Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Getting over hurdles

Can watching Olympic athletes help you to become a better speaker? It can, but only if you observe the right event. The one I have in mind is the hurdles. Hurdles are different from some other Olympic events, like the high jump or the pole vault, where the bar you need to clear keeps getting raised higher and higher.

Hurdles are set at a fixed height. They do not get taller as you proceed along the course. You have to try to get over all of them, but are not disqualified if you just accidentally knock one over. You only can be disqualified if you obviously don’t even try to clear one (or you try to sneak around it). The goal is to finish faster, but you do not need to be perfect and clear every single one of the obstacles in your path.

Here in Boise we just finished hosting the Special Olympics. At their best Special Olympics athletes are an inspiration of triumph over adversity. At their worst the regular Olympic athletes are comical exaggerations of college athletes: monomaniacal perfectionists with a sense of entitlement.

Timothy Koegel said that: “Being an exceptional presenter doesn’t mean being perfect, being flawless.” In the real world you almost never have enough time to reach perfection.

Alan Weiss is an exceptional presenter. In his video on the Crisis of Self Esteem he said that: “When you’re 80% ready, you move. The final 20% you put into anything is dysfunctional. The final 20% in a speech, the audience doesn’t appreciate.”

Whoever wrote the Army slogan, “Be all that you can be” was kidding us to hit a recruiting quota. Just be most of what you can be. You never have enough time to be all. It doesn’t sound as inspiring, but it’s a lot closer to being true.

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