The U.S. Secretary of Labor was scheduled to speak next, but was running late.  The conference host had graciously apologized and recommended that no one leave their seats as the delay would be no longer than ten minutes.

I took advantage of the down time to peruse the conference program.  But I’ll be honest:  it was merely a cover so I could eavesdrop on the conversation taking place to my left.  A CEO of a large company (I saw his name tag) was chatting with a colleague and they were discussing the performance of one of their leadership team members who had just spoken before this audience of 1,000 business professionals. The CEO was not happy.  He said, “Joe needs to work on his speaking skills.  He’s stepping on his own punch lines, and who knows what all that was in the middle. And, he needs to slow down…did he ever practice that speech?”  The other person said, “I agree. It’s clear that he’s found his comfort zone, but he hasn’t found his sweet spot.”

For a communication and presentation coach like me, this was manna from heaven.  All great speakers have found their own, unique sweet spot.  Humor, passion, quirkiness, sarcasm, spirituality – it doesn’t matter what it is, just that it enables you to capture the hearts and minds of your audience. Since I live with a golfer, I know how important the sweet spot is when trying to hit a golf ball straight and far. The same can be said for public speaking.

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “Tin Cup.” Roy has been shanking the golf ball left and right.  His swing feels like an “unfolding lawn chair,” as he described it to romeo, his caddy. Romeo then tells him to turn his hat backwards, move his loose change from the right pocket to the left, untie his right shoelace, etc. On the next swing, Roy hits the ball straight. “What just happened?!” he asks, and Romeo says, “You were thinking too much!”

Practice is essential.  It’s the only way to build your confidence, and if you are a nervous speaker, a few rehearsals will allow you the time and space to think through every aspect before you stand and deliver.  Then you have to trust in yourself, stop thinking so much, and just swing!

– Barbara