June 1, 2007

Risk-takers make better speakers



When I have to give my street address verbally so someone else can write it down, I can always tell the risk-takers from the scaredy cats. The name of my street is "Quinto" and it's pronounced "Keento." In Spanish, it means "fifth."

Inevitably, I will say my street name, "Keento" and spell it, and the other person will say "Kwinto." I've just pronounced the word correctly, and yet the other person feels compelled to say it incorrectly.

This is just my personal theory, but bear with me here. People spend a lot of time trying to avoid embarrassment.

Seeing a word like Quinto must freak some people out (especially people who aren't from California and didn't grow up taking Spanish classes), because they've never seen it before and they don't want to look stupid. In the mind of a scaredy cat, Quinto looks more like "Kwinto," so even if I have just told them the right way to say it, they're still going to say "Kwinto" so they don't look stupid trying to pronounce a Spanish word.

This is just one example, but I see it all the time. People do a lot of things to avoid being embarrassed or to avoid other people's perceived judgment.

They won't ask for directions. They won't ask a store clerk where the pretzels are. They won't try ethnic food. They won't tell you when you have spinach on your teeth. They won't wear a party hat, even when everyone else is.

A guy who works with my husband is incredibly threatened by (and vocal about) the fact that my husband eats marinated tofu straight from the package. I'm not sure what it signifies to him, but it's clearly way outside his comfort zone. He also was horrified that my husband chose to watch the movie "Paris Je T'aime."

The problem with spending your life trying to avoid embarrassment is that you miss out on a lot of knowledge, experience, fun, and connection with people.

In the world of public speaking, being afraid to take risks means playing it safe. Playing it safe = boring. A speaker who follows all the "rules" and sticks to a middle-of-the-road speaking style will not engage the audience or make those personal connections.

Risk-takers will step outside their comfort zone. They will walk into the audience. They will make eye contact. They will sing, or dance, or play the guitar, or say something silly. They'll bring an enormous amount of energy.

Most importantly, they won't be afraid to make mistakes. They know that making mistakes is human, and that it's a great way to learn and improve as a speaker.

Cate Blanchett said in a recent interview, regarding script choices, "Weird and wonderful ideas always appeal to me. You've got to risk failure. That's what keeps me going - trying to improve."

How much time do you waste in your life trying to avoid embarrassment? What are you missing out on? Are you a risk-taker or a scaredy cat?

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1 comments. Please add yours! :

Guy said...

Very good advice. Thank you!

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