I recently had the kind of week that every consultant cherishes. I delivered three workshops and one major keynote speech to exciting organizations, all in a six-day period.
So what did I learn from this whirlwind of activity (aside from, get to the airport early)?
In Public Speaking, as in Life, Learning to Manage Yourself is the Secret to… Everything
Self-management is normally not my best attribute.
- I’m the person who eats everything on my plate even when I’m not hungry, just because it’s there.
- I’m the one who needs two hours to psyche myself up for an hour of work.
- And oh, how I envy those of you who can follow carefully constructed plans and make progress at a steady pace, instead of alternately hiding and hurling yourselves forward.
But when it comes to public speaking, I become a self-management boss — and what I learned last week was how rare and important a skill that is.
Manage Yourself If You Start to Wander
Are you the kind of public speaker who likes to go where impulse takes you?
Often, speakers digress or improvise because something occurs to them in the moment, or because they like being spontaneous. But it’s remarkably easy, when you’re speaking in public, to wander yourself right off a cliff.
Here’s what I mean by that:
- Let’s say you’re talking about how to make an apple tart, and you suddenly feel a powerful urge to tell the story of an apple-picking trip you took last summer. That could work well.
- But if you then speak at length about a friend who took that trip with you, you’ve introduced a second degree of separation.
- And if you now start describing your friend’s divorce, that’s three degrees of separation from your topic.
While some audience members (process-oriented Perceivers) will enjoy that journey, others (outcome-oriented Judgers) will be annoyed and impatient. (Learn more about Judgers and Perceivers.)
But fortunately, if you manage yourself and your impulses, you can satisfy both groups by taking a brief detour through apple picking and then return back to your point. To do this:
- Notice where you were before you headed off in a new direction (so that you can get back to that point); and
- Discipline yourself to stay within one degree of separation from your topic.
Manage Yourself When Uncomfortable Feelings Strike
Oh, those uncomfortable feelings.
Very few of us get through a public speaking situation without being assaulted by self-doubt.
The specific words that are spoken by that Nasty Little Voice in your head may vary, but the idea is pretty universal: You screwed up, you’re not good enough, etc., etc.
When these sorts of thoughts and feelings hit, draw on your skills at self-management to get through the moment.
Seriously, that’s all you have to do!
Don’t feed the thoughts by focusing on them. Instead, stay connected with your audience. Stay focused on what you’ve decided to say. And in a minute (or two, or three) the negative thoughts that seemed so compelling just seconds ago will begin to dissipate of their own ridiculous weight.
Manage Yourself When Other People Annoy You
This one can be tough.
When other people annoy us, it’s easy to decide they’re doing it on purpose. After all, we’re clearly in the right and they’re clearly in the wrong, so why don’t they just get with the program??
It’s harder to see that other people’s perspectives might simply be based on different concerns than ours.
I recently met an important client in a local coffee shop. She was delayed by subway troubles, and by the time she sat down with me to edit an important speech, we had only 30 minutes left.
Ten minutes later, a server came over and said,
I need to ask you to move. We don’t allow laptop use at these tables.
OK, then! I was annoyed, but made what I felt was a very reasonable request, saying,
I understand that’s your policy, but can you make an exception? We only have a few minutes left to meet, and it would be great if we could just keep working.
To which she said,
I’m sorry, but if I make an exception for you, I’ll have to do it for everyone.
Arghhh! At annoying moments like this, it helps to remember that different types of communicators are motivated by different, often equally valid perspectives.
So instead of snapping at the server, I’m glad I was able to tell myself,
Don’t take it personally! This person is a Reliable communicator. Reliables follow the rules, and sometimes prioritize the needs of institutions over people.
What’s the Moral of the Story?
Whether you’re being pushed by internal thoughts and feelings, or by other people’s behavior, self-management creates some breathing room.
It lets you reflect on what’s happening… choose a strategy for dealing with it… and handle communications challenges like a boss, without adding to the already-too-high quotient of BS in our very challenged world.