About the Author:
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CARMINE GALLO, bestselling author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, is the communications coach for the world's most admired brands. A former anchor and correspondent for CNN and CBS, Gallo is a popular keynote speaker who has worked with executives at Intel, Cisco, Chevron, Hewlett-Packard, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, and many others and writes the Forbes.com column "My Communications Coach." He lives in Pleasanton, California, with his wife and two daughters.
Unleash the Master Within
Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent.
—LARRY SMITH, TEDx, NOVEMBER 2011
AIMEE MULLINS HAS 12 PAIRS of legs. Like most people she was born with two, but unlike most people Mullins had to have both legs amputated below the knee due to a medical condition. Mullins has lived with no lower legs since her first birthday.
Mullins grew up in a middle-class family in the middle-class town of Allentown, Pennsylvania, yet her achievements are far from ordinary. Mullins’s doctors suggested that an early amputation would give her the best chance to have a reasonable amount of mobility. As a child Mullins had no input into that decision, but as she grew up she refused to see herself as or to accept the label most people gave her—“disabled.” Instead, she decided that prosthetic limbs would give her superpowers that others could only dream of.
Mullins redefines what it means to be disabled. As she told comedian and talk-show host Stephen Colbert, many actresses have more prosthetic material in their breasts than she does in her whole body, “and we don’t call half of Hollywood disabled.”
Mullins tapped her superpower—her prosthetic limbs—to run track for an NCAA Division One program at Georgetown University. She broke three world records in track and field at the 1996 Paralympics, became a fashion model and an actress, and landed a spot on People magazine’s annual list of the 50 Most Beautiful People.
In 2009 the 5'8" Mullins stood on the TED stage at 6'1" the height she chose for the occasion. Mullins picks different legs to suit the event. She uses more-functional limbs for walking the streets of Manhattan and more-fashionable ones for fancy parties.
“TED literally was the launch pad to the next decade of my life’s exploration,”1 said Mullins. Mullins believes her TED appearance began a conversation that profoundly changed the way society looks at people with disabilities. Innovators, designers, and artists outside the traditional prosthetic medical community were inspired to see how creative and lifelike they could make legs. “It is no longer a conversation about overcoming deficiency. It’s a conversation about potential. A prosthetic limb doesn’t represent the need to replace loss anymore … So people that society once considered to be disabled can now become the architects of their own identities and indeed continue to change those identities by designing their bodies from a place of empowerment … it is our humanity, and all the potential within it, that makes us beautiful.”
Mullins’s determination made her a world-class athlete; her passion won the hearts of the TED audience.
Secret #1: Unleash the Master Within
Dig deep to identify your unique and meaningful connection to your presentation topic. Passion leads to mastery and your presentation is nothing without it, but keep in mind that what fires you up might not be the obvious. Aimee Mullins isn’t passionate about prosthetics; she’s passionate about unleashing human potential.
Why it works: Science shows that passion is contagious, literally. You cannot inspire others unless you are inspired yourself. You stand a much greater chance of persuading and inspiring your listeners if you express an enthusiastic, passionate, and meaningful connection to your topic.
* * *
IN OCTOBER 2012, CAMERON RUSSELL told a TEDx audience, “Looks aren’t everything.”2 Cliché? Yes, if it had been delivered by anyone else. Russell, however, is a successful fashion model. Within thirty seconds of taking the stage Russell changed her outfit. She covered her revealing, tight-fitting black dress with a wraparound skirt, replaced her eight-inch heels with plain shoes, and pulled a turtleneck sweater over her head.
“So why did I do that?” she asked the audience. “Image is powerful, but also image is superficial. I just totally transformed what you thought of me in six seconds.”
Russell explained that she’s an underwear model who has walked runways for Victoria’s Secret and has appeared on the covers of fashion magazines. While Russell acknowledges that modeling has been good to her—it paid for college—she’s also keenly aware that she “won the genetic lottery.”
