Wayne: You wanna know why I really came to find you?

Waxilliam: Why?

Wayne: I thought of you happy in a comfy bed, resting and relaxing, spending the rest of your life sipping tea and reading papers while people bring you food and maids rub your toes and stuff.

Waxilliam: And?

Wayne: And I just couldn’t leave you to a fate like that…I’m too good a friend to let a mate of mine die in such a terrible situation.

Waxilliam: Comfortable?

Wayne: No. Boring

– Brandon Sanderson, The Alloy of Law

“How”, she started, paused and then quickly said, “How did you do that?”

I had just finished giving a talk at a conference and I was with a small group of people who wanted to ask more questions. Her question confused me.

“What was the “that” that I did?” I asked back.

She said, “How did you make it look easy to give a talk on such complicated subject matter and make it fun and interesting and actually easy to follow?”

Well, I have a story about that. The first talk I gave many years before was not easy. I was a sweat-drenched, wondering-when-it-will-be-over speaker.  People might have gotten something useful from my talk, but I was too stunned to know.

I was genuinely surprised to hear that over the years I had become a makes-it-look-easy speaker.

What I have learned is that there are four simple things you can do to get started on becoming known as a “thought leader.”

  1. Gather stories. Most people relate to stories very readily. This is especially true when the stories are personal to the speaker and relevant to the topic. To get better at speaking, writing, and at generally being able to encourage people to think differently, gather the stories that are happening around you – and to you – all the time.  Write some notes about these stories so that you can easily call up the details once you see a few of the key phrases and words you recorded.
  2. Meet more diverse people.  Get out of the office, out of your house, out of your regular habits. Go to talks that are completely different from your field. Read outside your normal genres. Go to a “Meetup.com” that is full of people you expect to be interesting. Listen to new music. Join a flying club and learn to be a pilot. Do things that surprise even yourself. Strive especially to surprise yourself.
  3. Write. Even if it is for a very small audience. Write some stories down and make them relevant to your audience. This could be for work or some other group you are affiliated with. Write and write some more. I have been writing newsletters nearly every week for 10 years.  When I started I had only done one. Start now.
  4. Go give a talk. it is surprisingly easy to find places to give a talk. That part is simple. Giving the talk might be the hard part. The only way to get past the hard part is to go through it. You can build your skills from there.
The key to all the above is to simply get started. All of these steps take a fairly small amount of time.

The hard part is taking the risk of learning from the adventure.

As Ms. Frizzle says on Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Kids should do that. So should we.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.