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Know thyself, Know thy audience, Know thy stuff :)

Sep 06, 2016
I heard it said that just 5% of people learn from other people’s mistakes. About 15% of people learn from their own mistakes. And a whopping 80% of people don’t learn from any kind of mistakes!

Learning from other people’s mistakes is the least painful of the three options. Learning from your own mistakes is the next least painful (however painful the lesson may be at the time). The most painful of all, is not learning from mistakes.

I think from my experience, it seems the more painful the experience, the quicker I learn. And our most painful experiences are never forgotten are they?

I remember doing a seminar in Iceland a few years ago. I’d spoken there before and it had gone really well, so I felt very confident about this trip. Maybe even slightly over confident.

The venue was a movie theater, so the audience of a few hundred people were sitting in the seats, sloping up to the projector at the back; and I was on the stage at the front. I had a giant screen behind me with my PowerPoints on and a small laptop off to stage right on a little table.

Everything was going well until about an hour in when I saw this little window pop up on the laptop. I carried on talking while trying to read it unnoticed. ‘Your PC will reboot in 2:00 .. 1:59 .. 1:58 .. 1:57 ..’

It was counting down to turn itself off and turn itself back on again! Underneath was a little button that said cancel, so I casually clicked on it. Nothing happened. I clicked again, and realised it was greyed out, so I could not cancel.

‘Your PC will reboot in 46 .. 45 .. 44 .. ‘

There was nothing to be done. ‘It looks like the PC is going to reboot itself and I can’t cancel it, so I think this is a good time for a story I wanted to share with you.’ I said, as I walked away from the computer. The sound guy came down and worked on the computer while I took the audience’s attention away to the other side of the auditorium.

I had been trained by some of the best speaker trainers in the world, and they taught me to have a story ready in case of technology failure. Something I could use at a moment’s notice. Not only did I have a story ready, I’d been practicing it, it was a good one and I was excited to use it!

‘You’ll love this!’ I said.
‘Everyone stand up for me. And now, everyone think of a number between 2 and 9. Got one? Ok, now multiply it by 9. Everyone done that? Ok, good .. now you have a 2 digit number .. so add those 2 digits together to give you a new number. So if you thought of 3, 3 multiplied by 9 is 27 .. simply add those 2 digits together.

‘Alright, now subtract 5 from that number. And now take the corresponding letter of the alphabet .. A is 1 .. B is 2 .. C is 3 etc. Now think of a country beginning with that letter. Now take the second letter of that country and think of an animal. How many legs does it have? What colour is it?  (just see what answer you get when you do it ..)

‘Now, I want you to sit down if you had a four legged, grey elephant from Denmark!’ I said with a flourish and a big smile on my face. I’d used this lots of times before, and almost EVERYONE had Denmark and Elephant. I once had an Ostrich from the Dominican Republic, but that was a one off!

To my surprise, no one sat down. ‘If you didn’t have 4 as the answer’ I said smugly, ‘you got the maths wrong. So you can sit down.’ About 5 people sat down. No one else moved.

Then there was a couple of whispers and then everyone started laughing. Then they started laughing uncontrollably and looking at me.

‘We don’t spell Denmark with an E in Icelandic!’ someone finally shouted out. ‘It’s with an A' (Danmörk)

‘Yeah, and there is no C in the Icelandic alphabet either!’ someone else helpfully added (queue more sniggering from the audience)

‘I did it in English and got an Elephant from Denmark’ a young girl said, ‘but I thought I’d got it wrong because no one else sat down!’  

As I was trying to overcome the mortification of what had just happened, I noticed the PowerPoint come back up - the sound guy had fixed the computer. ‘Is it done?’ I asked him - probably a little desperately.

He nodded. 
‘Let’s give him a big round of applause!’ I said.

They gave him a monstrous round of applause which seemed to take the edge off!

There’s 3 things that are important if you want to be a good speaker. KNOW thyself .. KNOW thy audience .. KNOW thy stuff! Well .. 2 out of 3 is not too bad, is it?!!

I’ve never forgotten that experience and the importance of thinking about WHO is in the audience.

When travelling to different countries, the significance is more overt, but it is just as important when speaking to ANY audience.

Until next time .. 

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Communicating is not just about words. We need to think about our body language, tone, and pacing. How we feel impacts the way we speak. Struggling to find the right content makes us ineffective. Great speakers know that becoming an exceptional speaker isn't just an art - it's a process with many essential elements.

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