10 Simple Ways to Eliminate the Regrets of 20/20 Hindsight


When I was in the early stages of my speaking career, I had abundant time and opportunities ahead of me. Unfortunately, I lacked perspective. With the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, here are 10 things I would have done differently to achieve success more quickly.

1.    Spoken for free several times a month just to get my act in gear.

There’s nothing like practice to make that march toward perfection. Nothing replaces being on the platform to make you more comfortable, relaxed and entertaining than to just do it as often as possible when you’re just beginning. That way, you learn early on if this is the right profession for you. You can’t learn about speaking from a book, classes or even from talking about it with other aspiring speakers. At the beginning, just do it as often as you can for free (at first).

 2.    Made strategic alignments with aspiring speakers.

During my first years in our Chapter, I observed that one member was skilled at the computer, which I am not. I thought about connecting with him and creating some kind of strategic alliance so we could mutually benefit from our respective skills: his marketing and my speaking. I never got around to it. Eventually, he dropped his membership and he was gone— as was an opportunity to accelerate my career arc with a boost from technology.

Another example: One evening, while socializing in the upscale Buckhead area in Atlanta, my watch was removed from my wrist—without my knowing it, right in front of my eyes, by a very friendly magician. We talked about a strategic alignment where he would use his magic to add entertainment value to my message. I didn’t follow through, and the opportunity vanished, just as my watch had.

3.    Explored and invested in quality marketing materials.

Just recently, I designed and purchased some marketing material that I’m excited about. Why the heck didn’t I make that investment years ago? Be forewarned: It takes some time to discover your unique selling proposition (USP), so don’t invest in your marketing program before you do. When you do get a sense of your USP, don’t procrastinate or wait for the “perfect” time. There isn’t one.

4.    Taken a course or two on humor.

As you’ve surely heard, you don’t have to use humor in your presentation— unless you want to get paid. Humor—perhaps in your opening or in your close—is essential to being effective on the platform. Being funny isn’t a unique talent limited to just a few comedians. Rather, it’s a skill involving good judgment, practice and good timing. Motivational speaker Ken Futch, CSP, reveals that he never uses a joke until he’s tried it out on his family, friends and colleagues many times. I’ve occasionally heard one of his lamer jokes during a break at one of our Chapter meetings. That’s one he won’t use on the platform, but he didn’t decide until he tried and saw it flop. He keeps trying, and those that make it with us (and other friends) might make it to the platform. It’s not magic—it’s dedication to get the right joke for your personality, and then fine-tuning it until it rolls off your tongue.

I am not a stand-up comedian, but I have developed one funny story that I use over and over, and it gets better with time. Once I tell that story, with a double punch line, the audience and I are more relaxed, they like me a bit more, and I might even lapse into some more humor. Now the audience is more receptive to it and anything else I have to offer.

5.    Offered freebies to large organizations when they showed some interest.

Early in my career, I received a call from Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. He had seen my book on emotional intelligence and asked if I was giving any talks. As it turned out, I didn’t have anything scheduled, but I didn’t think to offer him a free trial presentation, perhaps to a small group of his choosing. Had I done so, Starbucks might have been an ongoing client for me. Just think of all the café lattes I could have had … on the house!

6.    Experimented more with unique talents.

Whenever I see fellow speakers share their entertaining skills on the platform—juggling, magic tricks, music—I say to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” I play a number of instruments, but it was years until I integrated singing a customized song—a familiar tune with made-up lyrics for that particular audience—as I played a few chords on my guitar. If I had to do it over again, I’d begin integrating that talent when I was giving low-risk freebies to learn the ropes. Also, I would have learned some physical skills (e.g., juggling oranges, for starters) for non-paying audiences, so that my act would be finely tuned by the time I started charging. There’s always a way to integrate such “stunts,” no matter what your message. What audience wouldn’t appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into customized music along with your message? Who doesn’t have to juggle things in their lives?

7.    Been more responsive to invitations by powerful colleagues.

Many moons ago, the legendary Dr. Carl Rogers invited me to head his group in La Jolla, California. I had invited him to deliver the keynote at a conference I was organizing and, as I hosted him during the few days he was in Georgia, we became friends. I kept asking him if I could help him with any project. He kept putting me off, until that eventual call when he invited me to meet with his group. Well, I was busy with a full schedule here in Atlanta and wondered what would happen to all of my contacts if I left for California. At that point in my career, opportunities seemed to be popping up all over the place, so I declined. Over the years, I realized what an opportunity I’d overlooked. Or perhaps I wasn’t ready or mature enough at that point for such a heady responsibility. I’ll never know.

8.    Started interacting with audiences sooner rather than later.

There’s immense power in letting the audience do most of the work— by which I mean fostering audience interaction. Today, I start off with a powerfully provocative statement (thanks to advice from coach David Greenberg, CSP), a brief story and overview, and then I turn the next few minutes over to the audience to react to my opening remarks. Once the audience has had an opportunity to discuss my opening for a few minutes, I ask for their feedback to get a sense of the direction to take with that particular group. My message doesn’t change, but the manner of delivery—what to focus on, what to emphasize, what to leave out—certainly does. I instruct my attendees to get back to their small discussion groups throughout my presentation. That way, my presentation is less canned, more customized and more fun for both me and them.

9.    Learned much earlier the power of using an entertaining approach.

Whether it’s a provocative opening statement, a personal story revealing some vulnerability, humor and customization that is unique to that audience, or music (even off-key singing), that keeps the audience engaged and involved. We are in the entertainment business as much as we are in the information/education business.

10.  Served our Chapter more.

I have been on the board of our Chapter a few times, and served as advisor to the president, treasurer and in other capacities. Increased visibility with a board position can really help your career. If you can serve and demonstrate your intention to give back to your colleagues in your Chapter, or even to the national organization, you will definitely benefit somewhere along the line. Some of my best gigs have come from such contacts.

The moral of the story? Don’t do as I did. Take advantage of my mistakes over the years and accelerate your career path—at my expense. Joining your Chapter of the National Speakers Association gets you in the door, but doing what I could have done will enhance your chance at success.

David Ryback

David Ryback

David Ryback, PhD, consults under the banner of EQ Associates International. He is the author, with Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE, and David Nour, of "ConnectAbility," and his new venture into fiction, "Beethoven in Love."
David Ryback
David Ryback
David Ryback

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