Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tracing My Passion For Speaking

A colleague recently approached me about the possibility of working as a contract trainer to help people with presentation skills. Taking my own advice, I took the time to craft a cover letter that specifically addresses my interest and ability in this area.

Thanks to popular, but ill-conceived "rules of thumb", many people are afraid to go back more than 10 years when they present their credentials. As a result, they fail to consider some of the most compelling facts that support their desire to pursue particular areas of interest.

I follow a different rule of thumb:

Go back as far as you have to in order to demonstrate something you can't demonstrate more recently.

With a few exceptions (e.g., IT experience), WHAT you did matters more than WHEN you did it.

As I wrote the cover letter and reflected on my journey as a speaker, I was surprised to realize how much an experience I had when I was 7 years old impacted me years later. Since it was an important fact in tracing my passion, I included it. What follows is my cover letter--with certain confidential facts removed: (Feel free to comment. I don't hold it up as the gold standard. It simply represents my truth.)

Dear ______:

On a strictly confidential and exploratory basis, I am forwarding a copy of my résumé for your review. I would welcome the opportunity to learn more about your organization and see if there are opportunities to work with you in a consulting or training capacity related to presentation skills.

There are a number of factors that contribute to my ability to teach presentation skills and effective communication:

• My passion for the topic
• My ability to empathize with people who struggle with public speaking
• The exceptional training I have received through my own initiative

Most importantly, I can relate—painfully—to the difficulty people have speaking in front of others. When I was 7 years old, a Chicago television station came to our school to ask what we thought about Thanksgiving. My excitement at being interviewed was quickly replaced by horror when I saw myself on the 10 o'clock news. The minute I heard my lisp, I suddenly understood why I was spending so much time in speech therapy.

I eventually overcame the lisp, but remained hyper-conscious of the way I came across. My last painful memory of speaking happened during senior year in college. I was asked to present an overview of my 20-page research paper on Dr. Seuss for my 10 psychology classmates. Despite my enthusiasm for the topic, I found myself shaking and sweating the entire time. My performance was so bad the professor pulled me aside and urged me to take a public speaking class.

Although the college didn't offer a class, I found a training company that did and signed up immediately. But I didn't stop there. Over the years, I have been fortunate to learn from Dale Carnegie, Toastmasters, Doug Stephenson's Story Theater, Players Workshop (improv), and Second City.

Many trainers have what it takes to teach basic presentation skills and mechanics. What makes me different is that I have learned, through hard work, practice, and observation, what it takes to elevate those skills to something more compelling. To put this another way, I help people become more who they really are. Better still it works for all aspects of communication—not just public speaking.

Here are just a few of the comments from the presentation and communication workshops my training partner and I did for a major pharmaceutical company:

"Since I took your class I have been receiving heaps of praise from my boss about my communication. Last week she told me that I have been 'magnificent', twice in two days! Thanks so much."
– Jennifer J.

"I just wanted to let you know I've been talking up the workshop...awesome! I've suggested to my manager that our group be required to take your course. Nothing else offered has been this beneficial."
– Jennessa L.

Making a difference like this in the lives of workshop participants is what energizes me more than anything. I would welcome the opportunity to do the same for your clients. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to exploring the possibilities.

Best regards,


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When Not To Tell Your Story

The issues facing Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich bring up another point worth noting. More specifically, there are times when it is best NOT to tell your story. For Gov. Blagojevich, who is facing impeachment, this would be one of them. My late grandfather, an attorney, used to say he made a lot of money telling people to "Just shut up."

In discussing this with an attorney familiar with Blagojevich's attorney, I asked what he thought about the governor's public statements:

"I am sure having him (Rod) go and talk was not the firm's first choice. Having someone who has, for all intents and purposes, used his mouth/words to create the situation is a bit like having a shooting suspect put on a marksmanship demonstration--there is not much to be gained by it. If a defendant's lips are moving and it is not subject to attorney-client privilege, they are probably not helping their case.

"In my experience, many accused persons like to continually protest their innocence, rationalize their actions, or the like seemingly in the hope that it will somehow convince people no matter the volume of actual proof and evidence there is to contradict them. At the end of the day, you often have to try to protect them as best you can from the system and process, while simultaneously trying to protect them from harm from themselves. Their efforts can look a bit like reckless suicide, if there were such a thing. At the end of the day, I think it is just part of the deal with someone who cannot or will not keep his mouth shut."

At times like this, it's good to remember a Buddhist principle I mentioned in an earlier post. Namely, when you are wondering how to respond to any given situation, ask yourself the question: "Is what I am about to say an improvement over maintaining silence?" If it isn't, keep your mouth shut.