Lots of people feel that way, which is why my book, Speak Like Yourself… No, Really!, tells you emphatically not to jump!
Now, generally speaking, this is good advice. There’s are lots of times to not jump, including:
- When you get a public speaking assignment, don’t jump — As in, off the bridge!
- When you start researching your topic, don’t jump — As in, don’t rush out to gather boatloads of information that may or may not be relevant. (Download this sample chapter of Speak Like Yourself to learn about the right way to research a public speaking topic.)
- When you practice your presentation, don’t jump — As in, don’t jump off the starting block and barrel through your presentation as if you were trying to run a 4-minute mile!
Jumping isn’t necessary in any of these situations because (as you can see from the illustration above) there are steps cut into the cliff face that will lead you across if you take them one by one.
But there is one situation in which “jumping” — as in, taking a leap of faith — is useful, and that’s when you stand before an audience.
At that moment, throw yourself passionately into your speech.
Why Go to the Edge of Defeat? Because That’s Where the Big Gains Are!
Going to the edge of defeat means risking failure to achieve greater success.
It means not holding anything back — throwing yourself 200% into the speech you’re delivering!
As you stand before your audience, gathering yourself to begin a speech, you have three possible choices. You can decide to:
- Proceed cautiously, by saying exactly what you planned to say, in exactly the way that you practiced it;
- Be in the moment, by interacting with your audience (perhaps even adjusting your speech) based on how they’re reacting to you; or you can get radical, and
- Go to the edge of defeat, by throwing caution to the winds and daring to be deeply, authentically yourself in the moment. This means taking the biggest possible risk, for potentially the biggest rewards of authenticity, power, and connection with your audience.
In many situations, #2 — a prudent mix of care and flexibility — is your strongest choice.
But there’s something truly wonderful about sometimes taking door #3.
How Do You Go to the Edge of Defeat? Good Question!
At this point in most of my Top 100 Public Speaking Tips, I would be offering a list of concrete actions you can take to achieve the desired effect.
But this time, I have no list.
That’s because, while it’s exhilarating to take a bigger risk for the possibility of bigger reward, I can’t tell you how to make that leap.
All I can say is that it’s the mental equivalent of physically jumping. When you bungee jump — or even jump off a tool shed into a snowbank, as we used to do when I was a kid — there’s a moment when you release your inhibitions and push your body off the solid ground into the unknown.
This feels the same way.
Give Yourself a Public Speaking Pep Talk, then Jump!
To embrace the edge of defeat, you may need to tell yourself, “Go on! Jump!!”
I’ve always loved the way this freedom is illustrated in the 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fisher. In it, chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin — who’s been studying with a stern and methodical chess master — reconnects with his first teacher, the street hustler Vinnie (played by Lawrence Fishburne), and with the joy of abandoning caution and jumping into play. (To watch that scene from Searching for Bobby Fischer download this clip.)
So usually, I would say “don’t jump!”
But when your motive is to throw off the mental chains that hold you back be authentically present for your audience… do it!