I’m a big fan of the work of Dr Nick Morgan. In my circles, when people ask me advice about how to be a better professional speaker, I tell a somewhat backhanded and loving story about how I paid for a day of Dr. Morgan’s time, hellbent on having him make me a much better speaker. I loved everything he had to say. It was brilliant, full of really important details and ideas. And I couldn’t really make good use of any of it.
Dr. Morgan mentions it in this post. For instance, “The good news for you conference organizers, then, is that if you hire Chris you’ll get something largely new each time. In spite of my best efforts.”. (emphasis mine)
I want to explain what this means to YOU, and why Dr. Morgan was an amazing teacher, and why I’m a great student. (P.S., peek at Dr. Morgan’s great book on leadership.
Why I Couldn’t Execute on Dr. Morgan’s Great Advice
Where things went afoul for Dr Morgan and me was that he (very much rightly) recommended I build a “stump speech,” a kind of anchor speech that I could give over and over and over again, and that I just modify a few small bits of it. My method, utterly the opposite, was to craft new speeches every time I spoke. Technically, he’s very very right, and I’m a fool. But style-wise, I tend to like to customize every speech deeply, to hit the people I’m standing before.
Years later, everything Dr. Morgan taught me that day is bleeding into my style and methods. I’m locking down parts of my speech. I’m using physical “touchstones” to tie the audience to the story we shared together. Etc. But I had to get there from my own path, and I had to fit the ideas to my methods and mindset.
That’s where we begin.
How to Learn a New Skill
We learn a lot by emulating. Every human culture has some form of play. Kicking a ball or chasing each other in games of tag are all skills that centuries ago taught us hunting skills. When we play in organized or disorganized ways, we’re using the skills of emulation to learn something better.
Copy. Parrot. Imitate. It’s a great starting point. Emulation.
But that’s step one or step two, depending on whether you start with research. The usual ways we decide to pick up a new skill is either we envy someone else who has that skill, we experience a need for that new skill, or we attempt to calculate a potential value for a skill that sets us on a course. Why did you want to learn how to blog? Because someone said blogging’s a great way to… Right?
Emulation and Research are First
You pick the order. You either start playing and then look into how to play better, or you are looking at some new skill, and eventually you have to stop researching and start emulating/playing. Right?
That’s the starting point. You’re not really skilled if all you do is parrot what others have done. You might be capable, but it’s not yet your skill.
Find Your Own Path
This is adaptation, mutation, creation. After you learn someone else’s path, you have to find your own. SOMETIMES, you start here. But most times, we’re reinventing wheels.
To me, this is where most people get a lot of it confused. This is where it goes awry.
You can’t blog like me. It takes me 20 minutes to write a post that might take you a week. But you COULD learn to blog like you. And then it might take you 20 minutes.
Two People, One Stage
I was just talking to a new friend about how I can’t remember lines, you know, like in a play. She’s an actor and theater professional (amongst many other things). She could rattle off whole passages of Shakespeare. But she’s not great at public speaking (she said).
Me? I could get out “To be…” and then I’d be looking off stage for someone to show the rest of the line. But (pat your own back, Brogan!) I’m fricken awesome as a speaker.
So what’s at work here? Well, let’s call this person Amy, she’s a professional actor. Me, I’m a professional speaker. It’s like we’re cooks and I’m great at grilling and she’s great at baking. We can master our craft but arrive there from different places.
So that third part, about adaptation and mutation and creation (making it your own) is the part most of us are missing.
Emulate. Research. Recreate
There’s your little operating system. Take it. Run. Learn. Make new skill babies!
And fall in love with not knowing.