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.