Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Speaking Season 20 of 107

All By Myself...

Tonight I spoke at Marshall High School to a group of about 130 people - High School and Junior High School families - and I was almost, but not totally, all by myself. No teachers, 1 alumni student, and a principal subbing for the AV guy. 

Despite the overall lack of support, it was a pretty good meeting, I believe. I added a lot of content  of my own in place of the testimonials we normally get from teachers and alumni. I talked about my own summer travels to Europe, and how as a dad of six, I had to check the program out for myself before I'd recommend it to them.

I also threw in the story of my missed opportunity to go to Vienna back in 1989, and how I regretted it, not travelling Internationally until this year. 

Both stories made it more personal, and made a point. Neither is better than actual testimonials, but it was effective enough.

What was really interesting to me was just handling all the setup, the registration, and the Q & A by myself. It was a lot easier than I expected, but I also streamlined quite a bit. Are you ready for the day your volunteers (or even paid folk, like the erstwhile A/V tech, don't show up?


Speaking Season 14-19 - took place over the weekend at Normandale Community College Saturday, and Sauk Rapids Middle School on Sunday. Uneventful, really, except for the Australian accent I used on the elementary school group. It went over pretty well, but I won't be voicing Outback commercials anytime soon....

Just 60 hours til I'm on a plane home. Speaking & Delivering is great, but hugging the kids and snuggling with the wife still trumps.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Road School: Lessons from the Road #3

Spent 11 hours driving from North Platte, NE to Minneapolis, MN today. As opposed to straining for radio stations, or even taking advantage of the free XM, I chose Road School - listening to CDs and DVDs from Tom Antion, John DiLemme, and Avish Parashar.

Antion's stuff is a bit dated, but that's my fault, not his, really. Listened to several CDs from his "Internet Marketing Butt Camp" from 2005 or so. Still some good info and inspiration.

"Finding Your Why Now!" was the subject of DiLemme's CD, which was recorded in 2008, but I just got in the mail about a month ago. Solid motivational material, delivered with passion. Thought provoking stuff, and exactly what I needed today.

Even better than those was "Improv for Speakers" by Avish Parashar and Fred Gleeck. 3 DVDs that I listened too as opposed to watched. Even audio only, they were packed with great information, exercises, humor, and actionable techniques to help speakers Speak & Deliver with more energy and spontaneity than ever before.

I highly recommend this set from Avish and Fred, even to the point of offering this (affiliate) link for you to check it out for yourself: Improv For Speakers!

In addition to several hours of listening today, I took about two hours to really think about how I'm going to apply some of the concepts I heard today. Just listening to information is no better than just reading it, if no thought is given to it, and no action follows.

Take some time on your next drive to listen and think, so when you arrive at your destination, you are ready to ACT!

Speaking Season 13 of 107

Depending on your equipment,
speaking can seem this dangerous...

North Platte, Nebraska today. Small audience at the local community college. OK video setup, booming audio, overall a positive experience - except for the microphone, which was corded. I've spoken at 100s of venues over the last 22 years, and only used a corded mic, believe it or not, 2 or 3 times. So few I barely remember.

The most unique aspect about using it last night, however, was something new. Normally, you can feel the cord with your leg and brush it out of your way. With the prosthetic on my left side, I didn't feel a thing, and became super-conscious of not tripping over the cord, which actually made me more uncomfortable than if I had just let it go.

I did practice with it beforehand, like a good little speaker, but not enough, apparently. I never fell to ground, but I did stumble once, and dropped the mic at one point. Bending over with a bad back on stage to pick up a microphone is one of the single most embarrassing actions one can perform on stage. With the leg to boot, I was slowly bending over, with nothing to hang on to, working to not lose my balance and end up on the floor next to the erstwhile mic. At least I didn't have my back to the audience! A humbling experience - but the show must go on, despite the creaking of vertebrae.

The crowd was forgiving, and the presentation went well overall. Not sure how many folks in North Platte really intend to travel next fall, but that, again, is now out of my hands.


