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.
The first thing I share is my own experience of transitioning from giving speeches in Toastmasters to giving speeches to other audiences and how I’ve made many of the same mistakes they are experiencing. While they take comfort in learning that they’re not the only ones to make these mistakes, they also say something like “I wish I had talked to you about this months ago.” That’s when I tell them that they are better off for making the mistake themselves rather than hearing about them second hand through someone else because they’ll not only remember to not do it again, but they’ll have also tested their limits.
The reason why I chose these two mistakes out of the countless ones I’ve made is because they are not common sense mistakes. We all know to practice our talks before we go in front of our audience and to not use inappropriate humor. But we also like to challenge ourselves and push ourselves as hard as we can. That defeat that we reach when we push ourselves to our boundaries is a good thing — it tells us how far we can go and shows us what we need to work on.
Several years ago I took up every chance I could to speak to an audience. I was a member of two Toastmasters clubs where I’d speak at every possible opportunity and I was contacting clubs and organizations left and right for speaking opportunities. On top of that, I had a lot going on with my “outside of speaking” life. Now had I just had a single speech that I would always deliver, my life wouldn’t have been so bad. But I refused to recycle my speeches; every audience got their own customized talk.
So it wasn’t long before I crashed. Fortunately, my bomb of a speech was at a Toastmasters club so it didn’t really matter. Other than bruising my then delicate ego, there was no harm done (although at the time I almost considered giving up). Had I not tried this at that time in my career as a speaker, I may not have found out that I wasn’t Superman until I was doing paid speeches.
I still challenge myself every now and then, but I’m cautious. And every now and then, things don’t go as planned. But now when I make mistakes, I pout about them for a few minutes and get all that pain, anger, frustration and other negative feelings out of my system. Then when it’s over, I try to learn from the mistake and move on with my life.
Defeats get us to work harder, strengthen our commitments to our goals and learn our limits. Yes, they may knock us down, make us feel like a failure or do some damage to us. But almost all wounds heal with time. So the next time you’re faced with the feeling of defeat, pick yourself up and get back into the game. Life wouldn’t be as interesting if we didn’t have a set back every now and then.