Two Tips for Public Speaking That Also Apply to Work

From the Praxis blog.

I was talking with one of the September 2015 Praxis participants during the opening seminar about public speaking.  He asked me what are the most helpful things for me when it comes to reducing nerves and getting in the zone as a speaker.  I told him the two most important things for me are:

  • Lots of Practice
  • Unique Content

Practice is obvious.  Public speaking, like digital skills, social skills, bike riding, creativity, or confidence, is not one of those things you can become great at by studying.  You have to do it.  A lot.  There simply is no substitute for doing it when it comes to gaining comfort and skill.

The second point is not actually about the content in any objective sense.  I don’t think there are right and wrong content decisions, topics, formats, tones, or structures that will consistently lead to success and enjoyment as a speaker.  When I say content matters, I really mean crafting a talk that is unique to you.

If I asked you to give a 5 minute schpeel tomorrow on the importance of accounting to business success, your first reaction would probably be to spend all night researching accounting and articles about this topic and trying to become as much of an expert as one can become overnight.  You’d feel ridiculous stress, and while giving your talk you’d constantly wonder if the audience would call you out or know more than you and think you a fraud.  That’s because you’ve approached it with the idea that your content must mirror what others have already done on the topic.  The truth is, you’re never going to be as good as they are at giving their content.  You’ve got to deliver your own.

Maybe you know nothing about accounting.  No problem.  Give a five minute talk that is completely, entirely unique to you and your life and perspective.  You’ll be the expert.  No one knows your story as well as you.  You can do this in almost any area if you’re creative.  For our example, you could tell us that you know accounting is important for business success because when you were a kid you had a lemonade stand and you thought you were killing it with your $10 in sales…only because you didn’t write down or track the $12 you spent on supplies.  That’s a story no expert could beat you at.  It’s your story.

When you pick content that flows out of you, that you know and live and breath, and work your topic around it, you’ll feel far more at ease and give a heck of a better talk than if you try to be something you’re not.  Your philosophy, hobbies, friends, upbringing, or any number of things truly and uniquely you are the place to start from when building a talk.

As I shared these two tips for public speaking I realized how true they are for entrepreneurship, or any kind of work.  You’ll do your best work and enjoy yourself and find your groove and create value the most when you have:

  • Lots of Practice
  • Unique Content

You can’t discover what makes you come alive or what you hate by thinking about it or reading books.  You can’t gain confidence and skill and self-knowledge by listening to lectures.  You can’t find out if your product or idea is a good one by merely polling people.  You’ve got to get out there and test some stuff.  You’ve got to practice.  A lot.

You’re likely to feel a lot of stress if you spend your time comparing your skills to others.  Just because you’ll never be the coder that you’re buddy is doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in the tech world.  Just because you’re not as good a salesman as your boss doesn’t mean you have no future.  Aping their style will only get you so far.  What do you have that’s unique to you?  What do you do better than anyone in your peer group?  What’s something you’ve got that others don’t?

It might be a skill or personality trait.  It also might be something really unglamorous.  When you’re young you often have something very few more seasoned people have.  Time and flexibility.  A low cost standard of living.  Geographical freedom.  Think about how to build on those far more unique assets rather than trying to compete with someone who has a ten year head start on you in something more generic.

Jump in and do stuff.  Do things that are true to you, and where the unique aspects of yourself can do the heavy lifting.  You’ll do better and have more fun.  Whether speaking to a crowd or working on a career.