How to speak in public
Public speaking can feel like an ordeal, but take a lesson from the ancients: it’s a skill you can develop like any other
by John BoweBust of L Licinius Nepos, 1-25 CE. Courtesy the J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
John Boweis a speech consultant who uses ancient Greek rhetorical teachings to help individuals and companies learn to give less anxious, more effective presentations. He is the author of I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection (2020). He lives in New York City.
Edited by Christian Jarrett
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Need to know
Whether you’re facing a large crowd, a handful of colleagues at a conference table, a job recruiter over Zoom, or trying to hold your own during a family fight, the all-too-common experience of speech anxiety can feel like a frustrating act of self-betrayal. You wish to share your knowledge, beliefs and feelings. Yet the moment you decide it’s time to communicate them, the words … don’t … seem. To Want. To Come. Out. Of. Your Mouth.
Think about our usual ways of describing the problem: ‘I’m shy.’ ‘I suffer from speech anxiety.’ ‘I just don’t know how to be myself in front of a group.’ We often act as though the problem stems from a psychological or emotional shortcoming within us. After years of watching our looser-tongued peers express their ideas and passions, it’s easy to become resentful and alienated. These negative feelings can reinforce our original reaction: There’s too much stuff inside of me that I can’t express! There’s something wrong with me.
This diagnosis would have seemed utterly baffling to the ancient Greek educators and philosophers who invented language theory in the 4th century BCE, and then taught it to virtually every student in the West for 2,000 years until a couple of centuries ago. From the ancient perspective, public speaking, like writing or, for that matter, military prowess, was considered an art form – teachable, learnable, and utterly unrelated to issues of innate character or emotional makeup. To them, the idea of expecting the average, speech-ignorant person to be reliably eloquent would be like expecting an untrained adolescent to perform like a seasoned warrior on the battlefield. Their take holds true today – it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be competent, much less masterful, in an art form you’ve never been taught to practise.
Under the larger discipline of rhetoric (the study of persuasion in all its forms), students in antiquity spent years acquiring a strategic understanding of how to temper logic, emotions and words with poise. Speaking well depended upon learning how to analyse all sides of an argument and assaying all possible avenues of commonality with one’s audience before expressing an opinion. Similar to our approach to reading and writing today, speech training was a comprehensive, critical approach to knowledge, with an additional emphasis on psychology and social interaction.
The average American today speaks around 16,000 words a day. If you consider the role of speech in family life, social interactions and on the job, it’s easy to see that now, as much as ever, the ability to communicate effectively is the single most critical skill we possess. If we speak in ways that are off-putting, vague or hard to understand, it doesn’t matter how smart, hardworking or even good we might be: people will find us difficult to understand and work with. Our usefulness to others will decline with every strained interaction. By contrast, if we speak clearly and well, people will find us easy to understand. They’ll ‘get’ us. They’ll like us.
Recently, I worked with an architect who complained: ‘I went to school for years, thinking that after graduation, my job would be to design stuff. The reality is that probably 90 per cent of my time goes towards explaining ideas, working on presentations and managing discussions between teams and clients.’ Her observation holds true across virtually every advanced occupation. Brilliant as you might be while toiling at your work station, and as important as your solo endeavours are, your social and team value is judged by your ability to skilfully handle phone calls, Zoom meetings, sales and technical presentations, and client interactions. If this sounds far-fetched, how many high-ranking executives can you recall who have poor public speaking skills?
Given the importance of clear, effective speech, you’d think we’d spend lots of time learning to do it in school. Yet for most of us, at least in the West, education consists of 12 to 20 years’ reading, writing and solving mathematics problems – on paper. As our society has become increasingly knowledge- and information-based, rhetoric and speech instruction have fallen almost entirely out of favour. Many of us graduate unprepared to practise the central activity of our lives, and speech remains the most important subject we’ve never thought about.
So how might one learn in a hurry from the Greeks about speaking to an audience without anxiety? I’ll skip the tips about where to stand on stage and how to use PowerPoint, and instead use this Guide to outline the most radical and useful element of ancient language theory. You’ll learn to speak in public – to any audience, anywhere – not by mastering your emotions, but by paying better attention to how others listen to you.
|The Founders’ Agreement|
|This week’s concept: The Founders’ AgreementWhat is it: |
A Founders’ Agreement is a semi-formal agreement between co-founders on the conditions of vision, split, authority, and future of the venture, among others.
It consists of both formal and informal parts:
Formal: The two formal sections of the agreement are items like the way the company is to be divided among founders.
