Public Speaking and The Matrix

Much of today’s self-help and personal development programs and materials are geared towards the ‘quick fix’ crowd. People want results fast and the want them with minimal effort. It’s like the film The Matrix where whenever a character within the supercomputer needs to learn a skill, the needed knowledge is downloaded in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, despite the fact that many tools only feed this frenzy, life simply does not work like that.

I think it would be excellent if learning worked the same as it did in science fiction films like The Matrix or Total Recall – imagine hooking yourself up to a computer and downloading a new language as opposed to taking months worth of classes to learn it. But in our world, new skills take time to develop – and a significant amount of it to master. You first need to properly learn the skill, then experiment with it and practice it. And then you can finally start to apply it to your own real world situation.

My Fear of Public Speaking class really opened my eyes up to this desire. I normally teach it (when it’s a public course) over four sessions. This allows time for everyone to participate and reflect on the lessons and assignments between each session. Some people feel like this is too long for this type of course and opt for a one night overview session and this came up during a break in one class. A woman shared with me that she had originally wanted to take a one-night course offered by someone else, but the location of the course made it too difficult so she took mine. She didn’t want to commit to four nights, but then after the class ended, she told me she wished it had more sessions.

This is the paradox that we face as speakers. The expectations that are set for us are almost unrealistic. People want five hours of knowledge in a 30 minute talk. Sometimes you can cut it down and just deliver the highlights, but the audience loses out on the rest of the story: the exercises that allow them to put the skills to use, the memorable stories that drive the point home and the use of props and other visuals to strengthen the connection in the mind.

I’m often asked to condense courses to fit a client’s schedule and needs. The public speaking course is meant to be between eight and ten hours. I’ve successfully delivered most of the material in four hours without the audience feeling like it was rushed. When I first started out, I tried it in one hour and it didn’t work out as well as I would have liked it to. So now I know better and I only offer a subset of the material (such us how to organize your speech or how to improve your delivery) for smaller blocks of time.

It’s unfortunate because a lot of us fall into the trap because there’s always a new fad program or book that comes out that promises better results with less effort in less time. And people buy them and try them and typically don’t get any results. The books and programs are usually created in a way that you have to follow strict instructions for them to work – and in some cases, following them step by step will give you your desired result. But your average personal development addict will get halfway through the program, get frustrated because of the amount of effort involved and then just go out and buy the next greatest fad which promises the same results in half the time.

So what can those of us who honestly want to help people do? We can keep on delivering our time-tested material and focusing on the people who want to put in the effort to improve. These are the people that make us most proud and they serve as living, breathing examples of how our programs deliver – and the best salespeople for your program that you could ever ask for. If you’re looking for a quick buck, create an overly complicated system that promises big results in a short amount of time that’s set up so people will feel overwhelmed and give up early into it. If you truly want to help people, create good programs with material that works within a realistic timeframe. The choice is yours.

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