Russell showed the audience a series of before-and-after photos. The “before” photos revealed what she looked like earlier in the day of a photo shoot and the “after” photos displayed the final ad. Of course the two photographs didn’t look at all alike. In one photo, Russell—16 years old at the time—was seductively posed with a young man whose hand was placed in the back pocket of her jeans (Russell had never even had a boyfriend at the time of the shoot). “I hope what you’re seeing is that these pictures are not pictures of me. They are constructions, and they are constructions by a group of professionals, by hairstylists and makeup artists and photographers and stylists and all of their assistants and preproduction and postproduction. They build this. That’s not me.”
Russell is a master of her craft—modeling. But modeling is not what she’s passionate about. She’s passionate about raising self-esteem in young girls, and that’s why she connects with her audience. Passion is contagious. “The real way that I became a model is I won a genetic lottery, and I am the recipient of a legacy, and maybe you’re wondering what is a legacy. Well, for the past few centuries we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we’re biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures, and femininity and white skin. And this is a legacy that was built for me, and it’s a legacy that I’ve been cashing in on.”
Russell’s looks made her a model; her passion made her a successful speaker.
Russell and Mullins were given a platform because they are masters in their fields, but they connect with their audiences because they are passionate about their topics. What fuels a speaker’s passion does not always involve their day-to-day work. Russell didn’t talk about posing for photographs, and Mullins didn’t talk about competing in track and field. Yet each gave the talk of her life.
The most popular TED speakers share something in common with the most engaging communicators in any field—a passion, an obsession they must share with others. The most popular TED speakers don’t have a “job.” They have a passion, an obsession, a vocation, but not a job. These people are called to share their ideas.
People cannot inspire others unless and until they are inspired themselves. “In our culture we tend to equate thinking and intellectual powers with success and achievement. In many ways, however, it is an emotional quality that separates those who master a field from the many who simply work at a job,”3 writes Robert Greene in Mastery. “Our levels of desire, patience, persistence and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. Feeling motivated and energized, we can overcome almost anything. Feeling bored and restless, our minds shut off and we become increasingly passive.” Motivated and energized speakers are always more interesting and engaging than bored and passive ones.
I’m often asked to work with CEOs on major product launches or initiatives, helping them to tell their brand stories more effectively and persuasively. I travel around the world to visit brands such as Intel, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Pfizer, and many other companies in nearly every product category. In any language, on any continent, in every country, those speakers who genuinely express their passion and enthusiasm for the topic are the ones who stand apart as inspiring leaders. They’re the ones with whom customers want to conduct business.
For years I started with the same question during my coaching sessions with a client—what are you passionate about? In the early stage of building a story, I don’t care about the product as much as I care about why the speaker is fired up about the product or service. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, once told me he wasn’t passionate about coffee as much as he was passionate about “building a third place between work and home, a place where employees would be treated with respect and offer exceptional customer service.” Coffee is the product, but Starbucks is in the business of customer service. Tony Hsieh, the founder of online retailer Zappos, isn’t passionate about shoes. He told me he’s passionate about “delivering happiness.” The questions he asks himself are: How do I make my employees happy? How do I make my customers happy? The questions you ask will lead to a very different set of results. Asking yourself, “What’s my product?” isn’t nearly as effective as asking yourself, “What business am I really in? What am I truly passionate about?”
Tony Hsieh is so passionate about customer service and employee engagement, he is a sought-after speaker at events and conferences around the world (he has to turn down far more requests than he accepts). Since many speakers are bone-dry because they have no passionate attachment to the topic, watching an enthusiastic speaker is as refreshing as drinking ice-cold water in the desert.
WHAT MAKES YOUR HEART SING?
Recently I’ve started to change the first question I ask of my executive clients who want to become better communicators. In his last major public presentation, Steve Jobs said, “It’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that makes our hearts sing.” So today I’ve replaced “What are you passionate about” with “What makes your heart sing?” The answer to the second question is even more profound and exciting than the former.
For example, I worked with a client in the agribusiness community of California. He headed an association of strawberry growers, an important crop for the state. Here’s how he answered my questions:
Question 1: What do you do? “I’m the CEO of the California Strawberry Commission.”
Question 2: What are you passionate about? “I’m passionate about promoting California strawberries.”
Question 3: What is it about the industry that makes your heart sing? “The American dream. My parents were immigrants and worked in the fields. Eventually they were able to buy an acre of land and it grew from there. With strawberries, you don’t need a lot of land and you don’t need to own it; you can lease it. It’s a stepping stone to the American dream.”
