A Lesson in How to Be True to Yourself as a Speaker, from a Music Legend
It’s1982, and MTV is becoming a force in the entertainment field. One summer night, I’m at home watching a video featuring a diminutive whirling dervish, dressed in a funky outfit. His charisma and energy pour through my small TV screen. This young dynamo, named Prince, is everything a music star should be.
In the years that followed, I became more enamored with his musical genius, and his on-stage presence was second-to-none. He also became my favorite musician.
I realized last week the influence he has had on me as a speaker and speech coach. Above all, Prince set an example for being authentic, and true to who you are. Clearly, he pushed the boundaries with his music, and he was not afraid to sing about sex, relationships, and society at-large. In the early 1980’s, he was controversial and polarizing.
Whether you liked his music or message, you cannot argue that he was one-of-a-kind. In the field of entertainment, politics, or society at-large, it’s rare that people come into our lives that are true to their nature, and don’t focus on the others’ opinions of them.
Whether it was Martin Luther King or Gandhi inspiring societal change, Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher shifting the political winds, or Elvis, Madonna, and Prince pushing the edge of the envelope in the entertainment world, they have left their marks because they lived their message, no matter the public criticism.
As a speaker, you may have been admonished to ‘find your voice.’
What does this mean?
It’s simply the idea of speaking about that which is most dear to you, from your perspective.
It’s often been suggested to avoid the subjects of sex, religion and politics.
I couldn’t disagree more.
If these issues are important to you, and you’re not discussing them, how can you be acting in an authentic manner as a speaker?
I’m not suggesting that you stand before an audience and say everything on your mind. There is a level of decorum and respect that we must show. We are speakers, after all, not musicians who say whatever they want for shock value and greater album sales.
On the other hand, audiences owe the same decorum and respect to a speaker.
If you present your perspective and don’t pontificate, you offer a different point of view. You just might change the way people think, feel or act about a topic.
A few months ago, a woman approached me after a workshop and asked, “Michael, how can I talk about my faith in front of others?”
I asked, “How important is your faith?”
“Very much,” she answered.
“Is your goal to convert others to your religion?” I asked.
“Oh no, I just want to talk about how it has made my life better,” was her quick reply.
“Well, then, you’re making a mistake if you don’t talk about your faith,” I said.
She smiled. “I’m a little nervous about doing it.”
I said, “The greatest speakers in the world have taught me that, if you’re respectful and make it clear that you’re simply sharing the impact of faith on your life, and then somebody gets upset or doesn’t like it, that’s their problem.”
She thought about that for several seconds, and said, “Thank you. That’s great advice. You’ve convinced me to give it a try.”
I’d like to say that those were my original thoughts, but they were ingrained in me by my mentors. My friend and coach Darren LaCroix taught me that “You’re responsible to your audience, but not for them. You’ll never be able to control their reactions, only the manner in which you deliver your message.”
If you follow this rule, you’ might change the way people think, feel, or act, and you’ll also feel good about yourself in the process.
In the next few days, I urge you to consider the example authenticity of Prince and others like him. Look past the flash, the entertainment – even the shock value. See the willingness to be yourself by being different, and be open to criticism. Do this, and you’ll develop confidence in being true to yourself.
Although I’m greatly saddened because of the music the brilliant music he had yet to give us, I’m eternally thankful for what he left behind. Most of all, I’m grateful for the inspiration to take the risk to be myself, and speak in my own voice.
Thank you, Prince. You are treasured, and you will be missed.
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