You’ve all experienced this before. You’ve attended a great training program, and you’ve learned a lot of useful techniques and skills. You feel all motivated to apply what you’ve learned to your work/business.
But nothing happens after that…
People attend training to learn “HOW to”, and as I’ll illustrate in this article, “How to” is only scratching the surface of what real education is.
In my career, I have the privilege of training and coaching many senior leaders, middle managers, entrepreneurs and keynote speakers in public speaking. Very often, they approach me with the desire to learn “HOW to improve their presentations.
However, during the process, they discover and learn way more than just the techniques and skills. Public speaking is a great example here. It takes a lot of courage and nerves to speak in front of a room full of people. You are on display to everyone, and every word, every action is open to being judged. You search deep within yourself for a meaningful message to share. You think, craft and script your speech carefully. You rehearse over and over and make adjustments and improvements all the time. All this while, you experience an emotional roller coaster ride as you battle against your inner demons and self-doubt. This journey is a test of nerves, of character, and of your self-concept. There are times when you feel like giving up, when you question yourself and your ability.
“Is my message good enough?”
“Will my story connect with the audience?”
“Am I good enough?”
Instead of only thinking, “How to give a good presentation?” The question has shifted more to this…
“WHO am I to give this presentation?”
So WHO are you to?
I have met many people with amazing skills, knowledge, talents and gifts to share. However, the one thing that often holds them back is the voices in their head that tells them “WHO am I to _________ (be a successful speaker/entrepreneur/millionaire/supermodel/leader)?”
Recently, as I was attending an Improv workshop in London, I had this experience. I looked around the room and I saw people who were professional actors, people with years of theatre experiences, and even director of movies and plays. And there I was, a complete beginner in Improv and theatre.
When the teacher, Keith Johnstone asked for volunteers, I was in inner turmoil. On one hand, I knew that volunteering is the best way for me to learn. After all, as I speak about the importance of having the “beginner’s mindset” in my speeches and workshops, being a beginner gives me the freedom to take risks. On the other hand, I felt a sharp pang of imposter syndrome. I heard an inner voice that went “WHO do you think you are to act in front of these professionals?” Whose voice was that originally? Was it my father’s? Was it a teacher’s? A school bully’s? I couldn’t remember, but what I knew was that I was guilty of not walking my talk of embracing the “beginner’s mindset” and ended up passing on several chances because I was intimidated. On the times when I volunteered, I was so tense and couldn’t perform well because I was over-eager to “prove I belonged.”
“Who Am I to _________?”
This is a debilitating thought pattern that stops us in our track from where we want to get to.
It’s one thing to say “stop thinking like that”, but as we know, when there’s a vacuum in our minds, new thoughts will rush in to replace them, and they may also not be helpful.
A more powerful question to ask would be this…
“Who Will I Become to _________?”
This is a more possibility-enhancing question. It is more forward looking, and it speaks not to how you are being judged, but to what is possible for you.
In 2019, one of my big goals is to stop beating myself up when I fail to meet my own expectations. I will be kinder to myself, and allow myself to take more risks, be more courageous to go for what I want even if my self-doubts are constantly there.
Recently, that new attitude came to the fore.
I was attending my first Mandarin Toastmasters meeting as a new member. When it came to the table topics session, a session open to the members of the audience to volunteer to speak about a topic extemporaneously. My body has moved faster than my brain could catch up, and before I knew it, I stood up and began walking to the front of the room. My mind flashed red-alert, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Coen? Who are you to be so daring?”
I had moments of highlights in my speech, but also moments where I blah-ed and bohoo-ed my way through parts of my speech as my lack of fluency reared itself. I was beating myself up with a “post-mortem” on the way back to my seat.
But when I sat down, I reminded myself why I had joined the Mandarin Toastmasters in the first place. I had recently started conducting training workshops in China and realized I have to brush up on Mandarin. If that’s my intention, then I have to seize every opportunity to practice, carpe diem! Therefore, I asked myself the question, “Who will I Become to be a fluent Mandarin speaker in China?” Just as I did that, I suddenly experienced a lightness in my heart as I felt my self-judgment lifting, replaced by the realization that I’ve just taken another small step to getting stronger and becoming the person I want to be.
A Surprising Appointment
Back to the topic of public speaking, I was recently invited to be a mentor to some female speakers in KeyNote, a non-profit Association bringing Women Speakers to the World. It was an honor to be appointed to be a mentor to a group of such passionate speakers. I sincerely believe that ladies have so much wisdom and power to offer to the world, because the feminine energy of “flow” is suitable for this VUCA world of rapid disruptions. However, my “old friend” came visiting again, “Who are you to mentor these powerful female speakers? You are not even a female for a start!”
True to my 2019 goal, I would not shrink and shy away from a challenge, especially one so exciting where I can use my strengths! On top of that, I believe that opportunities to serve are divine appointments, and they are invitations to grow. So I asked myself “Who Will I Become to Mentor These Female Speakers to Help Them Shine?”
I found my answer through an unlikely source – The world of professional sports.
Professional athletes, especially those in solo sports like golf, tennis all have coaches. Rory McIlroy is one of the world’s top professional golfers, and his coach Michael Bannon has been coaching him since Rory was eight years old. Now, I am not sure how many times Michael has challenged Rory to golf matches, but if they have, I’d be willing to say that Rory will win nine out of every ten matches. By this logic, would Michael Bannon have thought “Who am I to coach Rory McIlroy?” This would fly in the logic that the best players will make the best coaches, and only a better player can make a player better. Michael Bannon may not be a better golf player than Rory McIlroy, but he is the mentor that grooms and brings out the best in Rory McIlroy.
Who Will I Become? I will become for these speakers, what Michael Bannon was (and is) for Rory McIlroy.
It’s about the Identity
In a previous article, I talked about the 3 Types of Stories We Tell Ourselves That Keep Us Stuck, one of them is the story of WHO we are. “Who am I to_________?” is at the core of what’s stopping us from believing in ourselves and from taking the actions to reach our goals.
Whatever your goals and dreams are, do not stay stuck in the “How to” question. Address your identity of yourself, replace the limiting thoughts of “Who am I to_________?” to “Who will I become to _________?” Seeing yourself in new ways will allow you to dream bigger, see further and dare greater!
Coen Tan is a speaker, trainer, and coach, specializing in helping business leaders connect authentically and inspire action. Over the past 10 years, he has spoken to, trained and coached over 40,000 individuals and professionals communicate with confidence and effectiveness. Reflective. Authentic. Possessing the innate ability to connect deeply with people. Coen envisions a world in which people break out of their self-imposed limitations and express their authentic selves to serve others.
If you’re working on a presentation or a pitch to investors, you can engage Coen for a 1-to-1 no-obligation 25-minute conversation. Coen also speaks on authentic leadership, helping leaders bring the best out of their employees through values-alignment.