There are over 15,000 professional speakers that are registered with the National Speakers Association. That’s a lot of speakers. When I got in the business ten years ago, my mentor, Ken Blanchard encouraged me to find ways to separate myself from the other 14,999. He shared that many speakers have great talent. Many have great content. And many have a great message. But what separates you from the rest of the pack? What is going to be your secret sauce? What are you going to do differently?
I decided early on that I wanted to be the most authentic speaker. The most approachable speaker. And the kind of speaker that learns about, researches and studies each organization that I’m fortunate enough to share my message with.
One of the things that I always offer my clients is to have dinner the night before or breakfast the morning of my keynote address. This gives me the chance to truly learn about the people that I’m serving. I’ve done these dinners and breakfasts a thousand times…literally…over the last decade. 99% of speakers don’t do this. It has transformed my business. But something even better has happened…these pre-keynote meals are starts to new friendships.
Yesterday I spoke to 900 executives in Chicago that are in the rail transportation business and belong to MARS (Midwest Association of Rail Shippers). And, as usual, I had breakfast with a couple of the MARS executive committee members prior to my keynote. But something different happened at yesterday’s breakfast. Something beautiful.
Halfway through my scrambled eggs, turkey-sausage and sliced avocado, I was beginning to think that this breakfast was just like the last 999 meals – small talk conversations with good people and good hearts. But small talk conversations never get to, what I call, 5th Floor Penthouse Relationships.
After I learned as much as I could from Rick and David about the shipping and rail transportation industry, I asked my breakfast companions about their families. And that’s when the breakfast changed gears. David shared that his son, Ryan, is autistic. Who, on the autism spectrum, has Asperger Syndrome. Rick and I listened to every word. I was deeply touched by David’s love for his son. And I was in awe of his vulnerability. When David shared a story of having to send his son to a month-long wilderness program in Durango, Colorado to course correct his son’s deep depression, he started to cry. Right there in the middle of the Westin Hotel, he cried and cried.
To some, this would make people feel uncomfortable. Those are the folks that live and breathe on small talk conversations. The folks that never get beyond first floor relationships. The folks that only know NSW…news, sport and weather. But for David, he went straight to the fifth floor.
An hour later, David introduced my keynote address to his MARS peers. His introduction was different. My keynote was different. And our new friendship, because of David’s vulnerability, is different.
We all have weekly professional meetings and meals. Some of us daily. What would our relationships look like if we modeled David’s authentic vulnerability? What would our careers look like if we deleted small talk conversations from our interactions?
Scrambled eggs, turkey-sausage and sliced avocado’s go down a lot smoother when you have real conversations with real people. Too many fake conversations with fake people happen in our personal and professional lives these days. We need to be like David. We need to share our hearts with our colleagues and clients. And we will be better for it. And then, conversations won’t end when your scrambled eggs are finished. They will be the start of beautiful friendships.