Back in a day as a newbie presenter I was naturally keen to network, learn and try on my pitch with like-minded public speakers. I joined a select few among the gazillion public speaker Groups on LinkedIn, including one called SpeakerMatch. There, I navigated to a VERY active discussion string which proffered the following for comment:
There are a million people who share YOUR story. What makes you stand out as a speaker? Why should anyone hire you? What makes you stand out?
Many-a-speaker kindly responded by citing his or her unique and nifty stump speech; certainly worthy, each implored, of “standing out” among the rest. I took a stab at the challenge too, pointing out my experience as a career-long HR executive, educator and leadership coach suddenly stricken with profound hearing loss. Thus inspired Perseverance to Triumph. It’s about staring down life’s most grueling set backs and being better for it on the other side. Be Inspired!
My newfound LinkedIn groupies seemed unimpressed. One commented that there are a lot of speakers already “clamoring in the perseverance space.” I was kindly counseled, “Either make sure your perspective can cut through the clutter or try another angle.”
Advice from the experts. I asked for it.
Humble Knowledge Sharing
It was good feedback. New at the time to the speak-for-money game, I didn’t even know there was a “perseverance space.” But, come to think, I surely agree that Cinderella stories abound. People love an underdog. No doubt this contributes to a saturated market of hardship-overcome happy yap in public pontifications from sea to shining sea.
A lot of content, especially the best stuff, is hardly original and nary unique.
And let’s be honest, a lot of the content, especially the best stuff, is hardly original and nary unique. We who cherish to advance great ideas on stage offer mostly reframed content of tried and true wisdom espoused across the ages by countless others before us. Although we may fancy ourselves as knowledge creators, most of what we actually do is humble knowledge sharing.
One surefire way to recognize a pure-sprung truly unique concept is when no one else understands what you are talking about!
Smart people are rightly suspicious of over-speak about “revolutionary new paradigms.” Yuk. Careful too about the razor-thin distinction between a brilliant imagination and making things up. Best in breed public speakers are, of course, masters of finely-tuned flair on the stump. Unique delivery is our rightful claim to fame. But big-fat new ideas and baked-from-scratch original material? Not so much.
Really, really, really different, you insist? Okay, but that can be a challenge too. One surefire way to recognize a pure-sprung truly unique concept is when no one else understands what you are talking about! Most communication experts agree that common knowledge, common sense and common ground are the mainstay of great presentations.
The unique part comes into play, not in the form of bold new ideas, but in applying what we preach on the soapbox in our own lives. Actual personal stories are inherently novel, and therefore, far more interesting to a discerning audience. Your sturdy facts, in-depth research and crisp sound bites may speak truth essential. But the integrity of your message, not the truth of it, is what people will remember most.
The integrity of your message, not the truth of it, is what people will remember most.
Does a student better grasp the impact of war from a brilliant history professor who waxes eloquent about the costs and number of causalities; or from a disabled veteran who had his legs blown off in the streets of Bagdad? Who’s lecture would you rather attend?
Do What You Did
Fortunately, for we who jump to center stage, our experience shared does not have to be so dramatic. In fact, what enamors an audience most –whether about extraordinary heroics or ordinary events– are the common emotions evoked by such testimony. Take, for example, triumph over pain.
The success of any great speaker is not when your audience walks away knowing what you know; but when they leave your lecture inspired anew to do what you did.
Triumph over difficulty is a common thread that resonates most when the presenter includes his or her unique story related to such. What was the speaker’s lowest moment of personal despair? What exactly did the speaker do to beat the odds and triumph? The ultimate success of a great speaker is not when your audience walks away knowing what you know; but when they leave your lecture inspired anew to do what you did. That’s the difference between a spokesperson and a leader.
Experience that Connects
It is also why experience-by-story trumps knowledge sharing every time. It’s the story, not the angle, that matters most to the audience. Not my story, but theirs’. And the best way to connect to their infinite number of inspiring credos, is to share the reality of my own.
Oh, I know. There will not be many in my audience who lost their hearing at the prime of their career as I did. But almost every human on the planet knows exactly what it’s like to lose something precious. My would-be audience doesn’t have to be deprived of a primary sense, to relate to physical, mental and spiritual anguish. They get it already.
The experience that connects us is not our angle, voice nor ears; it’s our broken hearts and our common craving to be healed.
And of course, my potential listeners do not have to be deaf to know what it’s like to live in silent isolation from their fellows. No. My message appeals to the many courageous who are determined to overcome, whatever the challenge or circumstance. The experience that connects us is not our angle, voice nor ears; it’s our broken hearts and our common craving to be healed.
Imploring My Story
Thus, in this here blog, and on the circuit, I implore my stark pain (story); I instruct actionable behaviors on exactly what to do to persevere (content); and I give examples throughout of what I did to overcome and triumph (story). Is my story unique? You bet. Does it stand out among the million who share the same space? Sure it does. Does my message cut through the clutter? Absolutely.
What’s my angle? No angle. I refuse to dazzle by platitudes. Passionate pleas to be all you can be may entertain an audience; but it will not inspire them. But experience without a sound – now that’s inspirational stuff!