This weekend, while playing disc golf with Steve Pavlina, author of Self Development for Smart People, we started talking about the longevity of our speaking careers. He said that when he started, he treated speaking as a presentation or a performance, which put up a wall between himself and the audience. He often felt that he had to impress them, to build rapport, and to win them over. At that time, Steve said, he focused on content and delivery, his primary tools for engaging with a room full of strangers. Great insight.
In contrast, Steve noted, “These days, I regard speaking as a conversation. Now my focus is on the audience. I treat them as my best friends, so there’s never any ice to break.”
Steve said it so well. It is the evolution of a speaker. We start out thinking about ourselves as the priority, and we believe we need techniques to connect. After years of stage time, it gets easier to connect, because we are not trying so hard. A brand new speaker in Portland recently asked me about overcoming speaking anxiety, I suggested Dale Carnegie’s advice. He taught that the difference between a good speaker and a great speaker is a hundred speeches. I love that advice, because often emerging speakers are losing sleep over speech number three, when their growth is better served by getting to speech 100 as fast as possible. I can’t even remember my speech number three that I worried so much about. At the time, I had no idea how much being a member of four Toastmasters clubs in the 1990’s would be serving my audiences today.
An amazing example of this is the newly crowned 2014 World Champion of Public Speaking, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, from Sri Lanka. When he took the stage in Malaysia, his presence created instant rapport with the audience. It was amazing to witness. Most everyone in the audience knew he was the winner even before his speech was over. In fact, after International President Mohammed Murad, DTM, announced Kwong Yue Yang as the runner up, the audience started yelling out Dananjaya’s name! I’ve never seen anything like it.
Several World Champions and I interviewed Dananjaya about his experience for our World Champions’ EDGE program. He is a class act and is full of wisdom. I was impressed with how open and honest he was. His humility was inspiring as well. He gave much credit for his personal growth to his dance teacher, Shiromi Perera. She said, “He was an extremely loyal student. His sense of loyalty and integrity was a blessing to him in many ways.” This is a great reminder to those of us who are continuously seeking to improve.
Though we asked him about his techniques, he focused on the person he had become during the process. He even mentioned that he did not really want to compete this year. He actually looked for reasons not to compete. Friends and mentors like Balraj Arunasalam kept encouraging him and moved him forward.
I loved this comment from him:
“It took me ten years to be myself.”
What I took from his words was that when we are caught up in our heads and are trying to perform for the audience, we can no longer access the deepest level of connection. We have to connect with ourselves first. Years of stage time reveal the real you. You have to connect with the authentic you before you can connect deeply with your audience. Technique will only get you so far.
My favorite words from his lips came when he was asked about how he won the speech contest. He said,
“It was when I decided to stop competing that I won this contest.”
It seems there is a power in letting go. Can you?
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