Monday, April 22, 2013

From Good to Great...


“Stop right there.”

I don’t even get my first word out before Darren LaCroix, International Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking (2001), stops me in front of a crowd of 100+ people at “Own the Stage” a District 56 Toastmasters sponsored event. Darren and Craig Valentine (the 1999 World Champion Speaker) were in Houston and offered their services to the District. For two hours these World Champion Speakers shared their knowledge and provided many techniques necessary to become a World Champion Speaker. In a word: Awesome.

I was one of the lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) few whose name was pulled at random to come on stage and present the beginning of a speech. These two World Champions would listen to the speech, stop you when they had enough material and provide improvements for you in front of the whole audience. One syllable was enough material for me.

Fortunately, after a quick correction, Darren let me restart my speech. I implemented his suggestion and continued on… taking advantage of the situation and learning an immense amount in less than 10 minutes.  It was a truly humbling, and rewarding experience for which I am very thankful. If ever there is another event with World Champion Speakers (like the upcoming Conference) occurring in Houston: Attend. It will be worth your time.  

I wrote the above short article for the District 56 Toastmasters Newsletter. That particular moment was an eye-opening experience, and I've started to dig deeper into the lessons provided at that session and through services/packages offered by Craig Valentine and Darren LaCroix. After starting to dig, I've realized one thing: I'm good. These guys are great.

Image courtesy of koratmember at

Good to great, what got you here can't get you there, whatever you want to call it, I've realized that I am the big fish in the little pond, and probably need to move to a bigger pond. Specifically I need to expand my public speaking skills. I probably will not be able to do that with the resources I've used to get where I am now. 

First, where I am now: I am a member of 2 Toastmaster clubs, and generally considered the strongest speaker in both clubs. I regularly win the contests at Club and Area level, if not at Division and even District. The evaluations I receive generally fall into the "Wow" category, usually with very little comments for improvement. I record my presentations and try to review them for areas to improve. Now I realize that without guidance from someone more knowledgeable, I will not reach a "great" level. 

Let me give you an example. I listened to a CD from Craig Valentine which discussed the power of using questions in your presentations. My reaction was originally "Ah-ha, I already do that!"

Then he dropped a bomb on me. Most speakers will address the entire room with the question, rather than the room as an individual. An example "How many of you..." rather than "Have you ever..." Since the "you" is both singular and plural, the deciding difference is "many of." This takes the audience into a question of numbers, rather than a question designed to encourage the audience to look at their own feelings and experiences.

I thought that this would be an easy tweak... until this past Wednesday, when I presented my Multitasking speech to a PMI meeting in Houston. I started the evening with a question: "Have you ever had a day where you felt worn down, didn't accomplish anything, and wondered why?"

Nailed it! Or so I thought. Unfortunately, as I entered my rhythm and progressed through the speech I found myself asking questions with "How many of you..." rather than the suggested "Have you ever..." or some modification thereof. I fell into my old bad habits.

Unfortunately, bad habits are hard to break. What got me to being a "good" speaker won't get me to becoming a "great" speaker. I've started digging into my presentations, looking for "old bad habits" and researching lessons from other world champion speakers. I will take it as far as I can, however, I have realized that I may actually need a mentor/coach.

Why am I sharing this? Because at some point the statement "What got you here won't get you there" is actually true. A leader has to be aware enough to realize when he/she has reached that point, and find ways to expand/change beyond the "here." I encourage you to look at your skills, your strengths, your talents, and determine if you are where you want to be with them. It is most likely that you can still grow. Now Conceive a plan to move forward!

For more details on Darren and Craig, please go to:

Darren LaCroix - World Champion of Public Speaking 2001

Craig Valentine - World Champion of Public Speaking 1999

The Lady and The Champs - An event I am contemplating attending.

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