Sorry for the hiatus but my wife broke her leg in early December and I have been playing Private Duty Nurse since then. I will try to put out a chapter/speech every week or ten days over the next several months. I want to thank everyone who has commented since my last posting and apologize for not monitoring the site for several weeks. OK, here is the speech.
A Is for . . .
Most motivational speakers would say that A is for Attitude because having a positive mental attitude (PMA) is the key to success in life. As the hackneyed sayings go, “If you believe it, you can achieve it.” and “Fake it until you make it.”
Recently, however, several authors have questioned the magic of PMA. Two of these are Barbara Ehrenreich who wrote ‘Bright-sided’ and Barbara Fredrickson who wrote ‘Positivity.’ Some reviewers have suggested that the studies cited in these books were cherry-picked to prove their theses but, to my mind, the two Barbara’s do make some convincing arguments.
But that is not to say that I am not a positive person. In fact, most people would characterize me as an optimist who sees the bright side of life.
The A that I am going to talk about is Addiction. You might ask, “What does addiction have to do with public speaking and connecting with the audience?” Let me paint you a picture of where I am coming from.
When I was a Department Head at the Applied Research Laboratory of Penn State, I travelled frequently to Washington, D.C. to attend meetings at various Navy Program Offices. As I walked the streets during the day, I would be approached by less than nattily attired individuals seeking my spare change and, at night, I would see other individuals sleeping on grates to stay warm. I used to dismiss them as ‘druggies’ and people who could not make a normal life for themselves.
Then I had a revelation. It is estimated that the habitual drug user requires $500 to $1000 per day to feed that habit. That’s 365 days a year for a total of $180,000 to $360,000 per year. That would be a pretty good salary if you were working but that street person has to beg, steal, or otherwise come up with the cash every day, whether they want to get up or not, whether they are sick or not, whether it is week day or weekend. Their habit, their addiction forces them to do it.
I am not saying that you as a speaker should become a beggar, a thief, or a drug user. What I am saying is that you should become addicted to improving your skills through speaking and study.
Darren LaCroix, the 2000 World Champion of Public Speaking, admonishes you to get ‘stage time, stage time, stage time.’ Others call for ‘practice, practice, practice.’
But practice alone is not enough. It must be focused, deliberate practice. This is the thesis of two other books: ‘Talent Is Overrated’ by Geoff Colvin and ‘The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle. No matter what you want to become good at, both authors stress the need to practice by setting a goal just beyond your present abilities, by stretching, by making mistakes.
And they both warn you that it won’t be easy, that it takes a long time to become excellent at something. They point to many studies that show that it takes ten years of directed practice to become an expert. Coyle also references 10,000 hours of practice to reach expertise. Ten thousand hours is close to three hours of practice every day for ten years. Colvin says that four hours of practice seems to be the upper limit for directed practice and it is most effective if it is broken down into 60 to 90 minute chunks. And the area of specialization does not really matter. It can be art, music, writing, speaking, anything.
Coyle refers to Ericksson who defines deliberate practice as working on technique, seeking constant critical feedback, and focusing ruthlessly on shoring up weaknesses. As a speaker, to improve through practice requires that you speak and speak often. Audiences will provide the critical feedback but an organization like Toastmasters International with its program that includes honest thorough evaluation of all speeches is an excellent source of feedback. The feedback from advanced Toastmaster clubs with round robin evaluations is even better.
Deliberate practice often benefits from a teacher or coach. It must be designed to be repeated a lot, to be mentally demanding, and not much fun. The teacher must be unbiased. Since it isn’t fun, most people won’t do it. Your mind set must be to constantly find those areas where your performance is unsatisfactory and work to make those areas better.
Deliberate practice has to be done with passion and motivation (or, as Coyle calls it, ignition.) Your objective has to be something that you truly and intensely want, that you must achieve.
The success of dedicated, directed practice does not seem to depend on any natural or inherent talent. It seems that, if one attacks a domain with passion, persistence, and practice, one can become an expert, someone who audiences mistakenly refer to as a natural.
When I was a young man and an avid golfer (admittedly one who seldom practiced), Lee Trevino was my hero, my golfing role model. Lee seemed to be someone with a natural talent, who started out as a happy-go-lucky hustler and became a champion. He said: ‘There is no such thing as natural touch. Touch is something you create by hitting millions of golf balls.’ You will probably never give a million speeches but you will have to create, develop, refine, and deliver hundreds and hundreds of speeches to get in the required 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Begin today becoming the best.