“I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not … Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? … And we talking about practice. I know I supposed to be there. I know I’m supposed to lead by example… I know that… And I’m not.. I’m not shoving it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do…But…We’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice. We ain’t talking about the game. We’re talking about practice, man. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you see me play don’t you? You’ve seen me give everything I’ve got, right? But we’re talking about practice right now. We talking about practice.” Allen Iverson
The other day when I was in the middle of a presentation on communication skills, I had a moment when I stopped and realized that I had gotten pretty darn good at this. Now I know I’m not supposed to say that and I don’t mean it in an arrogant, or conceited way, just that I thought that I was a pretty good speaker, but over the course of the last year, I’ve seen a tremendous improvement. For a moment, I sort of wondered why and then it came to me; Practice, Man. Over the course of the last year, I have spent a significant amount of time on the road presenting seminars on leadership and communication skills. I was doing it because it paid well and because I truly love the work, even if I hate the travel. It never occurred to me when I signed up, that it would turn into my time in Hamburg.

All You Need Is Love…and Practice, Man

In his groundbreaking book on human performance, Malcolm Gladwell recounts that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. He mentions some all-time greats and their pursuit of greatness but one of the best is the story of the Beatles before they were famous. When we think of the Beatles, we think of genius and talent. We don’t often think of practice, man, but it was practice that made them. About 12,000 hours of it to be exact. Between 1960 and 1964, the Beatles played live shows in Hamburg, Germany for 8 hours a day. They were constantly on stage. They played their music, the music of their heroes and whatever was popular at the time. It was a period of uninterrupted practiced that led to mastery of their skills. Only after they had mastered those basic skills was their genius revealed.

Iverson Vs. Jordan

I’ve been very blessed in my lifetime to have seen of the greatest athletes of all time in their primes. We’re seeing it with Lebron right now and before him, I saw Allen Iverson and I saw Michael Jordan. It might seem believable, but the most talented basketball player I’ve seen was the former. The best basketball player I’ve ever seen was the latter. Allen Iverson was marked for greatness from the beginning. He could shoot unlike anyone else. He could handle the ball and he could jump. He was so good as a college player that he became the first Georgetown Hoya to leave college early to enter the draft. He was amazing and he was fun to watch. He was without question, a better ball handler than Jordan. He was quicker and he was a better shooter. He had everything for him to be the greatest of all time. But he’s not. Don’t misunderstand me, Michael Jordan was a gifted athlete. Some people love to tell the story of him being cut his freshman season but that was about attitude. It was never about talent. What made him the greatest to ever lace up his sneakers was his practice habits. He was notoriously hard on teammates. he expected them to work as hard as he did but that was impossible. Always the first one in and the last one out, he was always on the court improving his game. When his quickness slipped, he developed a jump shot. When the league changed, he lifted weights. He did in practice everything he needed to do to be the greatest. And he is. The difference between them was practice, man. As seen in the quote at the top of the post, Iverson wasn’t really into it.

The Take-Away

This has been long and I hope you find it worth it. I know a lot of people who are incredibly talented and who are also incredibly frustrated because their talent is yet to take off. If what I’m describing sounds like you, have you been practicing? I used to complain all of the time that I wasn’t getting noticed. When I look back now, I was talented but average. Speaking a couple of times a month, while better than nothing, wasn’t cutting it. I needed stage time to develop my craft. If you want results and want to be great, start looking now Find opportunities to master what you love. Look for the chance to Practice, Man.]]>

“I can’t do it. I’m just not good at it.” This was the phrase my daughter used with me when it was time to blow dry her show steer. Barn work doesn’t come naturally to her and because she doesn’t think she’s good at it, she was ready to give up.  I was ready to step in with a little coaching when her brother did the job for me. “Caroline”, he told her, “I’m not good at it either, but that’s why we do it every day, we practice and we get better,” I was so proud of the kid I about picked up and hugged him right there in the barn! He hit on something that I think holds so many people back when it doesn’t have to. When they view themselves as not good at something, anything, they believe that their ability is set in stone with no hope to improve. They aren’t good so they give up before they ever start.

How This Relates To Public Speaking

In no other area do I see this more than with public speaking. To begin with, it isn’t natural. No one stood up in their cradle and began quoting Churchill. Secondly, it can be nerve-wracking. Speaking makes even the most confident people nervous. Every good speaker that I’ve ever met gets a little scared before they start. The difference is that the great ones didn’t let their natural ability dictate how good they could become and they don’t let their fear stop them from starting. Put simply, good speakers are speakers who didn’t give up just because they aren’t good at speaking.

It’s About Mindset!

In her outstanding book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck divides the world into two groups, those with a fixed mindset; people who believe that their ability, intelligence, and skills are fixed from birth, and those with a growth mindset; people who know that how good they are at something doesn’t have much to do with how great they can become.  Her research and writing are changing the way that educators are teaching children and it should change the way we develop as communicators.

