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.


  1. Once again Rich, you hit it right on the head! As a trainer, I give the same presentations over and over and it's nice to see you reinforce some of what I've been thinking lately.... You ROCK!!!

    1. Thanks Liza - those repeats are a bugger, aren't they? :)

  2. Hi, Rich--Darren spoke in Minnesota a year ago! Here's my blog with his tips:

    1. Hey Diane - great comprehensive notes - looks like the same presentation he gave last night. All good stuff. Thanks for sharing, and stopping by the Speak & Deliver.

  3. The "sheer professionalism" comment hit home. I recently gave a presentation that I'd given five times before...I knew it was a winning presentation. I flopped. I realized later I had zero enthusiasm and basically phoned it in. A hard lesson to learn!

    BTW, you missed one of Darren's key concepts: DONE BEATS PERFECT. I can honestly say that that one comment resonated with me more than any other piece of public speaking advice I've received over the past 12 years (with the possible exception of "check your fly twice before going onstage"

    1. Thanks Bob - anyone whose read one of my books knows I subscribe to the 'done beats perfect' mantra - though I should probably invest in a few outside editors......!

  4. Great post, buddy. I appreciate that point of view and hope my life spins around into speaking and teaching again.

  5. Hey Rich, I feel the same way...I could have been the WCPS last year...but I got sick the day of my club contest. ;-) Every time I see Darren speak I learn something new. He may even cover exactly the same material but some slight change of wording, or nuance of delivery make the point hit home in a way it hadn't before. Or maybe I was just ready to hear and understand. Enjoyed the post.



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