounding boards, but it’s easy to b

When an acquisition deal for a past company fell through, I felt like my world was over. I was devastated. My darling friends, one in healthcare and another in real estate, took me to Chuy’s happy hour and gave me perspective. Relationships like these are game-changers.

3. Schedule time for yourself.

Set time aside for yourself, but get real: What does this mean practically in your day to day, week to week life? For me, I purposefully make sure to keep one night a week, ideally two, to rest at home with my husband.

Also, plan that damn vacation! It doesn’t have to be a lavish European vacation, but set aside time where you are intentionally not checking your phone or emails.

When I took my first actual vacation (and not working remotely) in years, It was life-changing. Be intentional to take more than two days to think, journal, set aside goals not just professionally, but what you want you life to look like that following quarter. You, your company, and the people will be a lot better for it, I promise.

4. Cultivate healthy habits that are enjoyable.

Don’t let the hustle culture get to you. Hard work is important, but so is exercise, eating healthy, and maintaining mental health. In other words, some legit self-care.

Some good thoughts from VC Harry Stebbings.

Set routines of things you love to do that also maintain your well-being. I love going to the gym and putting my phone on Do Not Disturb for 30 minutes, but that’s not for everyone. Take your dog on a walk, put on a playlist to cook a good meal, go to that yoga class. Or just go on a walk with a friend. You do you, boo.

This could be you.

5. Train other people to do your job.

You may think you’re the only person that can do a number of things at your job. If you want your company to ever scale, you need, I repeat, need to take those tedious tasks off your list, and even some larger projects off your hands.

I know it’s so hard to relinquish control, but *gasp* there might be people that can do parts of your job better than you. So let them!

Does this mean you need to hire a virtual assistant, a COO, find another co-founder, or just hire that dang accountant? Do it.

Your business is only going to succeed if you’re performing as the best version of yourself, not a stressed-out shell of yourself. If you need to micromanage everything, your business won’t succeed or be sustainable long-term. Don’t let your stress about doing everything stunt your company or personal growth. If you needed a sign, this is it.

6. Practice self-awareness.

There is nothing more valuable than the gift of self-awareness.

Listen to your body and what it’s telling you. Does it need water? Does it need sleep? Start a habit of journaling and seeing what areas where you’re running on empty. More than that — do what your body tells you. Drink that water, my friend!

The takeaway:

All in all, life is more than work and who we are is more important than what we do. Take time for self-care, and you’ll have a healthier mind and body.

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Business Entrepreneur

Performance improvement through self-talk

(ENTREPRENEUR) Speaking to others can be scary, but speaking to yourself is normal and can actually improve your speech performance overall

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Do you talk to yourself? Don’t worry, this is a no-judgment zone. I probably talk to myself more than I talk to other people – especially when considering the inner monologue.

I once read that people who talk to themselves are likely to be more intelligent. Whether or not this is factual I don’t know, but I do know that it’s important that you’re smart about the way you talk to yourself.

I’m a fairly self-deprecating person, so when I’m talking to myself about myself, it’s usually some sort of insult. About a year or so ago, I realized how often I was doing this, and made a conscious effort to be a little bit nicer. In that time, my mood has been a bit more positive.

This experience fits well into the research efforts of psychologist Ethan Kross who has examined the differences in life success based off of how people talk to themselves. “Talk to yourself with the pronoun I, for instance, and you’re likely to fluster and perform poorly in stressful circumstances,” said Kross. “Address yourself by your name and your chances of acing a host of tasks, from speech making to self-advocacy, suddenly soar.”

This can be simplified as, talk to yourself the way you would (or maybe, should) talk to someone else, and respond in the way you would want them to respond. Treat with kindness, receive kindness back – as a result, things are more cohesive, copacetic, and successful.

After working with participants in his study, Kross found a number of performance benefits to this self-talk method, including: better performance, higher well-being, and greater wisdom.

With better performance, judges were used to listen to five-minute speeches prepared by participants about why they should be hired for their dream job. Half of the participants used “I” statements, while the other half referred to themselves by their own name. The judges found that the latter half performed better, and were found to have experienced less depression and felt less shame.

With higher well-being, Jason Moser, a neuroscientist and clinical psychologist, measured electrical activity in the brain during participants’ usage of the different types of self-talk. During stressful situations, those who used their names instead of personal pronouns were found to have a significant decrease in anxiety levels, which positively correlated with a major decrease in energy use by the frontal lobe (talk about a win, win!)

With greater wisdom, the research found that people who use their names instead of pronouns are able to think things through more wisely and more rational and balanced way. “The psychologically distanced perspective allowed people to transcend their egocentric viewpoints and take the big picture into account,” Kross said of this piece of the research.

Well, Taylor is now ready to wrap up this article, and she hopes that you’ll give name-first self-talk a try, as The American Genius only wants what is best for their readers! Additionally, encourage people around you and those on your team to give this self-talk, first name idea a try – circle back after a week of trying it and share the results.

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Business Entrepreneur

How freelancers can keep the peace with difficult clients

(ENTREPRENEUR) Freelancers are in a tight spot – keeping customers happy pays the bills, even when they’re impossibly difficult. Let’s discuss how to overcome this tremendous challenge.

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Freelancers have a myriad of benefits, but one distinct drawback is that there isn’t always a team to back you up if you find yourself working with a particularly nasty client. It’s especially important to keep clients — no matter how insufferable they may be — in good moods, so here are a few tips on keeping the peace with your most annoying customers.

It’s worth noting that you can often mitigate a large amount of potential misunderstandings — and thus, nastiness — by being clear with your intentions, terms, and rules up front and over-communicating at all times. A common issue for beginning freelancers is a tendency to settle on less-than-optimal terms for fear of losing a potential customer. A piece of advice – if they’re not willing to pay you what you’re worth now, they never will be.

It also helps to keep in mind that most obstinate clients are simply control-freaks who have found themselves outside of their comfort zones. Knowing that you aren’t dealing with inherently bad people can be the difference between snapping and having more patience.

Once you’ve established that your client is causing you substantial enough discomfort that their behavior is no longer acceptable, your first step should be to communicate to them the specifics of your problem. If possible, do this in writing – promises made via email tend to reinforce accountability better than phone calls.

Freelancers should also avoid using any additional stipulations or rewards for getting clients to cooperate. As long as they’re the one failing to hold up their end of the bargain, they should be the one to pick up the slack — don’t do their work for them (or, if you do, make sure you charge them for it).

Again, the majority of client-freelancer issues can be boiled down to miscommunication and shaky terms, so address all issues as quickly as possible to avoid similar problems in the future. And as previously stated, over-communicate at all times.

Of course, keeping the peace is only viable up to a certain point of abuse.

If your client doesn’t pay you by the agreed-upon due date, continuously disrespects you and/or your team, or keeps changing the terms of your agreement, you reserve the right to set the client straight, threaten to take them to small-claims court, or — if you haven’t initiated the work for your end of the deal — terminate the contract.

Remember, freelancers don’t owe inconsiderate customers the time of day, and for every non-paying customer with whom you waste your time, you’re missing out on a paid, legitimate opportunity.

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