Friday, August 30, 2013

The Speaker's Trust

What if...

What if Zig Ziglar didn't really sell pots and pans door to door?
What if Les Brown wasn't really pigeon-holed as 'educable retarded'?
What if Tony Robbins never sat in his apartment listening to Neil Diamond sing 'I am I said'?

Three famous stories from three famous and trusted (mostly) high-level speakers. Stories that are theirs - they happened to them, and all add powerful credibility and emotion to their overall messages.

What if...they were lies? Would we still care about these speakers and their messages? Would we discredit them, and dismiss all they've ever said? Would we feel betrayed?

How much of a lie is a lie? Speakers often 'embellish' their stories. Dialogue is polished for maximum efficiency and effect. Times and places may change. Perhaps monetary amounts are fudged a bit. Where do we draw the line, as speakers, and as audiences? When does a 'little white lie' turn into a big fat honking lie that discredits the speaker, and ultimately breaks 'The Speaker's Trust'?


Last week at this time, Toastmasters was holding its annual 'World Championship of Public Speaking'. Speakers from around the world doing there best to reach the audience with touching stories that created laughter and tears. Most were likely first-person accounts of events in their lives - those are typically the most effective in this particular contest.

Nowhere in the rule book for this contest, however, does it mention the stories have to be TRUE. From reports I've heard over the years, there are a few that succeed in advancing, even winning the whole contest, with patently FALSE stories, told as if they were the truth.

2010 Champion David Henderson admitted just hours after the contest that his heart-wrenching first-person account of his childhood friend dying from Sickle Cell Anemia, a speech where he described specific conversations and interactions that had the audience entranced and emotionally invested, was, as he put it, 'Mythologized'. She never existed. The events never happened. You can find this interview by clicking HERE - it starts about halfway through, after the quiz game. (if I had listened to this 3 years ago - this post would have been written 3 years ago...)

He defends it as a way to bring attention to Sickle Cell Anemia. He succeeded at this, to be sure. He also won the entire contest, within the rules. For me, however, he also betrayed 'The Speaker's Trust'.

If you hear a first-person, told as truth story that puts you through an emotional ringer as this speech did, and then find out it's nothing more than a 'Tall Tale' created to make a point, how does that make you feel? Is there no other way to spread awareness? Are there no REAL stories that would work just as well?

Again - David did nothing 'wrong' within the parameters of the contest. It was a fantastic speech. In the context of the event, I thought he was the clear winner. But, what if he had revealed at the close of his speech that his friend never existed? Would the impact been as strong? Would the judges have ruled the same way?


I am not naive enough to believe that every story out of a speaker's mouth is 100% truth. Speakers edit for maximum impact. Speakers tell stories that are metaphors to make a point. Speakers alter timelines, leave out details, and even overly glamorize results.

But when speakers outright manipulate an audience by telling stories as if they really happened to them, particularly emotional tales that will cause the audience to sympathize with the speaker when no sympathy is warranted, I believe it's betrayal. Why should I ever care about anything you say again?

What can we really do about 'The Speaker's Trust'? In the Toastmasters contest, maybe not much. Tough to verify the truth of that many speeches in such a short period of time. For professional speakers like Zig, Les, & Tony, the truth often comes out, and the audience has to decide. (I'm not, by the way, challenging these particular speakers).

'The Speaker's Trust' is a concept we have to honor within ourselves. To be faithful to our audiences, and be willing to draw the line at outright falsehoods. I don't care how good it sounds - if it isn't accurate, you're doing a disservice to your audience, and in the long run, to yourself.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SPEAK the Movie: Where Are They Now?

It's been five years since the contest itself. A little over a year and a half since the movie was released. And now, just a year since 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking, star of SPEAK, passed from complications due to Lupus.

This Thursday and Saturday, the 2013 World Championship of Public Speaking takes place at the Toastmasters Int'l Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio here in the States. The beat goes on.

