Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Magical Year

42 speaking engagements. 5000 attendees. 20,000 air miles, and several thousand more by car. Marriott Silver Elite status. A chapter in the National Speakers Association's first-ever book. My own YouTube channel. And a very happy dry cleaner. I have just closed the books on my 2010 speaking calendar, and for someone who once viewed public speaking as a "hobby" on top of my career as a freelance writer, this has truly been a magical year.

I've enjoyed every minute of it. Even, in a perverse way, the cancelled flights and the 6 AM wake-up calls. My hope is that most of these 5000 people learned some new, high-content skills about how to communicate in the workplace, especially in their most difficult situations. Meanwhile, I have learned a lot from you too. Here are some of the lessons I've taken away from you this year:

1) Simpler is better. For years I wrote (and spoke about) pithering 300-page books on how to communicate, but what led to an explosion in speaking gigs? A book of fables on what to say to a porcupine. I seemingly have a six-step process for everything, but now I am slowly learning to boil a lot of great content into really simple, powerful takeaways for everyone.

2) There is safety in numbers. If you are uncomfortable speaking in public (I am not), large audiences can seem intimidating. As for me, I like big crowds. Especially when I get to wander through them with a cordless mike like Phil Donahue, or the right line gets everyone exploding with laughter. And when you throw out a tough question, the "wisdom of crowds" of two or three or five hundred people often leads to some truly incredible answers. I enjoy every audience, but for me there is nothing like the energy level of a big room.

3) Laughter always works. Take the time I was demonstrating a technique for how to take control of a conversation, and the woman I chose to work with kept talking and talking. And talking. Finally, I turned my back to her and told the audience, "I've never ever said this before in fifteen years of speaking: I give up!" Or when I tell people how the communications skills techniques I teach fall short at home, when my darling wife points at me and says, "A-ha, that's on page 37!" Or best of all, when you can get people laughing at each other. I put a lot of time into the content I am teaching, but at the end of the day, people remember what a good time they had.

4) Never stop learning. Like a pitcher's fastball, one's skills improve with practice. This past year I have done everything from paid coaching to a graduate research project (measuring my rate of speech and hand gestures after watching videos of top speakers) to improve my platform skills, and it shows. I plan to keep working at this, because after all, I work for you!

There is another side to learning as well, and that is new content that benefits you. All you people who have come up to me after a talk and said, "say, we really could use a workshop on X" – I am listening. So thank you all for your ears in 2010, and stay tuned for some more great programs in 2011!

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