As a swimmer I learnt the pretty obvious rule of - hard work and consistent training will give results. Of course this is true, in anything we do in life, whether it be sport, cooking, writing, speaking, etc. It make sense that the more you do an activity at a greater level the better at it your will get - this is what creates experts, specialists and professionals.
(image via Aerial Photography)
When I was a swimmer I would train the same time, every week, with a cycle of training sessions. Each session would focus on a particular aspect of swimming, whether that was a particular stroke, length, drill, style, or starts/turns/finishes. All of these aspects were then bought together in the racing, where each stroke, each turn, each kick was so ingrained in me that it seemed almost easy to race. Your body knew what it had to do.
When I speak now I notice that the more I do it the more it is becoming almost like second nature to me. Don't get me wrong, I get nerves (just like I did before a race), but they are productive nerves (productive nerves - another blog post?). I know, however, exactly what I am going to talk about, I know how I am going to stand, how I am going to interact with the audience, how I am going to open dialogue at the end of my talk. This all comes with practice, repetition, and consistency. Building up a consistent standard hones your skills, gives you the confidence that, each time you can nail that talk, nail that race, nail that recipe, article, photograph, etc.
Now don't get me wrong, consistency doesn't mean you can't change, or open yourself to growth. Nope, in fact consistency can allow you to see where you can improve, where you can alter and change things for the better - to create a new level of consistence.
Just know that being consistent means you are reliable, people know what they can expect from you, and you can be at your best. Be constantly good in every thing that you do and the effort will pay off. The results will come and you may even suprise yourself with what you can achieve.
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Yesterday I had a speaking engagement at Queen Ethelburga's College, a prestigious school just outside of York. I was very excited about this opportunity to speak to these students, however, my excitement was really an underestimation of the fun that I did end up having. It is this fun, this joy that I received from talking to the 6th form students that has made me realise just what a passion I have for speaking, for telling my story, and for motivating and inspiring others to live their lives to their full potential.
My day began with a talk given to the first group of 6th Formers. This group was mostly made up of International students (mainly from China and Russia), so for many English wasn't their first language. This did concern me a little, but once I started talking and saw the attention and interest that was evident on their faces, I quickly relaxed and continued to speak with my heart. The students did ask questions at the end and seemed genuinely interested in what advice I could offer. This first talk, though successful, felt a little like a warm up for what was to come.
After this first talk and having a few hours before my next group of 6th Formers, I went and sat informally with a P.E. group and chatted about the Paralympics, Sport in general, Australia, and generally bonded with the students and in the process motivating and inspiring them to go after their dreams, to realise that we can all achieve, that we "can all do it!"
It was then time for a spot of lunch (generously provided by the school) and a cup of tea, before moving onto my final talk of the day. It is this talk that cemented my feelings about being a speaker, that made my passion emerge crystal clear in the power that I have to motivate and inspire just by telling my story and sharing my ideas and thoughts. The only way I can really describe the talk is as a humorous, joyous, collective experience. If I could emulate this talk, recreate it for every talk that I do in the future, then I will reach a pinnacle, a closeness to perfection (but never absolute perfection, you see I despise absolute perfection, there is little beauty, imagination, or intelligence in it). So what made this talk so successful in my eyes? It was the chemistry that was evoked between myself and the students, a playing off each other that opened dialogue, that created an atmosphere of mutual respect. As a speaker this is a magical moment, a time when to talk to your audience is an absolute pleasure. With the flow, the humour, the ideas and the analogies, I know that the students came away with a great experience, because I had a great experience.
This magical moment, this almost perfect talk, has culminated in the possibility of repeat work with the school - of which would be a pleasure on my part. My day yesterday was a great day in my speaking career and has created a standard for myself of which I will emulate and eventually surpass. Do you have any magical moments such as this? where your performance, talk, race, engagement was more than you could have imagined? and how have you captured that again?
(Here I am giving my talk at Queen Ethelburga's College, near York. It was a tight squeeze in the lecture theatre, but it made for a more intimate space.)
"One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged."
I stumbled across the above quote this morning on twitter. Now when it comes to Lucille Ball I can't decide whether I like her or not, but this quote definitely sways me towards "like," because its honest and oh so true.
You see, I have been discouraged before - I believe every human being on earth has been discouraged at times. It's how you deal with feeling discouraged that determines your successes in life. Why? Because as Lucille says, "it doesn't pay to get discouraged." AND it really really doesn't.
To be discouraged is to taste the bitterness of failure, of rejection, of plans gone awry. To have the heart sink and the mind turn to despair. How do you get over this? How do you come back from feeling this bad?
For me, being a forever optimist, I let myself work through the feelings and then I let them go and look to the future and all the plans I still have. I remind myself that there are many paths to the same goal and that the one I was on just wasn't the right one, that I have to choose another way. To be rejected, to have a failure, doesn't mean the end, nothing really is the end, because, if we embrace optimism, have the ability to keep moving forward, to keep ourselves inspired by our dreams and aspirations.
Do you have any special things that you do to help you get over feeling discouraged?
(image via astrid photography)
This friday just gone I gave two talks at a school near Wolverhampton. The school was lovely, it was in a former manor house and the history of the place created an aura of "old school" charm. The staff were so warm and welcoming, the students were mature and well behaved, and asked so many (unprompted) great questions, that their obvious intelligence and empathy inspired me tremendously (just as I hope that I inspired them). The communication between myself and the teacher organising the talks was clear and concise, I knew what was expected of me from the outset; the day went as planned.
Having said this though, the facilities for my talk weren't the most comfortable. Don't get me wrong, the school hall was a lovely old building - very Harry Potter-esque - and it was a perfect size for the grandeur of the school, but also the intimacy required for an inspiring talk. The issue was, it was cold. So very cold in this hall, (yet I still felt it necessary to remove my coat and address the students as professionally as I could), that it made my ability to speak, as well as I could, a bit of a challenge. Also, the equipment to present my presentation and video on wasn't as high-tech as I had been able to use before, and this meant a little more fiddling on my part, with my head down looking at a computer screen; it did do its job though.
I don't want to come across as complaining or whinging.
I am not a diva that expects the best at all times (because frankly, sometimes "the best" is to over-rated).
The purpose of this post is to compare and critique, and above I have done this, I have critiqued, and now I am going to compare.
A few months ago I was supposed to do two talks for a charity. I was very excited about being involved at their conferences and hopefully engaging successfully with their clients. The first talk was a dream - the room was perfect for my talk, the equipment was top notch and allowed me to just speak, without having to put my head down to search for things on a computer screen. The room was cozy warm, I was watered and fed, and ready to present.
My jokes fell flat, I developed a cough, people didn't seem to be engaging with me and I felt trapped behind the lecturn that was provided for me. I didn't get many questions at the end; only a round of applause that seemed lukewarm at best. This wasn't to be the worst of it though.
I was supposed to talk at another of this charity's conferences the week after. I didn't. I arrived the day after I was meant to talk. Was I embarrassed? You betcha!! Was I angry? You betcha. Obviously there had been a breakdown in communication between myself and the organiser. Dates had been mistaken, expectations were never clear enough, and I felt like I had let myself down professionally (not just the charity, BUT myself). I learnt a lot about myself from doing these talks with this charity - as I learnt a lot working with the school last week. This is a good thing.
You see, I have developed the ability to compare and critique myself. I am never going to be perfect (no-one ever will be), but in critiquing myself I am pushing myself to improve, not just on the big things, but the small things as well. You see, what I learnt from my experience with the charity was that I have to take control of communicating over my role in the talk. I have to double check dates, I have to find out exactly what the client wants AND triple check this, I have to ensure that all communication is clear and concise - just as I did in organising my talks with the Wolverhampton school. My talks at the school, in my opinion, were way more successful then my talks for the charity. This is simply down to critiquing and comparing myself, my talks, and the way that I respond to potential disasters, leading to learning and growth as a speaker.
To gain a good reputation as I speaker I believe that you have to be professional, authentic, confident, and above all aware, aware of the process, aware of how you deal with the good and bad, and aware of yourself in the act of giving and sharing with the audience.
What are your thoughts?
Because deep deep down in the depths of my quivering, sometimes cynical soul I know that I can. What is it that I can do? Well on Saturday just gone, what I could do was walk on snow without holding onto the fear that I would slip and break my hip, or my arm, or my leg (this is a perpetual fear that is with me all day everyday - and is heightened in snow times - making me a rather tentative, stiff, scared walker).
For me this was a huge step in self confidence (as self confidence is often reflected by the physical actions that we make), to walk without fear is to walk free. This anecdote can be applied to so many aspects of life - whether you are a speaker, athlete, mother, office worker, etc. Self confidence is something that can blossom when given half a chance, because self confidence, really, stems from self belief and self trust. Like me walking in the snow, I rationally knew that the odds of me falling were quite low, I also rationally knew that I could walk in the snow confidently, but it wasn't until I just let go and tried to walk without fear that I realised I could and WAS walking without fear in the pretty snowscape.
So let go of your fears, fears are purely based in the unknown, but when you trust in your own abilities you can forget fear and embrace the moment, embrace the self belief, embrace that self confidence that allows you to truly be everything that you have the potential to be.
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright