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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Stalling Compounds the Difficulty - Opening Keynote

What is the telephone call that you must make, or the appointment that must be made –- the one that you keep putting off? Who is the person that you have to speak to –- the one that you're afraid to speak to. What is the task that must be undertaken -– the one makes the daily list and is never acted upon?

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Using a Speakers Bureau - Opening Keynote

Some meeting organizers fear that a speakers bureau representative can't know enough about the industry, the audience, and the particulars to find the right person. Among the larger bureaus, however, many of the booking agents have developed specialties. Such agents can do an outstanding job of finding the right speaker based on your industry, your audience, and your particular needs.

In many cases, such agents have a better grasp of the situation than you do because they have encountered similar situations on many past occasions. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to ascertain if a booking agent has sufficient background to assist you in very precise ways.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Learning from Taylor Swift - Opening Keynote

I almost titled this article, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Performance I Learned by Watching Taylor Swift,” except that I had learned most of what I needed to know long before she came along. Still, you can’t help but marvel at the young lady’s ascension.

She is one of the biggest pop stars in the world, heading toward a level of super-stardom that is almost incalculable. Her tours sell out the largest concert venues around the world and, in some cases, soccer and football stadiums.

I am not a fan in particular, although I do admire several of her songs, including “Forever and Always,” “Sweeter Than Fiction,” “Safe and Sound,” “Style,” “Blank Space,” and “Welcome to New York.” What captures my interest is her unflagging determination to offer a superior performance every time.

When Taylor Swift was 14 and 15, apparently she and her parents made the rounds to many TV and recording studios in Hollywood and Nashville asking if she could offer a live demo. Most producers said no and summarily dismissed her. The takeaway is that at an early age she had already intended to be a star performer. Today, she’s simply living out her dream.

Forever and Always
I saw her for the first time on “Saturday Night Live,” about six years ago. I only caught her performance midway but was mesmerized. Here was a tall, slender, teenage girl, not with the world’s greatest vocals, wailing away on a song called “Forever and Always.” She had such conviction in her singing that I, and apparently millions of others, was captivated. Who was this young lady? How did “SNL” find about her so early?

In observing her professionalism, one can’t help but marvel that she has mastered virtually all the techniques of effective performance. Among dozens of things she does exceedingly well, here are some worth contemplating for speakers:

Ten Tips
1. Taylor Swift’s stage presence is extraordinary. She most definitely owns the stage. Wherever she is appearing, for whatever size audience, under whatever conditions, you feel as if she is totally comfortable.

2. Her energy level is extraordinarily high and focused. You could say this about many singers, but if you watch any Taylor Swift performance you’ll quickly notice that she uses all 5’10″ of her height and all 122 pounds of her weight in her performance.

3. Her movements are coordinated and appropriate to the song, the audience and the venue. Objectively, she does nothing out of the ordinary, but she prances and moves about on stage in a way that keeps the audience riveted. Obviously, she has worked out all of this well in advance, and the preparation pays off.

4. Her connection to the audience is amazing. Through gestures, eye contact and a variety of other stagecraft techniques, you get the sense that she is totally there, in every performance. Some singers and performers allow you to watch. Some induce you to watch. Taylor Swift performs in way that all you want to do is watch.

5. Unbeknownst to many, she is a virtuoso pianist and plays other instruments as well. This capability helps, even during songs when she is not playing any instrument. When she does employ her guitar she is totally comfortable with it.

6. She is a student of performance. Recently asked to be a coach on the hit television show “The Voice,” she astounded the four regulars coaches -- Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams and Blake Shelton -- by instantly assessing their team members’ practice sessions and, in a matter of seconds, offering insightful suggestions that immediately improved their performances.

Note: If you haven’t seen “The Voice” episodes when Taylor Swift was coaching, go online to the many segments available on YouTube. Although she’s only 25 years old (born in December, 1989), she has stated that she makes mental notes of every performance she’s seen, whether at the American Music Awards, the Country Music Awards or the Grammys. She didn’t go to college, but she certainly is an excellent student and her unparalleled performance wisdom belies her tender age.

7. She is constantly evolving. Whether or not you like her music, if you take the word of top critics and music aficionados, it’s undeniable that each album has gotten better. She recently made the choice to forsake country music and focus on pop music, whereas she had been straddling the line for years. Her latest album, “1989,” the year of her birth, has won critical acclaim from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Time magazine, among legions of other publications.

8. As far as one can tell, she is down-to-earth. During an interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” she stated that album reviews do matter and any artist who says they don’t is not being honest. How she maintains an air of humility and that common-person touch probably can be attributed to her parents. At some point, however, you have to concede that the young lady has what it takes in terms of looks, personality and sufficient talent to make herself a star.

