My Favorite Speech Feedback
“Michael, you’re such a polished speaker!”
Early in my amateur speaking career, I heard this feedback many times. And I was quite proud of it.
I was convinced effective speaking involved looking ‘polished.’ The hair had to be perfect. The suit straight and pressed. The shoes shined like a mirror.
And most importantly, my speeches had to be memorized. I was convinced that was the key to speaking with impact.
I had to look good! Polished!
My Costly Fixation
And that’s what I did for my first seven years of presenting. It wasn’t a pay professional speaker at the time, but I was giving many presentations to generate business for my financial planning business.
And I was bringing in just enough new clients to keep me in the “Polished Zone.”
And that made me feel good. I thought, “Yeah, that’s right. I’m on my way.”
In retrospect, I see how many paid speaking gigs and attracting a much greater percentage of new financial planning clients I missed out on. I was blinded by polish at the time.
Then, in 2001, I walked into a meeting. Beth — the organizer — walked up to me, and in an almost panicked voice said, “Michael, none of our speakers showed up today. Can you please speak? This meeting is going to be a disaster!
My first reaction was, “Don’t look at me! I’m not prepared. I haven’t practiced anything, and I’m certainly not dressed to speak.”
Beth continued to talk to me and told me how much she needed help. She was new to our group and was committed to our group. She wanted to do a great job.
Guilt kicked in. I couldn’t let her down. Against my better judgment, I said, “Alright, I’ll do it.”
I then sat down and began berating myself for agreeing to do it. ‘What’s wrong with you? Are you an idiot? You’re not prepared. This is gonna make you look bad! I can’t believe you let her talk you into this.”
When it was my turn, I walked to the front of the room, took a deep breath, and gave my talk. I concluded, sat down, and resumed my self-criticism. “Well, that was the worst thing you’ve ever done. You weren’t ready. You didn’t know the material. Very unprofessional! What a disaster!”
A New Perspective on Speaking
During the evaluation session of the meeting, my evaluator Chris gave me some technical feedback on the structure of the speech.
I thought he was finished, but then he said, “Michael I’m not exactly sure what you did differently today, but I’ve never seen you be more real, more convincing, and more connected. Keep doing what you did today.”
“What did he say? Keep doing it?”
I appreciated his feedback, but, I wasn’t exactly sure what I had done. For years I’d this concept of being “authentic” but I didn’t know what it meant.
When I reflected on the speech I had just given (what I could remember because this was in the days before I recorded my speeches) I had talked about some difficulties that were going on in my life. Because I couldn’t think of anything else to say in that meeting at the last minute, I just shared what was in my heart.
A Speaking Lesson From a Can of Furniture Polish
A few days after that meeting, I was cleaning up my office. I sprayed some furniture polish onto a rag and started dusting my desk. And that’s when it hit me….
Nothing sticks to polish!
The reason we put polish on furniture is to keep dust from sticking to it.
And when you are a polished speaker, your message doesn’t stick with your audience.
What my well-meaning evaluators have been telling me for seven years was, “You look really good up there and very professional, but I can’t remember a damn thing you just said.”
I had never bothered to ask after their “polished “compliment, but if I had I’m sure that’s what they would’ve told me.
A New Perspective on Polish
After that revelation, my focus changed. Using the lessons from my accidentally successful speech, I started emphasizing the benefits my message could bring to the audience.
I didn’t start dressing like a slob, but I stopped worrying about the hair, the perfect suit and shoes, and how I “looked” to the audience.
After that, I occasionally got the feedback, “You’re so polished.”
And I cringed. But, I also knew this was good feedback telling me my message wasn’t getting through.
Fortunately, I rarely hear those words now.
And I am happy to write these words…
“Hi, I’m Michael. I’m a fully recovered polished speaker.”
If you struggle with being too focused on your appearance or concerned about not making mistakes when you speak, consider this wisdom from one of my mentors,
Let it go! It’s not about you!
We should never stand in front of an audience or a camera with the primary objective to “look good.”
Even worse, self-focus will cost you paid speaking opportunities or attract new clients to your business. I know because I’ve analyzed the data from my pre-and-post polish years. I routinely attract three times as many opportunities by being focused on the audience instead of myself.
We should be there to provide a valuable message and insight which in some way improves the lives of our audience, and leaves a lasting impact.
From this day forward, vow to put away the polish and work on your message.
THAT is how you’ll create a deeper connection with your next audience.
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