Listen to the audio version of this post here.


What If Your Strength Isn’t That Strong?

What do you do when you can’t rely on your number one asset?

When it comes to speaking on a stage, in a meeting, or even in casual conversation, we each have strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths help us make a powerful impression, state our case, and get results.

Yes, all of us have some; one of my missions as a coach is to make sure my clients know their strong suits and know how to make the most of them.

Me? If I had to pick my top strength as a speaker it would be my voice. I have some other natural attributes, and I’ve learned some other skills. But the quality people most often compliment, the characteristic that makes me stand out from others, the feature that was the basis for a 25-year career in radio and for early success as a speaker … is my voice.

Here I sit today, without my voice. Well, I have a voice, it just isn’t my usual voice. I have a cold, and I don’t quite sound like myself.

On the page you’d never know the difference. On the stage … or on the recording that accompanies this particular page, it matters a lot. The people who click on “Listen to the audio here” expect a certain sound, and today, it’s just not there.

(Incidentally, if you never click on “Listen to the audio here,” you should definitely try it sometime. Maybe not today.)

This kind of thing happens once in a while – to all of us.

Maybe you’re known for your depth of preparation. And today, you’re suddenly called on to speak extemporaneously, with no time to get ready.

Or people expect to hear your terrific sense of humor when you speak, and right now you’re talking about something that just isn’t that funny, and you’re not in the mood for laughs anyway.

Or you move masterfully in front of an audience, using the space and your physicality to enhance your message and drive your point home. But you broke your foot, you’re using crutches, and today you’ll have to speak sitting down.

Bottom line, you know what your best strength is. (Or you should, anyway. If you don’t, some coaching is in order.) Now, what do you do when you can’t do that? 

Pull another arrow out of your quiver.

This is why it helps to develop an array of speaking skills … we never know when we might need to draw on something other than our top talent or our natural ability.

As I write and record this piece for you, I’m leaning on language to be very expressive, even without the vocal tone that usually makes my words more meaningful.

I notice that I’m also using slightly exaggerated facial expressions. Although you can’t see me, I learned long ago that communication modalities work together:  people can hear the look on our face.

So, I’m depending on my words, my eyes, and my smile to convey my meaning as my voice falls short a bit.

I hope you’re thinking about your alternate ways to get the message across.

When you can’t prepare and rehearse, what do you fall back on?

When humor would be inappropriate, how do you make your point?

When you can’t use posture or movement or gesture, what do you do instead to enhance your meaning and engage your audience?

Whatever you naturally do well, what’s your back-up plan?

These questions are not rhetorical.

Sometimes I do write questions as a way to engage you. Not today.  I literally want you to go to the blog, scroll down to “Submit a comment” and tell us your top strength as a speaker and what you do when that asset goes missing. 

Two reasons for this experiment. It’s beyond valuable to know—and to acknowledge out loud—what you do well. Claiming your natural talent or learned expertise is a huge confidence booster.

And, it’s always good to have another skill to fall back on.