Ignore the critics

Ignore the critics – and find your voice

criticism1There’s no doubt, speaking can be scary! It’s listed in many surveys as the #1 fear and I constantly come across people who really struggle with the idea of stepping into the spotlight and being heard.

It doesn’t help when those who do speak regularly (whether these are professional speakers, speaker trainers, or regular amateurs) begin knocking others. For those wanting to overcome their nerves and find their voice, this kind of judgement is just what they don’t need to see.

I’m not talking about a professional coach working with someone to help them improve their presentation – looking at what’s good and what could be improved. I’m talking about articles in magazines (especially speaking magazines) or posts on various social media platforms which tear into ‘speakers who …..’

I’ve seen authors arrogantly criticise other speakers for doing abc or not doing xyz. This frustrates me because everyone deserves to have their voice heard – even if it’s not quite as eloquent as it could be. Everyone has to start somewhere.

For example, I’ve seen speakers (collectively – not individuals thankfully) ridiculed for using old, worn-out clichés where the writer of the article pompously decided what was old and what was still relevant. But think about it for a minute – clichés become just that because they’ve been used so often – and they’ve been used so often because there’s an amount of ‘truth’ in them. Quite simply they work! When a speaker has used a popular metaphor, I’ve seen other speakers roll their eyes and mutter ‘not that old chestnut again’. The key thing here is to consider the audience.

If the audience is likely to have heard these metaphors or clichés over and over, then sure, it’s a good idea to choose different ones. But remember that not all audiences have moved in the same circles – those old chestnuts could have a massive impact upon people hearing them for the first time.

One of the big controversies in the speaking world is the use of the Albert Mehrabian model of communication where 55% of the communication is attributed to body language, 38% is attributed to voice and 7% is attributed to the words. This has been widely used in communication teaching for many years but it appears that Mehrabian himself says the study was taken totally out of context and shouldn’t be taken for communication as a whole. Since coming across this a few years ago, I stopped any references to the actual numbers but still teach how changing the tone can change the message and how people will follow body language above words. I use a totally different experiment to demonstrate this these days. But not everyone knows that this model was out of context and it’s still used widely. So is it fair for one author to arrogantly belittle those still teaching it? After all, we can only ever teach to others what we’ve learned ourselves and, when we learn something in good faith from a trusted source, it makes sense to pass that learning on.

IT-IS-NOT-THE-CRITIC-WHO-COUNTS-1Now – I understand that it’s good to have standards and to keep on improving. I heartily encourage speakers to learn what they can and to seek to continually improve. But does blanket criticism help keep standards high? I don’t think so – it just serves to spread doubt, keep the speaker circles small and speaker fees high.

The point here is that you have a message that your audience will benefit from hearing. So, ignore those critics who are sitting on their high horses of judgement, be bold and find your voice. The critics might be left with a face that looks like they’ve chewed a wasp, but your audience will thank you for it!

Wishing you every success with your speaking – I’m rooting for you!


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