Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Elmo's Secrets to Speaking Success

I hate Elmo. With a passion. That annoying voice. The stupid laughing followed by "Ooh, that tickles". The fact that I trip over two or three of them anytime I walk into my four-year-old's room. Ugh.

But I found myself watching "Being Elmo" on Netflix Monday night. I was just going to watch the first few minutes before my wife came back down to the couch where we would then watch the next episode of Star Trek: Voyager (yes, we're both geeks). But, just like Capt. Janeway and her crew, I got caught in an energy wave - the energy of Kevin Clash, the man behind the bright red fur.

I sat for the duration of the movie, watching as this boy who dreamed of being a puppeteer from his first glimpse of Sesame Street (the premiere, no less), fulfill his own destiny. How did he do it?

1. Passion - Kevin identified his passion early, but it doesn't matter so much when you find it, just THAT you find it. Are you passionate about being a speaker? Are you passionate about your topic? About the results for others, and yourself that comes with speaking, whether professionally or casually?

2. Follow-Thru - he worked on it immediately. Building his own crude puppets and putting on shows for his mother's daycare kids, then the neighborhood, then at parties, before eventually landing on a local kids show, which ended up putting him in position to work with Jim Henson, Master of Muppets. What are you doing today to further your speaking success?

3. Support - as a kid, he cut up his dad's wool-lined jacket to make a puppet. After doing so, he started to fear his punishment, but was met with only "Next time, ask." Wow. As kids, we aren't always guaranteed to have supportive parents. But as adults, we choose who we surround ourselves with - do you have support lifting you up along the journey?

4. Intention - he let everyone know what he wanted to do, and it helped connect him to the right people at the right time. Does everyone know you speak, and what you speak about? Do they know how to book you? Sure, you have a website - but does your neighbor know what you do?

5. Learn - Tony Robbins talks about Constant and Neverending Improvement - Kevin was continually honing his skills, finding mentors, and trying new ways to build and animate his puppets. Through this desire to improve, he eventually ended up visiting Jim Henson's workshop, and learning the "Henson Stitch", which creates the illusion of 'seamless muppets'. I know you're always learning, reader, because you're here - and likely looking towards MANY different speakers and teachers for information.

6. Deliver - As the premise of my blog implies, it's not enough to speak, one must deliver. When Kevin was given auditions, he knocked people's socks off, long before he ever ended up Being Elmo. Treat every speech, paid or not, like an audition - you never know who might be watching, or how they might be able to help you, now or in the future.

7. Think Differently - Kevin Clash was already an established Muppeteer by the time the original voice of Elmo gave him the crimson muppet out of frustration. Did you know Elmo used to sound like a caveman? Kevin took Elmo and turned him into a kid, through his voice and mannerisms, and turned him into the most loving and positive muppet of all, with none of the edge of Oscar, Grover, or even Kermit. A Cookie Monster who loved people. Elmo-mania took off like a rocket, and it hasn't stopped since.

How are you delivering your message differently? There is always someone else delivering content similar to our own, for the most part. What is your unique twist? What will make you stand out?

After watching Kevin go through his journey, I admit it changed me, and they way I think about my speaking career. It also had another dramatic effect - I no longer hate Elmo. After, he loves me, so how can I not love the furry little scamp right back?

I recommend checking Being Elmo out - it's on Netflix, and be on DVD April 3rd. It's an inspiring story, and it may just help you find the spark you need to Speak...& Deliver!


  1. Mr. Hopkins,

    I love your blog. I saw you speak once at a Toastmasters Conference and I was so impressed. I have some questions with which you may or may not be able to help me.

    Until just recently I was a professional storyteller and aspiring professional speaker and workshop facilitator. Due to health issues (I won't burden you with my whole sad story) I have acquired a speech defect. I have had speech therapy and was discharged from that when they told me that they had done all for me that they could.

    I can still be understood mostly, but I decided that because of my speech defect I did not feel right about charging people money. I gave up my professional storytelling, which I just loved.

    I am now rethinking that. I miss it so much and still have aspirations to be a professional speaker. My question is, do you think that a professional speaker with a speech impediment is a crazy idea, or should I continue to follow my aspirations? How might I judge that, and of course, how do I get started?

    I would appreciate any advice you might be able to offer.

  2. Great tips you got here hope it will also work for me when I speak in public. I always wonder why I am always picked by people close to me to speak in public even if I don't have the experience and up to now I still continue to wonder why...

    Motivational Speakers Sydney



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