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My handcrafted bookcase

Months ago I embarked on a new project – my first major woodworking project, complete with exotic hardwoods, joinery, and inlays.  Starting with raw mahogany boards, I’ve come to this picture (left)…Several times during the process I found myself stopping in frustration as I took rough lumber, resawed it down to board size, planed it, joined it, and fit pieces together.  Cutting moldings, fluting, routing, and sanding…it’s a big deal.  There are no nails in this type of building – it’s precise, cumbersome, artistic, and difficult.  How did I get here?   Mentors and reading.

Woodworking is a skill.  There are so many tricks and techniques to building jigs, joining wood, and just making things work; it’s something you could go to school for I guess, but the best way is to work alongside someone who really knows – someone with experience.  The master craftsman and the apprentice.  With our focus on schools and universities, we’ve lost a lot of this, but for thousands of years, this has proved out to be the most efficient way to learn and grow.  Co-op programs, apprenticeships, interns…business coaching; it’s all mentorship.  It’s finding someone who has been there, or has hands-on experience, who is able to take the time to walk another person through the process.  Whether you’re building, writing, drawing, parenting, or building a business – find experts to learn from.  Some are paid, others are free, but in the long run, the investments you make will return to far more than you can imagine.

© 2011, David Stelzl

 

Taking yesterday’s movie star concepts a step further, let me share another analogy that is near and dear to my own profession.  As an active member of the National Speakers Association, I meet quarterly with some very successful speakers; people I consider to be at the top of the speaker industry.  Our topics vary as much as our style.  Some are humorists without any concrete message, another is a professional storyteller delivering tales of the south, many speak to sales audiences as I do, and others have a religious, motivational, or health angle.  But the one thing we all have in common is that we make our living speaking to audiences, sharing our experiences, and hoping to motivate people to change or providing encouragement in an area our audiences need expertise of help.

So what makes a speaker great?  I’m sure you’ve been to seminars, national sales meetings, or trade shows and have heard great speakers.  You’ve also probably heard people who don’t have the gift of speaking.  What’s the difference?  Well, I have come to believe that it’s not just in the DNA.  There’s a success formula.

When I first began my speaking career I needed a demo tape.  I was talking with some of the veterans of our NSA chapter and the president asked, “How many times have you given your primary keynote?”  I had given it ten times at most, although I had spoken to various audiences over my career.  He then encouraged me to wait.  “Wait until you have given this talk at least one hundred times.”  A hundred times; I couldn’t image waiting that long.  I needed it now.  But he assured me I would be sorry.

Months later, a former World Champion Toastmaster humorist came to address our group.  He talked about how he had entered the speaking industry and then he played video clips of himself from his early days of speaking.  His first clip was from a comedy club about twenty years ago.  It was awful. In fact, it was so bad, I was embarrassed for him as I watched it, and felt very uncomfortable sitting there with him in the room.  I don’t think I have ever seen such a bad comedian.  Nothing was funny, and it turns out, his friends had put him up to this.  But that day, he determined to master the art of speaking!  Our guest continued through the morning, playing samples from fifteen years ago, ten years, five, two, and now.  It was amazing to see the transformation and to hear how, through coaching, practice, and self-recording, he had studied to improve his program.  He had become an expert, and he had achieved the number on position.

Well, despite the advice I received from our chapter president, I went ahead and had my demo tape made.  I was happy with it at the time, but a few years and several hundred speeches later, I was embarrassed to watch my own tape.  I now see what our chapter president meant.  It takes practice, and with practice and the right input, the talk becomes great. It’s not just DNA – it’s work.

Like the movie star, the speakers you really like, have practiced.  They’ve given the talk you just heard, hundreds of times.  The speakers you don’t like are probably not professional speakers, they probably did not have any coaching, and they probably speak infrequently.  Most of all, they have probably never had to sit through their own presentation.  Their lack of practice shows.

So you are in sales.  You give the same information over and over, but are you giving the same talk, and have you critiqued it, been coached on it, and put time into making the material great before going live?  Or do you just wing it when you get on stage.  Who do you want to be?  The movie star?  The great speaker?  Of the guy that encourages you to spend the meeting reading your email?

© 2011, David Stelzl