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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

Entrepreneurs’ edge – working quality, not quantity hours

(ENTREPRENEURS) A huge advantage of the entrepreneur life is full control over your day – and using your hours wisely (and creatively) boosts productivity, even if it means sleeping in and staying up late. Think quality, not quantity.

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So often, we hear the phrase “quality, not quantity,” which can be appropriately used to describe ideas we give to our boss or the amount of effort we put into volunteering. The long and short of it is – don’t half-ass something because you think it’s fulfilling the need of “quantity.”

Quality is always so much more important when it comes to output in your job. Like, okay, great, you worked 11 gillion hours this month, but what did you actually accomplish? Did you finish endless busy work and take pictures for social media of how busy you are? Or did you grow your bottom line?

Over the years, we’ve heard a lot about flex hours and more working from home options, but a hot new idea is (you guessed it) quality hours, not quantity hours. Sometimes fitting into that 9-to-5 framework is satisfying the quantity aspect, but are we really being as productive as we should?

Many people argue that we should be working less in order to produce more. Wait, don’t leave, let me explain.

Does it really seem like the best idea to be working when your energy level is in the negatives? Probably not. This opens the door for more mistakes, less engaged work, and less output. If you’re a night owl and your brain fires on all cylinders when the sun has gone down, is it really worth focusing your work energy during the hours that your brain isn’t fully on?

If we work only when we know we’re going to be productive, we can really make the most of our time. Now, don’t get that confused with “sit around and wait for lightning to strike and THEN work,” it means schedule your tasks based on when your mind is typically the most productive.

When are you most productive? In the morning after you’ve had a quick job and some coffee? Or post mid-afternoon when you’re full-on awake? Jonas Downey pondered this question, and said, “I’m usually at my creative peak in the mid-morning and lose steam after lunch, so I shuffle my work accordingly. I do exploratory freeform stuff in the morning, and I save routine tasks (like implementing something I already know how to do) for the afternoon. I also have a rather short attention span, so I take tiny breaks a lot.”

He notes that working just to hit a certain number of hours is counterproductive, because in that time, there are likely to be hours worked when you are not at your best. Click To Tweet

Be honest – do you do your best work when your head is in the clouds, or when you show up to a task, raring to go?

Glorification of the 80 hour work week is dead in most circle, so consider scheduling yourself for times and days that your brain will cooperate with you instead of work against you and force you into menial work that feels like you’re accomplishing tasks!

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Business Entrepreneur

Is this normal (you wonder about your business)?

(ENTREPRENEURIALISM) It can be lonely not being able to openly ask potentially embarrassing questions about your business – there’s a way to do it anonymously…

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Entrepreneurialism is wildly rewarding – you are fully in control of the direction of your company, and you’re solving the world’s problems. But it’s also isolating when you’re not sure if what you’re experiencing is normal.

Sure, there’s Google, news networks (like ours), and professional connections to help you navigate, but sometimes you just want to know if something simple you’re seeing is normal.

Is Instagram Stories really where it’s at? Probably not if you’re a consultant.

Is it normal for an employee to attempt to re-negotiate their salary on their first day? Nope, but how do you keep the desirable employee without being bullied into new terms?

Do all entrepreneurs spend their first year in business as exhausted as a new parent? Sometimes.

You have questions, and together, we can share our experiences.

We have a brand new Facebook Group that is already wildly engaging, active, and you’d be amazed at how selflessly helpful people are – and we invite you to be one of them.

Want to anonymously ask a question about something you’re unsure is normal or not?

Click here to submit your question, and we’ll select as many as possible to discuss in the Facebook Group!

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