On Speaking and Speakers

Last month I had an opportunity to attend the annual National Speakers Assocation (NSA) annual convention. This year the event was held at the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida in the shadows of the “house of the mouse.”

I decided to attend just days before and new to this business of speaking, I had no idea what to expect. Though, I was sure I needed to be there.

For those of you who aren’t up to date, since returning from my three-year solo odyssey around the world on a motorcycle, I’ve been sharing my experiences as a professional keynote speaker. My keynote speeches are designed to inspire people to do and live better. My presentations combine fast paced humor with heart-stopping tales from around the world motorcycle. I try to make audiences laugh while they absorb lessons I learned on the road—lessons applicable to both our lives in business and at home. I move audiences too, with touching stories of the beauty and kindness in humanity. From a business point of view, my keynote talks inspire people to step outside their comfort zone and take a chance. My stories illuminate the beauty in diversity and the importance of creativity, innovation and communication to success. I have a website dedicated to my speaking business, if you’re interested.

In short, I was blown away by the convention. Not so much by the general and breakout sessions, but rather by the people I met.

Sure, the sessions were enlightening and information. And often they were inspiring and motivating. Watching Chad Hymas, a quadriplegic passionately deliver a keynote presentation had me both in tears and holding my sides laughing. Or listening to Wintley Phipps tell his amazing stories of chance and then singing perhaps the most soulful version of Amazing Grace I’ve ever heard. And I couldn’t scribble notes fast enough while learning presentation techniques and speech construction from the legendary Patricia Fripp (who, I was surprised to learn, is guitar legend Robert Fripp’s sister). And then there’s Lou Heckler. With some 30+ years experience in speaking, I found nobody who could connect with an audience and tell a story as good as Lou. Jean Gatz told me that the best way to judge the effectiveness of a speaker is by how many times you look at your watch while he/she is speaking.

I could go on with further name dropping and tidbits from the convention, but I’m afraid I’d leave someone out. To be sure, I’m confident that many of the new friends I met will be long term and even potential partners and mentors.

More importantly, however, was how surprised I was and the feeling I got from most everyone I met. Make no mistake, this convention was full of people who like to talk. And full of people with very big egos. Some rightfully so, some perhaps yet to be proved. Regardless, however, everyone is willing to help everyone. Keep in mind that 2009 was the worst year in the speaking business—ever. And in many ways we all compete with each other. Sure, there are varying categories of speakers, but we’re still competing for the diminishing dollars spent on meetings and speakers. This will change. Even so, members of the NSA are willing to share and help one another. As a newcomer and first timer to the convention I found many members offering their time, introducing me to their peers and asking me how they could help me. Coming out of the marketing and advertising world, this is refreshing. And perhaps this attitude has its roots in NSA founder Cavett Robert who said some 40 years ago, “As speakers, we never fight over the size of our slice of the pie, we build a bigger pie.” I think that spirit is clearly evident—even to this newcomer.

As another member shared with me, “the most precious gift you can offer anyone is your time.” So if any of my readers need a little help, advice, feedback or encouragement, drop me a note. I’d be happy to help.

Before attending the NSA Convention in Orlando, I wasn’t a member. Today I am.

What speakers have you heard over the last few years? And would you recommend them? Why?