Public Speaking is the most important skill we hate.
If you’re in the 7% of Americans who have an actual phobia of public speaking, you experience a physical and mental reaction akin to fight or flight, leading to measurable, negative consequences in your life. Somewhere around 27 million Americans experience glossophobia or a diagnosed phobia of public speaking.
For the rest of us (all but maybe 10 percent of the population who enjoy public speaking), we experience anxiety, though it doesn’t equate to a disorder.
Ten years ago, I counted myself in “the rest of us.” When I was FORCED (because I never volunteered) to public speak, I would sweat and get stomach cramps, a racing heart, shaky hands and legs, a quivering voice, elevated body temperature, blushing, and a disrupted ability to think.
My fear was not unique. Stats say public speaking ranks FIRST in America’s top five fears, followed in order by death, spiders, the dark, and heights. In other words, some of us would rather die, get bit by a giant spider, sit alone in the pitch black woods, or stand on the ledge of a tall building than speak in front of a crowd.
Today, I LOVE public speaking. It contributes to career progression, higher income, board and committee memberships, and professional credibility. I motivate team members to translate vision into practical operations by communicating powerfully. I build and deliver the case for a new budget line or an innovative new program without fear. I influence organizational behavior toward achievement of strategic goals by inspiring groups. Not to mention, I position myself as an expert.
Shedding my fear also helped me be a better mom, friend, and human being. Isolation is a key factor limiting personal and spiritual growth. By getting comfortable talking in groups and being vulnerable, I could take on some of my self-limiting behavior. I joined a community-based group and at first, was terrified to talk in front of them. As I overcame that fear, I grew personally and my relationships blossomed.
Often, I speak to college-aged students and, much like me at that age, they sit in silence when there's an opportunity for group discussion. Maybe one or two students will engage the conversation. Matching the statistics, they are the 10 percent. The others say nothing, missing out on wonderful opportunities to develop themselves and network with an industry connection.
Today, I speak all over the country, but how did I make the transition from visibly frightened to confident and competent?
Practice, practice, practice. You have to do it to demystify it. As uncomfortable as it is, push yourself to engage in public speaking opportunities. Start where you feel safe and work your way into new and expanding groups. It won't feel good overnight, so don't give up. Keep at it for a year and you'll be amazed at the transformation.
Forgive your flaws. Slips ups, forgotten words, shaky hands and blushing are NORMAL. Don’t let imperfection stop you in your tracks. I give powerful keynotes flawlessly but even after years of practice, I still get hit with the occasional anxiety. If I have a bad day speaking, I brush it off and move forward. Perfectionism will get me nowhere.
Study. My first year public speaking I felt like I was going to throw up every time. I needed help! I’ll never forget finding the book The Breakout Principle at the public library. It offered simple tactics to distract my mind from anxiety right before speaking. It worked! We spends thousands on a college education. Why not invest in some resources today to make yourself more competitive?
Start with a script. In the early days, I would get so lost in my head, I HAD to script out my speech. Sometimes I read it word for word. So what? I had to go through that phase. Eventually, I only referred to it to stay on track. Later, I moved toward note cards and sometimes today I use no script at all. This is a process. We will not be a pro on day one or even in year three. Allow yourself to evolve.
Get a mentor! While at an author’s conference in Nashville, TN, Anne Freedman, CEO of Speakout, Inc. and author of Public Speaking for the Genius, blew my mind with her presentation on how to be a better speaker. I furiously took notes. I stayed in touch with Anne. A couple years later I was helping manage a conference and suggested Anne as our keynote. We hired her and I took advantage of the opportunity to visit with Anne and talk more. I was offering a breakout session so I invited Anne and asked her to critique me. She did, and again, I found myself growing immeasurably. Professional athletes get better with the help of coaches who watch, video, and analyze their game. We can do the same!
At the end of the day, if you can develop this skill you will be in the ten percent. Want to set yourself apart, grow as a person, and blast past your work and life goals? Take on public speaking. The rewards are well worth the effort.
