“Second place is the first loser.” – Dale Earnhardt
“If you ain’t first, you’re last” – Ricky Bobby, Talladega Nights
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” — “Red” Sanders, UCLA Football coach, 1930s.
With quotes like those being broadcast in the world of sports (and applied to other areas rather easily), it’s no wonder that (business) competition results in a cutthroat world where rules are bent and character is challenged. All for the glory of having a larger (or smaller – golf?) number than the competitor.
It was mostly humorous in Tee Ball, where they didn’t keep score, to hear the players say after the game, “We won 10-6!” Apparently the lights on the scoreboard aren’t the only tally of winning.
But contrast those statements to the Olympic creed, the basis for one of the highest levels of competition in the world: “The most important thing… is not winning, but taking part.” While it would be easy to criticize the modern Olympics for having strayed from this foundational motto, the basis of the competition is on participation. That seems so… simple. And leads us to another word I prefer to winning: SUCCESS.
I’ve been a sports fan since my earliest memories thanks to an older brother. I played (poorly) and coached (poorly) while the fire of youth was still present. I was a parent of an athlete for nearly 60 seasons of sports and have spent the last eight years as a trainer and advisor to 3D Institute, helping coaches around the world consider their place in the world of competition and the full development of their athletes. As I have learned and observed the world of sports, I have almost subconsciously taken the principles I’ve learned and applied them to my work in the realm of communication.
I started with the question, “What does winning look like in speaking?” What scoreboard are we looking at? Is it pristine delivery skills, eliminating “ums” and “ahs”, finding better tonal inflection, longer pauses, and managing a room’s space? We teach all those things in our intensive workshops, and we’d say they’re important, but they aren’t our measure of success. Is it great content, organized well, finishing on time, and spoken in the lingo the audience can understand? Critical, valuable, and worth your time, but not the only measure of success. Is it keeping people’s attention through stories, humor, great visuals, and interaction? Again, a vital part of effective communication and worthy of your attention, but not what we deem success. If we can’t define what we’re doing and why, it’s going to be difficult to declare ourselves the victors.
Ultimately, the great thing about shifting from a winning mindset to a success mindset is that the individual gets to define success whereas winning is defined externally – someone else sets the rules that I have to follow. But in success, I get to make the definition and rules. If I want to say that success in speaking is not tripping on the stairs as I climb onto the stage, then so be it! Personally, I’d set the bar a little higher, but the point is this: defining a concrete and attainable measure of success is a great first step in becoming great. Focus on the process more than the outcomes, because so many of the outcomes we want in life (response, contracts, sales, attitude) are out of our control. I prefer to focus on the things I can have some influence on.
This is where most of our coaching engagements start: defining what you want to accomplish. The most common reason for coaching inquiries is “I want to feel more confident”. But confidence is often elusive, and confident people can be terrible communicators. I’ll try to convince you that confidence is a rather poor objective or measure of success. Considering success rapidly leads to objectives — the outcomes desired from our communication. These are thoughts worthy of considering before that next email, meeting, presentation, speech, or pitch. What do you want from your audience when you are done communicating? That simple question can lead to clarity, focus, and brevity in your communication.
What’s your measure of success? Communication matters, what are you saying?
Many of these thoughts are the basis of my keynote Winning Communication: Strategies to Connect and Convince. You can see another sample of a keynote based on similar concepts, The Four Questions, here. Contact us to schedule delivery to your team or organization, or inquire about personal coaching or group training for your team.
Communication matters. What are you saying?
This article was published in the June edition of our monthly speaking tips email newsletter, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today to receive our newsletter and receive our FREE eBook, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.” You can unsubscribe at any time.