“Love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning...”
(Carol Dweck, author of Mindset)
Don't fall for the line! What line?
“You're such a great speaker!”
I'm not saying don't accept the praise. Be polite. Say thank you. Then get back to getting better. You can always better your best.
That's the mindset you need. If not, you can fall into the dreaded “Speaker Trap”.
In Carol Dweck's book, Mindset, she outlines a case study where students were praised for their intelligence. In theory, it sounds good. Child brings home an “A”, you tell them that they are smart. However, Dweck's study shows that when students are glorified for intelligence only, they doubt themselves as soon as something difficult occurs, or anything goes wrong. For example, a “B” for that same student makes them feel stuck. They doubt their abilities, and feel like failures.
The solution? Praise the progress, not the prize. Dweck warns against becoming a “slave to praise”. The correct response to a student bringing home an “A” is not to tell them “You're smart”, but to say “You put in quite the effort! I'm proud of you for your determination and tenacity.” Praise the progress, not the prize.
As a speaker, let's be careful also not to become “slaves to praise”. That can lead to 5 key dangers that can kill a speaker's potential.
Speaker Trap Danger Sign #1 – Limited Thinking
The first danger that can occur is when a speaker makes the mistake that they are where they need to be based on the reactions they are receiving. Imagine this – you're being paid your target amount for every speech. You speak numerous times during the month. People congratulate you and pat you on the back when you speak. The speaker's perfect life, right? It may be great now and enjoy it. But understand that today's skills can be tomorrow's relics. Don't limit yourself. You always have new ways that you can grow, learn and connect with more people more effectively. Don't let the praise trap limit your thinking.
Speaker Trap Danger Sign #2 – Large Ego
If you have been around the speaking industry for even a few months, you have seen the egotistical speaker already (Maybe you've seen a life's worth of them). Let's be honest – as speakers, we all love to be celebrated and congratulated. However, as one of my coaches says, “some speakers only want validation, not education”. When you crave praise above all else, you can fall into the trap of becoming afraid to accept suggestions for improvement. The point to remember is that advice is not an attack. Don't accept it as such. If you can approach your life as speaker with the mantra, “I'm getting better every day”, instead of seeing yourself as “complete”, you can avoid this trap.
Speaker Trap Danger Sign #3 – Lack of Accountability
Just as the child that brings home an “A” can mistakenly see themselves as an “A” speaker regardless of circumstance, the speaker who sees themselves as a professional, perfect speaker can make the same mistake. Lack of accountability is evident in the student who says “The teacher never taught that” just as it is evident in the speaker who says “That crowd just didn't get me.” Whenever I speak, I always take criticism as a question, not a comment. It hurts to admit it sometimes, but I always ask the question “What did I fail to do (or do mistakenly) that generated that reaction? What could I do differently next time?” Simply asking yourself that question will make you a better speaker. There isn't always an answer – sometimes you get the 1/10 (there are some in EVERY crowd) that will always find something wrong with your speech. However, no matter what the comment is, it is always a good idea to ask yourself that question with an open mind: “What could I have done differently?”
Speaker Trap Danger Sign #4 – Listless Nature
Apathy equals death in all areas of life. The speaker that lives for praise only, ceases to chase progress. When you stop trying to improve – in any area of life – you become lazy. I've been a Toastmaster for years, and owe my start in speaking to the organization. I can remember a friend calling me to ask me to speak at his club for a year end celebration. Normally I would have said yes as I always aim to do, however on this occasion I was unable to fill the role. I later found out that he was able to get a few more speakers for the event. Here is what was interesting – one of the speakers had spoken at the club before, and delivered the exact same speech as they did the previous time. Nothing new, just a regurgitated short story. Using the same stories in a longer keynote presentation is okay. Giving the same 6 minute story with no new lessons to impart to your audience is not. Had the speaker lived for progress, they would have either given a new speech to hopefully impact the audience with a new lesson to apply in their lives, or re-worked the old speech to spread a new message. The speaker knew that the previous speech had been praised before, so there was no effort to making progress as a speaker. Worse yet, there was no effort to further the lives of the audience.
Apathy is the death of the speaker. Live for progress, not just praise.
Speaker Trap Danger Sign #5 – Lazy Learning
This leads to the last speaker trap to avoid. The listless speaker that lives only for praise, cares little for self-improvement. They know more than their audience, so they think, and therefore have become lazy in their learning. As a Speaker, aim for the “Saucer & The Cup” approach instead. When many speakers talk, they share from their “cup” of information. That is, they absorb knowledge, filling their brain (the cup), then they share what they have. A good approach, yes. Here's a better one. Absorb so much knowledge that when you speak, your listener gets the impression that what you've shared is just the tip of the iceberg of what you know – because it is. Your cup should overflow with knowledge so that you are sharing from your “overflow” - what flows over the cup and into your saucer. How do you do that? Stay in your lane and get your hands on everything in your niche that you can absorb knowledge on. Books, Courses, Coaches, Mentors, Conferences. Fill your cup. Share from your saucer.
And the next time someone says to you, “You're such a great speaker!” Believe it, but know that excellence is always around the corner.
Keep Speaking, Sharing & Serving
Kwesi Sekou Millington
Speaker, Mentor, Coach
Kwesi Millington helps speakers, presenters and youth to connect with their audiences and master their messages using the power of storytelling in their speeches & presentations. He is a Certified Public Speaking Coach & Youth Mentor.