At the very beginning of my public speaking seminars I ask the participants to write down two of their concrete expectations they have regarding the training. In a second step I combine the concepts of less is more and getting to the point. I ask them to mark the more important expectation. Finally, I invite the first non-volunteer to reduce that phrase to one word and tell the group about it in approximately 30 seconds. Others follow the same procedure.
Usual suspects of that list of one-worded expectations are: self-confidence, stage fright, spontaneity, humor, persuasion, tips, tools, structure or storytelling.
This week and for the first time I heard a new word: perfection.
Interesting, I thought. That big-hearted, humorous and loud gentleman wanted to become perfect in public speaking. The question is: Can one become perfect in public speaking?
Public speaking is a mountain without a peak. Perfection – the 100% speech – can never exist. Even if you think you gave the 100% speech, someone in the audience will criticize certain aspects. As public speakers we constantly fight the windmills of perception.
Perception is subjective. For that man with a black spot on his nose in the third row, your dramatic pauses might be just perfect. But for his Indian wife next to him those pauses might be too long. In the row behind her a woman in her late sixties might feel inspired by your quotation by Indira Gandhi, while her 12-year-old grandson couldn’t care less. His friend on his right wearing a Cincinnati Reds cab might love your excessive hand gestures, while the analytical math student sitting next to him might consider your body language not authentic.
My seminar couldn’t meet the expectations of that big-hearted, humorous and loud gentleman. Perfection in public speaking – that’s a myth. Yet, climbing up that mountain without a peak, that gentleman went from good to great. And that is… excellent!