PICTURE THIS: You just watched somebody give a speech.
Or present an idea. Or share a story. Or tell a joke. Or voice their opinion.
And it was so good, so interesting, so engaging and so entertaining, that your immediate response was to whisper to the guy sitting next to you, “Man, I’d hate to have to follow THAT…”
Have you ever wondered HOW people do that?
How they command the energy of the room with grace and gusto?
Me too. Today we’re going to talk about how to be a hard act to follow:
1. Be a consummate provocateur. Your job isn’t to educate or entertain people – it’s to disturb them. The word “emotion” derives from the Latin emotere, which means, “to disturb.” So, it’s not bad, it’s not good – it’s just a disturbance. A breaking of patterns. A shaking up of things. Making your words piercing and disquieting.
So much so that people squirm in their seats. Sure, it might be uncomfortable for a minute, but that’s part of the adventure. The reality is, some people NEED to have a little disturbance “breathed into them.” Focus on evoking emotion instead of creating sensation, and you will win. How provocative are your words?
2. Don’t “use humor” – just be funny. It’s not a tool or a thing or a trick or a technique or shtick. It’s a way and a style. You don’t use humor like you use hair gel. Humor is something you embody. You don’t “do” humor – you ARE humor.
That’s why people laugh. Your inherent funniness activates, animates and aggregates the humorous part of their being. And if you don’t think you’re funny, you’re wrong. Everybody is funny. Don’t fall victim to that trap of laziness. You don’t need ventriloquize other people’s humor and pawn it off as your own original material.
As I learned in the book Throwing the Elephant, “You don’t have to be particularly funny. The attempt to provide amusement is more important that the quality or validity of the amusement itself.” Are you trying to use humor or allowing your natural funniness to shine?
3. Don’t let them catch you acting. Oscar-winning actor Michael Cane once said: “The art is hiding the art.” Therefore: It’s not about manipulating people. Or fooling them. Or hiding something. Or misrepresenting the facts. It’s about discovering your voice. Your thing. Your sound. Your domain. Your territory. Your signature style. Your unique delivery of creative material.
And if you want to be a hard act to follow, your goal is to speak in a manner that’s so natural, so conversational and so unique to you that people don’t even know you’re doing it. You might try a few of the exercises in this module called How to Brand Your Language. Remember: It’s method acting, and the character you’re playing is yourself. When will the Academy award your performance?
4. Don’t prove yourself; express yourself. Proving is striving for approval; expressing is allowing for refusal. Proving is proclaiming your superiority; expressing is embodying your fabulousness. Proving is demanding your rights; expressing is deploying your gifts.
Proving is talking smack; expressing is doing acts. Proving is playing to the crowd; expressing playing for the sake of playing. Ultimately, the big difference between the two is that proving is DOING and expressing is BEING. Period. Which one do you practice?
5. Give your audience something useful. Not recycled wisdom. Not a steady stream of self-glorifying garbage. And not a collection of quotations and words of wisdom from old dead white guys. Speak with MCI, or, Meaningful Concrete Immediacy. First, speak to self-interest. Ask yourself: Whom this audience needs to look good for? Ask yourself: What are these people’s success seeds? Ask yourself: What is the key to these people’s hearts?
Second, be concise. Get to the point quicker. Learn to speak in soundbites. Human attention span resets after six seconds. And finally, and be actionable. Show people HOW. Deliver ideas that can be put to use the minute you’re finished talking. Are you all keepers and no fluff?
6. Fire goes a long way. Most people spend all their time, money and effort memorizing the message when they should be mastering the medium. Look. I don’t care if you’re discussing colon hydrotherapy best practices. If you speak with enthusiasm, passion, articulation, wisdom – in other words, FIRE – and people will listen. Guaranteed.
They’ll be so engaged that they’ll forget they’re even listening to you. All because you gave your audience permission to be taken over by your performance. Remember: The medium IS the message. How well do you embody energetic availability?
7. Help people get lost. July 19, 2009. Phoenix. It was a keynote speech that changed my life. Scott Halford, author of Be a Shortcut, told an audience of 1,300 professional speakers, “I don’t use GPS because I can’t imagine living in a world where you can’t get lost.”
Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to send people on mental journeys. Drop some fertilizer on the audience and let them challenge and inspire themselves. They’ll get lost in the best way possible. They’ll trudge down the trail for themselves. And when they come back, caked in sweat and dirt, they’ll be glad they don’t have to follow your act. Are you willing to rip up the map?
8. Hit the ground running. Whether you’re telling a story, giving a speech or conducting a meeting, be mindful of the VERY FIRST sentence out of your mouth.. Take George Carlin, for example. He became well known for delivering opening lines that received standing ovations. My personal favorite was, “I’d like to begin tonight by saying, ‘Screw Lance Armstrong!’ Aren’t you tired of being told who your heroes are?”
Lesson learned: Don’t waste people’s time. Leave out the parts people skip. Just go. Are your first words unexpected and interesting enough to make people look up from their Crackberries?
REMEMBER: It’s hard to be a hard act to follow.
I challenge you to plug yourself, your meetings, your stories, your pitches and your presentations into these eight equations.
In conclusion, I’m reminded of the wise words of the great philosopher, Mitch Hedberg, who once said, “I’m a hard act to follow because when I’m done, I take the microphone with me.”
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
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