Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

Every Tuesday, I write.

I share an idea I’ve come up with, a struggle I’m wrestling with, a puzzle I’m turning over in my head, or a story that I think the world needs to hear. You can sign up to get these emailed to you each Tuesday morning by clicking here

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Posts tagged speaking
The Power of No

I'm beginning to learn more and more the power that comes with saying "No." I detail how (and why) to say "no" in Simplify Your Life, but I'll admit - turning down opportunities and offers is a constant struggle of mine. But, the feeling of saying "no" at the right time is powerful. Doing so can free you to focus on what matters and focus your energy on the tasks and events you're most exited about.

I wasn't sure whether to detail the following scenario here or in my Speak UP newsletter, but after much thought I concluded that the lessons I learned by saying "no" recently could benefit all my readers.

Last week, I turned down an all-expenses-paid trip to India. To speak. With entrepreneurs. Thousands of them.

I know what it looks like. I still can't help but cringe a bit as I type. I said "no" to a free trip to India to do what I love.

When the offer appeared in my inbox and I followed up (which was then followed by a bit of online research and poking around in my network), I was excited. But then the details began to shake out.

The event was at a time when I really need to be home with family. The travel - while paid for - would be long and not so glamorous. The time I'd actually have in India would be very limited. I wouldn't be compensated for speaking. The media opportunities promised might not work out in the best way. All in all, to have said yes would have been a significant cost in terms of money, time, and relationships.

After digging, it became easy to politely say "no" to this opportunity.

As soon as I hit send on the email declining the host organization's offer, I waited for the onslaught of regret to wash over me. But it never came. I thought I'd soon kick myself for wasting a chance to speak in India, but I never felt it.

I didn't feel regret because saying "no" was the right decision. My mind and body and heart and soul were at peace. I said "no" and moved on.

And here's the power of saying "no" to the opportunities that don't fit. There is no regret when you make the right decision. If the opportunity doesn't fit, doesn't help you, doesn't play to a strength of yours, or isn't all it seems to be, then declining it is okay. In fact, saying "yes" to it could be detrimental to your career, your sanity, or your family.

Best of all, saying "no" reinforces your values, both to others and yourself. When you say "no" to something, you're making a claim about what's important. In my case, saying "no" reinforced my commitment to my family and the time I'm spending to grow my speaking career. Many times, saying "no" conveys what we believe as much as saying "yes" does.

The main trick when we say "no", however, is to move on. Not all decisions will be as easy as mine. Some decisions will be much tougher and we could feel some pangs of remorse after turning someone or something down. In order to fight through that, we have to put the instance out of our minds. We said "no" and the case is closed. We can't look back and wonder.

If we do, we might inadvertently ignore that perfect "yes" that's coming our way.

When have you said "no"? Any stories about saying no and it being the perfectly right decision?

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Speaking Event: Orientation at Christopher Newport University

In just a few short weeks, I'll be visiting Newport News, Virginia for the first time in order to speak to the incoming freshman class at Christopher Newport University. This is my first event booked in conjunction with CAMPUSPEAK. We'll be talking about how to pack as much as possible into the next four years in order to finish college and find who we are in the process. I firmly believe that the point of college isn't to find a job as much as it is to find an identity. It's also a great time to find a cause or a passion that stirs us and motivates us through the next phase of life.

One cool thing I've learned about CNU is that each freshman is given a penny. When they graduate, a tradition is to toss that same penny into a fountain on campus, bookending one's journey as a Captain.

See you soon, #CNU16!

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Great Speakers Commit

Note: I'm excited to announce today that I've created a new weekly email for those who are professional or aspiring speakers. Each week, I'll send you fresh tips, ideas, and resources to help you elevate your speaking game. This content won't be anywhere else online, so sign up for Speak UP today! I think that one of the fine lines between a good speaker and a great speaker is commitment. Great speakers commit to their topic, their delivery, and their audience. Here's what I mean:

Commit to your topic

As I'll be sharing at the International Toastmasters Convention in a few weeks, the best (paid) speakers have a core story, often shaped by who they are. This story then lets them find a niche to market to in order to land paid speaking gigs. While stories and topics can change over time, you can tell when a speaker is committed to a topic. She can recite facts and examples with ease, as if lost in a deep personal conversation. She has a treasure trove of resources and anecdotes at her fingertips because she knows her topic so well. She's up on the latest findings and even has her own opinion of them. She's read all the books on the subject and may be working on one of her own. It's part of her. You know when you've seen this kind of knowledge in a speaker and no doubt it's someone who is truly great.

