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[Speaking-Out-Loud January 2016] Do you settle for good or demand perfection of yourself?
January 19, 2016

In this Issue

Done is better than perfect

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On the quest for the best

Happy New Year! It's that season when many of us set out on the resolution trail. This year we will do better. We will practice more, accept more speaking engagements ...

That's all good. However...Yes, there's a warning coming!

There's aspiring to be the best you can be and then there's perfection paralysis. These two are close cousins - separated by a very thin line. Step over it and you'll find yourself trapped, stuck in ready-set ... wait!

  • I need to rehearse just once more.
  • I need to check that this top looks OK.
  • I need to revise the order of the slides.

Ready-set-whoa is a long way from ready-set-go and keeps getting longer each time we stop to fix this, that very important thing, and yet another.

Me and little Miss Perfect

Desiring to be perfect is fine but not if it becomes a straight-jacket, stopping us from doing what we intend to. Then that quest for perfection is a mask for something else with another name. It's called avoidance or procrastination and its root is fear.

This slant on perfection is one I am on nodding terms with. That's a positive change because once upon a time we were best buddies. I wore the jacket, squirmed inside its restrictions, but finally learned to see and call it for it was.

There are endless perfection paralysis variations but these were common for me:

  • Reviewing notes for the umpteenth time in one day
  • Replacing that sentence for this, with no discernible gain
  • Saying key words one way, then that way

All of them appeared as a quest for best but they originated from anxiety about being good enough. Fear.

When will I be good enough?

Am I good enough to stand in front of you and speak?

Am I good enough to deserve your attention?

Am I good enough, period.

There are two things I discovered about the 'good enough' question.

One was that it can never be answered by anybody else other than yourself. No matter how many times other people give you the big two thumbs up tick of approval, if you don't give it to yourself the doubt remains. You'll find some reason to discount their opinion. They're just being kind. Or they don't know what they're talking about any way. And so on. Ad infinitum.

The second was that people don't want you to be perfect. They want you to be you; real, authentic. Yes, they want you to have genuinely prepared to the best of your ability but more? No.

Get real

Too good to be true is just that. It's well oiled. It's slick, even robotic. The human qualities have been air brushed out. What's left is a mechanical performance with no room for genuine connection or spontaneity. An audience on the receiving end of that feels 'done to'. They are witnesses rather than participants and they'll feel your desire for perfection as a wall - a deliberate separation. They may even start looking for the cracks.

If you're investing too much time on a perfection quest, you'll know it. Ask yourself why and listen for and to, the answer.

Getting it right all of the time is impossible. We are human. We make mistakes. Ultimately what's important is not that we make them, but what and how we learn from them.

All you can truly ask of yourself is to be the best you can be. Anything else is futile.

Prompts to remind yourself

Here's three quotations as reminders. You could print, then pin them where you'll see them.

A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.
- John Henry Newman

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.
- Harriet Braiker

Done is better than perfect.
- Mr Anonymous

Let's have a great year getting things done as best we can!

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What's new

How is your teaching voice?
I've been coaching teachers to use their voices effectively - something I'm passionate about as I know voice quality has a direct impact on how children respond. Do you teach?
I've article covering the basics needed to make a voice interesting to listen to. It's here: How is your teaching voice?.

English DNA- the app to help people learn English the pain-free way. English DNA is a small start up company I'm part of and the app we've been working on is ready for testing.

We're excited about its potential, about the scientific research its based on, and that it's finally at a stage for people to play with.

If you'd like to know more, or take our app for a test drive, check out How to learn English the pain-free way.

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And now some inspiration

Here's three offerings. I found the first two compelling. The third is there because it's a useful list of focus points for speakers who want to become the best they can be.

1. "When we walk across this stage some of us shut down statistics that said we would never have taken the first step." - If you have some spare time in your day watch and listen to: Joshua Iosefo's passionate speech on what it means to graduate - to walk the walk.

2. TV writer, producer, and show runner Shonda Rhimes explores two words and decisions that can trip up women public speakers: "yes" and "no". And do check out the Commencement Address she gave in 2014. It is what we used to call something wonderful as children - a "total humdinger". Translated into adult speak that means: provocative, honest, superb.

3. 50 new year resolutions for speakers from John Zimmer's blog "Manner of Speaking".

Comment, share & connect

If you've got comments, feedback or questions you're most welcome to contact me through my about me page.

If you liked this issue of Speaking-Out-Loud, please feel free to send it on to any friends or family. The site url to forward so they can subscribe is Speaking-Out-Loud.

And I'd love to see you on's face book page too.

Until next time,
Happy speaking,


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