…This is not what I expected
When I first began keynote speaking in a professional context, I had no idea how much it would teach me. Like many other ventures, this career started as a side project in college and grew to become more than anything I initially imagined. I started with the following assets: an idea, a couple phenomenal mentors, and a giddy eagerness to see where things could go.
I also started with some qualities that could be assets if I utilized them correctly, but at that point in my life, they were definitely liabilities. I had a dangerous mix of ability, optimism, and a naive level of self-assurance that bordered on cockiness. In short, I thought I was a natural, wouldn’t need that much practice, and the path to success would be relatively easy for me.
Come on, it’s me! I got this.
Looking back to where I started, I now recognize that I lacked the humility necessary to begin any new endeavor. I lacked an appreciation for the grind it takes to go from ideation to implementation. I lacked an understanding that there would not be any shortcuts, and that perfecting my craft would be a continuous pursuit. It also never occurred to me that maybe, just maybe I was not as good as I thought I was.
After my first presentation, my independent study professor basically told me that I had an A+ idea and a B/B+ level of execution.
I eventually did. I went back to the drawing board, allowed myself the time to let the lesson sink in, and came back more motivated than before.
Since then, I’ve spoken with audiences ranging from elementary school students with parents who were formerly incarcerated, to high school students in Stockton, CA who are making plans for college, to even my own college graduation ceremony. It is through these experiences that I learned much more than just how to present to an audience. In many ways, the lessons I’ve learned through public speaking serve as the bedrock for my other professional endeavors.
Some of those lessons are as follows:
1. When you are just getting started, over-index on saying “yes”
Most often, you do not go from 0 to 100 as quick as you’d like. To be honest, you might not even be ready for the big stage just yet – I wasn’t, and that’s ok. While your big dreams for the future can cause you to overlook the smaller opportunities you start with, those first opportunities are some of the most important ones. Not only do they offer you the chance to make an impact, but also a platform to perfect your craft, get out all the kinks, and beta test different content before the stakes are bigger. Take pride in the fact that someone is willing to trade their time – and sometimes their money – for a talent that has not been proven on a public stage before. That way, you are ready when a bigger opportunity comes knocking.
2. As you master specific skills, they become platforms on which you can build
I like to think of skills as horizontal and vertical. Horizontal skills are the foundations of your identity, while vertical skills are your specific areas of expertise. From my experience, I’ve noticed that as you practice, those vertical skills widen. As you gain more experience, they widen so much that the skill that used to be a singular, vertical area of expertise has grown into a horizontal, foundational skill that you can build on top of. For example, while keynote speaking is a specific skill I learned, using my voice is a skill I utilize in many other areas, such as writing, coaching, at work, and more.
3. It’s not always about being perfect; it’s about knowing what to do when things go wrong
Shit inevitably goes wrong. In one of my first events, I received a phone call in the middle of my presentation. Luckily my phone was on vibrate, so the audience never knew. But in those tense seconds after I felt my right pocket buzzing, I learned how important it was to keep your composure when something does not go as planned. Sometimes you forget your words, sometimes the microphones don’t work, or sometimes the audience is not what you expected. However, if you act as if everything is all good, chances are your audience will believe you.
This is just the beginning…
This list of lessons is not exhaustive by any means. There are many other lessons I’ve learned so far, and even more that I will continue to learn. The future holds more unexpected experiences – for the better, worse, and everything in-between.
Just know that if you are considering a new project, you may not wind up where you anticipated. But, that may be for the best. Stay true to the mission of your work, find value in every opportunity, and continue to challenge yourself as you grow and develop. Who knows? Maybe one day, that side hustle you’ve been working on will become your bread and butter.
About the Author
Wade G. Morgan is a keynote speaker and member of LinkedIn’s Business Leadership Program, a rotational program for early-in-career talent. He is passionate about leadership, athletics, entrepreneurship, and tech, and loves helping people and organizations reach their potential.
This article also appears on LinkedIn and is published here with the permission of the author
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