… they are wasting away. When talking about something other than muscles, Dictionary.com says it’s: degeneration, decline, or decrease … from disuse. Recently I realized that my public speaking skills have atrophied.

Ok … maybe that’s a smidge dramatic. But after some speaking engagements recently (all done virtually), a few things dawned on me. I miss engaging with a crowd (preferably IRL). The energy I get from leading a workshop or moderating a panel or hosting a conference or being a keynote speaker is exhilarating … even intoxicating. And because I haven’t done anything like that in the post-Covid world, my speaking muscles weren’t as strong as they used to be.

What muscles still work?

Two of the three events went pretty well. The third one though … that felt rough. Really rough. While it was probably fine to the listener – I felt off my game and that didn’t feel good. So what was it? Why did the first two go well while the third felt way off?  

While it isn’t my style to dwell on something to the point that I lose sleep … I do feel it’s important to debrief and go through some self-reflection. The things that crossed my mind:

  • Preparation: I felt like I spent about the same amount of time thinking through what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. The topics were different but I structured the delivery to be similar … and … that structure echoed elements from this blog so it allowed for brand continuity.
  • Event logistics/dynamics: All were virtual events and with similar time frames. While I’ve participated in podcasts, this felt different because it wasn’t just me talking to someone. It was me “addressing a crowd” … but  in a way I’d never done before. Without the ability to see non-verbal cues or feel the energy that comes from a live audience, it took extra effort to emote through the screen … regulate the pitch and pace of my voice … and … find ways to keep the audience engaged when I couldn’t walk around the room, on a stage, or look someone in the eye.
  • Content delivery: With the first two, it felt like I was telling a story. With the third, there was a story and then segments of thought that I didn’t do a good job stringing together and wrapping it up in a bow for my audience.  

What did my muscles need?

So what was the difference? I realized that for the two good events I knew exactly what was needed from me … how it needed to be delivered … and … the context around the topic I was sharing. For the third event, I knew what I wanted to share but I only thought I knew how it would be delivered. I thought I the format would be something like an interview that evolved into a dialogue. Instead, it was more of a presentation by me with questions at the end. Realizing this after the event started contributed to my feeling off … not at my best.

In the spirit of #3nomorethan5, these experiences reminded me:

  1. There is something to learn from every situation … especially the ones that aren’t going to land on your Top 10 Stellar Career Moments.
  2. Take the time to intentionally seek where you can improve or grow for next time.
  3. Own your learnings by adjust your plan to include that improvement element in similar situations down the road.

Working out makes muscles stronger

Specifically, I learned … 

  • That when I’m invited to a public speaking event I need to clearly understand what the host expects me to deliver.
  • Guessing about the specific format – me as the presenter … part of a discussion … or an interviewee – of the event isn’t a good thing.
  • I want/need to do more public speaking!

Not every engagement will be a smashing success … but … every engagement can definitely help me be better. What recent stumbles have you experienced and what did you learn? 

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