I recently returned from my last ski trip of the season, and realized that skiing and public speaking have a lot in common.
Since most of my friends don’t ski, I ski by myself and I tend to be a chicken. I stick to the green, or easy slopes, unless I’m with an instructor who can coach me as I wend my way down an intermediate slope.
On my last trip I had been skiing for three consecutive days, lugging my heavy ski boots in a backpack to the slopes, a bit of a walk at over 9,000 ft. elevation. While I generally walk a lot, lately I haven’t been getting much exercise, other than a couple of other ski trips.
On the third day of my trip, I decided to ski more than usual. I was getting a little stiff, but wanted to tackle a small, steeper hill that I had done in previous years. I made a turn and leaned backward (a defensive stance that says “I’m afraid.”) I wiped out – skier terminology for falling. My confidence was badly shaken.
The following day, still reeling from my fall (which was a minor one at that) I went to another peak which required far more walking at a higher elevation. I headed for the easy slope, which had a “Magic Carpet,” a conveyor belt designed to ease kids onto the ski lift. Well, I nearly fell before I could get on the lift. Arriving at the top of the lift, I felt fear and was stiff from overdoing the skiing the previous three days. I was falling into all my bad habits, I had a negative attitude, was not skiing well, and knew it was time to call it quits. I was deeply disappointed in myself.
Upon my return home, I realized that I had forgotten to take my own public speaking advice which could have helped me out. So here are some hints that I learned from my ski trip:
• I do much better with an instructor or a coach who can guide me and give me confidence. So too do many speakers. A coach can help you be your best and give you confidence.
• I hadn’t prepared myself adequately for the amount of skiing I wanted to do. Just like skiers, public speakers have to develop stamina and confidence through a regular practice routine.
• When I got tired, I reverted to old bad habits. So too, it’s easy for speakers to go back to old habits that are comfortable, such as mumbling or speaking too fast out of nervousness.
• I let my fall spook me out instead of realizing that falling and making a mistake is part of the learning process. Public speakers too make mistakes. It’s part of being human, and you have to dust yourself off and go on undeterred.
• After my fall, my body was stiff and tense. When you’re nervous everything closes up and your muscles tighten. Had I taken a minute for some deep breaths, I would have relaxed my body and improved my mental attitude. When speakers get nervous they often tighten up. Deep breathing helps relax both muscles and mind.
Will I let this experience deter me from skiing next year? No way! I have almost a whole year to think more positively, to practice and prepare, to remember to take deep breaths when I ski, and to develop more confidence.
As a public speaker, it’s important to know that you too will make mistakes,. Don’t focus on them. Just dust yourself off, and go on. Who knows how many heights you may conquer if you persevere!