To attain excellence, first learn to recognize it

Describing a skill on your resume in a manner that grabs the reader’s attention means credentials or endorsements. The best endorsements are provided by the most discriminating judges in the discipline. In most fields, the criteria that discriminates top-notch performance from mediocrity is not arbitrary, but well-known and accepted. If it is your ambition to be judged as excellent, expect your performance to be critiqued against those criteria, whether you choose to pay attention to them or even acquaint yourself with them. First, then, learn and competently apply them in assessing your own work and that of others.

In photography, an excellent photo must be sharp where it should be sharp. That means discarding many otherwise interesting shots, including this one of four turtles. Most of the 50 photos I took one afternoon looked OK in the camera viewer, but not full-screen on the computer monitor. I didn’t use a tripod and it shows. The statuette nearby is still life, but not the turtles, especially their heads. Even with a tripod, hundreds of attempts might be needed to obtain one photo presenting four well-focused turtles. My impatience won out. I liked the composition and posted the photo at right on my Flickr page. Does it matter? It does if I want to be taken seriously as a photographer. If my personal brand includes consistent excellence, this photo must be discarded, so I reluctantly deleted it from Flickr. And that is the third lesson.

Lesson 3: Learn to recognize excellence, if you want to be judged as outstanding.

What is the application to our presentation-averse introvert from Lesson #1? She rued her decision to decline an opportunity to deliver an important presentation. Over a Caramel Macchiato, she determined to make a serious commitment to acquiring outstanding presentation skills. In Lesson 2, Toastmasters was suggested as a great place to start. Now I am concerned that she may be tempted to pick and choose the criteria that her coach may apply in critiquing her work. Expectations appear arbitrary in an unfamiliar area of expertise. Why shouldn’t the horizon split the middle of a photograph? Because we know that even unsophisticated viewers find such a composition less interesting. Why should a presenter make eye contact with each individual member of the audience? Because you want to connect with your audience and that happens on an individual level. You need not agree. But staring at the ceiling or your notes signals your novice status to everyone in the room.

A competent speaker considers carefully the audience and occasion and:

  1. Chooses and narrows a topic appropriately.
  2. Communicates an appropriate thesis/specific purpose.
  3. Provides appropriate supporting material.
  4. Uses an appropriate organizational pattern.
  5. Employs appropriate language.
  6. Varies vocal rate, pitch and intensity.

These criteria, adapted from a more extensive list provided here by the National Communication Association, were intended to be employed in a formal judging context. But anyone with speaking experience will agree that anyone presenting before a discriminating audience is being assessed against the same expectations. So like them or not, you may as well embrace them and prepare accordingly.

Lesson 3: Learn to recognize excellence when you see it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *