Who Should You Emulate?

My speaking hero is Zig Ziglar.

When I was first learning to speak formally, I had this great idea that, if I could just emulate Zig, I could be a great speaker too. So, I began studying his talks, learning some of them word for word. I practiced his mannerisms and his jokes, and I began to speak like a Zig Ziglar clone.

Imagine my surprise when people didn’t respond as well as I thought they would when they expected a Steve Lowell presentation, and got a Zig Ziglar impersonation instead. And a poor impersonation, at that! I even attempted to mimic Zig’s southern drawl from time to time, and I believe it didn’t go over very well, since it was exacerbated by the fact that I’m Canadian, eh! I’d be at some meeting in the Great White North, speaking like I was fresh off the train fromYazoo City,Mississippi!

It wasn’t long before I realized the world wasn’t interested in me being a Zig Ziglar impersonator. Now, an Elvis impersonator, maybe, but alas, I realized I needed a new persona.

That’s when I discovered Tony Robbins. Now, here’s a guy I could imitate! He’s cool, people like him and he has no drawl. I thought, “I can do that!” So, my new persona came out as Tony Robbins on steroids. When I spoke, I’d blast onto the stage at warp speed, puff out my puny little chest to make myself look huge, and then I’d whoop and holler as I bounced around the stage, screeching about goal setting and self-image. All this time, I had a lousy self-image and no clear goals for myself. Then, one day it hit me. Who was I trying to kid? The more I tried to be like the successful speakers, the less successful I got.

I spent some time working on my own self-image, trying to discover who I really was, and what I really stood for. I struggled with all the rules I was being taught about speaking, because none of it felt natural, none of it felt right to me. When I became an instructor with a major training organization, I was pressured to follow the rules they laid out as to how I presented myself. The way I spoke, the words I used, the way I stood. I was being molded into a genetic clone of all the other trainers employed by this world-wide company, and I complied. My new persona became that of a robot, mechanically programmed to comply with the company’s procedures for speaking and training.

After a while, I began asking myself, “Why? Why do I have to stand like that? Why do I have to use those words and not my own? Why can’t I just be myself when I’m speaking or instructing?” I became fed up with the pressure to conform, the pressure to follow someone else’s rules because they said I had to, and I decided to move on to something better.

At this point in time, I discovered something that changed my life forever. I discovered who I am and what I stand for. I believe our responsibility is to use our freedom of expression to present ourselves authentically, and let our experiences enhance the lives of others.

Notice that I said “responsibility” and not “right.” The reason I view our authentic self-expression as a responsibility lies in the fact that I believe we’ve all been given the gift of taking a journey through life, not only to evolve our selves, but also to contribute positively to the growth and evolution of others. If we gather the lessons and wisdom gained from our lives, but don’t share those lessons and that wisdom through our words and our expressions, no one else will have benefited from our journey.

So, when questioned about who you should emulate, the answer is no one. Yes, you may select a few specific traits or mannerisms from your heroes, and mold them into an effective delivery to enhance your own style from time-to-time, but, above all else, be yourself.

So, what’s the lesson? Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

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Don’t just play the notes; play the music!

My wife, Sharon, is a piano teacher. She teaches students of all ages and all skill levels. One of her students is a teenage prodigy named Jordan.

At a recent recital, I sat in the front row and Jordan was performing an original piece of music. I was captivated by this young man’s music, but even more so by his physical representation of it.

As he played, Jordan’s eyes were closed. His hands floated over the keys, as if they were gliding on butter. His body moved with the tempo, his head swayed with the rhythm, and his facial expression clearly displayed what he was feeling as his own music came to life.

When the music became very quiet and mellow, Jordon’s head dropped close to the keys as if he was listening to the sound of each individual key being pressed. He moved slowly and gracefully with the sound.

Then his back straightened, his eyes opened wide, and his face contorted into an expression of intensity as the crescendo built and the climax struck.

The music slowed down once again, and his head went down close to his hands again. As he reached the closing notes of his work, he let his right hand drift past the end of the piano and into the air as if to whisk the music off to heaven.

A long silence followed as Jordan slowly stood to take his bow. The audience began to rouse from the musical trance in which they had been locked, and, to a standing ovation, young Jordan claimed his accolades.

Any musician will tell you there are those who can play the notes, and those who can play the music. As a speaker, you need to say more than the words; you need to live the message. Your message to your audience isn’t in your words; it’s in your heart. Open your heart, free your authentic self, and get lost in your message, just like Jordan got lost in his.

When you can do THAT as a speaker…well…that’s when you can change lives!

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Why Chronology isn’t Always Important in Storytelling

In my courses we work a lot on storytelling. We do this because there’s a greater impact on an audience when they accept a point and frame it into a well-told story. There are many neurological reasons why this happens, but for the purpose of this chapter, suffice it to say that a powerful way to make your point and to have an impact is through your stories.

The most common approach I see in my courses is for a speaker to provide an entire history of the situation, to establish the characters and events before they actually get to the meat of the story.

When you’re planning your talk and you’re including a story (and I recommend that you do), give some thought to where the story actually begins, and bring the audience to that point right away.

Ask yourself, “When did it happen?” This will help you zero in on the best starting point for your story. Then, flesh in the important details from the event as they’re required to round out the story.

Oftentimes, my students will tell me they have information to give that isn’t part of the story, but is important to the story, and they think the audience needs to be given all of this information in chronological order. The important thing to remember is that when telling the story, chronology isn’t always important. Get right to the point and fill in the blanks as needed.

