Wednesday, November 4, 2009

i-TFTD #226: The Missing Ingredient

i-TFTD #226: The Missing Ingredient

Every time you're in front of an audience, don't forget to add the secret ingredient... yourself.
by Dan Strutzel

There is a well-known story that's been oft-repeated by motivational speakers across the globe about a famous chef and his young apprentice. As the story goes, the chef was teaching his young student how to prepare his famous Key Lime Pie.

Now, this pie wasn't just good, it was what they call a "culinary experience." The creamy lime filling not too sweet, not too tart, succulent and downright tasty. The graham cracker crust lightly browned, holding together just long enough to meet your tongue before it crumbled and released its rich caramel flavor. Then there was the dollop of homemade whipped cream on top, light and fluffy and filled with real lime wedges. Yes, this was Key Lime Pie unlike any that anyone had ever tasted.

Eager to pass on his craft and increase his sales, the chef sought to teach his art form to his young apprentice. So he had him gather all of the ingredients and took him step by step through the entire recipe. The apprentice watched the chef closely, add limes here, mix cream here, add eggs here, a teaspoon of vanilla there, caramel flavoring there ... on and on it went. Then they each inserted the pies into the oven and waited for the masterpieces to bake.

When they pulled the pies from the oven, the apprentice was shocked. His crust was slightly burned, but the chef's was a golden brown. His filling tasted tart and made his eyes squint, while the chef's was as smooth as silk. His whipped cream had curdled, yet the chef's rested on the pie like a soft white pillow.

"What happened?" the apprentice blurted out to the chef. "I put in every ingredient that you did, I followed all of the directions, just as you did, and I couldn't even sell my pie at a grocery store, while yours is next to perfect."

The chef smiled, leaned over, put his hand on the apprentice's shoulder, and said, "Son, you forgot the most important ingredient of all." "What's that?" asked the apprentice. The chef winked and said, "You forgot to put yourself into it."

During my tenure as Vice President of Product Development for Nightingale-Conant, and having been an avid audio listener long before that, I have heard literally hundreds of speakers on almost every topic under the sun. I've come to conclude a key insight about public speaking: You can take every course on public speaking, learn all the right jokes and quotes, use all the right body language, and dress for success. Yet if, like the apprentice, you leave yourself out of the recipe, you will never have a lasting impact on your audience.

Many speakers say that fear is the major obstacle to good public speaking. They quote the familiar statistic that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death. This is certainly true. But in my experience, "overcoaching" of public speaking techniques is just as much of a barrier. You know what I'm talking about. This is the speaker that treats his or her speech like that Key Lime Pie recipe. Begin with a joke, then insert a story about yourself to identify with your audience, then tell the audience what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you've told them, an! d then add a great quote (and a dash of salt)... and there you have the "perfect speech."

Applies to more things than just public speaking. Like many advanced tips, this has to be absorbed and implemented in stages. Simple techniques, do's and dont's have to come first, we have to apply them in practice and then we are ready for the magic step of doing it naturally and well.

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