In my new book Five Strategies to Increase Annual Fund Revenue I consider a common challenge in our industry – coming up shy of the goal. Falling short of the vision is a universal issue we all face in our lives and careers.
Stalled goals can halt a company’s progress, deprive communities of important services, and prevent individuals from achieving lifelong dreams, but it can be overcome. Here are three potential reasons we don’t make it to the finish line and how to get back on track.
In development, misunderstanding leads to lost results. Fundraisers and donors alike misunderstand the purpose of development work and often become rooted in failure before they begin.
This concept is true in all industries. Misunderstanding limits our capacity for success right out of the gate. If you are struggling with a goal, ask yourself, what might I be misunderstanding? Take a learning journey. Talk to experts in the field or people who have accomplished what it is you are trying to achieve. Begin to root out those things which are limiting your potential. Being an expert in a certain area may have gotten you so far, but perhaps it is time to take a step back and consider this. There is always more to learn!
Fear is a very real deterrent to success and 99 percent of the time people will not admit they are scared. They point to every possible reason for failure rather than acknowledging, “I’m scared and I need help to overcome what is holding me back.”
The positive thing is we all feel fear. I have visited more donors than I can count, making asks big and small, and I still get a twinge of nervousness every time. Ask yourself, “What exactly am I afraid of and how is that stopping me from boldly achieving my dreams?” Often fear of rejection or hearing no stops us from making the case for ourselves and our organizations. I learned something valuable in my field that applies across the board.
The best way to annihilate fear is (1) preparation and practice, (2) openness to feedback and adjustment, and (3) acceptance that some things you have no answers for.
Just because we make a bold and well-practiced case doesn’t mean we can’t adjust it or go searching for answers to questions that confound us. One of my favorite sayings is, “I don’t know but I’ll find out!” The point is, never let the fear of no prevent you from getting to yes. In other words, brace yourself for significant rejection but never stop working toward that one yes that will launch you toward success.
3. Lack of a rigorous process
Whether you are trying to achieve stretch goals for your company or the next level of your career, it takes a structured process. In my industry, fundraising for anything requires staged processes with timelines, goals, strategies, and measurable milestones. More organizations and individuals than you think do not maintain consistent processes when trying to achieve major goals. Many do not track results, analyze what is or isn’t working, and adjust along the way.
In companies, dive into the research and find out what the absolute best processes and proven methods are to achieving a goal like yours. If you are trying to accomplish a major milestone in your career or with your family, what processes might you put in place to add structure to your steps? Even something as simple as asking for feedback from others can improve your resume, your communication skills, and your interpersonal abilities. Debrief with someone you trust after each attempt at achieving your goals. Share what you did and get feedback so you can adjust your process next time.
It is never too late to get it right!
Remember, stalled goals are not an end to anything. They are a milepost on your road to success. Don’t let misunderstanding, fear, or lack of a rigorous process be the reasons you give up on your dreams! Some of the greatest successes the world has known were achieved by failing forward.
VISIT PAM AT WWW.BEASEEDPLANTER.COM TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HER UPCOMING BOOK, JOIN HER CONTACT LIST, AND HEAR ABOUT NEW BLOGS, SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS, AND RELEASE DATES FIRST!
Since graduating from college fifteen years ago, I have enjoyed unexpected success.
As a leader and fundraiser, my teams and I smashed through success rates in donor retention, total and annual revenue, and participation in giving.
We closed out capital campaigns and giving challenges. We increased one annual fund sustainably by more than 30 percent.
Personally, I’ve earned seven prestigious awards, served as a speaker at more than 30 conferences nation-wide, and published two books with a third on the way.
I served as a volunteer or board member in nearly a dozen different roles, launched two small businesses, was made an Executive Director before 35, and Vice President before 40.
I’m not bragging. In fact, I feel silly sharing that, but it matters because statistically, it should not have happened. In fact, the only reason that stuff matters is because it paints a picture of overcoming odds.
I was classified at-risk in middle school. My family fell below the poverty line. I faced several emotionally-debilitating challenges in my youth. I only went to college because I had a very persistent guidance counselor who steered me toward the Higher Education Opportunity Program. Once in, people went above and beyond to ensure I graduated.