In my book “From Stage Fright to Spotlight” I tell at least a dozen different stories and if you re-read them, you’ll notice that each one begins by stating a year or timeline. Each one answers the question “When did it happen?” This isn’t the only correct way to tell a story, but it’s an effective way that works. And it makes the story easier to tell.

So, what’s the lesson? When telling a story in your speech or presentation, get right to the point of the story. Chronology usually doesn’t matter.

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Do you use lots of technology when you speak?

Do you use lots of technology when you speak?

I try to avoid the use of technology when I can…here’s a little podcast that explains why!

I know some speakers who just love technology and some of them do amazing things with it. I have also seen some speakers get just pummeled when their technology fails.

Sometimes speakers get totally stuck and paralyzed, sometimes they sail right through is if nothing ever happened.

For me, I need to carefully weight the risks of using technology against the benefits…sometimes it’s worth it…other times…not so much!

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You Never Know Who Is In the Audience

It was in the 1980′s and I was on the road with the band in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Three of us headed to a Laundromat, to get our laundry done. We were always joking around, and making fun of ourselves, whether on the stage, or off the stage. The Laundromat was mostly empty, with the exception of the three of us, and one older man, who was sitting alone at the other end of the room, engrossed in his book.

We were all wearing our band jackets, with the name of the band, “Midnite Sun,” emblazoned on the back, and with our individual names on the shoulders. We were goofing around, and making fun of each other, as was usually the case. Then I decided to give our agent a call from the pay phone, because we’d had a cancellation for the following week, and he was working on finding a replacement gig.

I spoke with him on the phone for a few minutes, and then announced to my band mates that after we were done in Thunder Bay, we were off to a place called Assiniboia, in Saskatchewan. Who’d ever heard of such a place? Certainly not us, and so we made jokes about the name, and how it must be a little hick town, along with all the other wisecracks that young men generate.

The next morning, the front page of the newspaper held a headline that read, “Midnite Sun En Route to Assiniboia.” The page was split in two columns. The first column talked about our silly antics in the Laundromat, and the second column gave a short history about the town of Assiniboia, Saskatchewan.

The older gentleman in the Laundromat was a reporter, and he wasn’t reading his book, he was writing in it. He had quoted some of our silly wisecracks, and explained how he’d enjoyed watching us have our fun in the Laundromat.

That evening, we broke the all-time attendance record at the venue we were performing in. There was a lineup of patrons wanting to get in, and it stretched out the door and down the street.

You just never know who is in the audience whether you’re on the stage or not.

Last year a client of mine was speaking at a local event here in Ottawa and someone from the Dr. Oz show heard her speak and invited her down to be a guest on the show.  Imagine that!  A national television appearance from a single speaking gig!

Any time you’re in public, especially when you’re on the stage, you never know whose eyeballs are taking notice.  Take this thought and do with it as you will.

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How are Speakers Making Money?

Do you know how speakers are making money these days?

Here’s a little podcast on how speakers are finding new ways to cash in from the stage

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Motivational vs Inspirational Speakers

Today a friend of mine from South Africa; professional speaker Nicky Abdinor posted this on Facebook:

“What’s the difference between an inspirational speaker and a motivational speaker? (I’ve just read an interesting explanation on a website, so would love your opinion)”

Here was my response:

“Great question…Off the top of my head I’d say a motivational speaker gives you a temporary sense of empowerment by providing a vision of what’s generally possible. An inspirational speaker is one who reaches you at the visceral level, changes your beliefs about your own purpose and compels you to take action at a level you never thought possible.”

Then she posted the quote that she was referring to from another speaker’s website:

“Motivational speakers not only engage the audience while sharing best practices, but also draw on life experiences and lessons ensuring the audience is kept entertained. The difference between an inspirational speaker and a motivational speaker is sometimes quite subtle. Where an inspirational speaker uses examples to underline the possibilities of overcoming extreme everyday obstacles as a way of motivating the audience, a motivational speaker draws from own experiences to back up the notion that nothing is impossible if one applies their mind in a constructive manner devoid of conditioning.The difference is notable and the message carries a lot more weight when coming directly from the person that has achieved what many would say was impossible.”

The problem is that the two terms are defined so subjectively. I don’t think the difference between the two speakers lies in the process at all, but in the effect on the audience. Some speakers inspire just based on who they are. It’s such a subjective thing. A speaker reaches each audience member differently…who is to say if that speaker is a “motivational” speaker or an “inspirational” speaker?…I think each individual audience member is the authority on that baed on how they have been affected.

Are you an inspirational or a motivational speaker?  Ask your audience to find out.

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How to Craft A Great Story

I get asked so many time what make a great story.

This is a huge question but I have found that most stories will really engage a listener is they have four basic ingredients:

1. A single protagonist:  This is a single hero or heroin that the audience can relate to.  It really needs to be someone that has relevance to the audience.  It could be yourself as the storyteller, it could be a client or anyone else as long as the person is real and the audience can relate top the person in some way.

2. A point of conflict:  Describe a single point in time to represents a state conflict that our protagonist is facing.  it could be a personal, business, emotional or spiritual dilemma.  Again, depending on the purpose of the story,the conflict should be something that the audience can relate to.

3. A point of decision: Somewhere in the protagonist’s journey he or she will need to make a decision that will change the course of the journey  This is especially important iof there is a lesson involved in the story

4. A point of discovery: At some point in the journey there hero should have an “aha” moment, or an experience where they come to a realization that they have learned something significant.  This is where the lesson of the story is shared with the audience.

Include these four ingredients in your stories, and your impact as a story teller will be significantly enhanced.

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