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Ask This 5-Word Question to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills


If you want to improve your public-speaking skills, all you have to do is ask. Building any skill requires feedback, but many people are reluctant to ask for help.

I was thinking about the topic of feedback recently when I went to the golf range to fix a problem my instructor pointed out. Meanwhile, the guy next to me was swinging wildly, hitting balls everywhere except where he was aiming. He made the same mistakes over and over, growing vocally angry with each swing.

It’s unlikely the frustrated golfer had taken a lesson because no teacher would have told him to practice that fast. In fact, only about 14 percent of recreational golfers take lessons. For some people, ego gets in the way. Nobody likes to be told they need to fix something. The result is that they never reach their full potential.

When it comes to improving their skills, champion athletes, successful entrepreneurs, and top business leaders have a very different perspective than the average person.

They’re constantly asking the following question:

This simple question can lead to dramatic improvements in your public-speaking skills.

Actively Solicit Feedback

I’ve made two important observations in my career as a communication coach. First, the best public speakers solicit feedback. Second, most people are reluctant to offer their input until they’re asked for it. That means if you want to take your public speaking skills to the next level, ask people for their opinion.

For example, I’ve written ten books and have given keynote speeches to audiences around the world. And so people are surprised when I ask them for their opinion on a presentation or a piece of writing. They assume I don’t want feedback, but the opposite is true. I crave feedback because, as one high-profile CEO in his 60s recently told me, “No matter how good we think we are, we can all get better, especially when it comes to writing and speaking.”

Let’s say you’re preparing for an important presentation. Most people are not going to offer unsolicited feedback on your speaking style. I can’t say I blame them. You don’t want to be that annoying person who picks out other people’s faults–especially without being asked.

That’s why you can’t wait for people to give you feedback. Instead, you have to actively solicit their opinion.

Steve Jobs’ Rehearsal Strategy

Asking for feedback is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of confidence. 

Most people assume that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs didn’t care about what other people thought. They’re wrong. I wrote the first book on how Jobs created his now famous product launches. Jobs practiced his presentations like a theatrical performance. He jumped on stage, raised his voice, and gestured like he was speaking to thousands, even though a few people were seated in the auditorium.

Jobs would then walk off stage, lower his voice, and ask the attendees what they thought. He didn’t want to hear what he did well. He wanted to know what he could do better: Did the message need clarifying? Did the slides need to be simplified? Did the demo need to be shorter?

I’ve been in countless practice sessions with CEOs and famous entrepreneurs working on mission-critical presentations. They rarely ask, “How did I do?” That question only elicits positive remarks because nobody wants to be seen as critical of the boss.

Instead, successful leaders ask, “How can I do better?”

You can’t build a skill unless you know what you’re doing right–and what you’re doing wrong. So have the courage to ask.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.


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