Toastmasters International sponsors an annual World Championship of Public Speaking, a five-round tournament – Club, Area, District, Region, and International, the finals. People in dozens of countries compete.
One year, I thought I’d have a go. I made it to the District competition and did not advance. Very disappointing. One of my mentors counseled, “There is no failure in this, Nick; however well you do or you don’t, there is only feedback.”
OK, feedback: I decided that I needed to inject more humor into my talks. I took guidance from many sources including a recording by Patricia Fripp who was (and still is) a big deal in professional speaking circles. In the recording she said, “People come to me and ask, ‘How can I be funny?’ And so I ask them: ‘Are you funny?’”
Her question brought me up short. I’m playful, yes. Thoughtful, yes. Earnest, yes. Ironic, yes. Funny…. Not so much.
OK, so…. not funny.
At about that time, my wife and I stayed at a lovely bed & breakfast on a farm. The farmer grew and sold grains. Thinking about the then-current grain price levels and challenges of small farmers competing with the “big guys”, I asked him about his strategy.
“When the horse is blind, sell the strength.”
When grain prices were down, his strength was retail: He and his wife also raised pigs; ran a retail store in the nearby town in which they sold bacon, cheese, and other locally-made products; and they ran the lovely bed and breakfast.
Good idea, that – sell the strengths. So, never mind “more humor”; I set out to sell “playful, thoughtful, earnest, and ironic” to the competition judges. Happy to say I advanced to the Regional level … and stopped there. Again, very disappointing.
I had a third go… made it to the Regional level… and went out again. Painful.
But, as I packed up and as the Regional competition audience dispersed, people came up to me saying, “I loved your talk, I think you were the best, you should be going to the finals.”
It was clear to me after three tries that the Toastmasters judges were not my audience – my style and messages didn’t fit their expectations. But, it wasn’t that I had NO audience. The people connecting with me after the Regional competition were my audience. I had reached them. They weren’t the audience I set out to attract. They were the audience that I had, in fact, attracted.
There is no failure. There is only feedback.
When I think about our firm or about any of the companies or sales people we train or coach, we all face the grain farmer question: “Whatever our gaps or weaknesses, how are we going to win judges’ votes or win clients?”
While the question is the same, our answers will be different based on our strengths, the audiences or buyers attracted to those strengths, and how we sell the strengths. The audience that we can actually attract may be different than the audience we thought, initially, we wanted.
Nick Miller trains bankers to attract and expand relationships with businesses. More profitable relationships, faster. He is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.
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