I’m sure you’ll agree that the answer to the third question is much more interesting than the first two. What makes your heart sing? Identify it and share it with others.
WHAT MAKES YOUR HEART SING? Ask yourself, “What makes my heart sing?” Your passion is not a passing interest or even a hobby. A passion is something that is intensely meaningful and core to your identity. Once you identify what your passion is, can you say it influences your daily activities? Can you incorporate it into what you do professionally? Your true passion should be the subject of your communications and will serve to truly inspire your audience.
THE HAPPIEST MAN IN THE WORLD
Matthieu Ricard is the happiest man in the world, and he’s not happy about it. In 2004 Matthieu Ricard temporarily left the Shechen monastery in Kathmandu to teach a TED audience in Monterey, California the habits of happiness.
According to Ricard, happiness is a “deep sense of serenity and fulfillment.” Ricard should know. He’s not just pleased with his life. He’s really, really happy. Scientifically, he’s off-the-charts happy. Ricard volunteered for a study at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Research scientists placed 256 tiny electrodes on Ricard’s scalp to measure his brain waves. The study was conducted on hundreds of people who practice meditation. They were rated on a happiness scale. Ricard didn’t just score above average; the researchers couldn’t find anything like it in the neuroscience literature. The brain scans showed “excessive activity in his brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, giving him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.”4
Ricard isn’t all that happy about being labeled the happiest man in the world. “In truth, anyone can find happiness if he or she looks for it in the right place,”5 he said. “Authentic happiness can only come from the long-term cultivation of wisdom, altruism, and compassion, and from the complete eradication of mental toxins, such as hatred, grasping, and ignorance.”
Ricard’s presentation, “The Habits of Happiness,” attracted more than two million views on TED.com. I believe Ricard’s presentation was well received because Ricard radiates the joy of someone who is deeply committed to his topic. Indeed, Ricard told me, “These ideas are dear to me not only because they brought me a lot of fulfillment, but because I am convinced that they can bring some good to society. I am particularly passionate to show that altruism and compassion are not luxuries, but essential needs to answer the challenges of our modern world. So, whenever I am asked to join a conference, I am glad to do so and be able to share my ideas.”6
Successful speakers can’t wait to share their ideas. They have charisma and charisma is directly associated with how much passion the speaker has for his or her content. Charismatic speakers radiate joy and passion; the joy of sharing their experience and passion for how their ideas, products, or services will benefit their audiences. “I believe that the best way to communicate with anyone is to first check the quality of your motivation: ‘Is my motivation selfish or altruistic? Is my benevolence aimed at just a few or at the great number? For their short-term or their long-term good?’ Once we have a clear motivation, then communication flows easily,” says Ricard.
Amazingly, if your motivation is to share your passion with your audience, it’s likely that you’ll feel less nervous about speaking in public or delivering that all-important presentation in front of your boss. I asked Ricard how he remains calm and relaxed in front of large audiences. Ricard believes that anyone can talk him- or herself into feeling joy, bliss, and happiness when they choose to do so. It all comes down to your motivation. If your only goal is to make a sale or to elevate your stature, you might fail to connect with your audience (and you’ll place a lot of pressure on yourself). If, however, your goal is more altruistic—giving your audience information to help them live better lives—you’ll make a deeper connection and feel more comfortable in your role. “I am very happy to share ideas, but as an individual I have nothing to lose or to gain,” said Ricard. “I don’t care about my image, I have no business deal to cut, and I am not trying to impress anyone. I am just full of joy to be able to say a few words about the fact that we vastly underestimate the power of transforming the mind.”
WHY YOU WILL FAIL TO HAVE A GREAT CAREER
If you’re not happy and passionate about the work you do, you might fail to have a great career, and if you’re not having a great time at a great career, it will be harder for you to generate enthusiasm through your presentations. That’s why career, happiness, and the ability to inspire people are connected.
The topic of career success consumes University of Waterloo economics professor Larry Smith. Smith is frustrated with today’s college students. He’s upset because most college students will pursue specific careers for the wrong reasons—money, status, etc. According to Smith, those students will fail to have great careers. The only way to have a great...
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