Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Public Speaking Made Me A Better Runner

This was a verrrrrry casual training session with one of my Distributors ...
notice I didn't even take off my jacket, and the attendees look
"completely riveted" to what I'm explaining - ha
Even though I have a Bachelor's Degree in Human Resources Management, I have never worked one day of my life in the HR field.  Weird, I know.  I'm actually a sales rep for a national construction chemical company that manufactures products like curing compounds, concrete sealants, epoxies, waterproofing, stuff for pools, etc.  I deal primarily with architects, engineers, distributors (who sell our products for us), and some commercial contractors.  And while I spend most of my time visiting job sites, and trying to convince other sales reps to stock my products, I also spend a fair amount of time at public speaking events.  These events can be something small like 25 people in an informal  training session over our products, as in the photo.  Or it can be a lot more technical, speaking to a room full of 100-150 architects and engineers about industry standards and technology.  But regardless of the size of the event, I've learned that there are many principles I can draw from public speaking that make me a better runner on race day.

1. Make It Small ... One of the things that has really helped me reduce nervous energy before even the biggest speaking engagement, is to focus on the fact that even though it's a big day for me, it's just another day at work for everyone in attendance.   To most of the audience, I'm just another speaker rambling about his products ... and there will be another "me" from another company, in front of them next week talking about something else.  And for some reason, this minimization of the event has actually helped me keep things in perspective and not blow it up bigger in my mind than it should be ... which is where nervousness comes from.  Translated to running a race ... Even if it's a "goal race", I've really began focusing on the fact that there will always be other races, and whether I do really well ... or bomb ... the world's gonna keep on turning and most people couldn't care less - ha.  Sure, if I do well, I'll probably get a couple of "Great job Jim"'s!  But at the end of the day, it's probably not life changing for anyone.  Keeping the event in perspective has really been a positive step in settling the pre-speaking engagement, and pre-race nerves that waste so much energy.

2.  Don't Get Out Over My Skis ... Some of the topics I present can be fairly technical.  If I'm not careful, I can start to ramble and go down "technical avenues" that I'm not prepared to cover in front of a large group of people.  It's important for me to stay on track, stay focused, and understand that I control the room and can take it in any direction I choose.  This is important in my running and racing as well ... I absolutely have to "stay within myself" to be successful.  If I find myself running a 10K pace in a marathon, it's important for me to dial it in quickly and get back on track. If I run the way I've practiced and don't get out of control, it's typically a good result.  But if I start to run at paces I'm not capable of, the result can be disastrous.

3.  One Mistake Won't Kill Me ... Something interesting I've picked up on from years of public speaking, is that when I make a mistake ... most people don't even notice.  Now, even though I fancy myself as a pretty talented speaker, it's very likely that audiences just tune me out, and I could be inaccurate about almost anything and it would go undetected.  But as long as I don't let it bother me, most of the time it doesn't bother the people in attendance.  This is important for me in running a race too.  When I first started running, if everything wasn't perfect, I would freak out a little.  I would stress about my shoes being a little tight, or my iPod going dead, or my watch tracking my pace incorrectly, or the race being too congested, or one of my splits being a little too slow or fast, etc.  But none of these small things really mattered in the overall outcome.  And I've learned over the years to tell myself, no matter what happens, "This will not affect my race ... just power through it".  It takes some mental toughness at times, but I try to stay as positive as possible and not let these little things become big distractions.

4.  Practice = Confidence ... While I've never been a Toast Master (and have no interest in it), I work very hard at presenting my information better and more effectively than my competitors.  Yes, you know by now I'm competitive.  So as "8th Grade Speech Class" as it sounds, I practice everything I'm going to present ... audibly.  I never want the first time a particular point in my presentation gets spoken out loud to be on the day of the presentation.  So I practice everything.  I also spend time thinking of questions engineers might ask me, and visualizing different settings so I'm comfortable whatever the environment.  I labor over knowing every little intimate detail of the information.  And when I walk into a room to present the material, if I've prepared the way I should have, I have an extreme amount of confidence and know that things will go well.  Similarly, on race day, if I've prepped for almost every scenario possible, and truly put in the work, there should really be no surprises when the gun sounds.  Creating the race condition over and over in practice ... specifically pace ... has been one of the main ways I've experienced success on race day.

5.  Everybody Loves Stories ... Something that's a little challenging at times is making a technical seminar interesting.  But one of the best ways I've found to maintain attentiveness is to share stories or photos from job site experiences, explaining how a particular product worked in a specific application.  I can drone on for hours with stats and calculations that serve no other purpose than a fantastic sleep-aid.  But the second I begin a story from a real-world application, all eyes immediately focus on me and I usually have everyone's attention again.  As strange as it sounds, I try to use this principle in a race too.  After the race is over, I can tell you about my splits, the overall pace, etc ... but pretty much no one's gonna care.  But I if I tell you about a particular interesting person that I ran next to, or something unique about the venue, it seems to impact people a little more.  So as silly as it sounds, on race day I try to keep my eyes and ears open to take in as much as the experience as possible.  Noting the little details about the race as I run, keeps my mind off of how bad my legs hurt or how out of breath I feel, which seems to help me run a little better.  But most importantly, those little details make it so much more interesting for the reader or listener at a later date.

So there they are ... the five main ways that I've related public speaking to running.  I've found that both take a lot of work to be successful.  But if I'm willing put in the time and dedication, it usually results in a fairly successful event.  Hope your week is going well!
... be great today!


  1. Interesting comparisons. I wish all speakers would do more of number 5.

    1. Yeah, I think it just makes it so much more interesting to listen to!

  2. Those are really good parallels. I often think of things in the reverse - rather than use public speaking to make me a better runner/manager/wife etc, I think of how all those other parts of life can make me a better speaker. If you think about it, you could reverse a lot of the points in your post! Going out too fast in a race teaches you to pace your speaking and don't dump information in the first slide; making a mistake in a race didn't kill you, but you have to recognize the error and discover a solution to it; practice speed sessions predicted fast races just as practice speeches predict excellent presentations.
    And thanks for posting this and reminding me that I have a presentation TOMORROW that I forgot all about.

  3. Jim, nice post. I agree running has made me more of a consummate professional as well. I know how to set goals, have confidence in myself and know how to go from point A to point B. Still quite haven't gotten the public speaking down, but luckily as a software developer I've had to do very little.

    1. Thanks Eddie - and the public speaking's not so bad once you get used to it


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