What’s the one thing that truly scares you — professionally or otherwise?

By Steve Moran

A warning before you read this: As you know, to read what I write at Senior Housing Forum is to know Steve Moran. You get the passion and mistakes. This one is intensely personal and I offer it up for those of you who need a dose of hope.  

I recently posted this question in the Senior Living Leadership group on Facebook: What’s the one thing that truly scares you — professionally or otherwise?” My answer . . .

Not Being Good Enough!

There is no place where this has played out more than as a public speaker. My very first speech was at a senior living C-suite event and it went very well. I had good speaker ratings and a bunch of people came up to me after I spoke to compliment me. It felt really, really good.

And from that point on it was all downhill — and not in a good way. I hit bottom about 18 months later when I did a presentation at CALA (the California Argentum affiliate) where I talked about lessons learned in touring communities. I had more 1 speaker ratings than I could ever imagine possible.  

It was not that I did not have the audience completely engaged because I did. Except that I was so blunt I was insulting and I admittedly deserved the low ratings I got. I was so insulting I actually made it impossible for learning to take place.   

It was such a reality check for me that I actually took a year off from doing any public speaking — not a panel, not a breakout, nothing.  

Speech Coaches

After that experience, I started working with a series of speaking coaches, spending a bundle of money on this effort along the way, with all being helpful in some way or another. I started to get a few requests to speak and accepted them with some level of trepidation. And those speaking engagements went okay, but they were not good enough.  

Making all of this more painful was that two of my best buddies — Denise Boudreau-Scott and Dennis McIntee — were just knocking it out of the park on the speaking circuit. They were so good and made it look so easy . . . though I knew that behind the scenes they have both worked very hard at getting it really right.  

Their goal was and is to deliver great value to the organizations that hire them. They both completely deliver on their brand promise.  

While my speeches were adequate, they were not spectacular. I was still not good enough.

Washington State LeadingAge

Then Pat Sylvia reached out to me about being the closing keynote speaker at LeadingAge Washington and we came up with the topic, “How to Be the Leader Everyone Wants to Follow”.  A topic I am really passionate about.

I made two big decisions. The first was no Powerpoint slides and the second was a single page outline. Actually, I made a third decision and that was that if I did not do a good job on this speech I was going to finish up my already committed speaking engagements, and call the keynote thing a failure. I pulled from other presentations and rewrote the speech in my style, my way. The structure was much simpler than anything I had worked on. A few Powerpoints and some powerful, life-changing stories. I wrote it, then practiced it . . . edited, practiced . . . had others read it . . . practiced some more . . . until finally, I felt it was as good as I was going to get it.  

I suspect if Pat knew my angst she would have been horrified that she hired me.

The Event

I got there a day early and sat in on another keynote. It did not help a single bit. In fact, it made me even more nervous. He was so funny and entertaining, I was worried I wouldn’t measure up.

The morning of my keynote arrived . . . and it was really cool because, for the first time, I was on one of those little table-top tent things — complete with my picture on it as the closing keynote speaker (and yes, I even saved one just to put it up in my office).

Then my introduction came . . . I walked onto the stage and while it was not perfect, it actually turned out really, really good. The audience laughed at my jokes, they nodded their heads at the lessons, and appeared legitimately engaged. (Really? Was this really happening? Did I actually finally achieve my goal? Or maybe they were all still in a before-coffee coma state?)

In the end, I had a number of people come up and thank me for the message and lessons. Someone even stopped by to complain that she had to go fix her mascara due to one of the stories being so touching. (Wow! Did I really do that?) Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to tweak it and it will get better, but just for a moment — that wonderful brief moment — I actually felt like I did a great job. There was laughter and there were tears (the good kind, not the “this guy is really terrible kind” . . . I think anyway). For me, the key was how engaged the audience was . . . and in that moment I felt connected. I felt useful like I actually shared my message and made a small difference.

I cannot tell you how good it felt.

What I Learned

Some lessons I learned . . .

  1. Be honest with yourself about how good you are. It was so painful when I bombed in California, my home state, but I faced up to it and owned it. I could not have improved without owning it.

  1. I listened to all kinds of other speakers to see how they practiced their craft. I learned from them and used what I learned to be me not them.

  1. I did it my way because it was my speech and my personality. I know I broke all kinds of rules that I was taught by my speech coaches and yet I also believe they would all 100% applaud what I did.

  1. I was actually funnier than I thought, in large part because I embraced my own unique weirdness.

In the end, it was worth the pain and the embarrassment. There were so many times I wanted to give up, but I kept going . . . and I can say now, it was definitely worth it.

So trust me, even if you suck at baseball — keep practicing! Sooner or later you will knock it out of the park!