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Speaking is a mind game.
I’ve been coaching speakers for over 20 years. All kinds: teenagers, youth speakers, pastors, CEO’s, TEDx speakers, entrepreneurs, coaches, and authors.
And here’s what I can tell you with absolute certainty:
80% of the success of their talk is dependent on what was going through their head before they went out on stage. I used to think it was 50% - but then I’d see these skilled speakers fall flat because they couldn’t get out of their heads.
And I’d see these mediocre speakers ROCK IT because they believed in themselves in a powerful way, and really sought to connect with their audience.
If you aren’t in an audience-focused, confident, clear, service-minded, humble AND bold mindset then your talk simply won’t have the impact you want it to.
THE PROBLEM AT THE CORE OF OUR SPEAKING MINDSET:
Most of us have the wrong idea about speaking. And that wrong idea is keeping too many of us from standing up and really owning the moment as it comes before us… even when we WANT it!
Speakers who aim for perfection, overly polished and memorized, scanning their content in their head, planning their every move, choreographed to the nth degree, to have this exact affect, manipulated, and full of cliches, never digging deep enough to do something REAL…
We've all seen those talks. They are a dime a dozen and a helluva lot easier to pull off than being a MOVING speaker. They ask little of the speaker, and even less of the audience. They are technically fine (sadly, people don’t expect much from speakers) - but they don't DO much for us, either. And they certainly don’t do anything TO us, in us, for us.
I want more for you, as a speaker - changemaker - influencer - leader.
And I definitely want more for our audiences!
Seven mindset shifts to transform yourself into a moving speaker:
1 // SPEAKING + AUTHENTICITY = CONNECTION
When we stand up in front of people and “share our story” in any form, we seek to connect. If we can do that with authenticity, the connection opens up - and it takes hold of us! We are more likely to remember it, and let it impact us - as the speaker and the audience.
It is not the way of the weak. It takes courage to strive to be more than just ‘good enough’ - but to really seek a connection, and share who we are?! That is our calling as humans, creatives, speakers and leaders. And yet...how?
How can we create that incredibly precious and magical connection that ONLY happens in this live format? That you can FEEL? That we create, together, in showing up to the same place and collectively thinking and processing and sharing and experiencing?
The answer is authenticity.
We ask ourselves, over and over again, is this me?
As we develop your talk, we focus on the gut-feeling that tells us YES, this feels like me. And we reject the things that don’t feel that way.
It’s the process of peeling away instead of putting on. Sinking into ourselves.
We put ON a mask; we put ON a costume; we put ON layers that cover up our fears and insecurities and doubts. Authenticity is about digging beneath all of that, and revealing the truth about ourselves in a way that serves our audience.
What is authentic is what connects.
It runs against our fears and most basic of instincts; but it’s true: what is YOU is what connects!
2 // PERFECTION KILLS CONNECTION
If connection is the point of speaking, then you must know this: perfection kills connection.
Audiences want to know who we are, and RELATE to us.
If we just share all the wisdom we have, instead of the rough road we took to earn that wisdom - well, my response as an audience member is GO AWAY, YOU! Yay for you and your perfect life! Meanwhile, I’m over here sucking it up, big time! Clearly, our lives are way too different for you to have anything to offer me!”
The foibles and follies of our lives that we’ve been pretending didn’t happen are exactly the moments to mine for wisdom to share. Our humanness is what connects!
So when you bumble - errrrr, ummmm, trip, forget, etc. - it’s a time to be a human up there. Your audience will feel MORE connected to you, not less.
3 // BE AN UNSPEAKER
I have no interest in helping “motivational speakers” become more motivational. In fact, I tend to draw away from the ‘professionals’ who just want to speak because they like to speak - and not because their message and mission pulled them out on stage.
Don’t get me wrong - I like to speak! And I LOVE being on stage! And I want to motivate people. But we don’t HAVE to love the stage or love speaking to be a speaker… We don’t have to be a professional, or to have written a book or to have gone through some big life turmoil. We don’t have to be confident or beautiful or smart. We don’t have to be eloquent or polished or wearing just the right thing.
There is no formula for being a speaker. You just speak.
The ideas of what a speaker is—it's MESSING US UP and keeping us from bringing our particular voice out into the world! And the world needs our voices!
4 // STORIES ARE THE PATHWAY TO EMPATHY
When we share a story (and we share it well), our audience begins to imagine that story in their own brain. They begin to SEE the story happening in front of them, and - sometimes, they begin to FEEL it too.
