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.
Please share your thoughts below!
Agreed! I also like what Dave Barry had to say about people that want him to look over their manuscript. Your point is very true.
I agree, if an individual is not willing to write out their speech or take feedback I will not work with them. I also agree that a competitor should only be concerned with their own growth and performance. There is nothing they can do about what the other competitors do. I try to lead them towards pushing their own limits. Having helped 2 semi-finalists in the last 5 years I believe if the individual will put in the work there is not place but up as far as their skills are concerned.
In my opinion this is your best article ever. It’s a re-arrangement of many speakers priorities as well as a kick in the butt. And perfectly timed.
Thank you Darren for this insight. It is very true that working to win the speech contest can actually slow your learning process. Now that I’m NOT focused on that, my mind is absorbing speaking tips from the “experts” at a much faster rate. I get out and speak; I get that “stage time”; I review products that had been in “shrink-wrap” since I purchased them. Slowly, but surely I am navigating through “the process” and truly believe that I will be successful as a Professional Speaker. This is hard work, but well worth it. And thank you for giving me your time and insight!
I totally agree with you Darren! Without being rude the point needed to be made.
I get the feeling that when the question is asked, “can you have a look at my speech”. I believe they are saying, “When you read my speech you are going to think it’s awesome”.
Well, in most cases it’s not, from my experiences as a speech coach.
Your opinion whether for 5 minutes or an hour came about after many years of practice, dedication, hard work, mistakes, persistence and financial investment to fine tune your craft. Most people are not prepared to find the road least travelled.
I am glad you spoke your mind Darren. After all is this not what effective communication is all about? Learn the craft do the homework its simple. Ouch!
I usually enjoy the quotes you begin each newsletter with, but this one was outstanding: “If you are not coach-able, there is no cure.” I showed it to a work colleague, and he suggested I try to find away to work it into an application for promotion. (Credit will be given!)
The other though, I took away was “The world needs amazing communicators with a powerful message well delivered.” It doesn’t matter what the industry, communication is the core.
Thank-you. Those two thoughts were powerful.
Darren, this no BS digging beyond the superficial to the root of the matter is why I have purchased and learned from you since we first met five years ago. And to think I almost didn’t attend that NSA meeting…
I think Darren is a wonderful speaker and a great coach , i would love him to help me I just having trouble right now .
Unfortunately, our “have it now” culture breeds underdeveloped patience. (Often guilty) Life isn’t about CliffsNotes, cheat sheets, and shortcuts; it’s about renewed thinking, revised attitudes, and relentless perseverance. Anything noteworthy requires personal investment and hard work.