It happens every year about this time. It is speech contest time in Toastmasters world. 35,000 contestants from around the world are competing to become the World Champion of Public Speaking. Whether or not you are a speech contestant, there is a lesson here for you and me.
I admire people who have the courage to track me down and ask the question. That’s cool, but let’s look at the question. There is much more to their simple question than they realize. The questions you and I ask can actually tell us a lot about ourselves. The emails I get ask the question, “I know you are busy, but would you just take five minutes to look at my speech?” Five minutes of my time is not what they really want.
Think about it. They don’t really care about my taking the time to watch their speech. They actually want the feedback that I would give them based on my speaking experience and more than a decade of coaching. So they are asking for the forty-five minutes of feedback, not the five minutes of watching. Make sense? They really want the value of my perspective. That is what your audience wants from you. They don’t want a presentation; they want insights from your perspective.
What else is loaded into this question? Though the wording of the question may vary, it is obvious that what the person is really asking for is help to win the speech contest. I won’t do that. I will not help someone perfect one speech. The world does not want a one-speech wonder. The world needs amazing communicators with a powerful message well delivered.
“If you shortcut the process, you shortcut your result.”
~ Darren LaCroix, CSP
Presenters should focus on becoming a world-class presenter. If they focused on that, winning a speech contest would be more likely, wouldn’t it? People tell me that they will be the next World Champion of Public Speaking. I’ve never heard those words before a competition from the lips of someone who has actually won. If you are walking around declaring that you will be the next champ, you are wasting precious time that could be used becoming an amazing presenter. If someone does declare that, maybe they are just trying to convince themselves. Actions, not words. I’ve also never heard anyone say that they want to become world-class and that they are using the pressure of the speech contest to help improve to that level.
When I get that question, I always reply by asking whether they have watched any of my free videos on YouTube or whether they have any of my learning programs. More than half the time, the answer is “No.” I hope this does not come across as egotistical, but let me get this straight: you want me to give you my personal time for free, but you have not taken the time to learn from me, not even for free?
To be clear, I do help people for free once they have won their district speech contest. Why? First, helping people who contact me out of a field of 81 is much more manageable than 35,000. Also, I want to give back as my mentors did, and the winners have earned that opportunity. The speech contest is a self-discovery process. It is powerful as a growth tool, if you have the proper intentions. If your entire goal is to win for ego purposes or to launch your career, please do not contact me or invest in any of my programs.
After a decade of coaching speakers, I see the same mistakes over and over again. Everyone feels they are different. They are, but there are certain categories of mistakes that even seasoned professionals make. If you were to sit down with me one-on-one, I would explain exactly what those are. To help maximize my time, I put the most updated version of that content in my new Coaching 101 program.
Consider the respect of a mentor’s time. When I went to my mentors, Alan Weiss, PhD, or Jim Stoval, I had incredible respect for their time. Because I had a self-confidence problem at the beginning of my career, I was intimidated just to speak to them. My anxiety level was so high when around Alan Weiss that I would get tongue-tied. To make sure that I got the answers I needed, I wrote down every question I had beforehand and disciplined myself to ask them all, no matter what. Alan noticed this and told me I was one of the most prepared speakers he had ever met with.
When I left meetings with Jim Stoval, I had a list of action items that I needed to follow through on. I did not dare ask him for more ideas, more action items, or more time until I had completed the first ones. Wouldn’t it be rude and disrespectful to take up more of his time if I had not yet completed the tasks I already had?
It is good to ask, but think through your questions before you do. It is like calling an editor about writing an article for their publication and asking silly questions that could have been answered by taking a few minutes to look at their web page before calling. Ask better questions. Respect people’s time. Be hungry to gain experts’ perspectives, and have a much bigger goal than being a one-speech wonder. Commit to becoming an amazing presenter, and you are more likely to change the world during your journey.
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