A few years ago I was asked to coach a CEO (we’ll call her Sally) for a speech she was giving at a conference, reporting on important medical research she and her team had completed.
Sally confided in me that “I’m not a good speaker. I get really nervous and I hate it. My co-worker is a GREAT speaker, a rock star, and there is no way I could ever be as good as she is.”
I know her co-worker (we’ll call her Ali) and she is a rock star. She’s taken Own The Room several times and she works hard at her craft.
The challenge of trying to be good as anyone else is generally a waste of time. Have you ever heard of the phrase, “compare and despair?”
When I started working with Sally, I asked her some questions about the material she was presenting and as she told me about it, I could see how passionate she was. She told me great stories from her own life that illustrated some of the points and also stories that they’d learned about in the study. We were able to craft some great stories and include them in her presentation.
I showed her how to use her voice dynamically, to be comfortable changing the tone and volume and moving on stage. It’s not that you suddenly have to turn into Meryl Streep, it’s that great speakers know how to use their voice, tone and body language effectively. We added a few images to the power point and cut down on the number of informational slides. She started the presentation with a great body poll and ended on a simple ask of the audience.
We are all at different stages of development and measuring your talents and abilities to anyone else – better or worse than you – is a waste of time. If you see a great speaker, it’s better to notice what you like about their speaking style. Do you like the way they tell stories? Do they have a great sense of humor? Do they seem relaxed? Figure out what they do well and see if that’s something you can incorporate into your presentations. But always be authentic, sincere, always be you. With the right tools, techniques, practice, feedback, and willingness to make mistakes, you can become a better speaker and find your own true voice.
Sally and I met several times over the course of a few weeks and she practiced her talk. I reminded her that the presentation isn’t really about her – it’s about the audience and the content, so she began to be less nervous and more excited to get on that stage.
Right before she went on, Sally confided to me, “I think I’m going to be good.”
She wasn’t good. She was great.
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