Less polished, more human

That was the title of my speech last night at Casterbridge Speakers, my local Toastmasters club.  I found the experience of delivering it both liberating and frustrating, in equal measure.

Just to give you a bit of background, I have been a member of Toastmasters International, on and off, for over 10 years.  I first joined in around 1995 and went on to co-found 2 new clubs and help a third get off the ground.  I’ve entered several contests over the years and won at various levels.

I was also a finalist in the very first UK Business Speaker of the Year contest in Bournemouth in 2011 and, for 3 years, I was a corporate trainer for the largest employer in Bournemouth. So there’s no doubt I can hold an audience and that many people would describe me as a confident, competent speaker and trainer; but for me, there’s been something missing….

Failure to connect at a deeper level.

My speech came about after agreeing with my mentor that it might be a good idea to ‘dare to be vulnerable’ and share my concerns with my audience in an attempt to connect with them more.

The result was liberating, because I dared to do something different, felt that I was out of my comfort zone, was supported by my audience and given some really constructive feedback.  I also proved to myself that I was able to deliver a competent speech without memorising a word for word speech.

But it was also frustrating, because I made some fundamental errors; the first part of my talk involved a PowerPoint presentation and I didn’t have a remote. Consequently I stood near the laptop and blocked some people’s view of the screen. Then, when I sat down, I sat so far forward that people to the very sides of the rows felt excluded, rather than part of an intimate chat.  As far as I’m concerned, these were both fundamental errors that I would have picked up on if I’d properly connected with my audience.

One of the points I shared in my speech was that, only last Monday, I found myself in a training session hiding behind my humour, being asked to speak up and avoiding eye contact with people as a video was being played. I think that surprised a few people.

Another thing I mentioned was that I tended to glance at people’s eyes, without actually connecting with them, because I didn’t want to be put off by people’s expressions and lose my place in my talk. Someone suggested that there’s a difference between giving a speech and running a training session. Certainly a training session is, by its very nature, more interactive.

As I write this post, it’s helping me reflect more on the evening and I wonder whether the key for me to connecting better as a speaker and a trainer is to see where my own personality may be tripping me up. Various personality profiles I have taken part in, even years apart, consistently rate me as an INFP.  Even if it’s not how I may come across to others sometimes, it’s certainly a scarily accurate reflection of how I see myself.

One of my personality traits is being a perfectionist, which can tend to make my speeches polished and professional, but maybe prescriptive and lacking warmth.

One of the interesting facts I’ve discovered through internet marketing is its personal, intimate nature.  Even though you might create a video, or a podcast, or a blog post, which could be accessed by millions of people, each individual can feel as if the author is addressing them directly; and, ironically, it is often the case that the more corporate, professional and impersonal the message is, the less effect it has on the person engaging with it.

People like to deal with other people, not faceless ‘entities’.

So there we have it – thanks to lessons learned from my club colleagues, my personality type and the world of internet marketing, I can now distil my findings into a mantra for my next speaking experiment…

Less polished, more human.

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