Monday, February 24, 2014

The Olympian in all of us

My last blog generated much good discussion on- and off-line. So I thought I would pick up where I left off. In that post I focused on the people blaming their lack of "natural gifts" for not trying to cultivate a skill, or improve on what they already possess. As I continued to watch world-class athletes finishing up their competition at the XXII Winter Olympic Games, I kept asking myself: who is really a "natural" at skeleton racing? snowboard cross? And ice dancing? I started skating as a kid, and I remember the first lessons I learned had to do with just staying upright. It was a while before I learned to skate backwards, and I never learned to twizzle! I am sure Meryl Davis and Charlie White fell a lot as kids. But they got back up. Only to fall again. They have probably fallen hundreds of times over the years. But eventually, their technique became so strong that ice-dancing seems the most natural way for them to move. They immersed themselves in their discipline, and they mastered it.

So what about those who reach a level of mastery sufficient to their needs, and then stop? Unlike Team USA members who assured us they just keep trying to improve each time they compete, these folks are happy where they are and that's that. I am not thinking of the U.S. Speedskating team (I am sure they were working hard to stay on top), but of people who perform in a very different arena: public speaking.

You know the ones I mean--those who have reached their own goal of feeling comfortable standing and speaking in front of people, but have stopped there. Now that they are no longer anxious, they try to maintain control by not changing anything. They become set in their ways. Predictable. And not open to hearing suggestions that might lead to improvement. Something worked for them once, and without anaylzing why, they repeat whatever it was each time they speak. Often it involves retelling some lame joke, or striking an "I'm-the-important-expert" pose. Or something else they use as a gimmick so they can face the crowd and still stay in their comfort zone. None of these tactics are designed with the listener in mind. It's all about what the speaker needs. And that's just wrong.

Your job as a speakers is never to just deliver content. If it were, you could send a memo. You need to speak to the audience, not talk at it. Invest in making a connection. Audiences can tell if you are unable/unwilling/unprepared to do this. Sometimes they give you the benefit of the doubt, but don't count on it. That "relaxation" you feel when you think your "formula" has served you well? It may just be boredom from the audience creeping toward you.

Like the Olympic athletes, anyone who wants to truly master a discipline needs to keep moving forward. Keep learning. Keep growing. And be thankful the "stumbles" you have on the way won't send you careening down a half-pipe or slamming into an ice rink wall.

No comments:

Post a Comment