Hard work really does pay off! How you can make drastic improvements to your professional skills!
As good as you are, you can always strive to be better. I have been a professional speaker for 10 years. I have been a broadcaster for over 30. I have written two books. I know how to write and speak, right? That’s what I do. The problem is, every time I looked at video of myself speaking, no matter how great people said I was, I cringed in pain over the choice of words, the expressions on my face, my body language or my inability to feel completely comfortable in the spotlights.
Earlier this year, through my network of wonderful friends, the opportunity for me to speak at the Diversity Leadership Alliance annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona came about. Knowing that 800 civic, business, and professional leaders in Phoenix would be seeing me speak inspired me to take drastic action to improve myself.
I decided to start from scratch and totally rewrite my presentation. This would be an entirely new keynote. In my opinion, the old one had grown stale. It was time to kick out something new.
When I was done writing, I thought it was pretty good, but there were some elements missing and it wasn’t quite right. Around that same time, I received an email alerting me that Steve Lowell would be the presenter at a National Speakers Association chapter meeting in New Orleans. After attending that meeting, I realized that I needed to work with Steve to really hammer out my presentation and get it into top-notch form.
It was amazing how Steve took my ideas and skillfully shifted my thought process into the direction of greatness. I started off with a pretty good speech, but Steve turned it into a great speech! He did all this by reading what I wrote and listening to what I sent him via email and Skype. As I listened to his suggestions, I could not wait to get off Skype and implement his ideas into my plan.
I memorized key parts of the presentation and rehearsed for countless hours to an audience of my dog Comet, and my bathroom mirror. My 50-year-old brain struggled to remember the key phrases consistently and that became very frustrating. And meanwhile the calendar was flipping through the dates. 45 days out. 30 days out. Two weeks out. And I was still trying to memorize things! People close to me said I was putting too much work into it. They said I was already a great speaker and that I was inviting trouble if I made too many changes to what I had already done. But I knew the feeling of disappointment and I was going to do everything possible to avoid leaving that stage unhappy with my performance. I recorded the speech and listened to it loop all night in my sleep. I totally immersed myself into the speech and gradually it and me became one.
I practiced out loud even in the “green room” moments before taking the stage. I began with the confidence of knowing the the introduction was completely memorized and delivered perfectly. That gave me immediate confidence. The creative hook that Steve helped me develop was a success. From that point on, I felt at home on that platform. I could tell the audience was enchanted with what they were hearing. The reaction was on cue. The bond was incredible. When I was done, the standing ovation stirred emotions from deep within me! I had worked HARD on that speech and it paid off. I didn’t leave the platform wishing I had practiced. I left the platform happy with myself. It felt GREAT!
Since then, Nov 1, I had to give the same presentation four more times this month and each time it has improved. Audiences at Arizona State, Phoenix College and the Division on Career Development and Transition all thoroughly enjoyed my message.
The attitude of self improvement has always been a part of me. But from now on, I will elevate it to a new level of priority. You should do the same. You are probably already good at what you do. You may even be the best at it. But is it possible to get even better? What steps do you need to take to improve upon your greatness?
It is very easy to say to yourself, “I’m good at what I do.” It takes strength to say, “I have a lot of growing to do.” It is not easy to say “I did that bad,” or “I constantly do this wrong.” Being extremely critical of yourself is a good thing, if you channel that energy toward self improvement instead of self destruction.
It feels great to be able to look at the video and be happy with what I see. Well… somewhat happy. There are plenty of things I will do better when I speak next!