Arnold Schwarzenegger and little victories

I am currently in the middle of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography, Total Recall. It is a fascinating read that offers great insights into the focus, drive and work ethic of the man. Schwarzenegger is not perfect, and he has made his share of mistakes, but his achievements in bodybuilding, real estate, business, acting, politics and philanthropy are admirable and inspiring. (Plus I have a special fondness for the Terminator.)

Working my way through the book, I have been pausing now and then to watch videos online that relate in some way to the section I am reading. In so doing, I came across the interview below. It’s focused on Schwarzenegger’s approach to bodybuilding, but what really caught my attention was when he talked about how he became a more confident public speaker. (The video should start at the relevant part but if it doesn’t, you can skip ahead to 34:57.)

The interviewer asks Schwarzenegger what he would say to someone who wanted to start weight training but was not very confident. Arnold begins by talking about his bodybuilding experience and how the principle he learned in that domain can be applied to anything. From 37:48 to 40:16, he talks about his public speaking experience.

The lesson is clear. The more public speaking you do, the more confidence you’ll have. It’s as simple as that. Think about a skill at which you’ve become adept: playing an instrument; driving a car; becoming a professional in your chosen field. Anything. Now think back to the first time you performed in public, or the first time you drove in traffic, or the first time you met with a client. How confident were you then and how confident are you now? For most of us, the difference will be like night and day.

So start building your public speaking confidence the way you would start building your muscles. In the gym, you would begin with light weights. For speaking, you can begin by giving a short presentation to your colleagues at work or by joining Toastmasters or by offering a toast at a dinner with friends. Another great way is to follow the advice of my friend and fellow speaker, Conor Neill. In this short video, Conor offers a simple, but effective tip that you can use to start speaking as soon as you finish this post.

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Little victories add up and that is what ultimately gives you confidence.

– Arnold Schwarzenegger

From there, work your way up. Take on more challenging speaking assignments at work or in your community. Speak in front of larger audiences. Speak on different topics with which you have experience.

In my trainings, I have my clients give short but challenging speeches in front of their colleagues. They groan when I give them the topics, but they always come through with a good (or great) speech. When they are finished, I can see the feeling of accomplishment in their faces. And even though it was only a two- or three-minute speech, that’s two or three more minutes of public speaking experience under their belt. It all adds up.

So take Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advice and look for “little victories” in your public speaking. You’ll continue to improve, your audiences will appreciate you, and they might even ask you to speak again. If they do, just say, “I’ll be back.”


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Book Review, Psychology of Public Speaking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Arnold Schwarzenegger and little victories

  1. Interesting interview – thanks for sharing, John.

    (Newcastle was my home town, so my ears pricked up when he happened to mention it.)

    I also liked his suggestion near the end for having less sleep – funny, but not necessarily practical. And his lines about Obama and the Pope were memorable, too!

  2. Melanie says:

    Thank you for your articles – they are really interesting.

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