So this is a very long piece of writing of almost 6000 words. It is the first draft and no-one has edited it. It is what came out of my mind while writing on my iPhone. First take. No editing. I believe one sitting. This is raw text. It is long winded and will not be the final text in the book most likely. It makes for a good blog post for those who care to take the time to read it.
With this writing you will get a good feeling of who I am, how I think and why I started this journey of being a speaker. I wanted to share it here in its raw version as this text comes from my soul – my inner voice. After many rounds of editing, which will likely be the case in the final book it will be different. Some of this text will be summarised. Some will be cut out and used in different places of the book or not at all.
I did not change anything. Even comments to my book coach are still in here. It will give you a glimpse into my mind and journey and also the process I am taking to write this book. At this phase of the writing its about getting everything out of my head. Not judging and not reflecting. Just writing and letting it flow. Throw it all up. Get it out! A wonderful book that describes this process is “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield. I highly recommend it. One of the best books I ever read and perfect advice and motivation to start your own book.
Ok. Now lets get on with it…
Part 1: Why Awake the Speaker in You?
Introduction: An Unexpected Journey
“There is only one way to truly learn, and that is through action.” – The Alchemist
The purpose of this book is to awaken the speaker in you. That is exactly what happened to me and I am writing this book with a purpose and mission to awaken the speaker in you.
You know, I never planned to be a speaker. Actually, the thought of being a speaker sounded quite ridiculous to me at first. I mean, come on, who stands up in front of a bunch of people actually enjoying the attention? Someone with narcissistic tendencies that’s who. Someone with something to prove, often to themselves. Someone with and an ego to feed. Right? That wasn’t me. Or was it? I wasn’t sure. So I wanted to find out. Honestly, at this point, I was very confused. And this confusion, I see in so many speakers I meet and it’s so foundational to our ability to succeed that I took the time to write this book to help you gain clarity and figure out, just like me, how to proceed.
Now people tell me I am speaker. They even tell me I am a very good one and have the potential to be much better some day. I cringe every time people tell me that. Call it self doubt or call it humbleness or call it fear. At first I did not dare to believe it. I did not want to become arrogant and accept praise and I know that many of you reading this book are suffering from this too. And what we will talk about later in this book is that this mentality serves no one and is actually quite selfish and makes it all about you. People and audiences feel this insecurity and it eats away at them making them feel bad. And that works against you.
But if I had become a speaker, what did that make me? A narcissist? An egomaniac with something to prove? An attention seeker? Maybe. I’m not sure. What do those words even mean? I mean, I have 3 children, and at the time of writing this book, Anna who is 4, Claire 6 and Johnny 8 going on 9, and they crave attention all the time, thinking they know everything better. It’s always about them. Me this and me that, give me, give me, give me, I, I, I. Are they narcissist ego driven maniacs? Maybe. I’m not sure 😉
But turn the table around for a second. When you listen to someone speaking to an audience of which you are a part of. It could be just a few people, hundreds, thousands or maybe millions through digital channels, are you listening to some narcissist ego driven maniac? Maybe. I’m not sure 😉 These days with social media you can never be sure. But in most cases it is someone with good intentional and you are glad they had the courage to stand up and speak because its needed and helps you and others grow, work and live together.
“Everybody has a story. And everybody deserves to have their story heard.”
This story defines who we are. It shapes us. How others perceive us. How we are remembered. It dictates every act we exhibit on this stage we call life. It is found in our conscious, our subconscious, and things much greater than ourselves.
Our story is who we are, where we came from and a window into where we are going. Without it we are invisible and with it we light up. Like a star. Something so unique it can’t be cloned, replicated, or re-created. It’s our story that ultimately lives long after we are gone, long after the physical recycles to the star dust it is.
Our story lives on, in the minds of the people who hear it. Who carry it through and tell others. Our story is a beautiful thing. But unless it is told, it dies with us. To share it is to gift those who carry it through.
But you know what? You are the only one who can tell your story. There is only one of you. You are literally one of a kind. You can’t be anybody else and no one can be you.
