Ladies and Gentlemen, Serving Ladies and Gentleman

 

Back when my kids were small, they loved watching the movie “Goonies,” circa 1985. I’ll never forget the sound of Sloth, the monster-looking character, calling out to the gang of young boys, “Hey, you GUY-UYYYYYYS!” I think of this whenever I hear a leader, trainer or professional speaker call an audience “you guys…”

First of all, I’m not a guy. When I’m in the audience and I hear someone in authority, a leader speaking from the front of the room or from the stage or at the head of a boardroom table, call us “you guys” it makes me think of a gang of little boys (much like the one in “Goonies”) huddled out back in a homemade fort, the one that says “Girls Keep Out!” There’s a familiarity about the expression that seems at odds with the message.

While I know the phrase is meant to represent the collective audience, “you” or “you all” in the plural, there’s something about addressing a group of professionals as “you guys” that seems off. Call me old-fashioned (go ahead, I dare you) but language matters. When we are speaking to an audience, unless they are under the age of 13 I think it’s important to address them as “ladies and gentlemen.”

My former boss Chuck Lauer, taught me that. He was publisher of Modern Healthcare magazine for more than 30 years and he was vigilant about the importance of etiquette in business. He used to refer to the tagline of the Ritz-Carlton chain of hotels and resorts: “We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.” That’s also how he referred to his audiences whenever he gave a speech and I learned to do the same. He was the consummate speaker, a leader and a powerful connector of people. Chuck, affectionately referred to as “Chuckles” by those of us on his sales and marketing team, died April 30 at the age of 86, leaving a legacy of wisdom in his famous Modern Healthcare columns, his books and the many friendships that will live on.

So the next time you’re in front of a group, think about who they are and choose your words carefully. How you address people impacts how they see themselves and how they behave as well as how they perceive and respond to you. Chuck was fond of saying that good manners never go out of style.

Photo: Chuck Lauer addressing the sales teams of all of Crain’s publications based in the Los Angeles office in 2007 during a sales boot camp he and I designed with Teri Louden and delivered in LA, New York, Akron, Detroit and Chicago.

 

In Pursuit of Mastery

Humility plays such a big role in the pursuit of mastery.

Several weeks ago I attended a Speaker Lab, sponsored by the National Speakers Association of Illinois (NSA-IL) of which I’m both a member and a board member. The lab was led by two veteran speakers, teachers and authors, Cyndi Maxey, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) and Kevin O’Connor, CSP. Both Cyndi and Kevin have given tirelessly to our chapter and that Saturday was yet another example of the generosity of NSA members who are committed to helping others in the profession of speaking.

Over and over I’ve heard the recommendation that in order for professional speakers [or any professional] to get better, we have to seek out and welcome feedback. Easier said than done, though. It’s scary to put yourself on the line to be critiqued, some of which may hurt. But asking for feedback is a critical component in the pursuit of mastery, isn’t it? Asking for a critique says your commitment to mastery is bigger than your ego, even if it smarts. So I was one of the first ones to sign up for the Speaker Lab, and that Saturday I trooped down to Chicago to National Louis University where the lab was held. My goal was to perfect my “signature story,” a story about my dad that I wanted to use in a presentation I was giving in Indianapolis the next week. And while I’d used the story before, I’d never scripted it, so the results were often shaky and unpredictable. This time, I wanted to nail the story or, as we say in the world of music, get it “flat.” No winging it.

And that’s where humility comes in. You can’t get better without knowing what’s missing. The feedback I received at the Speaker Lab was compassionate and spot on: I meandered with too many off-track details, and the listeners weren’t quite sure where I was going. Got it. I took the feedback, scripted the story, practiced it and used the story during my presentation in Indy as “bookends,” beginning with the introduction and later ending my presentation with the story’s punchline. For the first time, I felt like I was in control of where the story was going and how it would affect my audience. It worked.