I’ve seen the statistics play out. Many of my early peers are still stuck in poverty or grappling with addiction. Some have died or landed in jail. Education is certainly the great equalizer but what we do with that education matters. How we live out our leadership through our professional lives determines how far we can go.
The secret to success:
So how does one go from at-risk to successful professional? (Personally, I credit faith first and foremost, but what else?) There are a multitude of ingredients but the two most important words are this: humility and collaboration. I believe these two behaviors underline every win I ever experienced.
When we are born onto this earth we know nothing in terms of learned information – not a single word. This earth is a foreign place. I’ll never forget bumping into my brother-in-law Tim at the store. His infant son Gage sat in the car seat in the cart. The entire time Tim and I talked Gage stared intently at my lips. I could see his brain working as he watched us form words. He was learning language right before my very eyes.
Somewhere along the line, we risk devaluing the learning process. Every effort should begin as Gage did – watching, learning, assessing, absorbing. At the root of learning is humility. I know some things but not everything. From a place of humility, I open myself up to the information around me. I see and hear things differently. I value differing opinions. I am receptive to input which allows me to grow and expand my understanding. Just like Gage had to learn before he could speak, as professionals we must learn before we can act.
Collaboration – my second favorite word. Studies show that companies with diverse leadership teams and boards are more successful and experience higher revenues. Diversity of perspectives and skill sets leads to a more well-rounded operation. I can only accomplish so much on my own. As we draw others in, we expand our capability. We also bring new and important information to bear on the challenges we face. Other staff members, departments, community members, age groups, cultures – all of these can lead to better solutions than those created in a vacuum.
What it all means:
Fifteen years ago, I was an insecure, broken person with absolutely no thought about my future except that I liked to write. Today, my life has purpose, meaning, and impact. I am so grateful for the path laid out in front of me and those who led the way, and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that leading from a place of humility and inviting other voices in to the process opens possibilities beyond our imagination. In fact, I dare say some of our world’s biggest challenges can be overcome using the formula of humility and collaboration.
In his text The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles, astronaut Ron Garan said, “A partner’s different perspective is valuable, but the very fact that it is different means that it will require work, humility, time, and resources to incorporate that perspective. At times, this will require checking one’s pride at the door.”
Collaboration and humility are hard work but when enacted, change lives and communities.
As a college Vice President and successful entrepreneur, I have received and conducted my fair share of evaluations. Early in my career, as the recipient, I remember sweaty palms, unasked questions, elation over good marks, and deflation over low ones. Most years, we never discussed the evaluation again, after it was given.
Giving an evaluation can be equally stressful. No one ever taught me how to give a good evaluation in a behavioral sense. I’ve been trained on the tool, but not the rich and powerful philosophy behind it or how to use it to coach, motivate, inspire, and LEAD!
Most recently, my organization underwent a significant design process for evaluations and realigning job grades. Simultaneously, I hired several key positions and conducted evaluations of my direct reports. In the midst of it, the team debated the value of merit pay versus other rewards.
After long and bountiful conversations with my employees, colleagues, and HR professionals, I am convinced more than ever that evaluation processes harness transformative power for the individual, team, and organization. Monetary rewards pale in comparison as a motivating factor.
Done correctly, evaluations lay the ground work for:
I propose a simple process.
When it’s finished, take a look at the evaluation prior to your one-on-one’s with direct reports and be ready to talk through the plans you made. Give performance updates throughout the year and solicit feedback from the employee. As a result of processes like this, I’ve worked through very difficult conversations. I’ve also watched some team members blossom into their best selves. As a result, their careers took off! What a fulfilling and exciting experience for a leader.
Working in higher education has its perks. One perk I have become immensely grateful for is lifelong learning. Last week my institution sent me to an Advancement Roundtable at LaGrange College in Georgia for vice presidents of development. I learned a lot in three days! Here are five leadership insights worth sharing from top professionals in the field.