Everybody deserves to have their story heard.
But is it the person or the story we are seeking?
Stories have shaped humanity. They are the glue that holds any society together. Since the beginning stories have allowed us to communicate, share ideas, learn, teach and get things done. Storytelling is arguably the oldest profession on the planet. (Elaborate with some facts and figures…)
So here I am. 6 months into a journey I chose to undertake to become a speaker. And decided to write this book to help you. On the one hand to show you what is possible if you just try something, commit and stick to it long enough to see it work, and on the other hand, to document and maybe learn a little more about what I did and how it can help you and me further along this journey.
“If you never never go, you’ll never never know.”
That was an advertising jingle I grew up with as a kid in Australia. It was part of an ad campaign to promote the Australian Northern Territory and try to get people and tourists to visit the area. Not an easy area to get to and quite frankly, in the middle of nowhere! Out “woop woop” we would say down under, which is an Australian and New Zealand term meaning far away from anything. This applies to everything in life. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. That is at the core of why I chose speaking. It was so far away from anything I could imagine myself doing as a career path I thought, why not? The key to doing remarkable things in life is sometimes just to stay a little stupid. Not to overthink things and just go for it. Steve Jobs was one of the most stupid people on earth because the task he set himself with Apple was so crazy, so outrageous, so unbelievable at the time that everyone thought he was crazy. Stupid! Who in their right mind is stupid enough to take on such an impossible mission and actually see it through? Someone that does not overthink things. Does not get bogged down in the detail of everyday resistance. And stays true to the larger picture. For Steve Jobs these were often manifested in his words “Making a dent in the universe”.
So I left, scratch that, I quite, my job at IPG Mediabrands and Traffic4u to start on a new journey as a speaker (and consultant) and peruse a new challenge. A challenge and adventure that would test me as a person and as a professional. It would test me to the deepest level of my soul and possibly even help me find out who I am, why I am here and what do I do with my time? Some heavy existential question we all try to answer every single day of our lives.
It was very daunting as I was starting with very little. Too little actually. So little in fact, that I did not have any revenues on the horizon and no money in my bank account. And I had a family and 3 small children to feed and take care of. Actually, it was worse than that because I was actually in heavy debt from the bankruptcy of my last company. I made a screenshot of my bank account the day I started my new adventure at it read -998 EUR. My bank allowed me to go to -1000. I didn’t even have money to buy bread.
Nice! That’s exactly the way I wanted to start – with ZERO. My back against the wall. Because from here there is only one way, and that is forward. I had no choice. But I was taking a big risk on my family and I knew that. So I made a promise to myself that whatever I did from here forward, I would give it my 100%. And what is the worst that can happen? Accumulate more debt and just get a job. That’s ok. You know, failing at anything often yields less regret than failing to try. I was determined to just try, learn as quickly as possible and adapt based on what I learned. I knew, that that is a good strategy with anything in life. Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. The secret was just never to give up and fail fast and smart and be willing to adapt. That speeds up the learning curve and amazing things can be achieved.
Oh, and I did not and still don’t own a computer. This book is written from my iPhone and pen and paper. Not because I don’t want want to use one, but because I couldn’t afford one. I had no plan, no goals, no partners, no mentor, no coach, no trainer and quite frankly I did not even know what a speaker was, how the business of speaking worked, and who in their right mind would pay for me to open my mouth on stage. All I knew at the time, is that people kept asking me to speak at an amateur level under the Mediabrands umbrella and I had some practice and a hint of talent to maybe spark something new. Something challenging and scary. And I loved speaking! It challenged me. It was scary at first, but it gave me so much energy. It was also something deliciously naughty. Naughty in the sense that a speaker can earn a months or even a years salary in just one speech! Just 30 minutes on stage. Doing something they love and would do for free! Wow, that caught my attention. But that was the money side of things and I found that a little naughty to think about. You don’t do things for the money right?
