Early in my career as a professional speaker, I made a lot of mistakes. I took on too many engagements when I had a lot of things going on with my personal life and with my job that paid the bills. I also made the mistake of allowing my contact for the presentation to select any topic that interested him or her, and then I would design a presentation around it. So I laugh to myself whenever I meet someone just getting into the speaking business that’s finding themselves battling these very frustrations.
Procrastination can be deadly to your career no matter which field you are in. In fact, it can literally be deadly in some cases. So why do so many people procrastinate? Well, there are two common reasons: 1. they associate some sort of discomfort towards the thing they have to do & 2. they have other things they’d rather be doing. So given that so many folks feel discomfort just at the thought of speaking to groups, it should come as no surprise that not adequately preparing for a speech is the most common (and most harmful) public speaking mistake.
Preparing for a talk is a lot of work. You need to research your topic, write your speech and then practice and tweak it. So it’s very easy for this task to either slip through the cracks or only get a half-hearted effort. And that half-hearted effort often results in a sub-par talk which just reinforces the speakers’ discomfort with public speaking. So how can you avoid this trap? Simply realize the costs of not preparing and compare them with the benefits of preparing.
There’s a song by Kenny Chesney called “Don’t Blink” that has an interesting message to it. It’s about a guy watching the news where a man that just turned 102 is being interviewed. The reporter asks the man for advice on how to reach 100 years and the man essentially tells the reporter to enjoy life because “100 years goes by faster than you think. So don’t blink.”
The message from the song is so true. You’re a kid and then before you know it, you’re a young adult getting married. And then all of sudden you’ve got children, and then grandchildren and then you and your spouse have reached the 50 year mark.
When I was a kid, I remember a cartoon where this dog was in jail and planning his escape. His escape plan was simple – dig a tunnel underneath the prison to get him past the wall (about 500 yards). He knew that this was a big task and he didn’t have any heavy excavating equipment so he used a teaspoon – and dug the tunnel one spoonful at time.
This of course took him several years to accomplish, but it’s a good metaphor for how to handle big tasks. Had this convict just sat there and complained or worried about his situation, he would have nothing at the end of several years. By performing a consistent action – even something as small as digging a tunnel one spoonful per day – he had completed an escape route.
When you pass someone in the hallway in a familiar setting such as a college or office, it’s common courtesy to say “hi” to them. The same holds true when you enter a waiting area, elevator or other small area and there’s only one other person there. Sometimes, a question such as “how are you?” or “how’s going is asked?” and this is where it starts getting interesting.
When people make this kind of small talk, they often do it on auto pilot because the typical response they get is “good” and then they reply with “good.” So I recently tried an experiment. When someone passing me by or sharing an elevator with me would ask me how I was, I replied with “I’m dying” nonchalantly. Seven out of eight times, they said “good” or “cool” – they had no idea what I said – the other person asked “figuratively or literally?”.
It seems like practically every day I drive by a dead squirrel in the road. I never thought much about it until yesterday when I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting one. At first, I figured that it’s because there’s a lot of squirrels and a lot of cars where I live. But there are a lot of other animals too, and I rarely see them lying dead in the road. But watching this squirrel dart back and forth clued me in on the problem, and it’s a problem I see with a lot of people.
In my many years of driving, I’ve seen probably thousands of squirrels darting across busy roads. Most of the time, they could have escaped doom by doing one simple thing – being more decisive. A typical animal will start crossing the road, and if it sees a car coming at it it’ll turn back, otherwise it will continue across the road. Squirrels on the other hand dart out and then turn around when the see a car, then think they can beat it so go back across, then get almost to the other side and then turn back, and by then the car has stopped and they continue to other side. While this zig-zag pattern of unpredictability has its place in the world – this is what makes a ride like the Tower of Terror in Disney World exciting and unpredictable.
Whether you’re looking for work or looking for new clients, people want to make sure that you are who you say you are and you’ll do what you say you’ll do. One way to assure those considering you or your services is to provide a list of references – satisfied customers or employers that can vouch for your character and skills. But even though this seems like a no-brainer, many people lose out because they choose the wrong people for references.
The wrong reference can make you look unprofessional, unethical and unprepared – and all of this can be done unintentionally from someone who is trying to help you. Yes, this has happened and I’ve seen it. Remember that these days most employers are doing their homework and checking references – ditto on the consumer side when working with a small business. So there’s a good chance the people you list will get called so you’ll want to make sure that these people will represent you well. So let’s start with how to choose the right people as references. Here are some tips: