“Remember to enjoy the process.”
I was on my way from Boston to New York on the Acela train when I got talking to a fellow passenger who turned out to be a piano expert and teacher, Murray. He had been playing piano as far back as he could remember from his childhood.
I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the learning process of becoming an expert, and how one should deal with his/her inner-critic during their own learning process.
Here is Murray’s advice:
- Don’t compare yourself to an ideal, or to anyone else.
- When you feel like you are failing or you hear that voice in your head tell you that “you are not good enough”, remember to enjoy the process.
- Enjoy the current level that you are at.
- Don’t hide your vulnerabilities. Admit them & ask for help/support.
- Talent only gets you so far. You have to apply yourself or you will never be as good as you could be.
- Work at the skill until it has moved from your head to your body, so that the skill is now a part of you.
It’s not a co-incidence that Murray’s ‘nuggets’ of learning wisdom, not only applies to becoming an expert at the piano, but also to public speaking:
1) Don’t compare yourself to an ideal, or to anyone else.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your speaking abilities against other people’s. If you are dedicated to your growth, the only person you should be ‘comparing’ yourself against is yourself. Are you a better speaker now than you were a year ago?
2) When you feel like you are failing or you hear that voice in your head tell you that “you are not good enough”, remember to enjoy the process.
If you think of your public speaking as a process rather than an “end goal”, then every experience you have along the way is just one step in your process. It is a defeatist attitude to feel like you are not good enough. It is wrong thinking and it does not serve you. It can only serve to make you feel bad about yourself. Rather, remember to enjoy your growth process and to give yourself credit for the work you’ve already put in to be at this level.
3) Enjoy the current level that you are at.
If you fully embrace the current level you are at, how does that feel? Is there contentment in that feeling? That’s not to say that you don’t aspire to reach a higher level, but why not acknowledge and, dare I say,celebrate where you’ve gotten to at this present moment in time? There is no denying that there is a different energy when you celebrate than when you chastise yourself.
4) Don’t hide your vulnerabilities.
Be conscious of your vulnerabilities as a speaker and reflect on them. For example, a few years ago, I noticed that one of my vulnerabilities was my need to hide my silly side because I didn’t want to look bad. I thought I had to be serious on the platform to be taken seriously as a professional. Not surprisingly, my speeches lacked luster.
In my very first humorous speech contest I entered in 2006, I came in 3rd place. Not bad, right? Except there were only 3 contestants! I got no laughs (unfortunately, I’m not exaggerating). I was intense and in actual reality probably scared to death of revealing any silliness. I wanted to look “composed”. As a result, I was stiff and not one bit relaxed.
After I had that revelation, and admitted to it, it opened up a possibility for me to start working on that vulnerability. Today, I enjoy being very silly with my audience. In fact, being silly is now one of my strengths. That would have never happened if I continued to hide that vulnerability.
5) Talent only gets you so far. You have to apply yourself or you will never be as good as you could be.
If you truly want to reach your full potential, nothing beats good old fashion hard work. Hard work doesn’t necessarily mean just putting in the hours. It means that you are coming from the conviction that you are dedicated enough to invest the time that is needed to evolve yourself as a speaker.
For example, in 2009 when I was going through the World Champion of Public Speaking contest, almost every spare moment I had was spent crafting my speech. I went to different Toastmasters clubs, rehearsing my speech and getting feedback which I would then use to revise my speech. This took a lot of time and energy, considering that I went over 30 clubs just during the final stage. I knew that to compete at that level, I would have to dedicate my time and effort.
6) Work at the skill until it has moved from your head to your body, so that the skill is now a part of you.
There is such a thing as muscle memory. That means practicing a skill many times and intentionally look for ways to improve it. Then practice it some more until the skill becomes such a part of you that you don’t even have to think about it.
For example, when I finally made the choice to work on my humor, I worked up the courage to sign up for a stand-up comedy class taught by a professional comedian. I then entered a few more humorous speech contests over the next couple of years, and eventually won. Now, when I am training students, my silliness just comes through as humor, without me having to think about it. Being silly is now a part of me.
Remember, just like the learning the piano, public speaking is a process. How will you use these 6 nuggets of wisdom to improve your speaking process?
Mary Cheyne, MBA
2009 World Champion of Public Speaking 1st Runner-Up
Keynote Speaker / Trainer / Coach
Magnetic Podium, LLC