This week I gave a prepared speech at my Toastmasters club. The topic of the speech was how I adjust my communication style to adapt to the needs of others.
It was a well structured speech, competently delivered. Several of the people evaluating my performance pointed out strong positive points and areas where I have been making strong, consistent improvements. I knocked it out of the park. It was great. They really loved my use of imagery. My confidence, presence, my command of voice and body language were superb.
The most consistent recommendation for improvement was meeting the needs of my audience. It reminded me of that old Foghorn Leghorn cartoon in which the old rooster expounded at length on how good he was at shutting up.
I could say I did the best I could. I was tired, with low reserves to draw from. As an introvert, I find performative engagement draining. The larger truth is more painful: I made mistakes and have been handed the gift of specific areas where I need to build stronger patterns to connect with individuals and groups.
I like to think of myself as someone who goes beyond active listening to taking others’ needs and expectations into account when planning for and following up after an encounter as well as during the interaction. I messed up this speech in ways that belie my values. I started with a hook that was entertaining but didn’t build a connection. I used eye contact inconsistently. I put in more detail than the audience needed. I let the opportunity to inspire my audience pass by so I could tie my story up in a neat little package that gave me a satisfying conclusion.
One of my fellow Toastmasters gave a speech this week on logistics. He did a great job of understanding and meeting the needs of an audience that does not share his passion for the subject. His performance and dozens of others I have seen and will yet see show me how I can improve. In time, with practice and guidance, I can build habits strong enough to consistently meet those needs even when I’m not at my best.
I refuse to let myself slide into a pattern of taking care of my own needs to the exclusion of building and maintaining community and connection. I can put my own oxygen mask on first and attend to the needs of others.
Is there an area in your life where your recent action or inaction betrays your values? Make a plan to change, or “that’s not who I am” will ring hollow.