Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Ten Thousand Mentors" - Learn from Every Speaker You Hear!

“Who is, or was, your mentor to improve your public speaking skills?” That question was asked recently by a friend’s 16-year-old daughter, as she interviewed me for a school project. The answer to that question, if it were asked of you, should be the same answer that I gave that young girl—“I don’t have a mentor, never did.” That’s true, and it should be true for you too!
Actually I have had mentors—not ONE mentor, but at least 10,000 of them, and most likely a lot more! You see, since first studying speaking, I stumbled on to a great truth—a timeless truth—and it was this …You can learn to be a better speaker by studying every speaker you ever hear—the good ones as well as the terrible ones—if you ask yourself these five questions:
1. “Do I like them?” Not in a social or personal way—but in a speaker/audience way. Did they connect with you? Were they the kind of person you enjoyed listening to and would like to hear again? Now that’s a simple no-brainer question. You know in just a few minutes how that speaker is making you feel. So at every business meeting, TV show or movie, where someone is giving a speech, ask yourself that question. Next ask yourself …
2.  Why? Why did you like or dislike that speaker? What did they say or do that turned you on or turned you off in their presentation? If you didn’t like them, what did you feel were the turn-offs? Too boring? Not believable? Talking down to you? Confusing? Arrogant? Self-focused, not you focused? Overbearing? Egotistical? Or, on the flip side, if you liked them was it because they were funny? Sincere? Credible? Passionate? Enthusiastic? Creative? Happy? Focused on you? Down to earth? Again with just a few moments of self-reflection you can answer that “why?” question. Then ask yourself …
3.  What did they say or do that made me feel the way I felt? If turned off by their arrogance, was it their body language? Hands on hip, head thrown back in the “I’m better than you” position? Or just their tone of voice? Now you’re cooking. Now you’re starting to see how you can learn from every single speaker you’ll ever see and hear! They are your mentors! They are your role models for what not to do—or for what to do! If you were turned on and positively impacted by that speaker because of their self put down humor or their passion for the subject material, or by the sheer joy they emoted just discussing their topic—you now have a mentor to help you keep improving!
So my fellow students of public speaking, for over 37 years I’ve been blessed by having at least 10,000 mentors. Yes, studying, as an audience member, every speaker you hear, can teach you:
A.   What not to do! Anything you see or hear that turns you off!
B.   What to do! Anything you see or hear that turns you on!
Oh you’re not done yet! There’s a fourth question to ask yourself as you think of that “mentor speaker” you’re listening to . . .
4.    If I were giving that speech instead—what could I do to make it even better? It’s this fourth question that will move you to the next level. It forces you to keep improving. So let’s say you said to yourself …”Self, if I gave that speech, I’d focus on just three points, not the 18 the speaker talked about.” Or “I’d add humor.” Or “I’d have a handout.” Or “I’d open it up to questions.” Or “I’d have visuals.”
So, are you committed to making every speaker you hear your mentor? And now the secret is out. So often students of speaking ask me “Joel, what do YOU get out of listening to other speakers?” Now you know! They’re my mentors—it’s true!
When I hear some speakers, it helps me be even more creative in my professional speaking. They inspire me to twist and turn my stories into something more interesting to my audience. When some speakers speak, it helps me vary my cadence, speed and rhythm. Their style might be so unique and add such impact to the message, with powerful pauses.
Here’s a specific example: At my recent presentation in Orlando for the leading testing and assessment company in the world—Pearson Assessments—I had my introducer add this line to my introduction …”We gave Joel our Career Path Assessment test and it showed his people skills are so bad he should be a shepherd.” It brought the house down! Before I said one word, that got them laughing.
And after hearing a speaker speak recently, I didn’t like how much material was being squeezed into a short talk. It was information overload, and that brings us to the final question.
5.    Do I do or say anything like that speaker that could turn my audience off or work against me?  I’ve now revised my next seminar after feeling that too much information was being crammed in. And …
     What did that speaker do that was so effective that I should also do? Yes, copy the good stuff—not the specific words someone else says, but the principle behind what they did. I don’t speak like him, but I can take his unique style and add more pauses to my talks—and you can too! 
So get yourself a special “Mentors Notebook” and begin writing down and saving the answers to these five questions:
1.    Do I like them?
2.    Why do I like or not like them?
3.    What did they say or do that made me feel the way I feel?
4.    If I were giving that speech, not them, what could I do to make it even better?
5.    a.  Do I do or say anything like that speaker did that could turn my audience off?
b.  What did that speaker do that was so effective that I should also do?
Do this for the next four decades and you’ll have at least 10,000 mentors helping you become the great speaker you can become!
Contact me for a free copy of my 10,000 Mentors Worksheet"!

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