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I recently spoke with a friend who was asked to give a guest lecture at a college. This friend is absolutely brilliant in so many ways and has a massive amount of value to bring to the students in the class. But when we spoke, I could tell that something was off. He was struggling to describe his journey in a way the class would be interested in, and I could feel the anxiety in his voice.
After a few minutes, the answer was clear — he had been asked to give a speech on topics that, while he understood and could cover, weren’t really his sweet spot. They didn’t get him excited. It was the “what” but not the “why.” It was not what got him up in the morning. This friend is very entrepreneurial, but he doesn’t consider himself an entrepreneur. He had been asked to tell the class about how college helped to prepare him for that entrepreneurial journey.
Because of this, there was a level of stress and tension in his voice as he talked through ideas and topics that he could cover. It wasn’t natural, but rather the forced flow of someone asked to play outside of their natural strengths and interests. It was obvious there was some dread there, perhaps concern that he might not add the value he wanted to for the students who were coming to hear his perspective.
I know this friend well and understand what gets him up in the morning. So after a few minutes of hearing his angst, I stopped him. I suggested he forget the word “entrepreneur” and tell his story the way he knows it, with a focus on telling the students about the lessons he learned in college, how they formed his professional career and life and what he’s been able to accomplish as a result of the formative time he spent leading up to jumping into his first job.
Immediately the pressure was off and the energy level was up to 11. He started throwing out ideas left and right. It flowed so naturally that had the speech been right then, he would have given an incredible performance. Same guy, and very nearly the same topic, but turned just slightly in a way that fit his mindset and what gets him excited.
As we hung up, it occurred to me that we’ve all been in that place many times, not just in speeches but in life. We are often asked to do things that we are technically capable of but that don’t play to our strengths in one way or another. In that process, we often feel drained, nervous or inadequate. But nine times out of 10 we don’t take the time to step back and ask ourselves if there’s a way to turn the request on its head, to play to our strengths in a way that will help us not only succeed but enjoy the process so much more.
To help ensure the most value out of situations like this in my own life, I created a set of questions to help frame my perspective.
1. What about the topic do I know like the back of my hand?
2. What are the most interesting and exciting parts of this topic from my perspective?
3. How can I share that energy with the audience in a way that gets them engaged?
Going off of the last point, the best way to energize an audience is to let your passion shine through. People want to hear from someone who believes in what they say and who clearly articulates their points in an approachable way. That means minimize tech jargon and “internal” language that an audience might not grasp.
You will also notice this list does not have anything about negatives. On occasion, it’s helpful to put a “don’t cover” list together that isolates the handful of anxiety points you wish to avoid and quick answers in case those topics are raised, but I’ve found that it’s almost invariably better to simply focus on the questions above and lead from positivity.
Once the three points above are down, I’ll try out that speech outline with a friend and see if I feel the energy and, even more importantly, if they do, too. Once I can tell my friend(s) are engaged and following, it’s ready for prime time. Any time it seems like I’m losing them, I make a quick note to follow up afterward on what about that point was off-putting and adjust from there.
Don’t stress about getting a practice perfect; the goal here is just to measure the audience’s (in this case, your friend’s) reaction and revise. Most of the time when you see the audience begin to fade, it means you are talking too much or too long about a point or have reverted to the “internal” language referenced earlier.
The next time you are asked to give a speech, try reframing the opportunity using the guidelines above and watch your energy soar.
June 3, 2019 at 08:36AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs