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

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