There’s some really cool brain science that shows how that works, and what areas of the brain light up - but bottom line is this: stories are the pathway to empathy.
It’s a crazy kind of connection that happens, neuron to neuron.
Before our thinking brains kick in and start defining things - categorizing things - and deciding what they think… STORIES move BEYOND category and definition. So they allow the audience to step into another person’s experiences without first deciding if they AGREE with them or not.
If you want to persuade, start with story.
5 // SPEAKING BRINGS US TO THE TRUTH OF OURSELVES
Speaking requires of us to act with courage, live with integrity, share our authentic selves. These are not just speaking goals - they are LIFE goals. And it’s no mistake that they are the same, because a good speaker is a good person - and an audience can SEE that. Or not. So, the process brings it alllll out.
Conversations with my speakers don’t sound like conversations about speaking. They are about who we are and what we struggle with:
“I don’t feel like I have the authority to speak.”
“I don’t want to waste their time.”
“Who am I to be up here?”
“What will they think of me?”
When we step out on “stage” - we step out vulnerable. And so, it brings us to the truth of ourselves, and makes us face the waves of self-doubt that we as adults mostly silence… but that we as speakers must battle again and again.
I’ve had speakers say to me,
“I’ve never been as vulnerable with anyone as have been with you.”
“I’ve never felt so comfortable failing with anyone.”
“I hate this, and I hate you!” :)
I took that as a huge compliment… because I knew she didn’t really hate me… but she did indeed hate the process, and hated how it was making her feel, and that I totally respect and understand. And it meant that she was digging in. She didn’t enjoy it, but she did it anyway. She has my love and respect forever because of it.
And the results were transformative - for her and her audience.
Let’s be real: Anybody can do this - but it’s not easy.
I had a conversation with a woman I was coaching the other day who was struggling to be loud enough. I said to her - you need to speak from HERE (and I pointed to her belly) - not HERE (pointing to her neck). Speaking from up here is not strong - you need to own your voice!
"What's going on here at work, I asked? What are you afraid of, I asked?"
And she said, I don't feel like I have the authority to speak. And I looked at her, pointed to her belly and said, SPEAK FROM HERE. OWN YOUR VOICE. YOUR VOICE MATTERS. And she started to cry, because we had voiced something that she had been struggling with. And who knew that her speaking coach would bring her to the moment of admitting it. But speaking brings us to the truth of ourselves.
6 // AUDIENCES ARE GENEROUS IF YOU ARE GENEROUS WITH THEM
The audience wants to love you. They don’t come into it determined to fold their arms and sink into their phones. I think most of the time audiences are in awe of the craft and courage of speaking, and are hoping that this thing that’s going to happen won’t bore them to death. But if you show a moment of disregard for them? If you smell remotely ‘fake’; if you carelessly ignore what’s happening in the room; if you don’t take the time to connect and show interest in who these people are?… well, their generosity will wane.
It’s up to US to move towards them; then, and only then, can we ask them to move towards us.
7 // IF YOU WANT TO BE TRANSFORMATIVE, THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS
One of the most frustrating aspects speaking is that it’s a PROCESS, and it’s never done. Wow, that’s frustrating to hear, isn’t it? Speaking is a reflection of who we are as humans, and so it’s never done. It’s iterative, meaning we go back again and again and adjust.
The process of creating and delivering a moving talk isn’t easy. It’s just not.
You can go ahead and skip the process, I suppose - and give a crappy talk! That happens ALL. THE. TIME.
But if you want to give a moving talk? Well, you better get ready to dig in. Challenge yourself. Go INTO the fears instead of away from them. Risk. Stand up there and feel vulnerable. And then - THEN you are doing the big work of moving this world. There are no shortcuts in this work.
"It's an audience of one."
I’ve heard Josh Shipp—speaker and client of mine—talk about shifting our thinking from speaking to the audience as a whole to speaking to an audience of ONE. Not that you literally only talk to one person of course, but to remember that each audience is filled with individual people who walk in the room with their own stories, their own ideas, their own fears, their own connections to the topic, their own anxieties and lived a morning that you know nothing about. If we can key into the individuals sitting in front of us, it can a powerful mindset shift towards connection and impact - rather than wanting to impress. (There’s nothing wrong with impressing people; but when that’s the goal… it often takes us off course.)