Focus on Effort!

According to Dweck, the areas where we need to focus are on skill development and effort. We don’t have a lot of control over where we start. Sure, some of us start out better at certain things than others, but we all have the ability to develop the important skills and to work hard to use them. Instead of focusing solely on performance, we should focus on improving the skills that lead to high performance. Going back to public speaking, not everyone will be as gifted as Tony Robbins on the platform, but everyone can focus on the skills that make Tony Robbins a great speaker. We can focus on our energy, our connection, and our story. All of these things can improve if we put forth enough effort. All of us can be better than we are if we develop the skills and put in the work. This week, there will be challenges and there will be times when we will think that we can’t do it because we aren’t good at it. Like Caroline in the barn, we will be tempted to give up because it doesn’t come naturally. When the moment comes, it’s my hope that you will remember that no one is born great and by developing skills and focusing on the effort, we’ll hang there and grow into how great we can become.]]>

There’s a fear that cripples many potentially great speakers that no one really talks about. It’s not the fear of public speaking, that gets plenty of attention. It’s a deeper, more difficult fear that’s holding most of us back. A fear that I know all too well; the fear of not being good enough. Before we even start we question “Who The Hell Am I?” Have you ever watched a great speaker felt the twinge of jealousy that they found “their message” first? I think a lot of us do. We get this idea in our head that because Tony Robbins said it or that because Gary Vee teaches it that we don’t belong in that space. Maybe we read a great book and say to ourselves, “that’s it, someone else beat me to the idea, now I’ve got nothing!” We think that because we heard it or read it that everyone has heard it or read it.  But there’s nothing new under the sun.  I spend a lot of time listening to Jim Rohn on YouTube and I quote him here frequently. His brand of common sense speaks to me just as it has to millions of others. Because I have autoplay enabled, YouTube usually just starts the next video when the other is finished so I usually get a mix of other speakers as well, Tony Robbins is one of them. While listening to a mix of lectures last week, I was struck by the similarities between the two. They seemed to be saying the exact same thing. If you’ve read much about Tony Robbins, you’ll remember Jim Rohn was his mentor, so this makes sense, but when I went back and listened the second time, I was shocked. Not only were they saying the same things, Tony was using the same words, the same way that Jim Rohn had.  Then it hit me. Tony Robbins hadn’t ripped off Jim Rohn, he took a great idea and put his spin on it and tailored it for his audience. Something all great speakers do.  I’m not suggesting we should steal other people’s stories or content and I’m not suggesting that we should attempt to be someone else when we speak. I’m suggesting that if we hear a great message or find a great idea, we have an obligation to share it in our own honest and authentic way, tailored for our audience.   There’s a fear that’s crippling many great speakers before they ever start and it’s called Imposter Syndrome. If we are to overcome it, we must get past the “Who The Hell Am I To..” and move to the “Who The Hell Am I Not To…” If the message has value, must communicate it]]>

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTdPRrIpwxs[/embedyt]

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When I attended my very first High Impact Presentations course very early in my career, my instructor didn’t really know what to do with me. Oh, I had the voice and my language was clean of the filler words that plagued some of the other students, but something was off. I had no problem getting up in front of the group and volunteered frequently but when I got up to speak, something wasn’t right. I had the sound, but I didn’t have the look. At the time I weighed about 315 pounds. I looked like an NFL lineman, only I was way to too slow to play. Every time I stood to speak, embarrassed by my size, I would attempt to shrink or make myself smaller. This, of course, didn’t work, it just left me looking silly. That’s when I got some of the best advice I’ve ever received about public speaking; OWN IT.  You see, I kept looking at my girth as a handicap, and for my health it certainly was, but in the front of the room, it was one of my greatest strengths. Being a BIG man in the front of the room, allowed me to take up more space and dominate my area. It gave me an aura of authority, I just had to own it. In the time that I’ve spent coaching public speakers everywhere, this the one thing that I see holding way too many would be great communicators back; their ability to own their shortcomings and make them their strengths. Are you large? Great! Own it! Use your size to capture attention and hold more space. Are you short? Great! Own it! You have a perspective different from most and if you embrace it and use it, you can come across as much more genuine. Shy? Young? Old? Whatever it is, embrace it, use it and own it.  Ronald Reagan has a disastrous first debate against Walter Mondale in 1984. He seemed tired and out of his league as it related to the facts of political life. Political writers across the country were filling pages with speculation that he was too old to be President. How could he turn this around? He had to own his shortcoming. During the second debate, his first question was about his age. He OWNED IT! Turning to the moderator he said:

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” 
Game over. Landslide won. Even Mondale had to smile about the line. By owning what his opponent was trying to hang him with, he was able to change the narrative and win the election.  Public speaking isn’t easy but we tend to make it way harder on ourselves than it needs to be by trying to be something we’re not. Like a 300 pound guy trying to hide, we just look foolish and nervous. Whatever it is about you that makes you, you, own it. It’s how the great ones get remembered. ]]>

 

Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight.
Ronnie Coleman’s quote about bodybuilding, on its surface, might not seem applicable to the business world, but when we dig deeper, we find that it is. Phrased another way, everyone wants to be successful, but not everyone wants to do the unpleasant things that success requires, and a lot of times, that unpleasant thing, is working for free. One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “how can I get paid to speak?” My answer is boring, and a lot of people dismiss it, but the answer is to get really good at speaking. To get really good at speaking, you have to speak a lot. This means speaking for free, a lot. Once we’re really good at speaking, people will pay us for it, but we have to build the skill first. We have to lift the heavy ass weight. I have some friends that dream of being paid writers. Do you know how many of them write every day for free? That’s right, the answer is zero. If they would simply put 500 words on the screen every day, they would within a year, develop the skills to be paid to write. They’re bright, and gifted people, but they haven’t developed the discipline and skill required to collect. They haven’t lifted their heavy ass weight. If you’re working in sales, how much of your after-hours time to you spend studying your products, your company, and your industry? How much time do you spend off the clock developing your communication skills, learning to better use language and understanding persuasion? The best I know put in a lot of work when they aren’t getting paid to make themselves better. They read the books, they take the classes and they go to Toastmasters meetings because they see the time they spend doing these things as an investment that pays dividends when the time comes to use the skills. These people lift the heavy ass weight. There is a pervasive attitude that only suckers work for free. This is a real shame because a lot of opportunities are missed due to this worldview. I can’t tell you how any opportunities have come my way because I spoke even though the group couldn’t pay me.  Those opportunities all more than paid for work that I put in for free, but the bigger payoff came from the habits that I developed and skills that I honed. When I lifted the heavy ass weight, good things happened and weight got lighter. You may not want to be a bodybuilder, but I would still urge you to lift the heavy ass weight. Do the unpleasant things like working for free, because the results are more than worth the price you pay when your skills are good enough to collect.]]>

Have you ever noticed that the harder someone tries to be charismatic on stage or in the front of the room, the less it actually works? You see this a lot with politicians who are trying to sound like the other politicians they admire, but it happens to the rest of us too. Why does it always seem to backfire when we try to be likable? The answer to this question is that ultimate key to being charismatic is being authentic. Whenever we attempt to sound like or be like someone else on stage, no matter how eloquent we may be with our words, our audience will notice that we’re playing a part. No matter how skillful we are at playing our role, they will see through it, making it harder to make a connection. This makes authenticity paramount to being charismatic, but how then do we display our true selves on stage? Here are three ways to start:

Be Vulnerable

Let me make a vulnerable statement to you: I hate vulnerability. This, I understand, makes me human because no one likes opening themselves up to potential pain. That is why it such an effective tool. When we’re too perfect, or too slick, it turns people off. When all we talk about are our wins, it makes us unrelatable. When we speak of our failures and losses, people can connect to that. Humor is a great weapon to make a connection. Humor at your expense about a moment when you weren’t your best is both safe and funny. To be authentic, be vulnerable and let your guard down.

Smile With Your Eyes

By now, we all know that smiling is important, but too many speakers paste something face on their lips and hope to make a connection. A smile that can’t be faked comes from the eyes. The trick I learned to smile with my eyes I learned from one of the greatest political books ever written, Richard Ben Cramer’s epic What It Takes. In the book about the 1988 Presidential Election, Cramer profiles Bob Dole and hones in on Dole’s secret for looking happy in groups; he laughs to himself. A small isn’t this interesting kind of laugh. Doing this makes your smile much more genuine, making you seem much more authentic than simply smiling with your lips.

Lower Your Energy Level

I saved this one for last because it is probably the trickiest. I will always value a high energy level presenter over one with low energy, but when we’re too ramped up, we come across as fake. Our audience will start to question if what we’re doing is us or an act. I have for years battled with being conversational enough to be authentic. For me, this has always come down to lowering my energy level just a little bit, in order to connect with my audience. At first, it feels slow and as if I’m low energy on the border of boring, but the harder I work at it, the more comfortable it gets. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s one that we absolutely must make to be authentic. If you haven’t yet lost an audience because they can’t connect with you, the occasion will eventually come. It happens to even the best speakers in the world. Rebounding from these situations requires that we try easier, back off from trying too hard and just be ourselves. Charisma is about authenticity and getting there takes risk, but the reward is more than worth it. ]]>

My theme for this week has been the lessons we learn when we get our ass kicked. I wrote on Monday that you can’t be an ass kicker without getting your ass kicked, and for me, that’s been true. I’ve learned a lot more from losing than I have from winning, but there’s another benefit that I didn’t mention; others learn best from our mistakes as well. Have you ever watched a speaker take the stage and spend an hour telling you how great they are? How did you respond to them? If you’re at all like, you were probably bored and tuned them out. This is a mistake to avoid. A lot of presenters don’t like to talk about getting their ass kicked. It’s a lot more fun to talk about our wins than our losses, but talking about the times we’ve lost does a three really important things.