One aspect of being a traveling speaker is eating out every day, which I've touched on before. In smaller towns, I'm usually stuck with chain restaurants and mediocre fare. Interesting though, that a year ago this 'mediocre fare' would have seemed pretty good to me. But now, having had the opportunity to eat at some of the nicer, non-chain local cuisine in the bigger places I speak, I have gotten a bit spoiled. But no matter how spoiled I may have become, I do think I found the world's worst Ruby Tuesday's last night....still, a blessing to be able to eat, right?


10 hour drive ahead of me today to get to Minneapolis. No speaking, so I guess it makes it a 'day off'. Tomorrow is another 4 pak followed by 3 on Sunday. The next three days are going to fun - because I said so...! Time to go drive now, so tomorrow I can Speak...and Deliver!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Speaking Season - 12 of 107

Sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you fight...

Grand Island, NE last night. Great turnout, great presentation, low return.

What do you do when you know you spoke well, yet didn't yield the results you wanted? There's a lot that goes into the success of any presentation, beyond the success of the presentation itself. That is, you can speak well, but there are many other factors at work.

Let's assume (despite the fact that that is one of the biggest mistakes to make) that you were brilliant. The sound and video were perfect. The room was full and you have a great product, service, idea or inspirational perspective to offer the audience.What can go wrong?

1) People Have a Life....and sometimes it doesn't go well. Bad days don't mix well with evening sales presentations - motivational/inspirational speakers have a better shot to turn bad days around than sales folk do, but it's still an uphill battle.

2) People Have Finances...and they can't always buy, no matter how much they want to. Are you in a financially depressed area with an audience to match? I can't control who comes to my presentations, but if you work for yourself, be sure to manage your marketing to an audience who can afford you and your solutions.

3) People Have Priorities...and if your offering doesn't shift them, you're out of luck.

4) People Like to Wait...particularly here in the Great Midwest, where the 'sleep on it' mantra is nearly a biblical commandment. Be patient, results can improve with time.

5) People Don't Like Your Offer...not everything is for everyone, everywhere. No matter how great it is. If you don't like carrots, and all I've got is carrots, you'll go buy your peas elsewhere. Even if I tell you my carrots taste like peas if you close your eyes and see your goal of eating peas.

6) People Don't Like You...yeah it happens. You can't be everyone's favorite flavor. Maybe it was your suit, your accent, or just the fact you reminded them of someone that used to beat them up in the third grade. Get over it, make sure you didn't have ketchup on your tie or toilet paper flowing from the back of your shoes, and move on with life.

If you think of more - please add some below.

The bottom line is to remember that you can only control what you can control. That's not an excuse, that's a fact. Control your attitude, you interactions, your dress, your delivery, your equipment, your stage environment, all to the best of your ability at the time. Take a moment after each presentation and do a self-inventory, and adjust for next time. As long as you know you are putting forth the best effort you can, let the result chips fall where they may. If you're not doing the best you can...well, that's an issue for a different post :)

Tonight's a new night. Time to get ready to Speak...& Deliver!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Speaking Season 11 of 107

Wow, I got to spend two whole nights in one hotel....


Took an hour at lunchtime to visit a Toastmasters club in South Sioux City, NE - a short drive over the bridge once I correctly identified NE as the state, instead of IA, for the GPS. When I contacted them to see if they were having a meeting, I left off any signatures and such that would identify me as a TM, but was told she Googled me, and hence asked if I'd give a speech. I always carry a speech about my journey through public speaking, and my plea to Toastmasters to give speeches that matter in my 'back pocket', so I was happy to oblige. Great club, wonderful people, and a nice diversion from the stresses of the day job.

Thank you for having me Southland Ciceros Club #2670


Tonight the sound issues we had yesterday were completely fixed. They set up speakers and replaced a few sound cords, and it was like a concert in that room. In fact, the room was overfilled - 320 people in a room that had chairs added as they were coming in - we only fit 310 chairs - standing room only!

Not quite THIS many....

These families came out in force, not just a parent and student, but both parents, siblings, and grandma for good measure. It created some wonderful energy, and I'm anxious to see how many students sign up for the program next year.

