Recently I was busy in an airplane-hangar-sized room helping a couple of speakers get ready to speak to an audience of 10,000 people.
That’s a daunting challenge for anyone, but the difference between the two people made for a quite different experience running up to the event. One was extroverted and the other introverted. As I blogged last time, if an introvert pretends to be extroverted, he or she will have a better experience of public speaking.
And that’s just what the introverted speaker did. He knew that he was facing something way out of his comfort zone, so he embraced it. He told himself, “This is my couple of days to be completely extroverted. I’m going to be bigger than life.” And it worked – that and some humorous comments in the speech referring to his introversion to allow him to relax a bit and be authentic.
He excused himself at one point before the end of the day, saying, “I just need ten minutes to re-charge, alone.” It’s always good to see that level of self-knowledge at work; this is a leader who knows himself and is ready to do what it takes.
But the extrovert was struggling with a particular section of the speech that wasn’t moving along like the rest. We worked with it, edited it, and tightened it up. He rehearsed it several times, and it got better.
But it still wasn’t right. To his credit, he kept on it.
And by the end of the rehearsal time allotted, it was better. It still wasn’t perfect. But it was OK. And the rest of the speech rocked.
On the drive home that night, I thought suddenly of the way to fix the problem section and make it better. Chalk one up to rush hour traffic. I had lots of time to think.
But when I said goodnight to the speaker, I could see that he was at the end of his patience and productivity for working on the speech. There always comes a point when it’s better to go with what you have rather than continuing to tinker. So I faced a dilemma – do I re-open the discussion about the problem section of the speech and suggest this new idea, or do I let him make the best of what he had?
I thought of a recent study I had seen from the Center for Healthy Aging Research that found that while major traumas add stress to your life and shorten your lifespan, so do small, daily hassles. In other words, depending on how you react to them, the little things – the arguments, the frustrations, the indignities of daily life – can kill you just as rapidly as the big things. Faster, in fact. Thirty percent of the participants with a low level of little stressors died over the twenty-year study, but sixty-four percent of the participants with high levels of daily stress died. That compares to a thirty percent and fifty percent mortality rate, respectively, for people who had low and high levels of major stressors.
Speakers face a series of low-level stressors when they speak. The lighting is wrong. The stage is awkward. The previous speaker runs long. The sound system packs in. The idiot who introduces you gets your name wrong. And so on.
These little stressors add up. Your response determines whether or not they will cumulatively kill you. My coachee was at the end of his energy, so I let him rest, then presented the idea for improving the speech the next morning.
Now, he’s going to be great. It’s a wise speaker who knows his or her own stress levels – and a coach has to be sensitive to them. But the message for us all is that you’ve got to watch the cumulative level of little stressors just as carefully as you deal with the big ones. Your life (as well as your public speaking) may depend on it.