I didn’t think so when I was 19.
When I was 17, I was voted to be speaker at my high school graduation. I procrastinated endlessly and then wrote the speech the night before, editing it on the way to the actual ceremony.
I did have some nerves, but I felt pretty confident in my ability to make everyone laugh and get my point across. And I did pretty well. Listening back to it years later, I definitely spoke too fast and mumbled a bit, but the audience was engaged and it was a good experience.
So when I took “Intro To Public Speaking” in college, I approached it in the same cavalier manner and wrote a half-hearted speech the night before class.
It only took a couple lines for me to realize the mistake I’d made. My first joke was met with dead silence.
The inability to connect with my audience triggered a negative internal feedback loop. My self-confidence quickly dropped to zero as my memory started drawing blanks. I started sweating and my breath became shallow.
I did slightly better the next speech, but ended up with a D in the class.
A couple years later when my uncle was talking to me about the importance of clear communication, I told him that I’d always been a great communicator.
“Josiah, I don’t think that’s true,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a difference between being charismatic and being a good communicator.”
To be honest, at the time I really didn’t understand that, but he couldn’t have been more right.
The truth was that for my whole life I had confused my charisma and charm for communication skills. But in the years following that discussion, I began to notice that when I found myself in tough situations, those things inevitably failed and I was left without any tools.
When the pain of poor communication became so great that I could no longer ignore it, I began to take the study of communication seriously – and the rewards I’ve reaped have been astronomical.
The two most important books I’ve read about communication are:
What are your favorite books or concepts about communication?