Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Did You Learn Today?

"My life is boring." 
"What do I have to talk about?"
"Nobody wants to hear about my trip to the grocery store."

You're right. We don't care what you did. We care about how it made you feel, how you affected other people in your life (even if was just the person bagging your groceries), and what you learned.

I make it a common practice with my kids after school to not only ask them what they did that day, but what they learned. I do this not only to keep tabs on their progress, but to help them get used to identifying and acknowledging the fact that they are indeed learning something.

What are you learning today?

A big part of my job with clients is helping them pull stories from their personal life to make a point, to build rapport, and even the playing field for the audience by using an accessible metaphor. Sometimes that means going far back to their childhood, other times we don't have to go any farther back than that morning.

I'm a big proponent of keeping a story log - a file on your computer (and external hard-drive, and on the cloud) where you keep news clipping, humorous stories, and important information you may use in the future as a speaker. The richest part of that story log, however, can come from your daily life.

How to Use an Activity Assessment to Build Your Story Log

1. Start a new document on your word processor (or, take out a piece of paper and an actual writing instrument), and write down EVERYTHING you did yesterday.

2. Once the list is done, ask yourself how you felt, and what you learned during each one.

3. Finally, ask yourself how you could relate those feelings and lessons to your next audience.

Here's a partial list of mine from yesterday:

A. Stayed home in the morning with my 4 year old daughter and 7 year old son (who was sick), while my wife went out to meet a friend from church, which she rarely does.

I learned again that the best laid plans are oft interrupted by the randomness of life. Riker is never sick, but him being home yesterday significantly changed my mindset from blogging (and playing Words With Friends) to hanging out with him, doing the extra laundry created by getting sick in the middle of the night (he was too polite to wake us up), and actually taking time to fold clothes, which I hate to do and usually let the kids tackle as part of their allowance.

How do you handle interruptions in your day, or a complete change of plans? We all have examples of handling it well and handling it not-so-well. It happens to everyone in every audience you have, and they will run into it no matter what they do, and it could potentially fit into most any speech topic you have. Doesn't mean you'll use it, but it's there, it's recent, it gives them insight to your personality, and it might be perfect to make your point about dealing unpredictable bosses, clients, and circumstances.

George Bailey knows: Don't wait til everyone disappears to appreciate your life!

B. My 15 year old daughter came home from school, said "hi" while I had my head down doing laundry, and I thought it was just a random "hi" from Riker. An hour or so later, Kristi came home and I asked if she'd seen Bailey, because she hadn't come home yet. It caused a brief moment of panic until Braden (our 14 year old son) said Bailey was in her bedroom. Bailey routinely hides to get out of chores, like any teenager, and neither of us had noticed.

I was reminded that I need to pay closer attention, and that sometimes its easy to lose track of things, and people who are important. I also realized how quickly Kristi and I felt our heart rates go up, and various scenarios came up in our minds during the 60 seconds our daughter was 'missing'. And it made me think of how frustrating teenagers can be!

Those lessons are enough for a speech unto themselves, and certainly lend themselves to everything from getting lost in a big project to ADD to parenting to remembering how important people are in every setting, but we sometimes forget until they go missing.

Keep in mind you can learn from others in your circle, as well. Just today Kristi and I were talking about how she almost cancelled going over to her friends house yesterday because Riker was sick. That thought triggered an even stronger thought - that Satan, or whatever negative universal force you'd like to call it, didn't want her connecting with a friend that day, and was presenting obstacles, which made her more determined than ever to go.

How can you take that attitude lesson and apply it to an audience?

What do you do if you don't have six kids? If you feel you really do live a boring life? First, I challenge you to do the list anyway. Who did you meet yesterday? If you stayed inside, why? What did you do? How did it make you feel?

The more you are in touch with your life, the events within it and your feelings about it, the better you will be able to relate to an audience on both the intellectual level and the emotional level. Remember, if an audience isn't touched emotionally, they are less likely to act on the intellectual information, even if that information is fantastic.

Don't just sit around - put on your hat and leather jacket and explore your world!

Finally, if you really aren't doing anything than sitting in front of your computer reading this blog....GET UP! Go DO something! Go see a part of your neighborhood you've never visited. Go eat somewhere new. Pick up your computer and go to the library or the coffee shop. Spice up your life so you can spice up your speech!

If the Activity Assessment seems formal, I understand. Do it anyway. Ask yourself what I ask my kids: What did you learn today? After a day or two, you'll be amazed how many stories you find. After a week or two, you won't have to do the assessment all at once, because you'll start recognizing events that matter more quickly. This Assessment will help you Speak & Deliver, and along the way, you just might finding yourself appreciating your life, and the people in it, more than you have in years.

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