Practical Lessons From “The King’s Speech” Part 1
My dad (Gene Smith) is one of my biggest fans and helpers. He is always doing things for me, and offering help in all aspects of my life. Specifically for our purpose here, my father is always searching for, and passing to me articles from magazines and newspapers that have to do with public speaking. Recently my dad found a great article in Readers Digest. Discovered in the Work Digest section, dated May 2011 – the article is titled: “Master Your Presentation, Five Lessons from The King’s Speech.”
If you have yet to see the movie “The King’s Speech,” the film is based on the true story of Prince Albert’s struggle to overcome his public speaking challenges. Not only does he have a stammer in his voice, but like most people, he fears public speaking more than death itself! The movie is both an entertaining, and very real depiction of the struggles most people face regarding the challenges of public speaking – not because of the King’s stammer, but because of the fear he experiences, and the steps he takes to overcome.
Prince Albert, be it begrudgingly, seeks help, and embraces the direction of his teacher…his speech coach!
In the article writer Jesse Desjardins offers five public speaking tips she contends are observed in the film: 1) Have faith in your voice. 2) Admit you need help. 3) Put in the hours. 4) Leverage experience. And 5) Be a true version of yourself. I’d like to offer my own thoughts on each of Desjardins five tips.
1) Have faith in your voice.
I always tell me students, “Exploit your gifts.” Everyone…everyone…has unique qualities and strengths that make them special and individual! And more often than not, people often don’t even realize that even special challenges like a stammer in one’s voice can develop into a very enduring quality to be exploited for personal success, rather than to be ashamed of and silenced. While the King did manage to iron out his words for important speeches, the stammer did not completely leave. But it is the stammer that made him so real to his people. Furthermore – the fact that he could stand up and address millions of citizens with a stammer made him appear to be a fearless and great leader.
I myself have dyslexia. For those of you who are unfamiliar with dyslexia – it means my brain misfires! My thinking is scattered, and unfocussed. My spelling and grammar are atrocious, and my mind refuses to calculate any math beyond that needed to balance my check book. However, years ago, when I realized I wanted to be a competitive public speaker in college – I discovered that the only way it was going to happen was that if I was persistent. I even had a speech coach, after reading my first speech, ask me if I was “retarded”! Thankfully, my parents had instilled in me enough self esteem to shrug off the comment, and the work ethic and drive it took to overcome my challenges. Desjardins ends her commentary on having “faith in your voice” with “The secret here is to persist.” I could not agree more. If you are persistent…anyone…can overcome any unique challenges they might have with their voice (specially the fear of public speaking) and be able to stand up and speak with strength and pride.
2) Admit you need help. In the movie, Prince Albert – who would reluctantly become King George VI, which would mean a lot of public speaking – finally “checked his ego,” and took the advice of his wife, Elizabeth, and sought help from a speech coach. If the Prince had not first, listened to the guidance of his wife, and second, embraced the direction of his coach he might have failed as a King. Thankfully for the people of England, their King proved to be both a humble man, and a respected voice for his people.
After my coach (Marty Tarras – thank you!) asked me if I was retarded, he continued, “kid, you might look and sound good in front of an audience, but if you cant write properly you’ll only get so far.” I did not want to get “only so far”! I wanted to excel. So after some soul searching, I decided to enroll in an English class in an effort to improve my writing. I was at Los Angeles Valley College at the time. It was during my 4th attempt at community college. To my surprise I had to take a placement test to establish which English course I would be placed in. I tested to low, I had to begin with English 21. English 21, is the class following ESL (English as a second language), and did not even count for college credit. It was a humbling experience to say the least! Regardless, I submitted (All the while thinking about the “Kid – what are your retarded?” comment) to taking the class. I am fortunate that I did. English 21 combined with my involvement with the speech team, helped me to learn how to properly structure my thoughts. And thank God for spell check! Anyway – had I not submitted to what needed to be done; had I not admitted I needed help, and sought the help…I would not be authoring this blog. I would not be a full time public speaking professor and speech coach! Most likely I would be bartending or selling something! Marty – thank you for calling me “retarded!” You helped me admit I needed help!
3) Put in the hours. Desjardins writes, “It wasn’t until Prince Albert threw himself into the exercises from Logue (his speech coach) that he was able to progress. There is no substitute for preparation.”
Preparation is the key to success. Not only does preparation ensure effective communication via successful presentation, but preparation also gives you the confidence needed to manage the fear of public speaking. Truth be said, there is no getting rid of the fear of pubic speaking, but you can manage it! The fear of public speaking, also called speech anxiety, communication apprehension, or even glossophobia is most effectively managed by being prepared! I tell both my classroom students, and my competitive speakers the three most important things in public speaking are, “preparation, preparation, and preparation.” I really appreciate the words of my church pastor, Jon MacArthur from Grace Community, regarding preparation for effective presentation – Pastor MacArthur says he “practices neglect.” He neglects everything (his wife, kids, eating, the golf course, everything) until his message is properly prepared. There really is not substitute for preparation!
4) Leverage experience. In the King’s Speech, Prince Albert learned that “Nothing improves pubic speaking like doing it.”
Next to “How do I deal with my fear of public speaking,” the most common question I get from my serious students is “How do I become a better speaker.” The answer is “speak!” If you want to improve with your piano playing, you play the piano! If you want to become a fast runner, you run! Whether it’s basket weaving, or brain surgery, or public speaking – if you want to get better at something…you do it! In the 2008 best selling book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” authored by Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwell contends that anyone can be great at something if they are willing to do the time. Specifically, according to Gladwell’s calculations, 10,000 hours is the rule for greatness. Gladwell offers in his book a wide variety of examples of people who put in 10,000 or more hours developing a variety of skills way before ever being acknowledged for their greatness. In reality most people will not be putting in 10,000 hours of speech practice, regardless however, some experience is much more beneficial than no experience. You should take advantage of any and all opportunities to speak, be it teaching Sunday school, speaking at work, the community center, political rally, or even at a wedding – any and all opportunities mean more time and experience speaking. Every time you speak – you will improve!
5) Be a true version of yourself. Desjardins points out that Prince Albert “spoke to more than 50 countries on live radio. He wasn’t perfect, but he was loved by his people – his stammer humanized him and make him a hero.”
I graduated high school with a 1.9gpa on probation for bad behavior, I flunked the first grade because I could not read, I failed algebra a total of 5 times and never passed it, I failed out of three different community colleges, I even failed the written exam for the LAPD (My father was an LAPD sergeant at the time…). I am clearly not a rocket scientist. However, by the grace of God I have been blessed to realize the value of learning to structure and present my thoughts. By learning and practicing the very basic mechanics of structuring thoughts and information my life have been forever blessed. Furthermore…I own, and make no apologies for who I am – the good, the bad, and even the “retarded!” What you see is what you get. Always be a true version of yourself, while at the same time always striving to improve.
If I had to crystallize a particular theme running throughout Desjardins’ article, it would be that direction, preparation, and commitment are foundational to creating and delivering successful presentations.
Also, I believe Prince Albert is a wonderful example of how people when people focus on their strengths, while at the same time actively acknowledging and confronting their challenges — people can accomplish anything they want to!