It Makes Us Relatable

When we’re able to admit our failures, we become much more relatable to our audience. We transform from some magical figure on stage to a person who struggles just like they do. This is a major key to forging a strong connection with our audience. It’s human nature to like those who are like us. Since most of us are keenly aware of our shortcomings, having a speaker acknowledge theirs, builds trust. This trust makes an audience much more receptive to our message.

It Allows Others To Learn From Our Mistakes

In Monday’s post, I wrote about how much I hate to lose. If I am going to suffer through it, I believe that I have an obligation to share any lesson I learned in getting mine kicked with others so that they can avoid the mistakes I’ve made. We learn a lot more from our losses than we do our wins which mean we have a lot more to share with others when we lose. Sharing the stories of our losses can help someone else avoid it. Look at it as your obligation to share it and it will take some of the sting away.

It Enhances Our Credibility

One of the questions burning in the minds of our audience is “Why should I listen?” When we talk about losing, we enhance our credibility and answer that question with honesty. In much the same way telling stories of losing makes us more relatable, it also makes us more credible because an audience knows that it isn’t easy to talk about. They understand that we’d rather talk about winning, so it helps us come across as more honest. When we’re credible, we’re much more persuasive which puts a lot closer to winning from the stage. I still hate to lose. I hate just about everything about it, but I’m not afraid to talk about it. My biggest fear in the world is to be boring in the front of the room. Speakers who love to tell you about their wins always are. By talking about my losses, I’m more relatable, I allow others to learn from my mistakes and I’m credible. Losing sucks, but talking about it on stage, is a surefire way to win.  ]]>

On Wednesday, I made the case for why enhanced evaluations are the lynchpin to high performance. I wrote that post targeting Toastmasters, knowing that there’s carry over to the real world. Today, in a similar fashion, it’s my intention to outline how to improve evaluations for Toastmasters and carry those lessons over as well. When we improve our level of feedback, everything else improves as well, here are the elements that I believe exist in every great evaluation:

Honesty

Without question, the hardest part of giving a great evaluation is telling someone something they don’t want to hear. It’s so hard, in fact, that most evaluators skip that part altogether. But in trying to spare someone’s feelings, we end up stunting their growth as well as that of the club. I like to relate honest evaluations with bad Christmas gifts. We all have that person in our life that continues to get us bad Christmas gifts. The aren’t giving us bad gifts on purpose, they give them because we haven’t told them that their bad gifts. If someone gives you a bad gift once, it’s their fault. If it happens again, it’s on you because you didn’t speak up. If we want a speaker to grow, and improve, we have to be honest with them about their faults.

Personal

One of the biggest reasons that evaluations aren’t helpful is that the evaluator measures performance of the speaker against others in the club. There is no growth in this. Instead, we should measure performance against personal potential. This means we have to have some really hard conversations with the speaker before the meeting even starts. Find out what their goals are, what they’re hoping to achieve not only with this project but in toastmasters in general. This will give us a basis to evaluate the speaker in ways that will help them grow. The same is true in the corporate world. Until we truly understand the goals of the person we are reviewing we cannot give helpful feedback. Make it personal to make it meaningful.

Inspiration

Of all of the elements, this may be the most crucial. No one likes to receive negative feedback. Everyone likes to believe that they’re doing awesome at everything. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to remind them otherwise. It’s our job. We have to be honest, or we aren’t helping them. But that doesn’t mean that they should walk away feeling as if they’ve failed. A great evolution is more than a sandwich; something positive/ something negative/ something positive. A great evaluation inspires the speaker to reach their potential. It’s a reminder that they add value, that they are awesome, that they can be great, they simply have to make some improvements. We must remind the person that we’re evaluating that the reason we point out areas for growth is because they’re capable of growing. We must be inspirational in our evaluations. In the corporate world, this is also crucial. If someone walks out of a review believing they are incapable of meeting the standards, they never will. Yes, we must push them to grow, yes, we must be honest, but we also must inspire them to live up to their potential. Enhanced evaluations are the lynchpin to high performance. When we improve our evaluations, we improve every other area of performance, but we have, to be honest, make it personal and inspire our members to be their best. Doing these things not only builds a better speaker but a better club as well.  ]]>