It’s About More Than Your “Ums”

What makes “public speaking” such a challenge for so many otherwise successful professionals?

In my experience as a speaker and a speaking coach, it boils down to one word: critiques—even though they’re typically given by people who believe they have the best intentions.

Recently, I gave a general session presentation to a ballroom of 400 people. It was a combination keynote/training for everyone in the organization, so it was several hours long. It was an exhilarating experience for me, because my widely diverse audience was engaged, learning—and laughing. That afternoon I had a breakout session on leadership for a smaller group of 50 people that also went well, based on our level of engagement with each other.

As well as I thought the event was going for all of us, and even though I’m an international keynote speaker and Master Trainer with almost three decades of experience, I’m not immune to getting critiqued.

At the conclusion of my breakout session, a gentleman approached me and motioned me off to the side for a private conversation—which was kind of him. He told me that although he “mostly enjoyed” both of my sessions, he was “distracted” by how many “Ums” I had used throughout my almost 4 hours of presenting. As the “Ah-Counter” for his chapter of Toastmasters International, he couldn’t help but hear them—and count them.

There were 10.

Fortunately, I had several Simple Shifts™ at my disposal, so I was able to focus on his intention, instead of his (unintended) impact. I listened. He had his say.

We parted ways without my mentioning any of my feelings about his critique, because I realized that there are two schools of thought on the topic of critiques. We came from both of them:

  • He from School A: “If I don’t tell you what you did wrong, how can you improve?”
  • Me from School B: “When you first focus on what I did wrong—or how I came up short—I can’t hear anything else you have to say.”

Although School A shows up as the dominant one in our culture—because those of us who subscribe to School B have learned how to keep our secret protected—I’ve discovered that fear of critique is the reason that so many people would rather be dead than speak in public (Death ranks #6 on the list of our top 10 fears—speaking in public is #1).

After over three decades as a speaker, I’ve been on both sides of the critique conversation. As a speaking coach, I’ve seen the impact it has had on the otherwise successful professionals with whom I work; early in my career as a speaker, I discovered that it was of no help to me. So as a Master Trainer and Course Designer, and the head of my own personal School B, I knew there had to be an alternative.

And here’s why:

  1. Think of the most compelling and engaging speaker you’ve ever seen. Did you find that their skill at connecting with the audience was deeper than the words they spoke? Although you might not remember everything they said, haven’t you always remembered how you felt in their presence? People tell me it was like the presenter was speaking directly to them—it was their message that touched them.
  2. Research has proven that there are three parts to every compelling message:
    • The words you say (7%)
    • Your tone of voice (38%)
    • Everything else about you that affects your connection to the audience—feeling so comfortable in your own skin that your eye contact and gestures support your message (55%)
  3. It turns out that the biggest part of your impact as a speaker—93%—has nothing to do with your words. Those “Ums” can be irrelevant in the presence of a genuine connection between a speaker and her/his audience.

Here’s something else I’ve discovered: every one of us has an innate ability to be an engaging speaker. We prove it every day at the breakfast or dinner table with our family, over coffee or lunch with a good friend, and any other time we’re relaxed and engaged in conversations with people we care about. So what happens to those of us in School B when we’re faced with a public speaking “opportunity?”

For a variety of reasons that are unique to us, we freeze up over those assumed critiques—our mind goes blank and we can’t think of all those great things we planned to say. That’s not fun for us—and it’s even less fun for our audience.

Because I love speaking and I’m committed to helping others enjoy it as much as I do, I knew I needed to provide an alternative to School A. It took me two years to put the pieces together that would allow anyone to feel confident and comfortable speaking to any audience, even at the last minute. That’s how I created PowerSpeak. I launched it in 1999, and the rest, as they say, is history—because in order to tap into your innate speaking ability, you have to be able to access it.

That’s what PowerSpeak helps you to do, for three reasons:

  1. It’s 93% experiential—so you make your own discoveries about what works best for you as a speaker. You’ll never forget it!
  2. We focus your awareness with feedback instead of critiques—what worked for you? What worked for your audience? What did you do well this time? What will you do differently next time?
  3. It’s engaging and fun—because you’re in action. We’ve proven over the last two decades that there’s no one right way to speak—although there are so many ways to engage your audience when you’re enjoying yourself. (Your brain works better, too—and any “ums” that emerge are simply a part of your learning. Nobody counts them!)

As professionals, we still need to excel at public speaking. As leaders, we can’t do our job well if we’re not feeling comfortable enough to get our organizational messages across, especially with global teams, because our influence is directly connected to our speaking ability.

If you’re a person who prefers School B and is ready to take your speaking to a new level, you can join us for the next public PowerSpeak class on Wednesday, February 20, in Independence, Ohio.

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