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Spring Thaw Inspires Questions

(Check out THE PODIUM, a newsletter published for members of  National Speakers Association – Illinois Chapter where this article first appeared)

After a long, snowy winter, as I walked around our urban neighborhood with Max, my Labrador retriever, I noticed much that had been hidden beneath the snow – specifically: a white shirt, cans, straws, cups, baby toys, tools, bottle caps, and a child’s winter coat! I wondered: Why are people such litterers? Who is missing that small toy? Why would a white shirt be lying in the mud?  How could a small coat not be missed? But now it’s April; the street cleaners have finally done their duty, and the answers to my questions are gone as are the items…forever.

There is a lesson here for speakers; we are people paid for sharing ideas and motivating others to change. It’s easy and natural to become focused on the TALK…on what we want to SAY. And yet, continued success in this business stems from our ability to seize opportunities to ask questions – to uncover what might never be revealed until it’s too late.

As a speaker coach, the standard two questions I ask speakers after they present is “What is one thing you liked about your presentation?” and then, “What is one thing that would make it even better?” They must answer in that order. This is not an unusual technique, but one that leads to truthful discovery and further spot-on work.

But what if we asked these same two questions of all our clients – all the time – about our work, our proposals, our approach, and ourselves? Most important, before we design or fine-tune the program?  Here are some other questions to uncover hidden truths:

• If this is successful: what is the one thing you’d like them to do as a result of this program?

•Who else will be reading this proposal?

•What can you tell me about the audience that I may not initially notice or ask you about?

•What’s one important trait I should convey in my professional manner and appearance during this program?

Recently I interviewed several consultants to help me with a client who needed help in an area I do not cover. They each portrayed themselves professionally, yet each began with a list of their experience and clients first. Had they asked me more about my specific needs  – had they uncovered the intricacies of my situation, I would have been much more equipped to select the right resource for my client.

Author and speaker Marshall Goldsmith leads a great exercise in his seminars where people explain a “weakness” they have as professionals and then ask another for ideas on overcoming it. It’s an exercise filled with energy and wisdom because we all like to give our “two cents” and it’s a perfect example of how others can help us uncover what’s hidden – if we just ask.

This month I addressed a wonderful group of volunteer trainers for an association for Down syndrome on how to be good presenters. I knew they each had a Down syndrome child and that was their motivation to volunteer and share. What I did not realize until I was midway through the program was the intense desire they had to share their “story of acceptance” about parenting such a child. For some the story happened in the delivery room; for others it struck when teenage romance erupted. The energy in the room when “their stories” came forth was noticeable. Had I known this earlier, I would have allotted much more of the program to working on that one story – clearly their main motivator and what their audiences would love.

And so we learn and grow each time we uncover “what’s beneath the snows”  – before the answer is gone forever.

Have a wonderful spring, and as always your feedback is appreciated! Cyndi

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