Don’t Take Speaking for Grant-ed!
“In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins.” – Ulysses S. Grant
A speaker friend of mine and I are history buffs. He told me recently about the three-part PBS series on the book, “Grant” by Ron Chernow. I happened to have the book and have read a few pages, but it was not until I started to listen to the audiobook (I will be listening for a while.
The audiobook is over 48 hours) that I realized we speakers can learn a few things from Civil War General and President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant.
Resist the Urge to Boast
U.S. Grant’s father, Jessie Grant, was a very boastful man. He was always talking of his and his family’s triumphs. Grant’s mother, Hannah Grant, was quite the opposite. She was self-effacing and preferred to be in the background of her husband.
Fortunately, U.S. Grant followed in his mother’s footsteps. He never sought the limelight and fought battles in the Civil War to get them over with as soon as possible. U.S. Grant never celebrated a battle victory and never sought the adulation previous Civil War generals did.
As speakers, we strive to give our audiences something they can use to improve their lives. However, there is a fine line between doing this and boasting to your audience about how much you know about your subject. You should make every effort to be humble when you speak.
This is sometimes easier said than done. The focus of all your presentations should be your audience and not yourself. Believe me, audiences can pick out a boastful speaker very fast. Don’t be one of these boastful speakers.
Don’t Tell Them, Show Them
During the Civil War, the Confederate General Robert E. Lee said, “I’m afraid they’re going to get me a general I don’t understand.” in reference to the “revolving door” of Union commanding generals. Well, he finally got that general he did not understand in General U.S. Grant.
General Lee’s thought that if his Confederate forces inflicted enough casualties on the Union forces, they would retreat and eventually the Union would sue for peace with the result that the Union would be split in two – USA and CSA (Confederate States of America).
Before General Grant was appointed to lead all Union forces, previous Union generals would try to minimize Union forces losses. However, Grant did not let a great number of Union casualties affect him. Because of this, the Union’s superior number of forces and its ability to swiftly manufacture war-fighting equipment, the Confederacy was doomed to lose.
Here is the speaking point of this bit of history – General Grant was short on words and long on action. He didn’t tell General Lee what he was going to do. He just did it. Think about the parallels when you are speaking.
It is the outstanding speaker who can show through exercises, Q&A, props, etc. the points he or she is trying to convey in his or her presentation. Audience self-discovery is always more powerful than anything you can say in your presentation.
Never Give Up
General Grant never gave up on a battle. He started in the west in the Civil War in Mississippi and Tennessee. With a string of victories General Grant built a reputation as a General not afraid to press his advantage in a battle especially when he had the enemy on the run.
Preparing a presentation can be an arduous task. There will be at least a few moments and maybe many when you “hit a brink wall” and don’t know what your next step is with your presentation. Make a resolution now to not give up. Now, not giving up does not mean that you keep at it if you have no idea on how to proceed.
My best advice is when you “hit a brick wall” to work at it for a half hour more to see if you can have a breakthrough. If you are still stumped on which way to go, stop working on your presentation and go do another activity. This other activity could be taking a walk, shopping at a local store, or working out. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is different than developing your presentation.
Quite often, my best ideas come from a long walk or reading a novel, or going to buy a gallon of milk at my local grocery store.
When you get back to developing your presentation, you will likely find you have breached your “brick wall” and can continue to develop your presentation.
In summary, the characteristics of General and President Ulysses S. Grant that can teach us about speaking are: (1) Don’t boast when you deliver your presentations. (2) Don’t just tell your audience your main points; show them. (3) Never give up on your presentation.
Call to Action
- Don’t boast when you deliver your presentations. It only turns off your audience.
- Illustrate your presentations main points through exercises, Q&A, props, etc.
- Never give up on your presentation. Your mind is a gold mine. Mine it for all it is worth.
“There are but a few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.” – Ulysses S. Grant