If you've seen SPEAK, you know that it follows, in large part, several of the Finalists before and during the contest, and LaShunda and I afterward. It's a touching, educational, and somewhat emotional film, which I compare to having open heart surgery in my review.

Like any documentary, it is a finite view into a temporary window of time for the participants - but once the cameras stop moving, their lives keep going. Robert MacKenzie went on to take 2nd in the championships in 2010. Colin, Charlie, and myself have all returned to the semi-finals. And Jock Elliott topped us all, winning the championship in 2011.

This summer, I decided it was time to catch up with everyone - provide the world with an update on the castmembers, and ask some tough questions about what it was like going through the process, and having it on display for the world, for pretty much the rest of time. The conversations were as diverse as the contestants themselves, as we discussed contest theory, real-life vs. Toastmaster speaking, bias against women speakers, and more - including parts of the movie that didn't quite represent the whole truth, vs. the reality show truth.


Not wanting to let myself off the hook, I let Jim Key, 2003 World Champion of Public Speaking, grill me for the better part of an hour as well.

I was also honored by the participation of the film's director, Brian Weidling, and LaShunda's sister, Sonya, who, talks about what is happening with her, LaSunda's son Dennis, and the legacy Sonya is dedicated to keeping in her sister's absence.

The interviews average about 30 minutes each, and are available for immediate download for just $10 - click here, or on the picture below. If you're curious as to 'Whatever Happened To..." or just want the inside scoop on how to become a World Champion of Public Speaking, or even a professional speaker, this series is for you.

To all the contestants in 2013, congratulations and good luck - you are all making your mark in the world, and effectively living the mantra of Speak....and Deliver!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What I Learned From Darren LaCroix Last Night

After all these years, I finally got a picture with the man, the myth, the legend.

I could have been Darren LaCroix.

In 2001, I got lost on the way to my first ever Area Level International Contest, and the winner that day was Del Hargis, who ended up on The Big Stage competing against Darren. If only I'd had GPS, it could have been me up there that day, hoisting the giant trophy and....

OK - probably not, I admit, but it's fun to think about....
I've followed Darren since that point, watched his videos, listened to virtually every product he's put out since, read his blogs and newsletters - yes, I'm a junkie. I've been lucky enough to spend time with him as a coach in 2006 the day before I took third in the world, thanks to a few last minute adjustments after working with him. He came up and encouraged me after the 2008 championships, telling me to, essentially, stop limiting myself to speaking in contests. He let himself be interviewed not once, not twice, but three times due to technical issues for an interview in my book 'Go Ahead & Laugh'.

But last night was really the first time I got to see him in action without the pressure of a World Championship on my mind - even two years ago, watching him at the Toastmasters Convention in Vegas I was in contest mode.

Now I have to admit something. I'm a tough audience. I've heard so much of it before, that I've let myself get a bit jaded when I hear the same stories time after time. That's not THEIR problem, really - it's what speakers do - share their wisdom to new audiences day after day, like each audience is brand new. And yes, I'd heard 99 percent of what Darren had said last night - whether from him or others he's learned from (and always references). Even Darren knew that - at one point, he said 'Rich, here's something I bet even YOU haven't heard me teach before' - you can bet I was listening at that point.

Last night though, I chose to attend with new eyes. Driving 90 minutes through the mountains to get there, I attended with intent - intent to be the student Darren always talks about us needing to be - like the way 2000 Champ Ed Tate sits there and takes pages of notes no matter how often he hears people.

To truly be a sponge that soaks it in, and be willing to reprocess that which I'd heard before, as well as be on the lookout for any new tidbits. Instead of an attitude of "Oh, this story again" or "Yeah, I know - heard it before, from you from everyone", which was a bit of my attitude when I watched new champ Ryan Avery a couple months back, I firmly put myself into student mode.

Darren deserved that from me, and I deserved to allow myself to experience him that way. Frankly, it opened my eyes - and affirmed, and revealed, quite a few things for me.