For example, is it a 50-50 split with both founders having an equal stake? Or will it be a 45 – 55 split to ensure there are no ties when it comes to decision making? Both scenarios have their pros and cons for different partners.
Also included in the formal portion of the founders agreement is vesting.
Vesting is when founders only receives a portion of the company after meeting certain milestones – the most common being the amount of time spent working for the venture.
This ensures that no founder is able to leave and take with them such a large portion of the company that the rest of the team loses morale.
These two parts are considered more formal as the equity split (how much each of the founders own) will usually have to be formally recorded with the government or an institution.
Informal: The informal section consists more of written and unwritten decisions between founders about their relationship and issues on authority and ownership which may crop up during the course of doing business.
These usually consist of the following: Decision-making: This section will cover how the decision-making process will be among founders. This is especially useful when the founders have shared skillsets but differing opinions and ideas. In this section, the partners can also discuss shared core values which will guide decisions.Asset ownership: This section is more focused around the assets that each of the founders are bringing to the venture. Partners will clarify how the assets and IP may be divided amongst each other and the rights the venture has to them. Compensation: Remuneration can be a contentious topic among partners and can be the source of resentment within a partnership. The best way to mitigate this is to discuss a fair agreement among partners before any emotional baggage is created. Disputes and Resolution: During the course of business building, disputes and conflicts will arise among business partners. By discussing and agreeing upon a process to settle these conflicts beforehand, co-founders can ensure a neutral way to resolve these issues without hurting the co-founder relationship.Vision and Exit: This section is to align with your co-founders on the vision for the eventual future of your venture. This is as a difference in vision will cause founders to differ in opinions when making key decisions. An important idea to discuss when on the topic of vision is each person’s thoughts on an exit for the business venture and the timespan they see to get there.
One thing to note about the informal section of a founder’s agreement is that it is not set in stone. As with all personal agreements, it should evolve over time as the relationship and trust grows among partners.Why it is important:
65% of all high-potential startups fail due to co-founder conflict. By discussing and creating a founders’ agreement before starting, it helps partners assess co-founder fit before beginning a venture and can aid in both future conflicts / prevents partners sinking time into a co-founder relationship that may be doomed to fail.
At worst, it allows you and your partner to have a conversation and align on your future vision, while at best, it will either save you time and energy or be a guide for any future disputes you have with your co-founder.
Related topics I will cover in future weeks:
Co-founder FitEquity and VestingVenture CapitalExits for Startups
Barking Up The Wrong Tree
Meaning: To make a wrong assumption about something.
multiloquence talkativeness; use of many words
What’s the most amount of money you’ve ever found? What was the situation?
Justin Bieber’s first tweet was at 8:27pm on May 11, 2009.
|“Every man has his follies – and often they are the most interesting thing he has got.”|
via Funny Quote of the Day https://ift.tt/2MzCVCF
“The depressing thing about battery technology is that it gets better, but it gets better slowly. There are a whole bunch of problems in materials science and chemistry that come in trying to make existing batteries better.” — Nathan Myhrvold
“Batteries are the most dramatic object. Other things stop working or they break, But Batteries… They Die.” — Demetri Martin
* The reverse value/luxury curve [ https://feeds.feedblitz.com/~/644969654/0/sethsblog/posts~The-reverse-valueluxury-curve/ ]
For most products and services, we rate them on a curve.
Of course the seat on the discount airline was cramped, but that’s okay because it was cheap.
Of course this Camry doesn’t look or ride like a Porsche, don’t be stupid…
But, the opposite is true in the high end. When luxury goods are compared to luxury goods, the narrative is, “this one must be better, in absolute and relative terms, precisely because it’s more expensive.”
And so hiring McKinsey costs 10x more than hiring a former McKinsey consultant. And so it’s worth more.
And so $150,000 elephant-sized stereo speakers (yes, they exist) are far better than $5,000 speakers (can’t you see?)
This goes beyond the standard understanding of a Veblen good. Because in addition to being more expensive, these super-luxury goods are less effective, harder to use and generally a pain in the neck. That’s part of their appeal.
(And yes, the same is true for corporate luxury goods, like software and IT consulting…)
Price accordingly. And listen to the reviews with a careful skepticism.
VIA.. SETH GODIN NEWSLETTER
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Negative feedback is inconsistent with our self-image and so we reject it.
|Marshall GoldsmithFeb 23|
“Soliciting feedback” is just what the words imply. It is when we solicit opinions from people about what we are doing wrong. As simple as it sounds, it is not always so simple. Most people have two problems dealing with negative feedback. This may not sound like many, but they are big problems. The first is we don’t want to hear it and the second is we don’t want to give it.