1. I am a steward of resources. I am a guard of morale.
While discussing the challenges of leading teams, Dr. Joe Watkins, Vice President for External Relations at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA, made this astute observation and I couldn’t agree more! We come across all kinds of people challenges at work and it’s easy to get lost in the gray area. As leaders, we must remember, we partnered with our employer toward a shared vision. It’s our job to ensure the resources we steward – financial, capital and human – are aligned most effectively toward that aim. We will come across good people who simply need help and others who are unable or unwilling to grow. In the midst of those challenges, we are guardians of morale. Drops come unexpectedly. We must be ever vigilant in identifying those painful slivers under the surface and addressing them quickly. In doing so, we keep all eyes forward.
2. Our grief over anticipated problems can steal the joy of the day.
This piece of wisdom came from Jim Casky, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Goshen College in Indiana, during his morning “centering moment.” This insight applies to life and leadership. Simplified: Don’t borrow trouble. We have enough problems to solve today. That’s not to say we shouldn’t consider possible outcomes and prepare, but we mustn’t pain over the possibilities. One of my favorite books as a twenty-something was the Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. They talked about the trap of negative emotions. His holiness said that when we act on negative emotions like fear or anxiety, we often cause the outcome we are trying to avoid. Be a wise planner and an astute observer, but do not give your joy away to unnecessary grief.
3. Coach up or out.
I loved Terry Toler’s view on coaching. As the Vice President for University Advancement and Church Relations at Southern Nazarene University, Terry views his team of fundraisers as development’s version of the Navy Seals. “We need high performers,” he said, “and not everyone can make the cut. Sometimes you have to coach up or coach out.” Fifteen years into my profession and more than a decade of leadership experience tells me Terry is spot on. Everyone deserves an opportunity to be led – to be grown. A good leader uses the evaluation process to spot deficiencies, bring attention to them, and begin the work of coach. Some team members will take the opportunity and accomplish things they never thought possible. Others will resist and eventually come around. Some outright refuse. We can’t afford to leave people in positions for years who aren’t willing to work hard to meet shared objectives, but rather invest our time into those who can.
4. What is the institution’s story? How will your chapter read?
Dr. Vance Peterson is a former vice president and college president who now serves as a consultant for AGB Search. Dr. Peterson spoke about the transition from vice president to president and how one prepares. Among his suggestions was this piece of brilliance, “What will your chapter be in the life story of the institution?” I think back to my time as Executive Director of Development at Houghton College. I was a mid-manager working hard with passion. What was our chapter? Well, our team hit all-time highs in the annual fund and total giving. We launched a sustainable county-wide leadership development program and graduated almost 60 people. We rebranded our giving societies, started faculty and staff campaigns, and spearheaded a comprehensive major gift program. It was crazy and amazing! I’m proud of that chapter and plan to write one just as cool as the VP at Trocaire College. Our chapters should never be dull and uninspiring!
5. Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
Okay, this one didn’t come from one of the attendees. Do you recognize it? This jewel is straight from Mahatma Gandhi. During lunch on the second day of the conference, I found a little scroll tied with a red ribbon at my plate. I opened it and Ghandi’s words were typed on the paper. How perfect! As a passionate leader, a hard worker, and a believer in civic engagement at every level of the organization and community – this one hit home. One of my greatest assets as a leader is being a sponge and learning as much as I can every day. This is also something I highly value in my team members. But learning is not enough. We must act with urgency if we are to make a significant impact on our community and the people we serve. After all, we are on this earth but for a fleeting moment. Live and work well!
Pamela Say is a published author, fundraiser, and life-long student of leadership. Browse Pam's blog entries for possible conference session or keynote topics. Pam customizes training opportunities for her clients.
Read Pamela's internationally published articles at Orato.World:
Father's death leads son to advocate for firefighter cancer awareness
Father offers forgiveness to five-year-old son's killer
Kenyan journalist forcibly outed, launches Bold Network Africa
Hope Virgo fought for her life, campaigns for eating disorder support
Paxton Smith reflects on graduation speech swap, starting collge, and book deal
From racism to one race: the Jane Elliott story