No computer you ask? On that topic, my computer actually broke down 12 months ago and I was using my organisations corporate computer. But when I left the organisation, that left me without a computer, and I just never replaced my old one because I could not afford it. I do everything from my smartphone now. I call it thumping thumbs 🙂 – which is what most of us do these days. Thump our thumbs against a piece of glass. 99% of this book was written and managed on my smartphone phone. I am curious as to what the product will be. And if this very act will inspire others to write a book from their phone, which is absolutely possible. The only laptop in the house is the laptop of my wife and I use this occasionally when something simply does not work on my mobile.
I am much more reliant on pen and paper these days as it stimulates my creativity and helps me remember things much better. More on that later in this book as it’s also key to how I prepare and remember my keynotes.
Shortly after quitting my job I wrote a letter to my organisation with a message that I am just going to try, and see where the journey leads me. This applies to all of us. It actually applies to almost everything in life. This letter you can still find on my blog and my LinkedIn. I wrote and published it on the 31st of July, my last day at the organisation. The day before I was to start my new journey as entrepreneur and speaker. It’s a letter that was a turning point for me and gave me the courage to do this and face the new journey head on. I wrote and made it public which made it all real. When you share things like this, it makes you more accountable and makes it real.
When I started my speaker journey I started a diary where I wrote down notes and things I was learning. The very first words I wrote in my speaker diary when starting this journey were “Kids learn so fast because they are willing to make mistakes. So keep playing and learning like a kid”. This is something I picked up from Eric Edmeades, who trained me as a speaker in his Business Freedom Speaking Academy. More on that later.
But this journey was never about me. And all about what can happen when you just try and apply yourself with passion and perseverance and willing to go out of your comfort zone and test your limits and your courage, long enough to see it work.
(Maybe double with preface above but left it in for now)
I wrote this book for people like you with a story that finds its true value only once it is shared. I wrote this book for anyone with ambition to speak out their story and share it with the world. I wrote this book for entrepreneurs who need a voice to share their dreams, visions and ideas on how to make this world a better place. I wrote this book for all the thought leaders out there, with incredible stories that can change organisations and influence decision makers to act and build the future. I wrote this book for anyone who has an ambition to become more confident and effective communicator. I wrote this book for people who just don’t know where to start. I wrote this book for those of you who are afraid of public speaking but are determined to overcome this fear and get your stories out there. I wrote this book for coaches, trainers teachers and lecturers who want to inspire and motivate their clients and students into action through the power of effective storytelling. This book is really for any human being who would like to communicate more effectively with other human beings in order to inspire action and drive change and impact. How to be the best speaker you can be? That is the question I tried to answer on my journey to be the best speaker I could be. This is the question that this book addresses and tries to answer. And the one thing which needs to happen before this is possible is you must awake the speaker in you before you can become the best speaker you can be. So once again, this book goes through 3 phases: 1. Why awaken the speaker in you? 2. How to wield its power? and 3. What to feed it so it grows.
Unlike many speaker books out there, the answer was not found through studying literature and interviewing successful speakers. It was not found through reading books, ebooks, audiobooks and blogs. Not through watching endless videos and TED talks. Not through attending seminar after seminar, meetups groups or toastmaster clubs. No. This question, this book, describes a speakers journey from obscurity to being the best one can be. And on this journey, where learning from doing far outweighed learning from studying, it was all about making the mistakes that needed to be made as quickly as possible and learning in very short iteration cycles so that mistakes became the fuel for growth and improvement. The more mistakes, the faster the growth and the better one becomes.
But for me it was in many ways an accidental journey. Describing an accidental speaker. You see, I never wanted to be a speaker. Actually, being a speaker never even crossed my mind as a career path or even a profession. By the time I wanted to be a speaker, ironically, I was already a speaker.
(Story about Anton (the trainee who I was coaching and mentoring) … who sparked the idea in my head of being a speaker)
At my old organisation, one of my responsibilities was as part of the learning and development team to onboard trainees and new recruits to the new mission and vision for the organisation. This was a repetitive and fun task of meeting new employees and presenting to them our new mission and vision presentation and often engaging in Q&A sessions to go deeper on what it all means. And because we had 2 offices in Groningen and Amsterdam, I had to give this presentation twice a month to the batch of new recruits. And because we were growing fast the 2 years I was at the company there were a lot of people to onboard.
One day, Anton, one of the trainees at Traffic4u, who I was mentoring to a greater degree than other trainees since he was quite committed and ambitious and also asking a lot questions, asked me a question out of the blue. He said “why don’t you become a speaker?”. I can still remember the moment and my reaction vividly. The answer was a resounding “no”. I don’t really like speaking I explained to him. It’s repetitive and quite boring really. And the ego that comes along with it is not my cup of tea. My ego is big enough as it is. Deep inside me I felt a feeling of denial. Wow, that was a turning point in my life and I did not know it at the time. It came to me later. It was so powerful. It may have been that moment, that question, that awoke the speaker in me and I did not even know it at the time.
On a side note: did you know I sold my house (it was more of a mansion really) in France due to my ego? Or more accurately, my ego was getting in the way of me not selling it. I was reading the book from Ryan Holiday “Ego is the enemy” and I stopped half way through the book because it made me feel bad about myself, sold my house (which took over a year) and then resumed to finish reading the book. That’s how people’s ego can get in their way sometimes. I realised I was keeping that house just to feed my ego.
Back to Anton. So this trainee, fresh out of university in his first few month of work experience tells me out of the blue that I should consider a career in speaking. And I rejected the notion immediately and the conversation shifted to something else that I can’t even remember. I remember telling him that speaking was like my daughter’s teddy bear, or parrot with a string. You pull out the string and off it goes goes again, always repeating the same tune. Similar to the stage, put me up there, and off I go again, same old, same old. That was my mentality at the time. But I was wrong. Or maybe I was not wrong, but the speaker just had not awoken yet, and my perspective on speaking was not right. I could not see or feel the speaker in me yet. That would come later.
But I tell you what. Boy, did Anton plant that seed! Because it was that very moment, that one question from Anton, which may have sparked my career into the world of speaking. It awoke the speaker in me and I did not even know it at the time.
And I know that at this very moment, as you read this book, that something needs to switch over in your head. Something needs to awaken. Maybe the switch has already happened and you are well on your way to becoming a great speaker and looking at this book as a stepping stone and maybe pick up a few tips along the way to solve some of your problems and obstacles getting in your way of bigger stages and larger audiences. This book is full of those tips and tricks you can apply.
But maybe you still need that spark to ignite. Just like what happened to me. An “aha” moment that fuels your desire for a complete reset and new direction in your career and journey.
This book is about my journey. An accidental but deliberate journey. A journey which started simply by trying. This made it very simple, but not easy.
A few months passed after Anton’s infectious question. In those few months I happened to be coaching and mentoring trainees and new recruits on a little expertise I use to find where you can have the most impact in life while being as happy as possible and spending your time in the most valuable way possible. This exercise involved drawing 4 intersecting circles. These circles represent your passion, your skills, the demand and a business model. Where these 4 circles overlap is where you should be focusing your time as an entrepreneur or even intrapreneur (intrapreneurship within a larger organisation). The 4th circle on business mode is only relevant if you are really trying to innovate and create something new like a new product, service or business unit. The first 3 circles are sufficient to find your focus point as an employee ie. Passion, skills, demand. Where these intersect is where you should focus your time and effort to be happy at work.
When I explain passion I say “what are you so passionate about you would do it for free. Money often does not drive you with this activity. Unless your that type of entrepreneur that loves the game of making money, in which case making money could very well be your passion. Money ultimately flows to value, so the more money you accumulate, the more value you generate. If you had everything you needed to support yourself (or even if you didn’t) you would keep doing this thing or things until others stopped you from doing it and even then you would fight them to keep doing it. That is a passion. This is your passion. Almost an addiction. You need it to feel good. To feel happy. To acquire meaning. So, what are you so passionate about you would do it for free and never complain?
