Last weekend, I attended a seminar for professional speakers and those who want to speak. There were only 10 attendees, and they are all amazing people. There was a software creator who invented a product that changed the way we manage our online relationships (one of the top CRM systems in the world), a medical researcher who has a product that saves lives, an educator passionate about helping the children in this country overcome literacy problems, and a woman who graduated from law school and is an attorney as well as an inspirational speaker. She was the most courageous of all of us because she is blind. This was just a few of the people there.
Our presenters were the best. The organizer is an accomplished writer, one of the top literary agents in the world and a speaker who has appeared on top television shows and has written 20 books herself. Our first presenter was a speaker trainer, who works with many TED presenters. He was on for 3 ½ hours and no one wanted him to stop.
On our second day, we worked with a stage actor/coach who gave us suggestions and ways to improve immediately on our inflection, gestures, pauses, posture and movement. On our final day we worked with one of the top acting coaches in the world who works with Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz and L.L. Cool J, to name a few. He instructed us to allow our authentic selves to come out so our audience can connect with the real people that we are.
It was a very intense weekend because we just weren’t taking notes, we working with what we learned right away. It was also a bit of a juggling act, and in some respects I am still reconciling everything I learned. As a speaker, our presentation has to be memorized, it must be energetic and alive, otherwise people can just read your words from a paper, they don’t need you. On the other hand we must be authentic and vulnerable and speak from the heart so we are not speaking memorized words.
I discovered some parts of my speech were really good, and I presented well. And then there were other parts where I was just atrocious. I spoke too quickly, ran my words together and was too tense. May I even say I sucked? I could feel my heart pounding as I stood in front of our small intimate group of new friends. But I knew if I didn’t take a risk, and step out of my comfort zone, I could never improve or get better.
The key to the weekend was that everyone there was supportive, loving and friendly. It was a great environment to step out and give your best. If your speech worked, you knew. If something didn’t work you received incredible coaching and training on the spot. At one point out facilitator who I already told you is an accomplished speaker wanted to be critiqued and receive training as well. This told me a lot. One, no matter how much you know and how much you have accomplished, you can always learn and improve. Second this person was willing to be vulnerable in front of all us to be a better speaker.
This was a life changing event. We all felt a connection to one another, and now are friends, we connect on social media and spent a good part of the day yesterday emailing each other. We even discussed a reunion so we can be together again and continue our work.
In order to improve, you have to step out from your comfort zone, try new things and meet new people. If you only ask your friends and family for feedback, you are limited to their experiences. They may have never done what you want to do. There are times when you have to step away from the friends and family, the tribe so to speak, and reach for those who have been in your shoes and have gone where you want to go. Be courageous, seek them out and step out of your comfort zone. It will be life changing.