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Speak Like a Pro Without Looking Like a Jack@$$ - A Practical Guide for Speaking Effectively in Any Situation
Two celebrated philosophers, one huge dilemma.
Back in 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote the following in a letter to a French scientist by the name of Jean-Batiste Leroy: “Our new constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Sometime between paying your taxes and dying, there is a third eternal issue that visits us all—that is the question “Who am I?” It is a question that usually gives rise to follow-up questions, such as, “What is my purpose?” And “How do I serve my friends, family, community, and country?” Unlike taxes, which come at regular predictable intervals, and death, which comes just once and often too soon, the question “Who am I?” will come to mind frequently and without schedule.
For me, the question of who I am has been replaying with such urgency that, three years ago, I decided to try to answer it—or, if not to answer it fully, at least to get started on the path toward knowing myself better and to stop the question “Who am I?” from dominating my thoughts and sapping my energy.
So, I took the time to explore and I decided to invest real money in that exploration. I don’t have a full answer yet, but I have made two interesting discoveries.
First, other people in your life will bend over backward to help you become who you were meant to be if you show them you’re serious about doing the work. I’m not entirely sure why, but people seem drawn to a genuine quest for self-discovery. The people you need will enter your life and the people you don’t need seem to exit your world all on their own. Also, new and exciting opportunities will start to open up as if the universe knew you were ready for them.
Second, once you begin to understand what you are about (and, just as important, what you are against), your life will become simpler. Not easy, mind you, but simpler, because you know why you’re on the planet and what your purpose is. Decisions seem almost premade because there is a plan—a vision—for your life that filters, prioritizes, and categorizes everything else.
The more you define the question of who you are, the more powerful these forces—the attraction of helpers and the clarity of purpose—become.
Aristotle and Thales started thinking about it in ancient Greece, Franklin thought about it right after the birth of America, and I began to focus on it only a few years ago.
And now, you are considering the question because no one can avoid it forever … just like death and taxes.
Let’s get to work formulating an answer that suits you. And believe me, it is work.
We humans are tricky creatures and we are mysterious even to ourselves. We’re emotional beings who believe ourselves to be rational and logical, so the idea of doing a simple self-evaluation sounds deceptively easy. You may think, “Who knows me better than me?”
Consider this: if we really knew ourselves well, would there be so many divorces? Would there be so much dissatisfaction with our jobs? Would there be so many self-help books for everything from dieting to life management?
The truth is, we are constantly wrestling with the complexity of our inner selves. Most of us don’t have a full innate ability for honest introspection, and we often need help to understand why we are the way we are.
And then there was one …
Our shared inability to fully understand ourselves is compounded dramatically by the fact that we do not have any exact models to which we can compare ourselves.
No two people on earth are completely alike. Period.
We are all unique in the true sense of the word, even in the case of identical twins.
You, like every other person, have behaviors, a personality, talents, passions, and other attributes that have been shaped by genetics and experience. As you make your way through life, you grow, change, and evolve, often to the point where you are no longer quite the same person as in earlier times.
Then, on top of all this, you have unique perspectives shaped by your environment, society, culture, relationships, lifestyle, and other factors that further contribute to creating the one-of-a-kind person that is you.
It is impossible to have a true “doppelgänger,” or double. There are no exact copies of you. You have no choice but to figure yourself out.
Tapping the true source of your credibility
You must get to know yourself. I insist on that before you proceed with your speaker training. Your credibility—or, at least an invaluable part of it—will come from being genuine.
As Thales once suggested, self-discovery is hard work. It’s also a lifelong pursuit.
This is why I pose three important questions to every novice speaker—questions that will help you to explore your speaking mind-set and craft better talks.
First, what do you stand for? (You can substitute this with “What do I fight for or against in life?)
Second, of all the positive impacts you have had on others throughout your life, which is the one that makes you most proud?
And third, of all the hindrances you have had to face, which is the biggest hindrance that you must fight against repeatedly to keep making your most positive impact?
Bonus question: A good friend and mentor of mine, Bo Eason, posed the following: “What are your favorite movies of all time? Now pick the top five and figure out what is the shared or similar theme. Knowing this can help you discover who you are, what you stand for, and what you want to speak for or against when given the opportunity.”
Think about these questions and let the insights you discover shape your talks.
You’ll notice I ask for “one positive impact” when in fact you have made more than one over the years. And I ask for “the biggest hindrance” when, again, you’re sure to have faced several. This is all intentional. The phrasing allows you to select what’s most relevant to you at the moment. It’s possible that, if you were to repeat this exercise months or years from today, the answers would change. That’s fine. There are no “right’ or “wrong” answers, although there are mistakes you can make in doing this. One is not being honest with yourself and ignoring specific impacts or hindrances because you’re embarrassed or feel vulnerable regarding them. Another is being overly modest so that you minimize your impacts and give too much standing to the hindrances.
You’re not done yet.
Again, you truly are unique, so instead of listening to the world for direction and answers, find your own path, utilizing the world as a feedback mechanism that can give you helpful examples and clues.
Here are some more great questions to help you in your self-analysis. Reflect on them and answer them honestly. (No one else needs this information, so no need to sabotage the exercise by being less than truthful. This is only for your own growth and development as a communicator and public speaker.)
What are your strengths? (or, what skills and knowledge have you built beyond your natural talents?)
What do you most enjoy learning about?
What are the things that you are absolutely and completely passionate about now? (After making a general list, sort the items by importance and focus on those at the top of the list.)
When you do pursue your passion, what happens? And what doesn’t happen?
When you didn’t pursue your passion, what happened? And what didn’t happen?
During what activity do you feel the greatest sense of “self”?
Describe your friends. What characteristics do you admire most in them? Do you share those characteristics?
What makes you laugh? Do you have sources of joy in your life? What joy do you bring to others?
What makes you cry? Do you have a capacity for compassion? Do you act on it?
What makes you sing? It’s been said that “When you’re happy, you hear the melody. When you’re sad, you hear the lyrics.” Have you had times when you’ve heard both?
What makes you dance? What makes you act with abandon and fully embrace what the world is offering you without fear or embarrassment?
Finding “the spark”
When you take the time to really explore your passions, you will also gain insight into how to assemble your life using your passions. Passion without a plan or an outlet accomplishes nothing, and we all know passion’s potential when it is directed.
For me, that direction came in the form of an assessment, and I’ll get to that in a...