The reason we don’t want to hear it is because negative feedback is inconsistent with our self-image and so we reject it. Did you know that of all the classes I’ve taught 95 percent of members believe they are in the top half of their group? While this is statistically impossible, it is psychologically real. Proving to successful people that they are “wrong” works just about as well as making them change.
The reason we don’t want to give it is because our leaders and managers have power over us, our paychecks, advancement, and job security. The more successful a person is the more power they have. Combine that power with the fairly predictable “kill the messenger” response to negative feedback and you can see why people don’t want to give feedback.
There are some other difficulties with traditional face-to-face negative feedback. Most of them boil down to the fact that it focuses on failures of the past not positive actions for the future. Feedback can reinforce our feelings of failure, and our reactions to this are rarely positive. More than anything, negative feedback shuts us down. We need honest, helpful feedback, which is hard to find.
That’s enough about what’s wrong with feedback. Let’s talk about the good stuff. Feedback is very useful for telling us “where we are.” Without it, I couldn’t work with my clients. I wouldn’t know what the people around my client think about what he or she needs to change. Likewise, without feedback, we wouldn’t know if were getting better or worse. We all need feedback to see where we are, where we need to go, and to measure our progress along the way. And I have a foolproof method for securing it.
When I work with coaching clients I always get confidential feedback from their coworkers at the beginning of the process. I enlist each person to help me out. I want them to assist not sabotage the change process. I do this by saying to them, “I’m going to be working with my client for the next year. I don’t get paid if she doesn’t get better. Better is not defined by me; it is not defined by her. It is defined by you and the other coworkers involved in the process.” I then present them with four requests. I ask them to commit to:
- Let go of the past.
- Tell the truth.
- Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative.
- Pick something to improve themselves, so everyone is focused on more “improving” than “judging.”
- As you contemplate changing your behavior yourself, without my personal assistance, you will need to do this same thing with your colleagues. Pick about a dozen people with whom you’ve had professional contact—work friends, peers, colleagues—and ask them to agree to these four commitments. When they do, which they nearly always will, you are ready to begin soliciting feedback from them about yourself.
- In my experience, there are a hundred wrong ways to ask for feedback and one right way. Most of us know the wrong ways. We ask people, “What do you think of me?” “How do you feel about me?” “What do you hate about me?” or “What do you like about me?” Think about your colleagues. How many of them are your friends? How many of them really want to express to you their “true” feelings about you, to you?
- A better question (and in my opinion the only question that works) is, “How can I do better?” Variations based on circumstances are okay, such as “What can I do to be a better partner at home?” or “What can I do to be a better leader of the group?” You get the idea. Pure issue-free feedback that makes change possible has to 1) solicit advice rather than criticism, b) be directed towards the future, and c) be couched in a way that suggests you are in fact going to try to do better.
- Finally, when you get the answer, when someone gives you the gift of what you can do to be better, don’t respond with your opinion of their advice. It will just sound like denial, rationalization, and objection. Treat every piece of advice as a gift, a compliment, and simply say, “Thank you.” No one expects you to act on every piece of advice. Just act on advice that makes sense to you. The people around you will be thrilled!
Thank you for reading. Life is good.
|WORD OF THE DAY|
|1Chop or cut (something, especially wood or coal) with an axe, pick, or other tool.||2Make or shape (something) by cutting or chopping a material such as wood or stone.|
|Examples of Hew in a sentence “Michael was expected to hew the lumber into firewood by that evening.” “Stone artists are skilled at hewing a marble slab into dramatic figures.”|
Did you know…
… that today is Popcorn Introduction Day? On this day in 1630, popcorn was introduced to English colonists when Quadequine, brother of Massasoit, brought some to dinner. Native Americans would bring popcorn to meetings with the English colonists as a token of goodwill during peace negotiations. It soon became an American way of life. Now go pop up some popcorn!
Today’s Inspirational Quote:
“Some people are like popcorn: They will only succeed when under heat or pressure.”
— Charbel Tadros
Did you know…
… that today is International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day? They say every dog has his day and today, they all get that day at once! Just imagine: dog biscuits without having to do tricks. We should all be so lucky! 😉
Today’s Inspirational Quote:
“Never bear more than one trouble at a time. Some people bear three kinds — all they have had, all they have now, and all they expect to have.”
— Edward Everett Hale
Today’s Featured Product:
“The Easiest Way to Protect Yourself — And Your Family — Against Internet Scams…”