It's a beautiful day
As I type this, I am listening on YouTube to one of my favorite speeches ever delivered. I suggest you look for the video "Mr. Rogers goes to Washington." The US Senate convened a hearing in 1969 to decide on funding for public television. The Senate Communications Committee was treated to two days of testimonial threats, accusations, rants, and outright begging for $20 million in federal funding. Committee chair Sen. John Pastore was unimpressed. Just before they were ready to vote, along came Fred Rogers, host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and narrator of my early childhood.
What do you do with the mad that you feel?
In six short minutes, Mr. Rogers turns a gruff veteran senator into the Neighborhood’s biggest fan and secures the funding. He never raises his voice, confronts or accuses anybody. He disarms Sen. Pastore, by appealing to his deep concern for children.
Any time that I prepare a text, or a speech, I pull up the video of Mr. Rogers goes to Washington for inspiration.
See a resemblance?
If you ever hear me speak, you’ll notice that I sound nothing like Mr. Rogers. I choose him as a role model because he is as close to my polar opposite as I can find. As you create your identity on stage, you should have someone to emulate. Neither you nor I invented the craft of public speaking. We all have a role model. It could be a professional speaker, a comedian, a preacher, or politician. Once you find that one person, make sure you find a counterbalance.
This is MY neighborhood!
My number one speaking role model is Craig Valentine, the 1999 world champion of public speaking. When I first played his CD of speeches and speaking tips, I said, “That guy!” The energy, the humor, and the inspiration drove me to produce better content, and drove me through many red lights while listening to his CD.
A few years later, I met him in person and realized, “That guy -- is crazy!”
He paces and fidgets and bugs his eyes out more than I do. If I multiplied his intensity by my energy, the audience would spontaneously combust. After the conference, I went home and pulled up a Bob Ross painting video to get my heart rate back to normal.
I love to roast him, but seriously folks ...
Craig is the main reason that I’m writing this blog now. He wrote and taught the World Class Certified Speaking Coach course that launched the FIT-Presenter coaching service. During a recent virtual class, I had a chance to tell him about the time we met, and that I listen to Mister Rogers after every call. Although I've never heard Craig talk about his counterbalance, you can see it in his influences too. He sounds like a gospel preacher on stage, yet credits a middle-aged prim and proper English woman named Patricia Fripp as his greatest speaking coach. If you ever connect with him on a Zoom call, you can see figurines of two of his biggest role models, Bruce Lee and Dr. George Washington Carver (be like water ... and nourish those peanut crops).
Your influences should be as diverse as your audience. That diversity should include ethnicity, generation, personality, and subject matter.
How much variety of influence do you have?
As a high school wrestling coach, I can channel Craig Valentine for my locker room pep talk, but in front of the parents, I have to shift into Mr. Rogers mode. As a teacher, I have a more coddling demeanor in front of pre-teen students than I do with adult learners. In my early days as a Toastmaster, I channeled my favorite comedian, George Carlin. His delivery style and emphasis on writing over performance won me a lot of praise from my club. Unfortunately, my only speeches back then were loaded with opinions, a la George. Once I ran out of opinions, I ran out of material. It wasn't enough to draw from the same well every time. I had to look for more compassionate speakers and better storytellers to expand my material. For every emotion that you want to provoke from your audience, look for another role model. The more people you follow, the less likely that you will imitate any of them.