Be a Better Speaker: Think Like a Runner

I find speaking in front of an audience to be exhilarating, but also a little intimidating and usually quite exhausting. The same can be said for how I experience running. Here are some similarities that I see between my two addictions:

  1. You soon realise that there are no shortcuts; if you don’t put in the work, you won’t make the progress that you want. Pure and simple.
  2. If you commit, you will probably endure discomfort, setbacks and disappointment, but also elation and huge personal development.
  3. Getting guidance and a ‘buddy’* or two to share the experience can be very helpful.
  4. The result is definitely worth it.

* Someone like you with whom to share the adventure. You can be open with them because they understand the journey; they’re experiencing it too.

It doesn’t matter if you enjoy running or not; this is a clear analogy of effort and reward. Here are the specific actions you should take to build your speaking confidence:

  1. Accept your imperfections, and then celebrate them. (running similarity: your physical shape) You’re unique, so the ‘usual’ way of doing things may not work for you. That’s fine. By showing a little humanity, you become a more interesting person to listen to. But this has to start with switching off your defences, with switching off the assumption that your story and personal experience doesn’t interest people. Not only is your story interesting, if your audience relates to it on a simple emotional level, you may even get laughs from the audience from your honesty. These will be wonderful, sincere laughs of recognition and connection. Much more importantly, through showing vulnerability, you will also gain their trust.
  2. Things will go wrong. (running similarity: injuries) When speaking in front of a group, you may experience nerves, or see someone in the front row who looks distinctly unimpressed. Or the tech may betray you, or you may trip up as you take the stage, or you simply experience buttock-clenching fear that blanks your mind completely. It often won’t go as planned, and that’s fine. Having a plan is good; however, giving yourself permission to abandon that plan to achieve the goal is just as important as the plan itself. I recommend visualisation; it’s what athletes do to achieve their best, and you can use it for your speaking, too. Imagine yourself being brilliantly confident and observe how your visualised self stands, moves and conducts themselves. Imagine it enoguh and you’ll trick your subconscious into believing it too, which will boost your confidence.
  3. Setbacks are brief and unimportant. (running parallel: aching or feeling tired) You may have felt that the last time you spoke in public your performance was below par, that you messed up and they thought that you were a fool. All my experience helping people with their speaking confidence tells me that their perspective on what happened is often tainted by self-doubt, and its significance magnified in a way that’s simply not accurate or helpful. The audience isn’t analysing the material and delivery in every detail like you are; that moment when you stumbled didn’t really bother them, even if to you it felt like a disaster. Keep going, they may not have even noticed.

The Finish Line

Just get out there and do it. Look up some techniques, try some different things out, see what happens and learn from the result. And if you’re simply too scared or lazy, then get some advice!

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