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Posts in Speaking
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!

Speaking Event: Toastmasters International Convention

I'm very excited to announce that I'll be speaking at the Toastmasters International Convention this August in Orlando. This is a gathering of thousands of speakers who are seeking to get better at their craft. My session is:

From Public Speaker to Professional Speaker: What’s Your Story?

Become a professional speaker by developing a personal story — one with an authentic and useful message for audiences. Sam, a professional speaker and entrepreneur, helps you understand the core elements of a good personal story and discover ways to turn that story into marketable speeches. He explains how to:

  • Find your voice and tell a story that is authentic, timely and relevant
  • Define your niche market and advertise yourself within it
  • Create speaking opportunities for yourself

If you've ever wanted to hone your speaking skills, your local Toastmasters organization is a great way to do that. This convention in August is also a great way to soak in lots of information that will improve your skills on stage. See you in Orlando!

All Great Presentations Are the Same

If you speak to any sized group (or will soon), an investment of 18 minutes to watch this TEDx video is well worth it. Nancy Duarte (whose company has designed some of the most memorable slide decks in the world) shares how you must tell a story well. (Thanks for Kneale Mann for the find.)

Imagine that - speeches by Jobs and King follow the same trajectory.

Yours can, too. Help your audience imagine the world that could be and you'll engage them, inspire them, and have them telling others about you and your vision.

Main stages are for sharing big ideas, and there's no bigger idea than a glimpse of how the world could be.

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Finishing Well [Video post]

Starting things can be an exciting process; the newness, the frenzy, and the unpredictably is often intoxicating. But, finishing things is just as important. I think our legacy depends on it.

In the clip below, I share a story of why we need to finish well. The things you're working on right now matter more than you may realize.

Can't see the video? Click here.

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What Not To Say

I'm keynoting the National School Foundation Association annual conference in just a few hours, which means I'm in the review stage of getting my speech in order (I'll detail my talk prep process in a future post). But, when it's nearly go time, I like to remind myself of things not to say. In addition to making sure I get rid of the "ums", I also avoid the following phrases. Each is useless and sloppy. You should definitely get rid of these when you speak on stage. If you also eliminate them from everyday use, then bonus points to you.

Things you should never say in a speech:

  • At the end of the day - This is a needless phrase that takes up time and space. If you need a transition, just say "In conclusion..."
  • All in all - When you string these three words together, you're not saying anything. Try it. Use it in a phrase and then use the phrase without. Did you enhance anything?
  • It goes without saying - Then you shouldn't be saying it.
  • One thing led to another - One thing always leads to another. That's how life works. If something is this obvious, you don't have to point it out to your audience so blatantly.
  • To make a long story short - In the history of words, everyone who has said this has done so once their story was already too long. If you find yourself using this phrase, stop talking because chances are good that your listeners have already checked out.
  • It is what it is - Of course it is. It can't be what it isn't. That would defy the logic of physics. It always is what it is, Captain Obvious.

Watch your language the next time you speak and get rid of these lazy cliches to sound more professional and polished.

What else doesn't need to be said ?

What would you add to this list? What lazy or overused phrases need to go?

Speaking Event: Auburn University at Montgomery

I'm very excited to announce that in a few weeks (during Earth Month), I'll be speaking in Montgomery, Alabama, for an event during Earth Week at Auburn University at Montgomery. It's been fun and refreshing to work directly with students who have put this event together on their own. At 6:30 PM on Thursday, April 19th, I'll be speaking about how and why going green can (and should) be easy. The talk is titled "Kermit Was Wrong: Going green IS easy" and is open to the public.

So, if you're nearby, come and join us for this free discussion. They'll be some great refreshments, too, I'm told.

Why I Like Public Speaking

I meet more and more people who want to become speakers. Whether they want to make a full career of it or they simply want to leverage speaking opportunities to get more business for their company, it seems like many people are trying to break into the public speaking world. I was recently asked by someone what the most exciting thing about public speaking is for me. What is it that makes me want to stand up in front of 5 or 500 people and say something?

It's not being on a stage. There are plays and musicals that could accomplish that for me. (Okay, maybe not musicals.)

It's not saying something. I can say things in any other venue, including talking to myself.

It's not to earn a living. There are plenty of ways I could make money.

It's not to travel. In fact, when I travel, I'm known to be gone for as little time as possible, sometimes catching a red eye back home.

It's not to sell stuff. Speaking appearances don't always convert into sales.

Why do I like public speaking? Because I like to share an idea.

To me, this is where the difference lies between public speakers and professional speakers. Technically, if you say anything, you can be a public speaker. But if you share ideas that can make people think, then you have a chance at earning a living. Discover a big idea and share it.

Lou Heckler said:

Workshops teach skills, and speeches are designed to prompt thinking.

If you're on the big stage, you need to prompt thinking. And this what I love to do. Whether I'm blogging, writing a book, or standing on a stage, I like to share ideas.

If you want people to clap for you, go play kickball. If you have something to say, start saying it. You'll find the stage eventually.