Yeah I talk too much. I know. The more I talk the more I think people want to hear me. That is my delusion. I tell stories. I try to provide insights. I try to use humor to be disruptive. To make us have a knowing laugh where we laugh at ourselves for a moment. I have been giving speeches for decades--pretty much a once a week or so regimen. This unknown Asian guy has been in front of many audiences :) But one of the great curses of people who speak is the way we get asked to speak. The invitation is an honor. The idea that others may benefit from our words is a giant ego boost, no question. No the curse is how we are asked. "So and so (someone who was in an audience who you do not know) highly recommended you as a speaker. They said you were (insert adjectives). I was wondering if you were available" (a date that is not far off--triggering many un-askable questions like, "Did someone cancel? Why are you such a poor planner?" By some quirk you are free) I ask, "Tell me about this event. Who will attend, what is the theme, goals? What did you do last year?" To me essential questions. But to the scheduler (not talking about an "assistant" here-often someone with a title to impress me) really irritating. He just wants to confirm the jester request.
But I want to know if I am a fit without sounding like an ungrateful jerk. So the battle with the scheduler continues. He says something like, "We really want someone to inspire everyone and make them feel good. Last year we had someone who was a big downer. So and so thought you were really funny." Yikes! Don't get me wrong I want to make people laugh, I try really hard to make that happen. But I do not ever want my takeaway to be, "He's funny." Maybe he made us think or he shifted our perspective. Another favorite: Can you do one of your "inspiration talks". "Inspiration" is one of those words! It is the Mona Lisa of adjectives! Inspire whom, why?!! Like an unfulfilling snack that masquerades as a feast. Never works. Again, I am really grateful to be asked to speak. Really. But the scheduler is a stubborn combatant. What I love is the puzzle of writing something unique that will neatly fit into the group's needs. It take effort and time. It is a brutally fun task of wrestling with words, phrases, timing and delivery. Part of the art of speaking that I thoroughly enjoy --when it is done :)
The scheduler thinks I have a drawer full of speeches for any occasion, for any event, for any group. (what it must be like for a comedian to be asked to tell a joke or make us laugh) True that we go back to the same mines to get nuggets that work, to engage new audiences. After hundreds of speeches you develop themes of humanity, concepts that create a space for reflection, stories that change the way people feel and possibly move some people to action. Then like a competent cook you try and blend these elements with some new ingredients to whip up the stream of words into a newish recipe that has an edge--hopefully a little kick. The scheduler has little appreciation for what it takes in the kitchen. They just want to know if you can serve up the dish! Being a "nice" speaker. And even a "funny" speaker can be a waste of everyone's time. Rather be a bad speaker with a good message. So I turn down speaking engagements where I am a poor fit. Or when the expectations are crazy. And where they want me to travel so far to be "funny" for a few minutes. But more often than not, the unknown Asian jester shows up to try and delight the audience and yes be a little funny too. The scheduler wants to complete his task--book the jester! And the jester just wants people to appreciate his craft.
Thanks for reading. John