“But I worked so hard!”

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Here’s one reality of preparing a speech: there is no necessary relationship between how much effort you put into preparing for a speech and how well it turns out.

It is true that most people (in my opinion) underestimate the effort required to do a good speech, in terms of research, organization, rehearsal, and delivery. Nevertheless, it is also true that you can spend months preparing for a speech and spend joules of energy, and still have a bad speech.

Very often, we find the biggest obstacles looking back at us in the mirror.

Over the last few months, I have slowly been using up a bottle of baby shampoo that my disabled daughter shouldn’t use. Although her nurses used it a few times, we realized t has ingredients that could be a problem if it got close to her trach, but is just fine for someone without those challenges. I don’t particularly like using baby shampoo, but on the other hand I hate to throw something perfectly good away, so I’ve been using it up.

The first few months, though, I thought, “Wow, those nurses have to have strong hands to use this bottle! Or maybe my arthritis is worse than I thought. I can hardly squeeze any shampoo out of this thing!” Most days I used my regular shampoo, mainly out of preference, but partly because I didn’t want to wrestle with the baby shampoo.

“Its made for young parents, who are stronger,” I thought.

Eventually, I unscrewed the cap to try to get more shampoo out than I could squeezing it out the little pop cap that most shampoo bottles have.

I found the seal still in place. I had just assumed the nurses had removed it since they had used the bottle a couple of times. All of the shampoo that had been squeezed out of that thing for six months (about a third of the bottle) had been squeezed through a small rupture in the seal. Once I removed that, the shampoo came out of the little pop cap almost too fast, just by turning the bottle upside down.

Sure, I had been working hard. Really, I had been wasting effort.

There has been a lot said about working smart, not hard, but this is different. Speaking does take more effort than you realize. But when you feel like you’re spending a lot of time and energy without much return, take a look at yourself first. It may be that you have been your own biggest obstacle, usually by not checking out assumptions.

Photo Credit: roonb cc

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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.