9. As her fans -- Swifties -- know, and many critics have lamented, her songs are highly personal, representing her relations with men, with friends and her life’s events. Because she is self-disclosing, many fans gave her an immediate pass. Today, it is understood that Taylor Swift writes songs from her personal experiences that have meaning for her and, happily, also have meaning for her listeners.

10. Taylor Swift lives in the now and has a focus on the future. Her decision to abandon country for pop was done with the realization that she’ll be in the business for the long haul and that the popular music route will enable her to grow and expand in novel ways. In past decades, many performers who have attempted to leave one music genre for another have not always fared so well. Taylor Swift made the switch young enough to recover from any potential setback but with the success of “1989,” apparently has already leapfrogged over that hurdle.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Speakers Can Eliminate Risk - Opening Keynote

“Consider the risks a buyer faces if the speaker he or she hires doesn’t fulfill the desired outcome,” says sales trainer Ron Karr. “I once received a call from a client looking to hire me. He talked about how he always holds his breath when the speaker takes the stage, because his neck is on the line. Now that is a risk.”

If a meeting costs a company $500,000 to produce, Karr notes, including travel, meeting location, food service, and so on, the meeting planner is under intense pressure to ensure the group has the best speaker(s) available to generate a proper return on investment.

The risks of the organization not achieving its overall objectives, such as a 10% increase in sales, or the attendees learning a set of skills or leaving with a renewed attitude, is considerable. So, what does a good speaker have to offer? A desirable outcome and return on investment.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Your Listeners Need Warming Up - Opening Keynote

Some of the best speakers I know employ a tried-and-true technique for warming up an audience: getting them to offer applause, three times, early in the session. For example, I recall someone effectively using this approach:

"Let's give a hand for the food service people who prepared and delivered our breakfast this morning. Also let’s recognize the people at (organization) who flew me in to be here with you. How about a round of applause for them? Last, and certainly not least, how about yourselves? You took time out of your busy schedules to be here. Let’s have a round of applause for everyone here."

At this point, what audience wouldn’t be focused, ready to listen, applaud, and have a good time?

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

When the Meeting Planner Hinders - Opening Keynote

As a speaker, every once in a while you encounter a meeting planner who doesn't give you the fundamental information that you need to be successful. This happened to me at a speech in Winnipeg to an insurance support group.

I was scheduled to speak for 90 minutes. Prior to my session, attending salespeople would be returning from lunch at the company's headquarters. There would be some announcements and a few awards before I went on.

Predictably, the lunch ran a little long. People continued to arrive back at the conference until just before the afternoon session; everything was going to be pushed back 15 to 20 minutes. I wasn’t concerned, because I had experienced this many times.

I took my seat in the far right of the front row. When the introducer mentioned my name and that I was going to be presenting that afternoon, I stood up and positioned myself along the wall adjacent to my seat, waiting for him to conclude his remarks. Instead of concluding, he gave several brief announcements for a duration of more than five minutes. He then cited several individuals in the room and called others up to hand out awards. The award ceremony lasted for more than 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I was still standing along the wall, smiling, and politely applauding along with the audience. My energy was dissipating. It had been more than 25 minutes and I had no idea when it was going to be my turn to speak.

After even more announcements, I was finally introduced, but now this after-lunch audience had already been in their chairs for 30 minutes. This, of course, was a disaster in and of itself. Most people need to go to the rest room 60 to 90 minutes after lunch. With them being in their seats for 30 minutes and me planning to speak for 90, it was a guarantee that by the end of the two hours, people would be dying to go.

As I began, I realized I needed to ramp up my energy level. The audience was already in a slump, and now I was not my normal, high energy self. The session went fairly well, but it wasn't one of my better performances.

The meeting planner was oblivious to the whole situation, and there was no opportunity after the fact to converse. In retrospect, I suppose I should have sat down once I realized how long the award ceremony was going to take. It seemed, however, that it was just about to end, mostly because the people giving the awards were not adept at what they were doing.

Hereafter, for after-lunch sessions, I will grill the meeting planner about the precise agenda and timing.

Every speaker experiences some seemingly unavoidable misunderstandings. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons why public speaking is one of the least desirable activities among adults. This far into my career of paid, professional speaking, a situation of this sort should not have happened. I suppose it could have been worse.

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Sunday, March 05, 2017

Stay on Schedule - Opening Keynote

Strive to be the one speaker at their meeting or convention who gets the meeting back on schedule. If you were scheduled for 60 minutes and you're given 42, still end at the original time, on the button.

It's an old saw that few speakers are ever penalized for speaking too little. Many are penalized in the minds of their listeners for speaking too long. You can become a hero to the host or meeting planner and possibly the larger group, by getting them back on track.

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