A room of over 50 professional speakers, authors, consultants and coaches were left speechless when Steven Tomlinson addressed the Austin Chapter of the National Speakers Association (April 3, 2012).
His talk, "Preparing to be Spontaneous" was simultaneously totally off the cuff and expertly prepared. Tomlinson began by connecting with the crowd through asking a series of questions to ensure there was mutual understanding of the shared purpose between speaker and audience.
Steven's face is a mirror to his soul. You can see that he heard the answers, and was not just going through the motions, as many speakers do, with his empathy to those who were fortunate enough to be in the audience. In the first few moments of interaction he was crafting the messages that he would share.
Do I sound like a fan of Mr. Tomlinson?
I am. We are social friends. He is a mentor. And I regularly tell anyone who will listen that he is the best speaker who lives in Austin, Texas (which is high praise, but also tinged green with envy, .... as I wish that title was mine!). I have seen him speak several times (including being present at his TEDx Austin Talk in 2010), and admire the way he entertains, inspires, educates and challenges everyone with his oratory.
He began the NSA conversation by sharing stories of how he was not always a great speaker. He talked about the need for some speakers, himself included, to want to impress an audience. This can be both a way to prove yourself, and to protect yourself. When a speaker wants to impress he or she cannot engage. Along the way he learned, through errors and mentors, how to share his vulnerabilities and not need to conquer an audience with his brilliance.
At one pivotal moment, a mentor (Margaret Keys) told him:
"People are not interested in what you think you have done right - and they are not interested in your advice"WAMMO. Instead he learned to share with others what was hard. When he was stuck. What, though good fortune, he figured out. And who helped him along the way. From that day forward he is "spontaneous by design". When being spontaneous you still have all your knowledge and life experiences inside you, but you are free to go where the audience needs you to go... not where you prepared to take them.
His advice is to approach speaking with an open heart. Give the audience permission to come to a "brain-state" and create something from what you gave them.
"Communication is not what comes out of your mouth, it is what the audience creates in their imagination about the words you say" - Steven TomlinsonBe authentic. There is a different energy when someone is authentic, and the whole room knows it (we all knew it listening to this presentation!). The best speakers talk inside the head of the audience. They respect the needs of each person. Too many prepare to speak the same way they learned to present for an 8th grade book report. It is better to come at speaking as a way to help the audience, not dump data on them while showing all your knowledge. It is impossible to be self-conscious when you are helping someone else.
He concluded by reminding the audience (of speakers) that GREAT presentations make those listening want to talk to each other. The good presentations make them want to talk to the speaker. ("wowwwww" was sighed from the whole crowd). Our goal is not to connect to the audience, our goal is to connect the audience to each other (again "wowwwwww").
There is no formula for being spontaneous. There is only intention. We cannot have a presentation on "The 5 Ways to be Spontaneous" (although I bet someone has tried). Steven shared with the audience not a list of steps to follow, but a way of life in which to live.
The methods that great speakers use communicate have changed over the years. Twenty years ago Zig Ziglar and the other "masters" spoke from the stage like Moses delivering the tablets from the mountain top. The current style has become more conversational, and more vulnerable.... but nobody has told the audience or most speakers. Steven added, "Imagine if Zig Ziglar, who is amazing, talked in the same manner that Dr. Brene Brown speaks?" (See Brene Brown's 2010 TEDx Talk to learn more about being vulnerable in communications). The mix of experience and vulnerability (in life and as a speaker) is what captivates the souls of an audience.
NSA Austin continues to bring amazing speakers to the monthly luncheons. Steven Tomlinson will long be remembered as "big shoes to fill" for all who follow.
Thank you Steven for giving your time and heart to the audience.
Have A Great Day.