Three Life Practices from a Four-Star General

Stanley McChrystal is a retired United States Army General. Former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has described him as “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I (have) ever met”. His last assignment before retiring was as Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

Stanley McChrystal - United States Army General (Retired) and Author
Stanley McChrystal – United States Army General (Retired) and Author

Today, Stanley McChrystal heads the McChrystal Group, a leadership and management consultancy composed of professionals from the military, academic, business, and technology sectors. He has given an inspiring TED Talk and is the author of Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.

I recently listened to an interesting podcast in which McChrystal had a wide-ranging discussion with Tim Ferriss that covered tactical and psychological lessons from combat, the development of mental toughness, leadership and other issues. The podcast generated a number of questions from listeners. As a result, McChrystal did a second, shorter podcast in which he answered some of those questions.

While all of the questions, and McChrystal’s answers, were interesting, I was particularly intrigued by this one: 

What are three practices from the military that civilians can use to help develop mental toughness?

Mental toughness, or grit, is an essential requirement for success. Nobody goes through life without failures and setbacks. However, the way in which we respond to failures, setbacks, disappointments, loss, etc. has a major effect on what happens afterwards. Having mental toughness helps us weather the storms so that our progress is not derailed.

McChrystal’s three recommendations are easy to understand—not so easy to do.

1.  Push yourself harder than you think you’re capable of. You’ll find new depth inside yourself.

2.  Put yourself (and groups) through (shared) difficulties and discomfort. When you have been through a difficult environment or situation, you feel more strongly about that which to you are committed.

3.  Create some fear and overcome it. It creates resiliency.

When you think about it, each of the three recommendations involves getting out of your comfort zone (physically, mentally, professionally, etc.). And, depending on the situation, you might end up doing all three at once. For example, if you put yourself in a difficult situation, you might be afraid and you might have to push yourself harder than you think you’re capable of to overcome the challenge.

But the advice from Stanley McChrystal is sound. People experience their greatest personal growth when then move towards the things that scare them instead of running from them.

You can apply McChrystal’s recommendations to many aspects of your life, including public speaking. For many people, having to speak in public is uncomfortable, frightening or worse. Even experienced speakers can find it uncomfortable to speak in front of certain audiences, or on a new topic, or in front of a large audience.

How can you apply this to public speaking?

So how, concretely, can you act on these recommendations in terms of improving your speaking? Below are some ideas:

  • If you have no public speaking experience or are very afraid of speaking in public, take a course or join an organization like Toastmasters. You will get experience speaking in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Participate in a speech contest. The farther you advance, the bigger the audience and the more pressure you have to deal with.
  • Speak at conferences on matters related to your field of expertise.
  • Volunteer to give corporate presentations to your colleagues, the Board of Directors or prospective clients.
  • Give a team presentation with some colleagues.
  • Deliver a guest lecture at a university.
  • Give a speech at a wedding reception.
  • Take an improvisation class.
  • Apply to speak at a TEDx event.

Ultimately, the more you challenge yourself with different speaking situations, the more comfortable you will become. And, when you face a setback—you forget part of your speech; the talk falls flat; the equipment doesn’t work—as is bound to happen if you speak often enough, you will be able to learn from the experience, bounce back and move on. In short, you’ll become a better speaker.

Applying Stanley McChrystal’s advice when it comes to public speaking will not only make you a better speaker, it will improve your self-esteem, your self-confidence and your resiliency. And that is something that will help you with any challenge that you face.

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  1. Reblogged this on Life and Random Thinking and commented:

    Funny question, When was the last time your muscles ached?

    I remember a friend of mine who took over my training for a brief time.

    I can clearly remember a day he took me out to park to give me a workout. After running around the park for awhile, he told me it was time for pushups. (oh yay!)

    Being a decade or too younger than I am now, and considerably fitter, I peeled off a respectable twenty pushups. My back was straight, my wrists strong and I lowered down to my nose and back like I was a marine.

    I started to stand up. Whoa!

    Come on Dave, give me five more.
    I slowly lowered myself to do five more, but not quite so steady. I slowly ground out my 4th, and he had his hand on my back holding me there, two more Dave, just two more.

    Those two ground out even more slowly, and again his voice – JUST two more Dave, and I grit my teeth and pulled those two out of somewhere, that darn hand, and that darn encouraging voice, One more Dave, just one more.
    I halfway got that one done before I collapsed in the dirt.

    You know what? I was proud of those sore muscles the next day. Been proud of your sore muscles lately? Challenges do me good, and it’s good to fall flat, and build up.
    remember the poem – The Reward is Within.

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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