Good advice doesn't always lead to skill. That's obvious. And when it comes to speaking, turning even the best advice into real skill is a major challenge. Why? Fear, of course. It makes us get in our own way. What's not obvious is why, and what to do about it.
I'm grateful to Brené Brown (no relation), a research professor at the University of Houston. Her work has been featured on PBS, NPR, TED, and CNN. Her research on connection offers real hope for us as would-be speakers - to get out of our own way and truly engage with our audiences, in everything from small meetings to large conferences.
Here's one of the principles she found.
To connect, have the courage to be imperfect
What? The last thing I want to do is expose all my flaws in front of an audience!
But your audience is much, much more sensitive to your nervousness than to your flaws. They have an insatiable desire for you to be comfortable in their presence. And they know - they're acutely sensitive to it - how comfortable you really are.
They don't care about your flaws, unless you do
An audience can see through most of our masks. It can see our imperfect humanness. Our flaws. Aaaagh... they'll see that I’m hairy / bald / fat / skinny / young / old / lumpy / wrinkled / saggy / naff / pigeon-toed... they'll hear all my 'ums'... they'll notice my accent... my wrong words... my awkwardness... the spot on my jacket...
Yes. They can see all that. It's just that they don't care. That's right, they don't care, unless you care. Then they care. Then - no matter how polite they are - your credibility with them goes down.
Say to yourself, 'They can see through me - and that's okay.'
So break out of that vicious circle. Resolve to have the courage to be seen, and reap the rewards of true connection. Your audiences will love you for it.
I have seen excellent presenters who are perfectly comfortable with non-model bodies, unfashionable clothes, ums and accents and wrong words. They know, as all audiences know, that great speaking is not about being perfect.
When we choose to have the courage to be imperfect in the spotlight, the spin-off into our everyday lives is simply wonderful.