Packed up and got out of there by 9:15, and had a 3 1/2 hour drive ahead of me to Grand Island, NE. Didn't stop to eat - just went through Arby's - I know, a horrible choice! Still, just needed to get SOMETHING, and fast. Filling up the truck added to my time, and when I found myself weaving, I pulled over and slept for about 30 minutes. So much for the effects of 5 Hour Energy.

Made it safely, obviously, and even maintained enough energy to do my online report in order to make the home office happy with me. Even found time to watch the new SpeakEasy Trailer - but then crash - I was down for the count.

And to think - I'm not even 10 percent done with the season yet. More later - time for me to prepare for tonight's event. No rest for the weary - just another opportunity to Speak & Deliver!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Speaking Season - 10 of 107

Don't Assume.

A lesson I just never seem to tire of learning....

Last night my presentation set-up was a complete breeze thanks to the helpful folks at the Sioux City Convention Center. Everything was in place, my video and audio worked well, and all signs pointed to a great evening.

Unfortunately, the second video was unlistenable - the old house speakers simply couldn't handle the sound, despite repeated attempts to adjust. I punted, and tried to recap the video as best I could. The second video was better, but the sound was still unacceptable by any standard. Tough to know if the meeting was a success or not - only 12 families showed up with students tonight - I should have some more results in coming days.

While I did all I could as a presenter during the hour of presenting, I made a classic mistake of ASSUMING that since the first video worked well, the others all would as well - after all, they always had. If I had checked them all, we could have fixed the problem, whether through soundboard adjustments, changing speaker systems, or even running to best buy for some high powered computer speakers.

Finding out during your presentation that something isn't working just isn't a positive result. Yes, it can happen, but by assuming less, and testing more, we can all set ourselves up for stronger success than I did last night...
Went to Bev's By The River last night for dinner - supposed to be a great restaurant here in town. I ordered chicken oscar, and was pretty disappointed. Perhaps their other menu items are better, but this one didn't do it for me at all.
Finding myself really missing my wife and kids while out on the road. So much is happening at home with new schools and doctor's appointments. Kristi's been invited to be interviewed on the radio for an NF Walk in Denver, and Riley, my 9 year old daughter, is trying out for Willy Wonka at the local community theatre. Six kids is a lot of kids to miss, a lot of activities to miss, and a lot of love to miss.

Today's lesson? Don't assume. Don't assume anything will always work, don't assume the chicken oscar will be good, and don't assume that being away from your family will be wholly compensated for by a good job!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Speaking Season - 7, 8, 9 of 107

My day in Lincoln started a bit late - slept in. With just one night in Lincoln, I packed everything up and headed out to the High School I would be speaking at at 1, 3, and 5 pm.

Didn't follow the same dietary plan today - did a McDonalds breakfast on the way, and about 2 o'clock the team went out for some fruit smoothies and returned with one for me - an excellent pick-me-up. I had energy for the day, but I can't say it was derived from the healthiest of choices. Dinner was an excellent Prime Rib at Misty's in downtown Lincoln - not as good as last night, but still an A in my book.

After dinner, I drove for two hours to Sioux City, Iowa, where I'll get to settle in for two days and nights (finally, a chance to dryclean my suit!), and get a bit of a vacation of sorts, with only one presentation on Monday and again on Tuesday, both in the evening.

I tested some new material today, in the wake of mediocre results Saturday. Changed out my open, in favor of a story about going to the National Cemetery at Normandy, and my interaction with a student who refused to feel sad, and instead felt joy and appreciation towards those that sacrificed their lives in the campaign that helped turn the tide in World War II. Seemed to get the audiences attention right off the bat.

For two of the programs, the students would be heading to Rome to see the Colosseum. I likened it to Memorial Stadium, the home of the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, which dominates the scenery as you drive into the city. The parallel of gladiators, and the fact that the roots of stadiums everywhere start in Rome was also well received.

Can you imagine the Roman Public doing "The Wave"?

In addition, I made a joke about it being hard to admit the Nebraska football team were gladiators, since I was an Iowa Hawkeye fan - I followed this by welcoming them to the Big 10, which got a chuckle each time I used it. It was a customization that only works here - where football is king, the big news lately has been the University's defection from the Big 12 to the Big 10, and Iowa is a border rivalry state.

Early results seem to show that my changes were effective, and I certainly felt more energy on stage by changing up my message throughout the otherwise scripted presentation.

The two lessons from today, then, are these:

1. Test, Test, Test! You never know when you're going to find gold, and you need to be ready to jettison the lead that serves as dead weight in your presentations.

2. Customize - letting the audience know you understand them and their lives is an excellent way to connect. In this case, even though I was using a sports example, it fit both the situation of them going to Rome and the University town nature of Lincoln - in fact, the Cornhusker team is the pride of ALL of Nebraska, crossing over age, sex, and financial factors.

What can you do in your next presentation that you didn't do last time? Try something new, give the audience a reason to like you, and track the results. You'll be surprised at the results you'll create.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Speaking Season - 3, 4, 5, 6 of 107

Sometimes you just have to keep going, and going, and going.

Yes, today was what we call a 4-pak - four presentations - 10, 12, 2, & 4. Started off with two high school groups who had identical itineraries for next year, then a middle school group, then an elementary audience.

My supplies showed up at the hotel at 11:00 am, and my team of teachers was able to go pick them up, averting a daylong disaster that I had feared yesterday. The one meeting with limited supplies still went well - I actually used the obviously copied application brochures as an illustration of the kind of flexibility travel builds in individuals, as a benefit to the program they were there to consider.

In a day of meetings, two challenges stick out to me:

A. Energy level - The day tends to start light - a banana is my typical start to the day. For a meeting that starts at 10, I get to the venue at 7:30 to ensure setup is taken care of. Audience members show up up to an hour early most days. I also make sure to have food and water there for the day, even if food simply means a Clif Bar to tide me over. I don't actually get very hungry during the presentation, but to keep my enthusiasm up, a little sugar about halfway through helps push me to the end. Each audience deserves a high energy level, and the feeling that they are the only ones you've talked to all day - because to them, they are.

B. Keeping track of what I've said - by the third presentation, its easy to think you've already said something to the audience that you actually haven't - you instead discussed a particular benefit with a prior group, and its all blending together. Memorizing the tentposts of your script is essential in keeping yourself on track, and in this particular business, repeating oneself is a better option than leaving it out, especially when it comes to safety procedures, dates of departure, and tuition costs.

I'm still gauging what works for me during these marathon weekend days. Almost every weekend for the next three months is filled with 6-7 meetings. I'm sure by the time a few more weekends go by, I'll have a solid personal routine to share with you.

After the day, I headed back to the hotel to pick up the balance of supplies (including an extra suit I asked my wife to FedEx to me). Dinner was at Drover's here in Omaha, where I had perhaps the best steak of my life. At least top 3. The whiskey steak was a 2 inch thick marinated filet, and literally melted in my mouth. If you ever get to Omaha, I highly recommend you check this place out. A bit loud, but the food far outweighs that particular problem. Back on the road, I took the 55 minute drive to Lincoln, to be greeted my Memorial Stadium as the town's centerpiece - the home of the Nebraska Cornhusker football team. I'm actually at a Marriott tonight that calls itself the Cornhusker hotel. Tough for a Hawkeye to take, quite honestly!

More tomorrow....

Friday, August 20, 2010

Flexibility - Lessons From The Road #2

Switched from the silver Nissan Xterra I've been driving in South Dakota to a big 'ol white Yukon today, in Omaha. Coolest part of it is the picture I get of what's behind me when I'm shifted into reverse. This vehicle will get me across Nebraska and up to the northern region of Minnesota between today and Sept. 3rd.

