The best question I've been asked this year

After 16 years as a corporate trainer / business coach there are not too many questions that I haven’t been asked at some stage. A lot of them I really can’t answer. Everyone is different. I might suggest what I think might help, but really how can I be certain that my answer will suit them, if I don’t really know and understand them and their own values and background.I’m often asked questions about leadership, attitude, presenting, motivation or coaching.  

On October 6th, this year at 2.22pm I received the best question I’ve been asked all year. In fact I was amazed that I’ve never been asked it before. It’s a simple yet very powerful and thought provoking question. When I received it, it had me stumped.Photo questions

In a moment I’ll come to the question. You will probably have a very good answer to it. In fact I’m pretty confident you’ll even be able to predict what the question was. Before I come to it, here are 3 of the most common questions (with my answers) that I’ve been asked over the past 16 years, when running a workshop or training day.

How can I deal with my nerves when I need to speak in public?

It’s perfectly natural to be nervous about speaking in public. I‘d be more concerned if you told me you didn’t get a bit nervous. Ask anyone who speaks in public on a regular basis and I’m sure they will give you similar suggestions.

Here are my 3 best tips:

1. Prepare properly

This should involve practicing standing up and ideally in the room you will be speaking in.

2. Accept your nerves and recognise what they will do to you

For most people it will make them speak faster and use short sharp gestures. I suggest slow down, pause and hold your gestures and eye contact for longer than you normally would.

3. Make a strong start

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. If you are clear on how you want to start and outline your plan, what’s in it for the audience and the structure for your presentation, you are well on your way.

How do you stay motivated?

After 16 years as a corporate trainer and 14 years as a parent to 3 kids, I have found that I need to stay motivated. If I lose my Mojo or my NRG, I’ll have no business and on the personal front my kids will quite quickly destroy me.

Goal setting helps me stay focused. Short term, measurable and achievable targets really keep me focused. For example, last month, after 11 and half years in business we raised our 1000th invoice. Knowing that was within reach this year has been a strong motivator for me.

When I’m working with a group I always remember that this program is for them. This could be the first time they have been exposed to the ideas we are working on. I want to make it a memorable experience for them. I love seeing them have a few aha moments during the session. My NRG is on them and their needs. I have found this better than thinking about myself and my own agenda. Seeing people laugh a little (hopefully with me, not at me), learn a little and listen is very motivating.

What’s the best way to get people to do what you want them to do?

This is not easy to answer in one paragraph. Human beings are not all the same. Influence is complex. If it’s not done properly it can be viewed as manipulative. You might want to consider a few of the following ideas.

People tend to do things for their reasons not for yours. If you can find out more about the other parties needs and what motivates them you may be more likely to influence them. Asking the right questions and actively listening to them can help far more than you probably realise.

Developing relationships is very important. If you looked up the words relationships and results in the dictionary, you’d notice that the word relationship appears before results. Don’t lose sight of this. Encouragement and positive feedback is also very useful. Wherever possible catch people doing things right. Rewarding positive behaviour, from my experience, seems to be more effective than highlighting or drawing people’s attention to negative behaviour.

And so to the best question I’ve been asked this year. Here it is…

Why don’t people want to practice?

When I received this question I thought, wow, that’s a very good question. I’d just run a 90 minute workshop on Presenting with Confidence. We were discussing how to improve as a Presenter and I had mentioned how proper practice will help more than anything else. Mark just casually asks... “Steve, why don’t people want to practice”?

I’ve been thinking about the answer for a few weeks.

Everyone that wants to improve in any skill must surely realise that to get better they have to practice.

Arguably the greatest Cello player of all time is the Spaniard from the Catalonia region, Pablo Casals. Pablo used to practice playing the Cello even when he was 90 years old. When he was asked why he was still practicing when he was in his 90’s he famously said…. “Because I’m still making progress”.

Most people realise that practicing properly will improve their results, yet they aren’t willing to put in the necessary time to do it. I’m been guilty of this many times in my own life. We are all busy.
Seriously, who’s making the time to practice?

Practice is an activity that could be regarded as important, but not urgent. Urgent tasks tend to trump important ones. That’s my only reference to Trump in this blog.

Here are my 3 reasons why I believe most people don’t want to practice:

  1. They don’t really see it as a key or measurable part of their role
  2. They don’t actually know how to practice properly the skill they are working on
  3. They can’t see enough of an immediate benefit. They want it now, not later

If you’d like to become better at anything, be clear on your plan for improving. Think more like Pablo Casals (future self) and less like Homer Simpson (current self). Allocate time to practice and be patient.

Results won’t always be immediate. Persist and before you know it you’ll be making progress.

Posted in Leadership, Presenting; Tagged Leadership, Presenting; Comments 2 ; Posted by Steve Herzberg

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  • greg 03/11/2016 2:40am (8 years ago)

    Hi Steve,

    Great post and totally agree. It's a big part of what I preach as well.

    Points 1 and 3 revolve around one more important ingredient that you haven't mentioned. Measure.

    Take data, measure the change/difference/improvement. This makes it more tangible and helps drive the 'progress not perfection' theme. As Pablo says, still getting better!



  • Ray Fleming 02/11/2016 5:47pm (8 years ago)

    Stunning question. And one I hadn't asked myself recently. I think I've concentrated so much recently on learning new things, that I've forgotten that practicing was what helped me get to where I am at the moment. I need to hit reset on practicing some elements of what I do

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