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?
Please post your comments below!
Great article Darren, and excellent insights. I was privileged to also be there and see Dananjaya win his Semi Final round, and the Final, and both speeches taught me a lot about taking my speaking to the next level. I am with you on the feeling that he won before he was even finished speaking. There is an ease, a comfort, a flow in the way he speaks that only comes from YEARS of doing what he does. I loved your point about the difference between good and great is 100 speeches. This is a great roadmap, and one I am about halfway down 🙂
Thanks for all YOUR effort to help us all improve. You continue to be an inspiration with your desire to grow and improve.
Thanks again my friend, and see you at a future event!
Sounds like a perfect example of “Letting Go of Your Bananas” (Drubin/Hoye – Amazon.com). When we try to grab too big a handful, we can’t get our fist out of the jar. Let go of what don’t need and voila! you can move along with what you do need. K
Oh yes….one more comment. I have discovered that the closer I get to being ME in front of an audience, the more fun it gets, (not work at all!), the more fun the audience has, and I can’t help thinking that in these circumstances, the learning for us both is greater.
Thanks for this article Darren. It was great meeting you again and some of the other champs for the very first time!
I saw both the semi finals and the winning speech of Dananjaya’s and in both instances the way the audience erupted it was no surprise as to who their #1 was going to be!
He is a great guy, thanks for sharing.
Perhaps DJ’s comments will start a new trend away from “I’m going to win the WCPS” to “I’m NOT going to win the WCPS”.
A great article.
Dananjaya has always been a very persevering and persistent student, who I am proud to say never wavered in his aim and ambition at any given point – which is what has taken him to where he is today.
He has always been a perfectionist and puts his heart and soul to please those who matter to him whilst fulfilling their expectations.
His sense of loyalty and integrity is exemplary.