Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What You Speak Is Who You Are

13th and 14th May 2011
Venue: Infosys Campus, Mysore

Two things that made my journey from Bangalore to Mysore as well as my absconding from work, worthwhile were the simply GREAT Infosys campus and the world champion of public speaking (1999), Craig Valentine’s speeches, nay, his performance on stage.

The below is the best I could record between attentively listening, watching, laughing and (of course) applauding through the sessions. As I wrote this article, I realized what a big chasm there was between witnessing the speaker himself and writing about the experience.

Don’t miss the learning below, if you like public speaking. Or writing. Or theatre. Or even simply conversing with people. Or Living!
It was specifically addressed to aspiring speakers but I believe there’s a lot that all of us can take away from his words.

“What’s the number 1 thing that stands between people living their dreams?” he began the session with this question.
“Fear’, ‘lack of confidence’, ‘destiny’… came the answers from us all.
No it’s not a negative thing. It’s a good things that come in between you and your dreams.
This he illustrated with his own story.
He walked to his employer and said he wanted to quit, because he wanted to be the world champion of public speaking. The employer immediately offered him a hike in salary. He shook his head and said he wanted to pursue a career in public speaking. The employer hiked his salary again. And again. And again. When the employer said “I will give you one hundred thousand dollars, he said, “I will ask my wife”.
He went home, told her about it and asked what he should do.
“Take the money fool” said she at first.
And then she said, “wait a minute… this is what you have wanted to do all your life.” Hmm…. Craig, YOUR DREAMS ARE NOT FOR SALE”.
He went to his employer, and without making eye contact, said “My wife said, my dreams are not for sale” : - )

If he had chosen the employer’s offer was definitely a good thing, he would not be living his dreams.
It’s the good that comes in the way of the great.
More often than not, following our dreams means letting go of our chosen safe path and taking risks – risking the good things we have. One who has nothing to lose can do absolutely anything. Isn’t it?
Don’t let the good get in the way of the best.

He told us of the first time he went to a bookstore. And how important it is to read.
“The people you meet and the books you read make you”
He recommended the book “Live Your Dreams” by Les Brown.

The full act on day 2 which followed the trailer on day 1 also began with humour.

“Sales blames marketing. Marketing blames production. Production blames engineers
When the engineers learn to talk, they will blame someone!”

Average leaders blame. Exceptional leaders accept it.

With a few demonstrations involving audience participation, he drove home important lessons.

We were asked to stand up face our immediate neighbour and turn the other way.
Then we were asked to change 12 things about our appearance…
After a few seconds, he said ‘OK, change two things…turn to your partner and find the change”
We did. The glasses were taken off, or the cot was removed, dupattas worn differently, hair let down…
And then again we were asked to turn the other way and change one thing and repeat the process.
We did.
Moral: Change small. Change often.
True. When we were asked to change 12 things, we simply stood thinking. Changing 1 or 2 things at a time was so much more easier.

How to craft/deliver a good speech:
1. Breathe life into a speech
2. Bring the audience to you
3. Build a message – tell a story, make a point

A foundational phrase is important. It is the ‘Take away’ phrase for your audience. It should be fewer than 10 words.
“No phrase. No stage. Don’t talk if you don’t have a take home value.”

He illustrated it with much humour.
Story: A man bought a bug bear (for those to whom this is not clear may think of a ladder instead of a bug bear). His little boy started climbing it. He went to the boy and warned him – you are too young for this. You will hurt yourself. Get down…”
The next day he went to the thing and the little boy was still on the top of it.
He said, “I told you not to climb, what are you doing up there?
To which the boy said “I am still getting down”
What’s the foundational phrase of the story?
“Sometimes you have to ignore your parents to get to the top.”

He gave us a story about a plane journey when this guy was sitting next to him for 4 hours without saying a word to him. When the journey was almost over, he said ‘hello, how do you do?”
Our man asked him, “I have been here for the last four hours next to you and you did not even as much as greet me and now you talk to me!”
To which the man said “I was afraid you would bore me. So what do you do?”
“I aspire to be a professional speaker”
‘And what do you do?”
“I am a professional speaker. I am the number 1 gospel comedian in the world”
“I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a gospel comedian”
“That’s why I am number 1”!

We were asked to come up with a foundation phrases for this one. Some of the responses were:
To be number 1, you have to be the only one.
Understand my silence to understand my words.
Your niche can make you rich.
What’s the prize. It’s a surprise.