Commit to your delivery

Michael Grinder, who taught me a lot about public speaking, did a bit in one of his sessions. He was extolling us to watch great politicians or televangelists speak (or preach) in order to observe their delivery skills. He then immediately launched into his most saccharine and charismatic impression of a TV preacher. In no time, the audience was laughing, clapping, and nodding along and his suggestion was burned into our memories. He could have said one line in that voice or with those gestures, but he carried on for a solid minute. It was a risk (we might not have been humored), but he committed to the bit and it paid off in teaching a solid lesson.

When you tell a story on stage, commit to it. Retell it as if you were there all over again. Share with the audience the smells, sounds, and sights going on around you. Use the appropriate facial expressions. Pause when things get hectic to add suspense. Yell when intensity calls for it. Commit to telling a good story and you'll stand out and teach your audience a thing or two.

Commit to your audience

Every time I speak, I make sure to have a detailed conversation with my contact person about the audience. Whether it's a college orientation or a nonprofit conference, I treat each gig as unique. I want to know who specifically (if the contact knows) will be in the room. What has gone on in their collective lives or industry the previous six months? Budget cuts? Transition? Confusion? Success? How old are they? Do they have to be at this event or are the freely choosing to attend? Knowing who's in the room makes my talk more relevant, with better key takeaways for those who listen. Speakers with a one-size-fits-all approach rarely move from good to great.

What do you think makes a great speaker?

What qualities do you admire in a speaker who is outstanding on stage? Let me know in the comments below.

And, if you likes the ideas and suggestions in this post, consider signing up for Speak UP, my free weekly newsletter for professional or aspiring speakers.

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Speaking Event: Daxko's Reach Conference

I'm excited to be returning to speak at Daxko's annual conference. The Reach Conference is a chance for those working with membership-based associations to learn best practices, new technologies, and big ideas in order to grow well. I'll be opening the event as the keynote speaker, helping those in attendance understand Millennials a bit better. We'll specifically be talking about how organizations can market to Generation Y and tell a compelling story to get their attention and consider membership.

I spoke at this same conference in 2010; this will be a fresh look at the next generation with updates stats and stories.

See you soon, Birmingham!

Click here to register for the Reach Conference.

Speaking Event: Connecting for Children's Justice Conference

I'm excited to be keynoting the Connecting for Children's Justice Conference in Nashville this November. Tennessee Children’s Advocacy Centers hosts this major conference each fall, drawing some 700 people from across the state of Tennessee for two days of training, collaborating, networking, and learning. Filling two full days with workshops, the event has a diverse audience, including nonprofit employees, case managers, law enforcement, and legal professionals. This is the largest and most important event of its kind for this audience each year.

I'll be keynoting the opening lunch event, discussing how all of those involved in helping children can better work together. I'll also be leading a brand new workshop on the power of story. How can organizations find their core story - something that supporters can share in order to further grow donors or volunteers?

See you in November!


Speaking Event: American Bus Association

This January, I'll be addressing the attendees at the American Bus Association Marketplace. This is a chance for people in and around the bus industry to get together for learning, networking, and dreaming. I'll have the chance to present three workshops over two days:

  • Why Gen Y? Reaching Out to Millennials in the Right Way
  • Get Smart, Get Strategic: Why You Need a Social Media Strategy Now
  • BRB, TTYL, LOL: Managing Millennials in the Workplace

I'm looking forward to meeting everyone at the event and to having deep discussions about how those in the bus world can leverage the power and possibility of technology and the next generation.

And if you're in Charlotte, drop me a line so we can grab coffee!

What Michael Grinder Taught Me About Public Speaking

One of the highlights of my brief time with CAMPUSPEAK thus far has been attending their every-other-year conference, Huddle. This is a chance for all the speakers on the roster to get together, learn from each other and from experts, and become better at what they do. Keynoting the event was Michael Grinder, someone who bills himself as a communications expert, particularly when it comes to non-verbal communications. And in just five minutes, I'd learned more from Grinder than I had in my hundreds of times on stage.

Many times, we think that the bulk of our impact as speakers comes from our words. Michael showed us otherwise. Sure - words matter, but so do all the things we do when not saying something.

Here's a sample:

  • The first thing out of Michael's mouth was, "The first thing you need to know about me is that I love my wife." This floored the audience. Here was a guy hired to come teach and he begins with his values? But what a way to start it was. Instantly, Michael became someone we admired and trusted, which is important for an audience. A personally invested and connected audience is one that will listen.
  • Michael then carried on along this line, reminding us that it's imperative we know the difference between life as a speaker and life as a husband, wife, or whatever else we are when not on stage. He said, "No matter how good a problem solver you are at work, that's not lovable at home." In other words, most of the time, our loved ones aren't looking for us to spout wisdom; they just want us to listen.
  • "If you're in a bind, stop making statements and start asking questions." This is good with an unresponsive audience or when things get tense at any job.
  • "Make sure your audience walks away with value, not just adrenaline." Great speakers don't just pump their audiences up; they give them something to use.
  • "Influence is not just about power. It's about permission." People need to willingly give us their attention if we're to be successful.
  • "Brilliant communication gets people to be accountable to themselves." This is what is 'motivational' many times about speaking. You're motivating people to believe in themselves, work hard, and be their own coach and hardest critic.
  • "Leadership is comfort with uncertainty."
  • "If you want to help something you say sink into someone's long-term memory, increase or decrease voice volume from the baseline." A whisper can be as effective as a shout.
  • "Speaking 'techniques' are like a match. They aren't ethical or unethical in and of themselves. How you use these techniques determines whether or not what you're doing is ethical." If you're great at speaking, those skills can't and shouldn't be used to manipulate. There's no real impact there.
  • What makes a great speaker isn't whether or not they can employ great skills; it's when they choose to use them.
  • "Our perception of ourselves is the number one thing that gets in the way of our professional development." We can all get better.

