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When Speakers Get Caught In A Negative Narrative

make a point tell a story series Oct 06, 2018

I want to tell you a story I shared recently on Facebook Live about how we get inside our own heads .. about the power of beliefs and how they are formed. I think it's so applicable to speaking, and to every area of our life.

I was speaking in Iceland a number of years ago, and someone fell asleep in the audience while I was speaking! (I know, right?)

I want you to take a moment to consider the layers of meaning we assign to a situation like this. 

When I was speaking, someone fell asleep

Now this was true, as far as I can tell. She was slumped over, leaning on the person next to her, looked like she was drooling a little. She was out. She was asleep. So I feel comfortable stating the above as a fact. This is true.

But we don’t stop there, do we? When we observe things in the world, we apply meaning all the time. So, we don’t just say “When I was speaking, someone fell asleep” - we assign or infer more meaning. We might say to ourselves:

When I was speaking, someone fell asleep .. because they were bored

That’s why she fell asleep! Because she was bored. Now, if I went up to her and woke her up and said “hey, I noticed you fell asleep while I was pouring my heart out up there – that’s because you were bored – am I right?” and she said “yeah, I was bored” Then maybe the fact would extend. But I didn’t do that, and it may not be why she fell asleep – I am just guessing. I am assigning that meaning to that experience. 

Typically (and unfortunately) we go further than this:

When I was speaking, someone fell asleep because they were bored .. with MY speaking

Now it’s personal! Now I am making it about me! And why were they bored with my speaking? Now this is the clincher:

When I was speaking, someone fell asleep because they were bored with MY speaking .. because I’m a terrible speaker

Now it’s not just personal, it’s not just highly emotionalized - it’s also pervasive. This is “always” thinking – 'what hope is there for me if I’m terrible at speaking and I’m just that class of person that is no good at speaking?'

The sad thing is we often take this further, with full emotion:

When I was speaking, someone fell asleep because they were bored with MY speaking because I’m a terrible speaker .. and I’ll NEVER be any good as a speaker” and let’s generalize it to other areas of our life as well: “.. and I mess up at everything I try!” 

We can be really mean to ourselves once we get into it!!

The fact is someone fell asleep. The only fact is someone fell asleep! As it happens, many people were late to the seminar. It was a weekend night, and in Iceland people go out really late, they go out as I’m going to bed! Maybe some of them had been drinking and were still a little tipsy! A lot of them had exams, 100-200 of the attendees came from a bank and they were working really hard. Maybe sleeping beauty was just over worked! Maybe she worked to get there because she wanted to learn something from me, she got something and maybe it was still worth it rather than stay at home? Who knows? All I know is: she fell asleep and all of the rest is meaning that I’ve applied.

Why is this relevant?

All the time we are collecting information and applying meaning to it. Our beliefs, perceptions, positions, opinions, habits – all of these things rule our life (as the quote goes "they will rule our life and we will call it fate"). Just like in the story above, we misapply meaning to a lot of stuff, in very unhealthy ways. And these are the elements that make up our self image! If we leave our self image as it is, it will give us the results within those parameters.

Why not look at who we want to become and work on becoming that person instead of existing on auto-pilot? It’s not something you want to leave to chance! 

As a speaker, it's all too easy to get lost in a negative narrative about our abilities when we get up to speak. 

Have a great weekend.

Until next time .. 

PS. If you liked this little excerpt you can watch the whole video via this link.

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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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