When I explain skills I say “what are you really good at?”. So good in-fact that others keep asking you to do these things over anybody else. Because you are seen as the best for doing this one thing, or a number of things. What are they? These are your number one skill sets. So, what are you really good at?
When I explain demand I say “what do people keep asking you to do for them?”. They keep asking you to do these things either because you are the only one who can do them or because there is just insufficient supply of resources and you are left to take them on. This is the demand. The things that need to get done. And you can be the one supplying the resources to cater for this demand. But it can also be a void in the market. An unmet need where demand is not being met. As an entrepreneur this is golden territory to solve a problem by supplying the unmet need. It the suck at the end of the holes every business needs to drive revenues and cash flow. So what is the demand? What are people asking you to do for them?
The 4th and final circle on business model is all about figuring out a business model that will make this new focus activity sustainable. How can you get paid for it? How can you build a business from it and have it become a profitable venture? So you can spend all your time doing it. This last circle also involves the execution of this business model. Do you have a plan? And are you able to execute on that plan?
To my amazement, as I was explaining this exercise to trainees I suddenly realised something. Holly shit! For me, this is speaking!
I was passionate about speaking. In fact I was doing it for free and loved presenting for my organisation at conferences and universities often for free (one of the reasons I kinda got fired a few months later). I apparently was really good at it because people kept telling me I was a good speaker and could bring complex topics into simple to understand presentations. There was definitely a demand because people kept asking me to do it. Sometimes it got pretty crazy with multiple presentations a day and definitely multiple ones each week for over a year. It was fun and I loved doing it (yep, it fed my ego), but my manager and organisation, where I was strategy director and part of the management team where sometimes less impressed. Sure it was helping us with brand awareness and marketing but it wasn’t paying the bills. It needed to convert to money and cash flow for this to be sustainable within my organisation. The beauty of it for me, was that I got a lot of practice at presenting and speaking. The organisation benefited from all this speaking in many ways that are just very hard to measure with quantify. It inspired many people and it enabled many within my organisation to speak out and do the same. Look forwards the future and build it.
And finally, (this one took a few months to research) there is definitely a business around speaking and a clear business model in the speaker business. Which I found out a little later.
So now I had my answer. Maybe you should do this exercise also? It really helps to focus in on where you should be focusing your time and attention and helps you cut through all the chatter in your head. This simple exercise helps you find your focus and removes confusion on what you should be doing with your time and resources.
My goal is actually to get off stage. Because when I’m on stage, you’re not – That was starting to be my pitch to training others to speak. CEO’s, founders, colleagues etc. It is a beautiful opener as it communicated trust, which as I put it in many of my keynotes, is all about acting in the other person’s best interest. Many speakers compete against themselves for podiums.
That was the philosophy I started with because I realised something very early. It was never about me.
Now this philosophy of actually not wanting to be a speaker and wanting to get off stage earned me a kind of X-factor. People in the audience started to like listening to me because they could connect with me in a meaningful way. Because you see, they also had no desire to be on stage at that moment. So we connected. But many did have ambitions to do what I was doing someday, if they ever found the courage and the skills to stand up and speak their mind. So we connected again.
The other thing was that the more it was not about me, the more they wanted it to be about me. I found this very fascinating because I started to realize it was not even about what I said, what I did, this had all to do with how I made them feel.
And the stories, the slides, the poise, the voice, the facts and figures and everything that I did and said would be forgotten by most of the people in the audience. What they never forgot is how I made them feel.
And guess what? The more I made them feel the more they wanted to listen to me speak. The more the event managers and producers wanted me back. The more they shared the experience with others. The more they looked forward to seeing me speak again. I found this quite interesting. It was turning into a counterintuitive approach of going against the status quo and thinking differently to conventional wisdom.
Be different. Do you. Have fun. Try less. Leave yourself behind. Focus on making the emotional connection because that is the only thing they will remember. Because you see, people don’t remember what you say, they won’t even remember what you do – people remember how you made them feel. Because feelings give rise to emotions and emotions are what makes memories stick.
So that’s how my journey started.
