Do First What You Do Well

Some individuals are content to muddle along. Their fear of public speaking can be positively paralyzing. Is it really worth the time and effort to shake that image of being a subpar speaker?

Let me reframe that question: Does it matter to you if your co-workers are getting promotions ahead of you? Could it affect your career if your competitors succeed at your expense? Is it really that big a deal if the charity you serve misses out on key funding sources?

The answer to all of these questions is simple: Yes! The truth is accomplished speakers are the ones who climb the corporate ladder, serve as leaders in their professional societies, earn bigger donations for their non-profit organizations, and win elections in the political arena.

If you do not care about getting a better job, gaining a reputation as a leader in your field, or shining as a leading public policy light, fine. Feel free to continue to stumble along.

Menu of your life


If, however, you are committed to improving, don’t panic if you are not yet a solid presenter. No one begins the game as an expert speaker. Rest assured that you can, with hard work and dedication, improve your skills.

The first thing to realize is that there are no naturally gifted speakers. Your executives did not roll out of bed one day with all the expertise needed to run an enterprise. Similarly, none of us emerge from the womb with flawless speaking abilities. The key to success involves lots of practice.

Did you ever wonder how the best speakers got to be the best? How does that presenter who looks so natural and at ease in front of an audience do it? I can guarantee you in almost every case they take their rehearsal time seriously. They make it look effortless because they put so much effort into their preparation.

The path to quickest improvement treads familiar ground. That is, you get better faster by sharpening to perfection skills that are already sharp. If, for instance, your ability to express emotion is a particularly strong suit, you will benefit most from emphasizing that quality and working to hone it to a razor sharp edge as you practice.

Similarly, your ability to vary the rate and volume of your speech may come more naturally. Leverage those qualities when you address a crowd, using them to full effect.

If, by contrast, using presentation software befuddles you, it is best to stay away from it. Or if you find reading a full text speech scary, stay away from that format. Why call attention to your defects?

It is true that you can improve your weaknesses in the long run. But it takes a lot of effort, a lot of concentration, a lot of dedication, and a lot of time.

My recommendation is to knock off the easy stuff first. Aim for improvement where you are likely to see the most dramatic results in the shortest span of time. Later, as your schedule allows, work to sharpen the tools that are rustier.

While I go to great pains to point out that none of us are born with the talent to be a great speaker, it is beyond dispute that each of us has qualities that are inherently stronger or weaker. It is simply not possible to master every earthly skill. Both time and talent are working against you. Apply your energies to the qualities that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Trying to build up your shortfalls by yourself is quite a tall order. You will find a smoother road to improvement when you work with a skilled training consultant to improve your weaknesses.

Here is a tip for finding an individual who is a good match for you: He should zero in on answering the question, “What did you do right?” instead of accentuating, “Here is what you did wrong.”

This is not to say he should neglect to point out habits that interfere with the delivery of your message. If, for instance, you tend to turn your back to the audience or talk at too rapid a clip, you need to correct that quickly for those behaviors will indeed detract from your performance by steering your listeners away from your message.

If, however, you should find yourself working with someone who is bound and determined to force you to use props when you find dealing with them distracting, you need to question whether you are getting the value you deserve from that relationship.

To be sure, a trusted advisor should stay on the lookout for weaknesses. But reinforcing strengths paves the quickest road to progress.



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