There’s no question that the school of hard knocks can be, well, hard.
When life becomes tough, many of us stop chasing our dreams and retreat under a big ugly flannel security blanket. Let’s face it: we’re terrified of failure.
We’re afraid that we might not succeed, that our dreams are only pipe-dreams, that “reality” has to be hard because it is for every body else.
Though we enter the world with a sense of youthful optimism: excitement about opportunity, a willingness to risk it all, and a belief that everything will turn out our way (In one survey, 96% of 18-24 year-olds agreed with the statement, “I am very sure that someday I will get to where I want to be in life”).*
This is the time in life when we think that we can change rule the world.
And…then at least one of two things happens:
You fail at something on your first, second, and/or third try.
You spend too much time around uninspired people who view the world as a competitive place full of struggles, competition, and tears.
And…after a few years, when you haven’t miraculously reached your dreams, you start to get discouraged. You start thinking:
“Maybe they’re right.”
“Maybe I’m just being a lazy optimist. I should settle down and do what is expected of me.”
You do what you think is called, “growing up”.
I won’t sugar coat it, you’re becoming a coward.
In his book, Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Harvard psychology professor Tal Ben-Shahar writes:
“When we fail to attain a desire outcome, we often extrapolate from that experience the belief that we have no control over our lives or over certain parts of it. Such thinking leads to despair.”
Thus, overcoming this feeling of defeat is your ultimate goal.
To do so, you need one thing…and one thing only: Perseverance.
Here’s a true story about how this plays out in the real world…
When she was a child, my grandma knew that she wanted to become a chemist. She was of the first generation of an Italian immigrant family living in the Bronx. Her father died when she was two-years-old. Her mother wanted her to become a piano teacher.
In order to beat the odds, she had to work odd jobs for mean nuns, graduate high school at 16, and endure constant questioning from her mother: “when will you stop all of this nonsense?”
It was not okay for a woman to become a chemist, and the world tried to make sure that she knew it.
But instead of giving up, she persevered.
Instead of hanging around people who didn’t support her, she surrounded her self with likeminded scientists (like my grandfather, whom she met at Columba while earning their PhDs).
Her story inspires me every time I hear it.
The thing is, my grandmother never made excuses.
Some of the excuses we tell ourselves are:
I don’t know anyone who has done it before/ too many people are already trying.
I don’t have enough (money, power, skills, education, time)
If I was going to do it, I would have done it already.
I have too many responsibilities.
I am too old or young.
I will never be the best. Too many people are ahead of me.
It’s not the right time.
But, what if we simply rephrased these excuses into empowering beliefs?
It doesn’t matter what other people are doing, this is my dream.
I have more than enough resources to get started.
There’s no time like the present!
My number one priority is living passionately.
My age gives me a unique perspective, and is only a number.
There will always be someone to learn from.
It will never be perfect, so I might as well stop stalling and start now.
Can I get a “hellz yeah” for youthful optimism?
Look, I’m not saying that you should ignore the lessons that you’ve learned from your experiences. You’ve earned those. Instead, my suggestion is to learn learn to perfect your skills and become an even better person without losing that inspired-to-be-alive feeling.
Think you can do it?
I know you can.
Take action right now to write down the empowering phrases that will benefit you the most and put them somewhere where you will see them every day.
*Survey mentioned comes from Horbblower, M. (1997, June 9). Great Xpectations. Time, pp. 58-68.
Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.
You have to work hard to develop the right skills
If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.
1. Make your presentation short and sweet
With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.
JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.
2. Open up with a good ice breaker
At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:
Tugging on their heart strings
Dropping a bombastic statement
Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons
You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.
3. Keep things simple and to the point
Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.
4. Use a healthy dose of humor
Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.
It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.
5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting
Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.
6. Practice your delivery
Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.
7. Move around and use your hands
Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.
8. Engage the audience by making them relate
Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.
9. Use funny images in your slides
Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.
10. End on a more serious note
When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.