Be What You Want Them to See

Since Google and Facebook know me so well, they know that I ‘like’, watch, and listen to Speaking pages and podcasts. So, of course I’m going to get presented with marketing posts on that topic. One showed up on my newsfeed the other day, and as a… prudent investigator, I took the bait, clicked on his page, and searched around.

prudent investigator, aka effective evaluator, aka skeptic, aka critic

One of the first videos was “10 Steps to Create a Great Presentation”. Awesome. That’s right in my wheelhouse. *clicks play*

Side note: I’ve heard before that Praise should be given in public and Criticism in private. So, maybe if I don’t have anything nice to say I shouldn’t say anything.

It wasn’t THAT bad. It was just blah as far as presentations go, especially one supposedly teaching me how to give great presentations. No exciting opening, no hook, no passion, zigzagging direction, among other things. I was bored four minutes in before he even got to the first point.

A common comeback on American Idol was when Simon Cowell would deny a contestant, they would say “Well, you come up here and show us how it’s done!” He doesn’t have to. He’s the judge, not the talent. And to his credit, he has a resume to prove it.

So, I’m not claiming to be the best presenter myself. But we all know greatness when we see it. We all know when we’re bored to tears. And our instinctive reaction isn’t intended to be lavish praise or hateful criticism; it’s raw honesty.

Maybe the video I watched wasn’t intended to be his best, but it certainly didn’t encourage me to look further. I closed the screen. I didn’t give him a second chance. I didn’t buy anything.

One of my shortcomings is to hang my head and have an “aw-shucks” demeanor around certain people. It makes me wonder how many opportunities I missed because I wasn’t showing my best all the time. Was I being considered for something and my lack of enthusiasm wrote me off? Would a better attitude have initiated an interest that wasn’t there before?

We should be our best all the time. But. (isn’t there always a but). The extreme view of this is to stress over constant perfection. Well, that’s not the goal either. In pursuing perfection, you lose authenticity. Still, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”

I’ve realize how much I’ve failed at this. I’m way over-involved. My day consists of working a triage of priorities and playing catch-up. My results are just enough to be acceptable. The list of things I’d rather do keeps growing and now I resent the things I am required to do. Trying to do everything limits my ability to do anything.

So, this year I’m attempting to go all Weight Watchers on my schedule. (Weight Watchers is probably a bad analogy, as in I’ll say I’m going to start and never follow through). Soon enough I’ll be able to choose what I want to do and do it well.

The guy in the Facebook video didn’t intend for me to have that opinion of him. But I’m not sure he put in the effort for me to think otherwise. This blog post isn’t going to be as good as I want it to be, because I don’t have the time to make it that way. But I’m trying. I’ll get there.

My advice to myself: look at what you’re doing and ask if other people are going to appreciate for what it is. Does it compare to the level of effort put in? What do you need to do to make it better next time? Be what you want them to see. Without excuses. Own it. Rise to the occasion.

Thinking Lowly of Myself

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate enough to get a one-on-one meeting with a professional public speaker. We grabbed a cup of coffee and swapped stories and pleasantries for couple hours, touching on what the next steps would be for me to get booked to speak. He ended by saying “Jared, you’re a great speaker, I’ve seen your video. Very personable and engaging. You’ve also got plenty of stories and life experiences to work with here. You’re going to be great.”

One would think that would be enough. Enough encouragement to knock this out of the park. Enough to pick up a phone and get started. One would think…

It’s not that I don’t believe him. It’s not whether I believe in myself. (Well, apparently it is by looking at my actions, but not in my head). I’ve spent the past few months doing research, evaluating how other speakers work. I’ll watch keynote speeches in the same genre I’m looking at doing and think, “Pshh, I could do better than that.” Or worse I’ll critique, or dismiss, or be annoyed, and tell myself that I’m totally good enough.

But here’s the difference: they’re doing it and I’m not. I’m nothing more than an ignorant, illiterate big-mouth ranting on youtube.

I looked up a website of an acquaintance who is putting himself out there as a speaker for hire. Once again, I critiqued many of the things, this time out loud to my wife. I said, “even though some of it comes across as fake, my own problem is that I’m not publicizing myself as a legitimate speaker.” She said, “YES! You won’t even let people know you have a blog. You don’t tell people about being a speaker. You don’t talk about it. And your intro on the blog is all [in a whiny voice] ‘who would even hire poor me.'”

