Knowing Your Limitations
It would be wonderful if we could truly “do it all” in terms of speech making but it’s essential to know when to realistically say “no, thank you” to a public speaking engagement.
Obviously, you don’t want to do this often; after all, it’s critical to stretch your proverbial wings and try new things. But there are absolutely times when knowing your limitations when it comes to your public speaking abilities is necessary.
Here, we’ll look at indications that a public speaking engagement may exceed your limitations. (Obviously, though, if you’re being asked to speak by a superior, you may not be able to decline!)
1. When the Speech is about an Extremely Technical Subject You Don’t KnowThough it’s possible to give an outstanding speech about a “soft” subject you previously didn’t know well, it’s tough to do when the subject is very, very technical.
For instance, if you’re not familiar with medical techniques and you’re asked to speak on a new medicine or procedure to a group of doctors, you may simply have to decline the opportunity.
2. When Your Audience Knows a Great Deal More about the Subject Than You DoEven if you would ENJOY discussing the topic area, it’s unwise if your audience members are all subject experts and you’re a novice.
Generally speaking, most listeners want to feel that they don’t know as much as the person presenting; therefore, if you are obviously woefully ignorant of a topic (and can’t learn it by the time of the speech), it might be better to politely beg off the offer to present.
3. When You are Quite IllNo one wants to be lectured by a man or woman who cannot breathe well, coughs incessantly, or has trouble concentrating because of poor health.
This doesn’t mean that you should refuse a public speaking assignment just because of a mild headache or the sniffles. But if you have influenza or are suffering from a severe malady, it may be wise to at least defer your engagement until such time as you are well again.
4. When You Already Have Too Much on Your PlateAre you someone who consistently overextends him- or herself? If your plate is already full, the last thing you need is to put something else onto it!
Remember that it’s better to turn down a public speaking experience than to take it, knowing that you’ll do it poorly. Unless you’re willing to remove something else from your overly-packed agenda, skip the speech this time around.
5. When You Don’t Have the ExperienceDon’t have any experience in public speaking? Then be careful which type of speech you choose your first time in front of a crowd.
For instance, if you are requested to present for an entire day and the longest speech you’ve ever given was a 10-minute toast at your nephew’s bar mitzvah, it’s better to say, “No, but I appreciate the offer,” than to desperately try to make an all-day speaking event a success.Though it’s hard to decline offers, especially from friends, colleagues, or persons you greatly admire or respect, it’s best to always know your limitations.
(CAUTIONARY NOTE: Don’t allow yourself to become tempted to use “limitations” as an excuse for NEVER making a speech or giving a public address! The abovementioned hints and suggestions are meant for the person who has already jumped or decided to jump into the world of public speaking, not for the person who is looking for a way out!)