Last week was unusual. First, my phone died. As in, an endless bootloop of nothingness. Not resuscitatable. Accordingly, I spent a few days feeling somewhat disconnected from the world, while waiting for my new phone to arrive. I couldn’t make my usual phone calls. I didn’t get any texts. I couldn’t confirm the times for my daughter’s soccer practice, and arrived at the wrong time. It was disconcerting at first. It is so rare these days, to be unreachable.
And then after 48 hours with no phone, I headed off to Algonquin Park for my annual family canoe trip. A place where even if you have a phone, it won’t work. And you can’t charge it. And who would want to? Algonquin is a place of unparalleled beauty. Of serenity. A marvelous place to recharge my personal batteries. And after a few days with no phone, I found I no longer missed it or needed it.
Now I’m back in the connected world, with a new phone, and unlimited high-speed internet. But I’m barely connecting. I left my phone in my car for several hours, and didn’t notice. It’s a lovely sensation of freedom. And it’s probably short-lived, but still so valuable. I should go to Algonquin more often. Unplugging is good for my brain.
Recently I’ve been working on trying to become a better public speaker, which is always a project in evolution. And I decided, that one of the better ways to improve would be to get explicit feedback, from some other excellent speakers. So I asked a couple friends, who I admire as speakers and colleagues, to watch a couple of my talks and give me some explicit feedback.
It turns out that they liked the idea, and we all spent a few hours watching each other talk at conferences and sending each other feedback. It’s a little daunting, knowing that a great speaker is sitting there, watching you, looking for every single mistake you make. Saying um. Stumbling. Examining your slides. Your pacing. Your narrative.
But it’s totally worth it. It’s a great way to get better, and to learn tricks from other pros. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s a version of the form we used ( speaker feedback form – web), to help guide the discussion. It does require a little courage, but we will all become better speakers by going through this exercise. And become better friends in the process. Win-win.
I’ve been talking about failure lately, here and there. And having a solid failure friend remains my favorite tip for surviving after failure. Because I take it as a given that we will fail. All of us. Medical or not. We are all human, which means we make mistakes.
So once we accept this as fact, we can then move towards failing better. To learning how to thrive after we fall. And I like having my failure friends.
You find a friend, preferably a nice person, who is capable of empathy. And you talk to them about your cases that go wrong, about the diagnosis you didn’t make, about the parenting fail you just had with your child. And they just listen. And empathize. And you will feel better.
As soon as you are able to talk about it, your sense of isolation decreases. Shame decreases. You become better able to see your failings with a balanced perspective. With ownership, but also with kindness. With a reminder of our common humanity.
Choose someone who understands your context. A doctor for a medical fail. A parent for a kid-fail. Anyone for your standard “I fell down the stairs in the subway” moment. This leads to better understanding of the relevant feelings and issues.
Maybe you only need one failure friend, maybe you need ten. I have several, and cherish them all. Sharing our short-comings makes us stronger, not weaker. It makes us more courageous, not more afraid.
And maybe, one day, you can return the favour. And just listen to someone who is having a terrible day. And offer empathy, not solutions. Listening without criticism or judgement is one of the best gifts to give to your friends, and to yourself.
Have you read Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun? Every year, I read a few more books on presentations skills, and his is a good one. It’s funny, personal and practical. Well worth the read if you’re interested.
I also enjoy Nancy Duarte’s excellent books on building better presentations, and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. But the real thought that strikes me, is that giving better and better presentations is hard work! Especially if you want it to look effortless.
I was at a conference recently where someone said “I’m just not good at public speaking. I wasn’t born that way”. This is a common thought, but I’m fairly certain that no one is born that way. People work at it. Hard. They practice and study and screw up and get better and evolve. But you don’t just waltz onto a stage and give an informative, creative, funny, perfectly timed talk by fluke.
It looks easy after you’ve put hours of prep into it. And repeated practice. And sought feedback. And threw a few drafts in the garbage and started over.
And it’s not just me, people. Everyone else on “the tour” is doing the same damn thing. Working hard at it. To make it look effortless and polished. Anyone can get better at it, even good at it. It just depends whether you choose to expend the necessary effort.
My 7 year old daughter had a recital last week, with a big audience. Watching her struggle with her fears around performance, and perfection and anxiety was noteworthy for me in so many ways. She has the same struggles that so many adults have, including myself. But she was able to talk about it, and work through it, and focus on the rewards of the event (notably the self-pride, and the ice cream). And she was able to give a marvelous performance. Maybe a better performance because of her drive to achieve.
I tend not to discuss my work anxieties with my kids, believing that they would not be able to relate or understand. Clearly this is a myopic perspective that needs to change. They would probably be able to give me excellent advice. Including, just stay focused on the ice cream.
Last week I visited Shock Trauma at the University of Maryland. They had a marvelous line-up of speakers at their Critical Care Symposium. The speakers were impressive in a variety of ways: one was really funny, one had gorgeous elegant slides, all were eloquent and organized. I love those days where you walk away inspired to do better.
I bought (yet another) book about presentation skills for the flight home (Duarte’s HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations). I don’t know how many books I need to read before I plateau, but I still seem to be learning new tricks. And now I am revising and re-working my upcoming talks. In fact, I just threw one in the garbage and am starting over entirely. Self-improvement takes a lot of work! But I’m excited about the challenge and the opportunity.
This morning I went to a marvelous talk in Cape Town, by Jeff Riddell. He made a strong argument for professional branding, encouraging all of the audience members to Google themselves, and then to consider how to optimize their on-line profile.
So today, I’ve built myself a website. I’m not sure where it will go yet, but the starting point is interesting. Hats off to Dr Riddell, and all of those pioneers ahead of me.