Not much flexibility needed to switch cars, but I nearly pulled a few muscles today when I discovered that the supplies I needed for the next 11 meetings between now and next Thursday were NOT on the way. I could expedite an order to arrive Saturday which would cover my Sun-Thu meetings, but I was out of luck for Saturday. Luckily, I had a few spare applications booklets, and once I made it to Omaha from Sioux Falls and made the vehicle switch, I jetted to the nearest Fedex/Kinko's. Even as I type they are continuing to put together copies of 350 applications for tomorrow.

There's a lot at stake at these meetings, and without applications, a huge investment of money and time would have gone down the tubes. As it is, I'm going into battle with a sword but no shield, shall we say.

Sometimes the world conspires against us, and sometimes we conspire against ourselves. As speakers, with audiences counting on us, we must be ready for anything. I'm fortunate I had a day between meetings - at least I'll go in with SOMETHING.

But....what if I couldn't? The show must go on. Students would still come, and I would still have a presentation to show them. They would still be able to apply onsite and at home. Not the best-case scenario, but certainly better than 350 students coming in throughout the day to a sign that says "Cancelled".

Regardless of what happens around us, we as speakers are the bringers of the message. If all the supplies showed up, and WE didn't, the results would be far more catastrophic.

Remember: The Show Must Go On - Speak and Deliver!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Speaking Season - 2 of 107

Ole the Viking

How many Audiences are in your Audience?

Back at Augustana College tonight, this time speaking to a smaller crowd of about one hundred 5th and 6th graders about the opportunity for them to go to France and the UK next year.

Speaking to a younger audience (and their parents) carries with it unique challenges. First, younger students are excitable - they aren't yet "too cool" to be excited, and that works in my favor as a speaker telling them about the wonderful things they will get to do. Second, parents of younger students have their guard up higher, and need me to go far beyond excitement, and cover value and safety to reassure them they are making a good decision to send their 10, 11 or 12 year old over an ocean to Western Europe.

Balance is crucial - too much energy and the parents turn off, too much seriousness, the kids turn off.

Whether its kids and adults, employees and upper management, or men and women - understanding the needs of the audience is essential when you craft your message. If you don't use language, stories, images, and motivating statements directed at each group in your audience, you'll lose them - and losing part of your audience can affect the whole.

Scour the messages you deliver for audience-specific moments. Are your stories directed more at one group than the other? Are you effectively targeting those who are your potential customers? People who control the purse strings? Are you using logical and emotional strategies? When you tell a story, are you painting the picture with visuals, audio cues, tactile markers, taste examples, and maybe even a smell that anchors the moment?

Every audience member is important - one or two audience members who disconnect from your presentation can infect the entire room with disinterest and distraction.

What parts of your presentations can you tweak to ensure you effectively Speak & Deliver, to ALL parts of your audience?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Speaking Season - 1 of 107

I have 107 presentations scheduled between tonight and November 20th through my employer, People to People Student Ambassador Programs. These "Speaking Season" posts will be a travelogue of sorts, and I'll work to provide some interesting tidbits along the way.

I'm in Sioux Falls, South Dakota this week, giving two presentations in the evening at Augustana College. Tonight I spoke to a crowd of about 250 parents and students (middle school and high school), giving them the lowdown on what it means to be a student ambassador and what they'll be doing on program next year.

I am half motivational speaker, half informational speaker, and all salesman. It presents a unique challenge to motivate these students and their parents to sign up for a program of this type. It's an amazing opportunity, but also a fairly large investment of money and time.

We're all selling something, be it a product, service, idea, or ideology. The first sale is always to yourself, they say, and every time I hear student alumni come up and talk about their experiences I am sold over and over again.

Tonights learning moment: We fill delegations with about 40 students. Overflow can go with a delegation from another state. I suggested they sign up now and avoid going with students from Minnesota, in an attempt to show some humor and state pride. What I failed to do was look at a map - we are just 15 miles from Minnesota, and had a few students at the meeting from across the border. Oops. I played it for humor and asked if anyone was from Florida, and went with that instead, saying I just stuck my Super Deluxe Robot Foot in my mouth...

So - amateur mistake - know thy audience, followed by pro recovery - make fun of thyself.


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