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Gifts that keep on giving

Davis & White's medal-worthy performance at Sochi OlympicsRecently I was having a conversation with a dear friend who confided in me that she could never be a good speaker because she lacked the "gift." Before I could respond the conversation shifted. But the question lingers: why do we continue to believe the fallacy about the preeminence of "giftedness" when people are really good at something? We know, for example, that Team USA's ice-dancing stars Meryl Davis and Charlie White have been training together for 17(!) years, but we still think that being "gifted" is the primary ingredient for their success. I am not saying that their talent isn't part of the equation, but I know many extraordinarily talented people who are not anywhere near the top of their professions. Talent is just the beginning.

Most of us try a sport, hobby, or profession because we feel an affinity for it; it's something we find we're good at. That initial talent provides the spark, but hard work and discipline fan the flame of later success. Watching the Olympics I imagine that the long journey each of athlete there began with at least a few easy steps. What separates these world class competitors from the rest of us is their willingness to push themselves when it stops being easy, to put in the hours and years of hard work, to dedicate themselves almost single-mindedly to their sport. 

But I can't do that
Why do I compare Davis and White to my friend, the  reluctant speaker? It's simple, really. We start producing speech as toddlers, and by adolescence we already have been told we possess "the gift of gab." Or we "know" we do not. But the truth is anyone who has the ability to talk possesses the raw material for becoming a great speaker. Wanting to do it, though, is something else. I can help anyone develop a personal road map to speaking success. But by the time clients reach me many of them have fixed (often negative) ideas of their speaking ability. And it's hard to shake. They find it difficult to believe that shyness, introversion, even poor vocal production can be overcome. They need convincing that the skill of dynamic speaking can be taught--and mastered. It's not magic, but it does takes a perceptual shift, combined with discipline, and its more mundane cousin, effort. As Thomas Edison said "Ninety-eight per cent of genius is hard work."

So next time you watch those Olympic skaters, skiers, hockey-players, and bobsledders, think about the lifetimes they spent developing their initial "gifts" into world-class skills. It makes the time you will spend preparing and polishing your next speech seem like a walk in the park, indeed!

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