Speaking when you don’t feel like it

Audience members expect certain things of any speaker. One of those common expectations is that the speaker will show up! Sometimes, that can be the biggest challenge.

Writers have it easier in this respect. You have no way of knowing, for instance, that there was a three-hour gap between my writing the first paragraph and writing this paragraph, except that I just told you. The gap was there because I wasn’t feeling well, and just didn’t feel like writing this post at that moment. Writers have deadlines, but once an article is delivered the time a reader connects is very flexible.

It’s a little different for speakers, obviously. For instance, I have a speech scheduled on Oct. 11 at 12:30 p.m. (link will be posted when info is available). I have absolutely no idea how I will be feeling that day, but I will deliver that speech, unless I am in the hospital or worse. I may not always be at my best, but I will always give the best of which I am capable at that moment.

It impresses me when students “get” that. They often will come to class on a scheduled speech day and say, “I’m not feeling well, can I do my speech next week?” There are always students who simply don’t show up. They’re surprised when there is a grade penalty, but showing up as scheduled is part of the skill set.

When an association has hired you, spent thousands of dollars on promoting a meeting, spent perhaps hundreds of thousands on travel, lodging, venue rental, printing, salaries (for the people organizing the event, and for the time of the people attending), then you know full well, don’t you, that “I’m not feeling well, can we reschedule for next week?” will not work.

I have heard one of my speaking heroes, Lois Creamer, do a workshop while dealing with, shall we say, extreme digestive distress. Attendees would never have known it from her delivery or content. (She did choose to tell attendees just in case she had to leave in mid-sentence, but she used it in a humorous way to actually advance her topic.)

Earlier this week, a student delivered a very effective speech while dealing with a migraine. Migraines are not a joke–I’ve observed people close to mean cope with them, and I’ve seen how debilitating they can be. We’re always our own worst critic, of course, and the student in debriefing said he felt as if he completely blew the speech. I’m glad we had the chance to reassure him that the audience didn’t feel that way, and I made sure to praise him for having the character to deliver the speech anyway.

We can’t always be at our best, but we can always give our best–and that’s a bankable skill all by itself.

When have you pushed yourself just to show up?

Image from Flickr user martinak15.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.