3 Hobbies that Improved My Public Speaking
Today, I want to walk you through the 3 hobbies that really advanced my speaking career and revitalized my presentations. Keep in mind, these hobbies have worked for me and may not be the best for everyone but they are universal enough where you’ll probably see some huge wins as well if you pursued them or something similar.
I love to read and it always make me happy to be reminded of that famous Harry Truman quote:
“Not All Readers Are Leaders, But All Leaders Are Readers”
This is crazy true. If I think about all the mentors and best leaders I have had in my life, they were all readers. Every. Single. One. The entire activity of giving a presentation is about output. You are sharing information. You are providing your findings. You are delivering a message. It’s entirely about output. Now, in order to have something to output, you need to input. You need to be collecting new information so you can continue to learn and grow. In other words, you need to be reading.
When I first started my presentation company, Ethos3, I had no prior knowledge about public speaking or presentations. My undergraduate and graduate degrees were in completely different fields of study so what did I do? I read. A lot. During my first year of business, I read about 35–40 books on the topic of public speaking so I could become the expert and ultimately a thought leader on the topic.
The habit of reading not only changed my life. It really changed my career.
As I have mentioned in an earlier video, I’m a triathlete. I love the sport of triathlon and the discipline required to succeed in the sport and on race day. I’ve spent many Saturdays doing long rides of 80–100 miles followed by a long run of 10–20 miles on my Sundays. The weekday workout and especially the weekend variety weren’t always fun but the one thing that got me through it all was the build up of mental toughness.
I credit most of my mental toughness today to the sport of triathlon and endurance sports. When you are 4 hours into a bike ride your body and brain want to quit but you have to keep saying “No” and keep pressing forward. It’s a constant battle but it gets easier. This change of mindset really has improved my public speaking. When you are on the road and have to speak for a half day, full day, or even 2 days where the audience is relying on you to guide them along the way — it is not a sprint — it’s a marathon. Even the process of creating new content and material is a marathon and not a sprint. The headline here is really about mental toughness and I can only thank endurance sports for helping me achieve it.
I picked up the guitar for the first time when I was 16. I quit after a year and revisited it when I was 36. I played for about a year again and then quit — again. My time off wasn’t as long the next time around and I picked it up for a third time at the age of 38 and I haven’t stopped. Guitar for me has never been easy but I have stuck with it (probably more of that mental toughness happening here). There is that whole concept of skill versus talent where some are born with musical talent and others have to earn it. I’m part of the latter. Any song I can play now is not because of talent but because of blood, sweat, and tears trying to master the instrument.
So, what has it taught me about public speaking. A lot. Most importantly, it has shown me the importance of timing. Great musicians have a great sense of rhythm. In other words, they have great timing and pacing. There’s a magical flow that happens that appears almost effortless but there was so much hard work and energy put behind it. They understand how to take you on an emotional journey through process that seems unplanned yet it is quite the opposite. It’s a very scripted process which looks and feels entirely unscripted.
Scott Schwertly is the Founder and CEO of Ethos3 and the creator of Badge, a proprietary presentation assessment tool which helps presenters discover and maximize their presentation style. He is also the author of two books, What’s Your Presentation Persona? (McGraw-Hill, 2017) and How to be a Presentation God (Wiley, 2011). If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run since he is a 2x Ironman, 7x marathoner, and competitive triathlete.