Talking the walk

Wednesday, 25 May 2011 00:41 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Public speaking can be something that is taken for granted by most people, yet it is a form of communication on its own, one that requires years of practice and skill to hone the craft. 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, motivational speaker and speech coach Craig Valentine since winning his title, now works with individuals and organisations on becoming champions through leadership, communications and motivation.

In Sri Lanka for a brief visit, he addressed audiences on using change to achieve remarkable results and how to keep an audience at the edge of their seats. Catching Valentine in between sessions, he outlined his four R model for results in leadership and spoke about winning the title of world champion, joining Toastmasters and how he has used the opportunity to reach out and change people’s lives. Here are excerpts from the interview:

By Cassandra Mascarenhas

Q: Could you briefly outline what you spoke about at your seminars here in Colombo?

A: I spoke about the four Rs for remarkable results in leadership and the Rs were to face reality, relinquish what’s in the way, rely on the vision and to reform to a better way and I gave them tips and examples on how to do that. That’s the model – the four Rs. Once you reform to another way, then you face your new reality so it’s a never-ending cycle of success.

Of course we spoke about making sure you lead yourself first because actions speak louder than words, people won’t do as you say but will do as you do and so you really have to walk your talk as a leader. Leadership is also not about showing your own importance, it’s about reminding people of theirs. It’s about making people visible – what I call the Sheen factor because I met the actor Martin Sheen and he exemplified that for me. When you make others visible, they make you valuable.

Q: Why did this meeting with Martin Sheen end up having such an impact on you?

A: Basically, even though at the time I was a low man on the totem pole working on a movie behind the scenes, he made me feel like I was a champion, like I was worth a million bucks so I try to make people feel that way when I meet them. Now the other part of that story was, there was a gentleman who was a speaker who I was supposed to introduce that day and when I met him, he basically ignored me. So he did the opposite of what Martin Sheen did and I would never want people to feel that way. I use that as part of the story to show what not to do and what to do. That’s what the Sheen factor really is – to make people feel important other than showing off your own importance.

Q: Could you tell me more about the four R model?

A: The four R model is a cycle and let’s say taking facing reality, that’s hard to do. I asked my audience to raise their hand if sometimes they feel reality hurts and then I said, be honest have you ever stepped on a scale – you know it’s hard to face reality sometimes but as a leader, not only do you have to face reality, you have to get other people to face reality. Otherwise they will never change. I used to work with homeless people and many of them had drug addictions. The first step to rid yourself of a drug addiction is to admit that you have one. That’s just another way of facing reality. If you don’t face reality, you can never change.

When you are getting people to face reality, it is easier when you use facts and feelings instead of using judgements. As soon as you judge somebody, that’s when everything is going to get shot because you just can’t keep them on the main idea so it’s very important to use facts. For instance, I would say ‘I noticed you were late today for work’ but if I say to them, ‘you seem a little lazy today,’ – that’s a judgement but they can’t really dispute the facts.

And as for how people see reality, I also said that you should approach the problem, not the person. The moment you go after someone’s character, that’s the moment you cease to be a good leader.

When it comes to relinquish, that’s another thing we have to motivate people to relinquish what’s in the way and so often the question that comes up is that this is the way we have always done things around here, so why should we change but people are comfortable with the way things have been and you have to shake that up but the only way of getting people to let go of what they know is by creating a very powerful vision that they can grab onto. Which is why the next R is to rely on the vision – you will never get someone to relinquish or let go if they can’t see where they are going.

Then to reform to a better way, instead of trying to come in and change everything at once, I suggest that they change small and change often because that is what makes a lifestyle change. Anything that changes quickly can usually change back just as fast.

Around the New Year, people make New Year revolutions and most people want to get in better shape. So usually around the first week of January, I cannot find a parking spot at the health club because everybody is trying to get in shape and they are trying to do it all at once! Instead of saying I’m going to lose 15 pounds this week, you say I’m going to lose one pound this week by doing something different – change small and change often, that’s a lifestyle change and it will be hard to reverse it. Usually by March, everything goes back to normal and I get my old parking spot back because people give up.

Q: Your second session dealt with how to keep an audience at the edge of their seats – could you expand on that topic a bit more?

A: I spoke about how to present yourself in a way that will keep your audience at the edge of their seats, to present with impact. It’s about crafting a message that is memorable, being able to deliver it in a way that engages people and then being able to sell your message so that people take action. So you can craft a message but if you don’t know how to deliver it, no one is going to listen. You can deliver a message very well but if you don’t know how to craft it, then nobody gets anything out of it. You can craft and deliver a message but if don’t know how to sell it; people won’t take action so it’s about all three of those.

To do all this, one should keep in mind that you don’t speak to a whole group; grammatically it should sound and feel like you are speaking to one person because every single person in your audience should feel like he is speaking directly to me. When it comes to selling your message, it’s really about selling the result rather than the product, service or idea. In other words, what are they, your audience, going to get out of it? You must always lead with the result and follow with the product.

Q: How did it feel winning the title in 1999?

A: When I won the World Championship, it was out of 175,000 people from 68 different countries and then there were still 25,000 of the top contestants. So it was a big deal but what was more important was me being just a Toastmaster because it was the best business decision I ever made in my life simply because it made me much more confident and it opened up doors that were never opened before and this was even before I won the world championship so I would say to anybody out there who wants to improve to get into Toastmasters. It’s a great place to mess up until you go up.

When I won the title, I felt great and I felt that through it, I would get more exposure to touch more lives – my mantra was always about touching lives, not getting trophies so it was a means to an end. I would not be here right now if I hadn’t won the world championship.

Q: How did you get involved in Toastmasters?

A: In 1994, I really became addicted to reading and I read at least a book a week and I have been doing that for the past 17 years but from 1994 to 1998 I read a lot of books and some of them were on public speaking but you really can’t get better at public speaking by reading about it. So one book was written by a Toastmaster and at the back of the book was a telephone number to find a Toastmaster club.

I contacted that number, they invited me out to the club and that’s how I started speaking. So that is how I got into Toastmasters and as soon as I walked in through those doors, I felt this energy which told me that I would be a Toastmaster for the rest of my life and the thing is, now that I have spoken in 16 different countries, when I visit the clubs in those countries, I feel that same energy.