Never one to mince words, she was spot on this time. And I listened because she’s also my biggest encourager. But in the same way that she thinks I wear rose-colored glasses when I compliment her looks, I can’t help but second-guess her words. I’ve had plenty of encouragers in my life, people who champion me. Inside I’m hoping for it, love it when it happens, then play it off as if I don’t.

This is how I’ve always been. This weird dichotomy between wanting attention and shying away; thinking highly and lowly of myself, extroverted and introverted. It has never been a real issue because I haven’t had to stick my neck out. But I want to now. So basically, I need to do something in spite of myself.

I’d say the one time I did was when I ran for city council. I didn’t like it, but I loved it. Something akin to jumping off the high-dive for the first time. “That was fun. Let’s do it again!”

Have you ever spoken to a doctor or executive who seemed to just not get it? “But he’s the doctor; why do I feel like I understand and he doesn’t?” If I have learned anything from my various experiences, it’s that people are just people. There are phenomenal people who are not living up to their potential, and others who I can not fathom how in this big, unfair, upside-down world they made it to their esteemed position. This is where I think, “why couldn’t it be me?”

So I’m just going to go for it, a little at a time. Each day closer than the day before.

There’s a line between fake-it-till-you-make-it and complete exaggeration. It’s not that I’m humble, it’s more that I don’t want to come across as arrogant. I need to find the balance between potential-me and pathetic-me.

In a small step in the right direction, let’s start with this blog’s “About Me.” This is just a journal, not a professional site (it’s coming), so rather than this former opening:

I am an aspiring public speaker, without a speech. Oh sure, I could conjure up a 5-7 minute, 3-point, heart-wrenching, moral-to-the-story speech on request, but why would someone want to hire me to stand in front of their company (org, banquet, conference, church, youth group, school) and talk? That’s what this blog is for: to help me find what I have to say that’s worth hearing. Maybe after a while I’ll step back, look at this blog, and my platform will be staring right back at me. Here’s hoping…

I’m going to write a new one that at least doesn’t sound pitiful:

I bring motivation and inspiration by speaking to non-profits, youth groups, churches, civic organizations, and businesses.  I’ve been an accomplished leader and speaker in Toastmasters for eight years as well as a semi-finalist in the World Championship of Public Speaking. Through this blog, I hope to put my thoughts on paper and narrow the focus of my speaking platform. 

Consider this another baby step taken.

Jus’… do it

As reiterated millions of times, one of the most familiar and long-standing marketing slogans in the history of slogans is Nike’s “Just do it.” As parents, we use this phrase almost as many times as we ask kids to do something. And not in a Shia LaBeouf kind of way, but more in an exhausted manner. Slightly slurred with a hint of desperation and inferred begging: jus’… doit.

The same tone I whisper to myself when the alarm goes off (on the 3rd snooze). When I have to go talk to someone I really don’t want to go talk to. Sitting in the car, before you turn the key, dreading your destination.

Sometimes it’s used with the opposite motivation. “I shouldn’t have a cookie. But it looks so good. I told myself I wouldn’t. Oh, they have white chocolate macadamia nut. Stop staring, just do it.”

I wonder how many things we could accomplish by just doing whatever it is we’ve been contemplating. In quitting smoking, it’s called going Cold Turkey. But really you just finally made the decision to do it. One of the only times in high school where I actually called a girl to ask her out was under the influence of “just do it,” surrounded with encouraging phrases, like

“at least it won’t kill you”

“no one else has to know”

“it’s over the phone so you can still save face”

“worst she can say is no… or is it???”

But really, I got sick of my pathetic-ness and dialed. Her mom answered and said she was out of town for the rest of the summer. See! It didn’t kill me and no one has to know, till now. I don’t even remember her name. But I did it! Sort of.

Fast forward to now. My wife decided to make healthier food choices in January. For her sake and my own, I decided to do it with her. The past couple months I pretty much gave up doing anything healthy because the holidays are a minefield of temptations. Office parties, potlucks, Christmas cookies, my famous Christmas Punch, Salted Caramel Lattes, I could go on. And I did. Many times. And it was glorious.

