When I attended my very first High Impact Presentations course very early in my career, my instructor didn’t really know what to do with me. Oh, I had the voice and my language was clean of the filler words that plagued some of the other students, but something was off. I had no problem getting up in front of the group and volunteered frequently but when I got up to speak, something wasn’t right. I had the sound, but I didn’t have the look.
At the time I weighed about 315 pounds. I looked like an NFL lineman, only I was way to too slow to play. Every time I stood to speak, embarrassed by my size, I would attempt to shrink or make myself smaller. This, of course, didn’t work, it just left me looking silly. That’s when I got some of the best advice I’ve ever received about public speaking; OWN IT.
You see, I kept looking at my girth as a handicap, and for my health it certainly was, but in the front of the room, it was one of my greatest strengths. Being a BIG man in the front of the room, allowed me to take up more space and dominate my area. It gave me an aura of authority, I just had to own it.
In the time that I’ve spent coaching public speakers everywhere, this the one thing that I see holding way too many would be great communicators back; their ability to own their shortcomings and make them their strengths. Are you large? Great! Own it! Use your size to capture attention and hold more space. Are you short? Great! Own it! You have a perspective different from most and if you embrace it and use it, you can come across as much more genuine. Shy? Young? Old? Whatever it is, embrace it, use it and own it.
Ronald Reagan has a disastrous first debate against Walter Mondale in 1984. He seemed tired and out of his league as it related to the facts of political life. Political writers across the country were filling pages with speculation that he was too old to be President. How could he turn this around? He had to own his shortcoming.
During the second debate, his first question was about his age. He OWNED IT! Turning to the moderator he said:
“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,”
Game over. Landslide won. Even Mondale had to smile about the line. By owning what his opponent was trying to hang him with, he was able to change the narrative and win the election.
Public speaking isn’t easy but we tend to make it way harder on ourselves than it needs to be by trying to be something we’re not. Like a 300 pound guy trying to hide, we just look foolish and nervous. Whatever it is about you that makes you, you, own it. It’s how the great ones get remembered.