7 Lessons I Learned From Darren, Either Again or For the First Time
1. It's OK that I've Heard it Before. Darren described it as 'Listening and Losing' - just because we hear it doesn't mean we use it, and just because we use it a little doesn't mean me we use it enough. Listen again.

2. The Effectiveness of Holograms on Stage - building a scene on stage and leaving it there, honoring it instead of walking all over at the wrong time. Seeing it in person augmented what I'd heard on audio.

3. The marked difference between 'Gestures' and 'Expressive Movements' - and how to get that point across to my, in particular, gesture-crazed Toastmaster clients. Along similar lines, I observed a lot about his coaching style that can help me coach my own clients.

4. The Importance of Reaction - We both teach a lot about dialogue in a speech, which I preach, preach, preach, but the the REACTION to it - facially, body position-wise - and how the use of that silence, can be more effective than any other words we say.

5. Sheer Professionalism - the ability to give the same stories again and again with the energy needed for the audience who IS getting it for the first time to get the impact it needs.

6. Own the Information Darren referenced at least 6 or 7 other speakers/mentors/coaches in his presentation - never acting like he had invented all this himself. Indeed, I think the ancient Greeks had a lot to say about speaking back in the day. He couldn't know the background of each person in the audience, so he taught it from within, from his own experience, so the audience could receive it from his perspective. Two of his points, Craig Valentine's 'Tap & Transport' and Patricia Frippe's 'Sameness is the enemy of the speaker' shown stronger to me last night through his presentation then the many audios I've heard talk about these from the speakers themselves.

7. New & Brilliant Not Required - A hair different from the first point in this string, but maybe this one should be just for me. Yes, I've studied speaking for years. Yes, I've heard and read and watched a ton. Yes, I even have some good ideas on my own. But keeping up walls to relearning and reinforcing, even under the guise of 'always looking for something new and brilliant' doesn't help anyone. After all, yesterday's truly brilliant ideas won't lose their shine, and tomorrow's brilliant ideas probably owe a great deal to yesterday.

Reading this back to myself, I have to admit it sounds more like a self-exploratory journal entry than a teaching post. Maybe I'm the only one who struggles with some of this stuff like ego and disappointment and pride every now and again. But hey, someone's got to take it on the chin, so that you don't have to, right?

Would love your thoughts today, even in the form of psuedo-psychoanalysis. In the meantime, keep learning - from me, from Darren, from Tom Antion, from Doug Stevenson, from Avish Parashar, from whoever you want to, have access to, and, most importantly, are willing to listen and learn from. Again and Again and Again.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bullet Points Are Not Enough

No, bullet points are not enough.
Are you talkin' to me? Or are you talkin' AT me?

It's the big difference between speaking and lecturing.
Between telling and teaching.
Between preaching and inspiring.

But it can be so easy to miss. The Art of Conversation from stage. Just writing that title makes me want to go write a book, but right now you don't have the time to read one, do you? You're here, you want it quick and dirty, and you want it now, right?

See what I did there?
I didn't tell you, I asked you. I tried to get into your head. I looked for agreement. I could have bullet pointed the process - but I would have missed the opportunity to connect with you, to throw in some faint sarcasm, and be real with you.

Same thing goes on stage. It's easy to get wrapped up in all you want to tell your audience. You've got expertise, after all. You're stories are interesting, and you've worked your tail off on them. And they are the ones who brought you in, so they must want you to regale them with knowledge every second, to tell them exactly where they are, how they got there, and why they need to move...right?

Well, sorta.
They do want to hear you, yes. They are praying you're interesting and funny and can give them something new. But they also desperately want you to understand them, to relate to them, even, in some cases, to approve of them, before they are willing to let you actually change them.

Bullet points don't change people, conversations do. Explain. Cajole. Tell stories. Ask questions. Bring up their emotions, their doubts, their fears, their longings, and follow up by reminding them of their victories, their strengths, and their possibilities.

You might be in front of your audience, but your message must be inside your audience. Talk to them. Only then will you truly learn to Speak....& Deliver.


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