Thursday, January 5, 2017

10 questions to make you a more resilient speaker in 2017

I do an annual evaluation of my year--both personally and for my business--and I've found very useful this list of 10 questions by Paula Davis-Laack. She writes about resilience and other workplace topics. While I was doing my assessment this time, I realized these questions--with just a few tweaks--might work well for assessing your public speaking at this early point in the year.

Why assess your speaking experience? You may have had some goals for your speaking in 2016, but fallen short, and not be too sure about why that happened. Or perhaps you set no goals, but were still unsatisfied at the end of the year--one too many bad panels, or extra effort for a speech that didn't make the work seem worth the trouble. Maybe you accepted a speaking gig under some pressure, real or imagined, and regretted it. Or you may want to capture the good things that happened, something I always recommend to counter our built-in negativity biases.

I especially value these questions because they are tied to factors that help you develop resilience, something we all can use in public speaking. A more resilient speaker may be calmer and more sure of herself--even when saying "no" to a request--and be able to use tools and tactics that support her speaking. She'll be better able to handle stress. And when the inevitable unplanned-for change pops up, she'll take it in stride. She'll also make wiser choices that lead her to satisfaction rather than frustration.

With all that in mind, here's my gentle rewrite of Davis-Laack's questions, with public speakers in mind:
  1. When did you have fun as a speaker?
  2. What good risks did you take and how were you outside your public speaking comfort zone?
  3. What gave you the most meaning as a speaker?
  4. How did you handle the tough times in your public speaking this year?
  5. How did you become more authentic as a speaker?
  6. What healthy habits did you put into place, specifically to support your speaking or speechwriting?
  7. Who were your sources of support for your speaking?
  8. When were you too hard on yourself about a speech or presentation?
  9. How were you more mindful in your approach to public speaking?
  10. What did you learn about yourself as a speaker?
Once you have your answers, how do you put them to use in public speaking? If you had fun doing a particular type of public speaking, or with a certain type of audience, it's worth tugging on the experience to see what you might replicate going forward. You can take more and different good risks, try another set of healthy habits (while continuing what worked in 2016), and know when to ease up on yourself instead of being too hard on yourself in particular situations. And you can write a lovely thank you note to the people who were your sources of support. We can't reward that kind of behavior too much.

I would take the answers to what gave you the fun and the most meaning, how you became more authentic as a speaker, and what you learned about your speaking self, and figure out how to build those factors into your speaking gigs and opportunities going into 2017. If we are not to dread public speaking all the time, it needs to be fun and meaningful. If we don't want to feel like we're faking it, we need to bring our authentic selves to the task.

That might translate into saying "no" to offers to speak if they don't mesh with your principles or needs. I rarely say "yes" to last-minute requests to speak if I can discern that the timing comes from a lack of planning on the organizer's part, for example, or sometimes, even if that's not the case. Organizer intent aside, the last-minute request asks me to give up my preparation time, which for me is not only essential, but part of what adds quality to my speaking--and that is meaningful to me. Sometimes, it also asks me to fly across the country overnight and speak while jet-lagged, or some other awful travel arrangement. Again, not conducive to what adds meaning for me--so, no.

You also may wish to flip that around and ask yourself what factors would make you want to say "yes" to a speaking request. Think: What would make me a more resilient speaker this year?

Follow the links below to my Facebook or Twitter feeds to share how this exercise worked for you! Here's to a great public-speaking year for all of us.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by ebrkt, with alterations)

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