(Bianca: including this part to see what you think and if it has any place in this book)
A four year old boy was crying and screaming under the kitchen table. To one side of the table was his mother, crying and screaming as if her life depended on it, and the life of his little sister one month from being born. To the other, his father, in drunken rage, with a long, sharp kitchen knife in his right hand already stained with blood. The little boy was so scared and felt complete and utter helplessness. All he could do is make himself invisible, cover his ears, close his eyes and shut his mouth. He was frozen with complete inability to communicate in any way. Or maybe, he just did not know how to? Can you blame him? He was 4 years old. And the fear he felt, was a reaction to his parents behavior.
That is my oldest memory. That was the day I lost my mother. That was the day I lost my father. And that was the day they lost each other. That was the day I grew up to fend for myself. I could see no other way. From that day forth I was on my own. I did not know it at the time. It is something I finally realised and accepted 40 years later when my father passed away 2 days before my 44th birthday.
You see, all my life I have been shut off from connecting with others in a meaningful way. How could I trust anyone if I could not trust my own mum and dad? Why should I share my stories with others who have the potential and ability to hurt me? There was absolutely no reason to speak out and connect. For 40 years, it was me against everyone else. But what I realised at the age of 44, was that it was really me, against myself. And nobody cared except me. What a waste.
Have you ever heard of the 18-40-60 rule? It goes like this: At 18 years old, all you care about is what other people think of you. In your 40’s, you don’t care about what anybody thinks of you. And when you turn 60, you realize nobody has been thinking about you at all! You see, it really does not matter what others think of you. Because when they are thinking of you, most of the time, they are just thinking about what you are thinking about them. And this simple rule was life changing for me. It empowered me to express myself and find the confidence and courage to stand up and share my story. It gave me the wisdom to realize that people were not thinking about me at all and in fact, were thinking more about themselves and what my words could mean for them. This was a catalyst, the alarm clock, that awoke the speaker in me.
People are quick to judge you but this judgement is passed in their own image filtered by their values and beliefs and has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. You must respect that. It’s their right and their life and their perspective. It’s not yours. And that is the counterbalance of empathy. You see, empathy is key to understanding the view and perspective of others. To feel their pain, joy, concerns, anxiety or whatever they feel. The key her is not to judge. Not to apply their perspective on your own. Not to see it as good or bad. True or false. But to see it as their perspective. Their right to think what they want. Just as you also have that right. Respect that and simply learn from it. Learn how they see the world around them. When you can realise this, it is so empowering and will allow you to develop the courage to express yourself, share your story and awaken the speaker in you. It maybe too heavy for most, and we will come back on this topic later in the book as it is key to awakening the speaker.
(The below is not good writing and needs work… just wanted to get it in here as this was my first official keynote and presentation in front of a very large audience. With a lot of pressure to perform.)
Fast forward 25 years and that young boy was now a young 29 year old man. He boarded a plane to the United States of America for the first time. It was to deliver his first keynote address to over 1000 scientists and Nobel laureates at the Watson and Francis crick cold spring harbor laboratory on Long Island, New York. It wasn’t just any speech. It was a scientific presentation that could save the lives of millions of people worldwide who suffered from AIDS. That young man had made a discovery that led to the development of a candidate vaccine against HIV, the causative agent of AIDS. He had discovered the first drug-dependent HIV virus, characterised this dependency with a model on drug-dependence, identified the 2 mutations responsible for the dependency and built a vaccine that worked in vitro as proof-of-concept.
Minutes before being called up to the stage to give his presentation, he was shaking with fear. He felt so afraid and so incredibly sick he had to run outside and throw up. He had nowhere to go. Nowhere to run. There was only one way forward and that was to get up on that stage and give his presentation. He knew it. And everyone expected it. It was one of the most frightening and beautiful moments in his life.
The crazy thing is, no one ever told him anything about how to present in front of a large group of people. Not at school, not at university and not at work. How could this be? How could our educational system have failed this young man and failed to empower him with the communication skills that were necessary to deliver this presentation. (To be continued…)