Moving on…
It’s important to combine verbal with visual.
“What you say is not always what they hear.
People won’t remember what you say as much as what they’ll see when you say it.
The book is always better than the movie because people create the picture when you don’t give them the complete picture. People buy into what they help create.”

Speak to one. But look to all. Everyone in the audience should feel the speaker is speaking only to him. Never address them in plural. All of you, many of you, some of you.. STOP. SIMPLY YOU.
Public speaking is one on one enlarged.
Use the Hallway test – if you would walk to someone in the hallway and say it to him, you could say it on stage?
Would you walk to someone in a hallway and say “Have you all been to San Francisco?” NO. You say, “Have you been to San Francisco?”
And what happens if you say the former? You don’t get a response!

BODY LANGUAGE: This was a learning for me. I had witnessed too much irrelevant movement, noise and histrionics on stage by these speakers who had completely misunderstood the use and necessity of body language. Some of them jumped around like monkeys on stage and other almost danced during every speech they delivered. It was such a fall from dignity and grace that I had denounced the movement on stage entirely.

I learnt in these two days that movement could be relevant and enhance the impact of a speech manifold.

“Move on stage to make a transition.
Move when you change location in your story (action drives the movement in your story)
Timeline – create a time line – past – present – future – move to three spots on stage – 2 spots 2 feet apart. Avoid running too far between characters.
This creates a reference point to a particular time
But remember where you placed everybody and everything on stage.
A certain speaker created a reference point on stage to a part of his speech where the uncle died and he was cremated. Later, having moved here and there, he returned to stand at the same spot and had lunch.
Don’t have lunch on your uncle! ”

Always occupy center stage in the beginning

Be an excellent tease to be an excellent speaker. Make them wait to hear, say, the most important line in a dialogue or the last line of a conversation.

Check the VAKS
“I and my wife, were sitting on this leather sofa listening to Beethoven and the smell of cookies baking wafted through the open window.”
But don’t narrate a novel (while setting the scene). Just Speak (hurry up)!

Don’t tell. Ask. No person, no audience wants to be told about themselves.
How many of you sleep till late in the morning? Instead of Most of wake up late in the morning.

When you narrate a story, structure it in the form of “Conflict, Cure and Change in character”
That’s how story must develop. And, never be the hero of your own story.

Non verbal body language of listener/speaker is important. Focus on your own when speaking/listening. Public speaking is one on one enlarged.
Remember the acronym – SOFTEN.

S – Smile when appropriate
O – Open posture, not a closed one - Having anything between you and your audience is a closed posture (podium or lectern too) or hands folded instead of being open.
F – Forwardly – don’t recline in your chair- sit straight or lean forward
T – Touch/territory - What you do to one side of the audience, you do to the other
E – Eye contact - Scan and stop
N – Nodding - nod and acknowledge

“How many of you would like to add humour to your speech?”
All hands shoot up.
“Never ADD humour to your speech. Uncover the humour already present. Never add humour.”
In his earlier story he had done that
“Take the money fool” (his wife reacting ) was uncovering humour in the story, not adding.
He went to his employer, and without making eye contact, said “My wife said, my dreams are not for sale” – that was uncovering humour, not adding it.
Someone asked Craig, “When are you free?”. He said, “I am never free. I am available” : - )

The heart of any speech is in its dialogue. (stories, characters, dialogue). include dialogue in your speech.

Specifics stick. Be specific in your message. Don’t meander.

Never end your speech with a Q & A. people always remember what they heard first and what they heard last. (primacy and recency)
Have a scale. You master what you measure.

Help them grow and let them go. I don’t remember the context in which he said this but it applies so much to parenting!

“Tap and transport” – again, forgot what exactly he was referring to. I think it was about bringing the audience to you having won their attention (and respect) and then taking them to your message.

Do visit I just checked. Some stuff there is for free!

Lastly, when you open your mouth, you tell the world who you are. I couldn’t agree more. I sincerely hope and wish people paid more attention to what they said and how they said it.


Anonymous said...

You have captured the experience well, like the tips here and fully agree with links to parenting.

Sridevi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ravi 拉维 said...

Hmm did you take notes along with you.. If not have too much to keep in your head.. Hmm great... to know that...
The examples, the details are pretty good...
Good one Soumya..! Keep writing

Rajan said...

Hey Somya,

Reading this article took me right back into the infosys auditorium where Craig spoke.

You captured it very well and thanks for summarizing the entire learning in a very detailed and interesting way. Brilliant.

keep it up. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hello Soumya,

Stumbled upon your blog, and ended up spending a bit of time here. Somehow I found this post very interesting, and thought I should leave a compliment on my way out!