I did another brave thing: I recorded my presentation on my iPhone. Conor Cunneen, fellow dean of NSA-IL Speakers Academy and a consummate professional himself, has said over and over that it’s imperative to record every presentation and then review it to see what worked, what didn’t work and how to improve. While I would nod my head in theory, I hadn’t yet practiced this technique. I don’t know if my resistance was based on fear or laziness. This time, in pursuit of mastery, I hit “record” and later listened to my presentation while driving back from Indianapolis, a very long drive.

I was deeply humbled by what I heard. When did I start saying “um” every other sentence? How could I not have heard that before? I didn’t stop to count the “ums” but I was horrified by this vocal tic that I wasn’t even aware I had–and one I never would have known about if I hadn’t hit “record.”  Back to being a student. Back to the beginner’s mind.

One other thing struck me during that trip to and from Indianapolis. I was listening to some CDs in the car while driving, recordings of presenters at our NSA convention last summer. One of them, a veteran speaker and coach to other superstars, Lou Heckler, told a story about coaching a new speaker. After Lou gave the young man his homework, this neophyte speaker said wearily, “Boy that sounds like a lot of work.” Big laugh from the crowd–and from me. Yeah, it’s a lot of work. Discipline. Self-reflection. Practice. A hunger for feedback, a rigorous request for coaching and the ability to withstand the honest truth without flinching (or at least without dropping out) in order to get better.

In pursuit of mastery, there’s always something new to learn.

[Photo credit: “Maria Callas” by Marilyn Szabo, used with permission of the artist.]

My Heart Overfloweth

Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m thinking of all the people I love. I start with my family–my husband Bill, my adult children Kitty and Will, and all the parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins and extended family who have surrounded us. While today is spun as a romantic holiday, I prefer to think of Valentine’s Day as a time to contemplate, celebrate and communicate about love with all the people in our lives.

Last night my heart overfloweth as I watched my friend and fellow speaker Steve Beck volunteer his time as one of our guest faculty at the National Speakers Association of Illinois (NSA-IL)’s Speakers Academy. Steve is one of many NSA-IL members who have so generously donated their time and talent to share about the experience of being a professional speaker with students in our Speakers Academy, a training program for aspiring speakers. But perhaps because Steve was my Co-Dean in the program for several years, or because he now serves as our chapter president, or maybe just because Steve is Steve, I was moved to tears by his contribution.

Steve shared about losing his brother in Vietnam when Steve was 15. He said that before his brother left for Vietnam, his mother promised to pray for his brother every day–a ridiculous promise, he thought. Steve remembered coming home as a young teenager to see his mother praying the rosary and asking him to join her. Reluctantly, he did. Now as an adult, and as a successful business man and professional speaker, Steve uses prayer to jump start his day. Prayer, meditation and affirmations are part of his morning ritual, as much a requirement as his first cup of coffee. He shared his own “12-step program” with us, a list of daily affirmations, and he encouraged us to write some of our own in the handout he shared. Oh, and another thing–he makes his bed every day. Every. Day.

Steve Beck Leave Your Funk at the DoorIt’s no surprise that Steve has written a series of books, the first of which was entitled How to Have a Great Day Every Day, followed by Leave Your Funk at the Door. These irrepressible titles reflect the message Steve had for our Speakers Academy participants, a message that aligns so perfectly with Valentine’s Day: it’s up to us to discover every day the miracles we have in our lives. And most of those miracles have something to do with the people we love. No, let me rephrase that: those miracles have EVERYTHING to do with the people we love.

Steve, I love you, man. You bring a new energy to our NSA-IL chapter that nurtures and sustains us, an enthusiasm that’s helping our speaker community grow, attracted by love. The many lives you’ve touched as President, Co-Dean and now as guest faculty for our Speakers Academy program, are too numerous to mention. Happy Valentine’s Day, my friend.

 

[Masthead photo: “Arizona Valentine, A Heart of Ten Roses,” 2011, oil on canvas by artist Dyana Hesson, Mesa, AZ; taken at Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, AZ]