Timeless Advice for Trainers, Speakers, and Presenters

“Although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not of.”    -Jonathan Swift

Mr. Swift was right, and thankfully those around us—family, friends, and mentors—can help us both discover and develop our strengths. I have enjoyed many such “voyages of discovery” throughout my life. Today, I’d like to share one of them with you.

Like many people, I didn’t discover my life’s work—or “find my bliss,” as the great Joseph Campbell would say—early in life. In fact, I was in my mid 30’s when I became fully aware of what I really wanted to pursue. Up to that time, I had enjoyed a successful career in sales and marketing in both telecommunications and healthcare.

However, I had always enjoyed creating speeches and workshops and delivering them in the community for free. For example, I created a “continuing education” workshop for a local school district. I also got involved with Toastmasters International—the public speaking organization—while working for my first employer. In fact, I earned the distinction of being an “Undefeated Speaker” in Toastmasters competitions.

One day a man that I knew, Jim DeMoux, who was currently working in the professional development arena as a trainer and presenter, informed me that he was leaving his current employer and forming his own company. (Jim had previously seen me speak and had been very complimentary regarding my “native skills.”) He then asked me if I had any interest in joining him.

I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself. I had recently been doing more speaking and training in the community, and I had been fantasizing about how much fun it would be to do it full time for a living, but I had not known how to go about it.

At that time, I was serving as Sales and Marketing Director for a hospital chain headquartered in Tennessee. I gave them the required notice and started looking forward to my new career.

Since we were a new company, our first priority was to promote our services. My friend and owner of the new company, Jim, told me that I would get my chance to team teach with him, but that we first needed to promote the business. Using my skills in sales and marketing, I threw myself into the work at hand and looked forward to my first opportunity to team teach.

It wasn’t long before that opportunity came about. As the day of the workshop neared, I became both nervous and excited. I wanted to show Jim that his confidence in me hadn’t been misplaced. I carefully prepared and rehearsed. Jim started the workshop, and the participants were obviously enjoying his delivery. During the first break, he said, “It’s your turn Mark. Teach the next module.” I did, and it was an absolute joy! We traded off teaching the remaining modules and concluded the workshop.

After we had packed up all our equipment and cleaned the room, we sat down for a quick break. Jim turned to me and asked, “So how do you think you did today?” Well I wanted to be honest, so I started listing all the things I “could have” and “should have” done better. I then cited some of the things I had forgotten to say. Jim patiently waited for me to deliver my critique, and then he said, “Mark, I ask you once again: How do you think you did today?” I couldn’t figure out why Jim was asking me the same question I had just answered, so I launched into a review of what I had just said. He quickly cut me off and said:

“Mark I’m going to tell you something that I don’t want you to ever forget. ‘They Only Know What They Know.’ In other words, the participants didn’t know what you forgot to say, what you should have said, or what you could have said. Their experiences were based on what you did say. Looking at the evaluations, it appears like they think you did a great job!”

Wow, I thought. I had never looked at the delivery of my speeches or workshops in that manner. “They Only Know What They Know.” I repeated that phrase over and over again in my head.

Since that seminal experience, I have been a much more confident trainer, speaker, and presenter, because I no longer try to be “perfect.” I try to be “excellent” instead. I remind myself that “They Only Know What They Know.” And you know what? I’ve had thousands of participants tell me that my “excellent” was great!

-Mark Swain

Through his company, Daily Renaissance, Mark offers two workshops for trainers, speakers, and presenters:

Creating and Delivering Professional Presentations
World-Class Trainers Wear Three Hats


Mark also offers professional coaching in speaking, presenting, and training.