But it put me up to an all time high weight. Knowing that the problem was my substandard food choices, I knew all I had to do was cut out bread and sugar and it would make a significant difference.  So on New Years Eve I drank my last Sun Drop, and stuffed myself with junk food. One last hurrah! Then went back out to get another Sun Drop. One more last Hurrah!  Then… it was the weekend.

Oh no. The weekend. I didn’t factor this in to the equation. We typically hit restaurants in the time between the food at home running out and Sunday night’s grocery trip. Oh the temptations! Qdoba, Wendy’s, Zaxby’s (Zax sauce), and they all have those new 100 flavor touch-screen Coke machines. So what did I do?

I just did it. The healthier choice that is. Seriously. It’s a coke. How utterly pathetic am I if I can’t say no to a drink choice? Just do it. I got a salad each time instead of a sandwich. It’s not difficult. At all. I’ve lost 5 pounds in a week. Good grief, just do it.

My wife worked as an Meeting Planner at NASA in Cape Canaveral, visited a friend’s office once and asked what he was working on. “Well…. we’re trying to figure out how to get to Mars.” OK. That’s difficult. It is NOT difficult to overcome discouragement when comparing the communion juice cup sized free water to the movie-themed, free-refills, 32oz “medium” cup. Anything that could be categorized as a First World Problem is not difficult.

Maybe this falls in line with the modern day, catered, spoiled brat syndrome (that’s a medical term). We like to dramatize everything to the point where it feels just as hard, but it’s not. I’ve been dragging my feet with this Public Speaking idea for about a year and a half. Ever since I won the District contest and had the thought that maybe, just maybe I’m actually good enough. If you want something, you have to ask for it, right? Just do it. So I did at the easiest of opportunities, the chamber meeting where I’m a member, the church’s men’s retreat, our Toastmaster meetings (anything counts), and others I’m queuing up. Idea is to always have a speech scheduled ahead of me to be working on. Progress is happening. Cause I’m a genius? Cause of all the podcasts? Cause of a how-to guide? No. I just did it.

Two caveats: (aren’t there always)

First. Yes of course there are real problems that might take something extra to accomplish. Actual serious addictions. Medical factors. Rare opportunistic situations. Obviously not every want can be instantaneous.

Second. I’ve been endlessly listening to podcasts, lectures, and interviews for the past few weeks. Once in a while there’s a nugget of info that sticks with me. One today was to combine the undesirable thing you should do with something you want to do, like only watch your favorite show while on the treadmill (credit: Christine Carter). That’s a neat idea. There’s nothing wrong with finding an avenue, or a gimmick, or an app that helps get it done. Just do it!

So try this experiment. Find the smallest possible change you would want to make. Going to bed on time. One less coffee. Not looking at your phone during church. Then do it. It’s downright silly how empowering it is to overcome the most menial challenge. Congrats, you get a gold star.

NO! You do not get a gold star! JUST DO IT, you baby!

I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean to yell… *sigh*

jus’… do it

Prepare To Be Bored

Our Executive Director was out of town for the last Chamber of Commerce meeting and asked me to preside over the monthly luncheon. No biggie, and I was a little more excited than most would be since I’m actively looking for speaking opportunities. Of course this is no inspirational tear-jerker, simply running a meeting. So I brushed it off… maybe a little too much.

All I did to prepare was copy/paste bios about the day’s guest speaker as well as a couple new member businesses, then check to see if there were any upcoming events (there weren’t). Being the “accomplished speaker” that I am, I dismissed reviewing the info or practicing. Mistake #1. And pretty much the only mistake that mattered.

I showed up without much time to spare, especially considering I was needed to help setup the A/V equipment. Left no time to meet the guests or gather my thoughts. I opened without any fanfare, without inspiration or even a catchy one-liner. I read the bios for each member, quickly realizing that I had not read through this…. at all! There were incomplete sentences that I stumbled over. Stuff they wrote that didn’t make any sense. But even the sentences I didn’t screw up I simply regurgitated without any flare. Realizing the sticky situation, I got more nervous and naturally tried to rush through the rest. It was straight and tedious and…

boring! It was boring. I bored myself. Honestly, ask anyone at that lunch to name one person I introduced or any fact about them. I bet they couldn’t. I COULDN’T. I literally couldn’t tell you what I, myself, just read.

On top of that, I neglected to get a volunteer for the pledge or invocation, so I did it myself. So now I’m boring and hogging the stage. Maybe this is overreacting. But I’m holding myself to this standard. I’m better than this. Anyone could be better than this. Grab a guy off the side of the road on the way, give him 30 minutes to prepare and it would’ve been better.

There is never an excuse for not preparing. (double negative?) You should always prepare no matter the situation. (better?) It encompasses so many other aspects of speaking. When you prepare, you unconsciously think about pace, posture, content, order, audience, reception, etc, etc. Just now I happened to click on a tweet about 10 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking. There are thousands of these types of lists online, but as far as this one goes I’m not sure I did any of them. I may have smiled, #8. At least I think I did. Still, if this was a graded speech, then I got a 10%.

You can even prepare for impromptu situations. If you knew you would be called on at the next business meeting, you’d at least review the topic ahead of time. I’ve been through dozens of these luncheons before and could have easily given thought to how I would do it. Simply showing up early and being “on guard” is a step toward mentally preparing, whether or not you’re asked to utter a single word.

As for this time, I squandered a perfectly good opportunity to practice while simultaneously doing a disservice to the community. (Points for multitasking!) I’ll take the 10% grade for a lesson learned.

Learning to say No

I am a Yes-Man to a fault. It’s so bad that I don’t even have to be asked to do something, I seem to just find myself getting involved. Sure it comes across as me helping, volunteering, or working hard. Makes me look good. But let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just my attention-needy ego. I don’t want to let people down by saying “No,” and I enjoy the occasional adoration by saying “Yes.” Being a Yes-Man will blow up in your face at some point. My time peaked around spring of 2014. I had a Full-time job, church drama, chamber of commerce, neighborhood association, a kid, kid’s school, wife, social media manager, foster care, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Semi-Finalist for World Championship of Public Speaking, and running for City Council. I list those things not to gloat (see narcissism above), but to show just how ridiculous I was in thinking I could actually do all those things well. I would advise you to not live your life in a similar fashion. In a culture where we’re deceived into thinking more is better, this is not the case, and here are a few reasons:

First, you will fail in all categories to a degree. There are 24 hours in the day. Mathematically there is only so much you can do. It is impossible to do everything you want to do; or in my case, everything I agreed to doing. To compensate, I tried to keep all the plates spinning in the air at the same time. Five minutes here, 20 minutes there. Never giving my full attention to any of the categories.

(I just indirectly called my wife a “category.” These accidents tend to happen when you over do it.)

As a result, you end up neglecting one of the items. I would try to squeeze everything in, or do double-duty. I’d practice my speech while knocking on doors for the council race. My mind was constantly on the race while at work. I would spend my after-work hours campaigning instead of being home. Then the next day I’d feel guilty for being away, and stay at home when I really should be out shaking hands and kissing babies. In the end, I lost the race but at least my wife’s happy, so draw your own conclusions. (Side note: my go-to joke while running was that I was out “kissing hands and shaking babies.” Yeah, don’t say anything, I know…)

Another risk is that you might lose respect or credibility. I don’t think I did with anyone, but I was on the verge. Sounds like the plot of a sitcom, where the main character tries to manage two dates simultaneously, hilarity ensues, but he ends up hurting both women. At any point someone might call your bluff, or at least demand the full amount promised. If that happened to me, I would have come up short. My forgiving wife was the only one to know how under water I really was.

Lastly, you’re not focused on what you really want to do. I can look at that list see that I should have dropped at least four of those things. I need a job, I love my family, after that…. what do I really want to do? If I removed the obligations, the social pressure, the ego, if I really could just do one of the things and do it well, which would it be?

To say “No” can be selfless. If you really can’t live up to the expectations or just don’t want to, be honest and allow the person asking to find someone who can. I was asked to be an officer for our local Toastmasters club, this was as my son was about to be born, so I said No. The current leadership is doing great and over the past few months I’ve realized how I can help the club in other ways. Participation in regular meetings is always a struggle and that’s totally something I can do. I’ve decided that I’m going to pursue getting a DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster accreditation) instead as part of my steps toward Public Speaking. Look! I said “No” and everything is OK! No one hates me, and we’re all better for it.

I suppose I ended up answering the “which would it be?” question for myself. It took buying a new house in a different county which forced me out of neighborhood roles, and having a baby gave me an excuse to slow everything else down. So here I am, testing the waters on public speaking. And loving every success and stumble (I stumbled today, more on that next time….)