What's the best speaking advice you've ever received?

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College and University Keynote Speaker

I'm proud to officially announce today that I'm part of the CAMPUSPEAK family. This fantastic organization helps colleges and universities find relevant and dynamic keynote and workshop presentations for students. Learn more about CAMPUSPEAK here. If your campus or students are in need of a message about leadership, community change, or social entrepreneurship, you can learn more about the keynotes I offer.

I'm excited to launch this next stage of my speaking career, helping university students think critically about their future when it comes to how they will use their lives to make the world a better place. 

Dreaming About the Future and Finding a Job You Love

Some very quick self-promotion today, if you don't mind. First up is a short (less than four minutes) video of me speaking about the future of Nashville (where I live). Give it a look and think about whether or not you're a resident of your city or a citizen (I explain the difference in the video).

And, here's a link to a longer radio interview I did recently, talking about my career moves that helped me get where I am. Give it a listen and see if something sparks an idea within for your next move. (Or, right click to download it and throw it on your iPod for your next 38-minute jog.)

The Worst Thing You Can Do When Giving a Speech

Other than vomiting on someone (which has never happened to me, knock on wood), the worst thing you can do when giving a speech is to tell your audience to be something. I'm not innocent of this. But, having spoken over 500 times in my life on a variety of topics, I've learned that an audience walks away with less when I tell them to be something. They gain a lot more from my time on stage when I tell them to do something.

For example, after a 30- or 60-minute speech, if the audience is left with any of the following key points, my impact on them has been minimal:

  • Be passionate
  • Be yourself
  • Be the best
  • Be authentic
  • Be ready for anything
  • Be hopeful
  • Be honest
  • Be unique
  • Be a leader

While well-meaning, simply telling anyone the above leaves them no different than when they walked in the room before I started talking. Who among us doesn't want to be authentic or passionate or honest?

Instead, your talk becomes more valuable when you offer ways that people can live out any of the above advice. For example:

  • Don't tell someone to be a leader. Walk your audience through a process to determine ways they can lead in an existing job or social setting.
  • Don't tell someone to be unique. Give her a plan where she can discover her strengths and why those are a competitive advantage to her when looking for a job.
  • Don't tell someone to be passionate. Offer him six questions to consider the next time he feels stuck in life.

The speeches we all remember - and the only ones worth giving - don't merely tell people how to be; they challenge us all with something to do. Then, when we set out on the course offered from the stage, we can finally become who we want to be.

Action shapes being, not the other way around. Inspire your listeners to act - this is your chief responsibility when given the privilege of speaking into a microphone.

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Speaking Event: Creativity Moves

I'm excited to announce that I'll be speaking at a brand new event in just a few weeks. Creativity Moves is a new event series beginning in Nashville on May 24. The four-day event is designed to uplift and inspire creative professionals to use their tools and art to make a difference in the community.

I'm speaking on the afternoon of the first day, giving a short talk about creativity, art, and caring. Here's the full lineup of speakers that afternoon.

Check out the entire event schedule and if you're in Nashville, be sure to attend the event. And if you're not in Nashville, don't worry. There are talks already of replicating this model elsewhere.

Here's to staying creative!

Speaking Event: Future Break

On May 12, I'll be speaking as part of the Future Break series, sponsored by Southern Word. This set of performances is taking place this May and June around Nashville asking various performers and artists to imagine the future of Nashville 10 to 10,000 years from now.

I'll be reading an essay I'm writing about this idea on May 12 at 2 PM at the Frist Center. More details:

Hear, see, and feel the possibilities of Nashville's future with spoken word, essays, actors, singers and musicians like Jody Nardone, John Egerton, Barry Scott, Nashville in Harmony, Trish Crist, Jerry Navarro, Raziya, Sam Davidson, Rashad thapoet, Raemona Little Taylor and more!

It's a free event and should be fun. It's definitely more artsy and performance-y than most talks I give, but I'm honored to be a part. If you're in town on May 12, come on by!