Arnold Schwarzenegger and little victories

Arnold Schwarzenegger

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 field. Anything. Now think back to the first time you spoke 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.

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 give 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.Embed from Getty Images

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 be like Schwarzenegger and say, “I’ll be back.”

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  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!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International