There’s something about the approach of fall that always makes me think about renewal.  Maybe it’s because I was tied to an academic calendar for a good deal of my work life.  The fall, then, is time for going back to school and learning something new to improve yourself, and your career, just as much as January produces those optimistic lists of resolutions – and February sees those exercise machines gathering dust.

I see speakers – even professionals – self-sabotaging all the time and it breaks my heart. What are the main ways in which people all too often undo the good work they produce with so much sweat and soul and slow their own progress?  Following are the ones I see most often.  If you recognize yourself in one (or more) of these, it’s not too late – turn it around today and make this fall spectacularly successful.

Here’s to your renewal this fall.  If none of these apply to you, hurrah – here’s to your continued success.

1.Refusal to Rehearse.  Speaking, as I’ve said before, is performance art.  That means you have to show up equally for each audience, each speech, each new instance of something you’ve done before.  And that demand of performance means that you must rehearse.  Even Broadway shows that have been running for hundreds of performances get together on Mondays and rehearse, precisely so that the actors don’t get stale, so that they can eliminate any bad habits that might be developing, and so that they can try new bits and pieces of the performance to keep it fresh.  If you don’t rehearse you don’t know what’s going to happen during the speech, and that’s not a good thing.

2.Refusal to Revise.  Every audience is at least a little bit different.  You should be constantly revising, not necessarily the guts of the speech, but at least details of it to make it more relevant for the next audience.  Differences of industry, attitude, age, time of day, size, need – the list of ways in which you can tailor a speech is endless.  Do your homework and revise.

3.Refusal to Renew.  And then there comes the time when you essentially need to throw the current speech away and start again.  Don’t hold on forever, even if the material still seems to be working.  One day it won’t, and you’ll be left high and dry, wondering where your audiences went.

4.Refusal to Reskill. Technology changes.  Things that seemed state of the art once upon a time (remember overhead projectors?) are no longer new.  You have to learn the new skills that go with new stuff just because you need to show the audience that you’re part of the current human race.   

5.Refusal to Reform.  This is tough to bring up, but the idea here is that you’ve got a team that supports you, and the tendency is to stick with that team because you’re a nice person and loyalty is an important virtue.  But there will come a time when you need to reform your team.  It’s probably later rather than sooner, but you will need a fresh perspective, and nothing’s forever.

6.Refusal to Relearn.  Just as the technology changes, your field of expertise will change.  You need to learn again on a regular basis.  I hear speakers still talking about NLP, an approach based on science that was new in the 1970s.  It has been surpassed by neuroscience of the past couple of decades.  Throw out your old knowledge and learn something new.  Regularly.

7.Refusal to Reaffirm. And every once in a while, you need to look at why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Is it time for a change?  Should you still be a speaker?  Are you still loving your content, your audiences, and the travel?  Think of it as a renewal of vows.  It’s a good thing to do, and you’ll feel better for it.  If you can’t reaffirm what you’re doing, then it’s time to do something else.

Fall is coming.  Take the opportunity to think through what you’re doing.  And here’s to your continued success.

Join us this fall for Powerful Public Speaking, a one-day workshop that will improve your speech and your delivery to kick-ass levels.  October 24th in Boston.  Join us!


  1. Hi Nick, one more if I may…

    Refusal to Rejoice. I’ve noticed that some people who have been speaking for a while treat it as a job. The joy is diminishing or even in some cases has gone. Speaking is the best job in the world! When you realize that and marvel at the gift of a stage and an audience, your enthusiasm shows through.

    1. David, thanks — I love this addition. And it’s a great point. Time for speakers rushes by on the road and you focus on your travails rather than your joys. A great reminder.

  2. Mainly agree

    But I don’t like the stress on ‘rehearsing’. A speech or presentation is not a show. It’s a conversation. Too much rehearsing kills spontaneity. See myriad forced TED talks.

    Get the content right. Be confident in it. Then just talk

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