—Newton Diehl Baker
Talented presenters are defined by their deft use of the seven strategies examined in this resource. They also have one additional overriding attribute in common: highly effective presenters are dedicated lifelong learners. In fact, it is a dedication to lifelong learning that helps them become elite presenters in the first place. We can define a lifelong learner as someone who first has the passion and dedication to learn from every source available. It doesn't matter if that source is personal experience, learning through the experience of others, or from books or courses. Second, everything that the presenter knows is integrated with everything else they learn, which leads to growth. Third, becoming open to learning, in all its various forms and functions, makes growth possible and when you make room for growth, you make room for success.
In excerpts from an article titled "From Training to Education," presenter Nido Qubein describes one of the essential differences between masterful presenters and their less proficient counterparts.
Let me make a suggestion that at first may sound strange, coming from a management consultant. If your company has a training department, do away with it. Replace it with a Department of Education and Development. The reason: The new business environment needs fewer people who are trained to do things a specific way and more people who are educated to find new ways of doing things. As Stanley Marcus once said, "You don't train people; you train dogs and elephants; you educate people." What's the difference?
The word education comes from the Latin educo, which means to change from within. Training provides an external skill. Education changes the inner person. Training deals only with the doing level. Education teaches people how to think. Let me give you an example: I once ordered an apple pie and a milk shake at a fast-food restaurant. The server smiled and asked, "Would you like a dessert with that?" This young woman had been trained to act. She had been conditioned to smile and try to upgrade the sale by reciting her memorized lines. And she rehearsed them to perfection. But she had not been educated in customer interaction. She hadn't been taught to listen to the customer, to think about what the customer ordered and to acquire a feeling for what might appeal to the customer under the circumstances.
Training attempts to add on the qualities needed for success. Education builds them in. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you should never train people. Training is essential when a specific skill must be learned, or a specific procedure must be followed consistently in a manufacturing process. Training should be part of a broader educational process. One of my favorite proverbs conveys the wisdom that when you give people fish, they'll be hungry tomorrow; if you teach them to fish, they'll never go hungry. Training gives your employees a fish—a specific skill applicable to a specific task. Education teaches them to fish.
Corporations have no choice but to invest substantial resources in developing people. So it's best to invest in ways that let people grow; that teach them to think for themselves; that create a pool of solid candidates for promotion to higher positions.
In the same vein, the very good presenters don't just train people; they educate their audience and themselves—for today and tomorrow. In fact, Nido Qubein got it just right in describing this critical difference between the top notch presenters and their less masterful counterparts.
Learn from experience.
Learn from mentors.
Learn from coaches.
Join a mastermind group.
Learn how to think like the experts.
Interview the best presenters you can find.
Learn from the best books to read, movies to watch, and courses to take.
There is an extraordinary book from the Centre of Creative Leadership titled The Lessons of Experience. In doing their research for the book, the authors documented that 50 percent of what we learn, we learn from experience. We learn 20 percent from mentors and coaches, 20 percent from failures, and 10 percent from formal education. We have adapted and expanded this approach specifically for people who want to become more like the presenters interviewed in the development of this resource.
Darren LaCroix, a Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, has a six-word mantra that helped him win this prestigious title. Darren's mantra is "Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time." In preparing for the World Championship, Darren spent as much time as he possibly could presenting before an audience. In addition to being a presenter, Darren performs stand-up comedy. He said one of his comedy mentors asked him, "How can you expect to be funny in front of an audience until you are comfortable in front of an audience?" Darren says the only way you can be comfortable in front of an audience is by spending time in front of one. Experience comes from familiarity, persistence, and practice—in short—stage time. All of the presenters interviewed took advantage of every possible opportunity to speak. Where none existed, they created them. If you need more stage time, consider joining a Toastmasters club, speaking for local volunteer organizations, or your local Rotary or Lions club. Darren LaCroix said when he was just getting started in comedy he searched for more opportunities to practice in front of a live audience. He said that because comedy clubs were only open at night, he had a limited window of opportunity. Then he found out about Toastmasters and the fact that many of them met in the day. So he immediately went out and joined four clubs so he could quadruple his stage time.
Many presenters get some of their best stories from realworld experience as the following example illustrates.
Brad: I was offered the opportunity to consult with and facilitate a meeting with all of the stakeholders at the Sydney Nova Scotia Tar Ponds Toxic Dump Waste Site, which is the worst environmental toxic dumpsite in Canada. The stakeholders were the combined three levels of government—federal, provincial, and municipal; homeowners whose homes bordered the toxic waste site and were therefore worthless; environmentalists who maintained that this area was the cancer capital of Canada; and the soon-to-be unemployed steel workers who were adamant that the toxic substance be incinerated at the steel mill.
I hired a colleague who was very strong—both mentally and physically—to work with me. The steering committee had arranged for a two-hour meeting complete with Royal Canadian Mounted Police protection. We were told that it would be prudent for us to facilitate the meeting right in front of the exit doors, in case it became necessary for us to make a quick exit.
Eighty of the most angry people I had every met attended the meeting. The citizens of the area felt massively betrayed by a succession of governments over the last 20 years. Millions and millions of dollars had been spent and not one speck of soil had been remediated.
Although we had started the meeting by getting the participants to agree on ground rules, the first half of the meeting bordered on anarchy. After an hour of venting, the participants started following the ground rules and a great deal of progress was made in formulating criteria with which to assess the options, and a modicum of trust began to slowly develop.
I have been trained in negotiation, mediation, and facilitation skills at the Harvard Program on Negotiation. As invaluable as that training has been to my learning and to my credibility, there is no way that I could have learned as much at Harvard as I learned in preparing for and acting as a cofacilitator in that meeting. As part of my preparation, I read every newspaper article that was written about the tar ponds and conducted a number of in-depth interviews. I then wrote up this case from each group of participants' point of view. In so doing, I attempted to understand each participant group's point of view. I researched each participant's platform with the same depth and detail as an FBI profiler would use to try to understand their suspect. I firmly believe that you cannot attempt to change someone's mind if you do not know where their mind is.
Several months later, I modified and wrote up this case and I now have an absolutely terrific case study whereby the participants in one of my courses have to work in groups to decide how they would prepare for this same meeting. After the participants give their ideas on how they would prepare for the meeting, I debrief the session with how we set up the meeting in reality. Comparing their results with what actually happened is edifying both for the participants and for me.
Now that I have developed the case, tried it out, and know it inside out, I also have a terrific story that I can use in my presentations on how we can build our future with creative rather than wasteful solutions.
It was documented above that leaders and executives learn 50 percent of what they have learned about being a leader from experience. It seems reasonable then that presenters would also learn 50 percent of what they learn from experience. By judicially enhancing the types of experiences we have, we can enliven both our training and our keynotes while enhancing our credibility.