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Scott McKain

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Why a speaker shouldn’t “speak from the heart” — and a professional shouldn’t focus on passion…

As another annual meeting of the National Speakers Association approaches, I’m reminded that this will be my thirty-second consecutive NSA convention.  (I joined when I was nine.  Or, would you believe, fifteen?)

While my busy speaking calendar prevents me from attending the entire event, it’s a time to recall one of the two best pieces of advice I ever received in professional speaking:

  • “Do NOT speak from the heart.”

Make a DifferenceSeveral years ago through NSA, I was connected with speech coach Ron Arden.  While my career was progressing nicely and growing rapidly – I had already attained the coveted designation as a “Certified Speaking Professional” – I felt like I was ready to take it to the “next level.” Therefore, the help of a coach would be important.

Ron was the “coach’s coach.”  The big names paid big bucks for his assistance.  He had touched the lives and careers of heavyweights in the field like Brian Tracy, Ken Blanchard, and many more.

Arriving at Ron’s San Diego home, I was nervous – he had requested, and I had provided, several full-length speeches on video tape.  I knew he had thoroughly reviewed my material, and that I was going to be receiving a significant amount of feedback.

Warmly welcoming me as I entered, he then hit me between the eyes with a question to burst my bubble:

  • “So, Scott…are we here to tweak and enable you to become a good speaker…or, do you have something more significant in mind?”

“Uh,” I stammered, “you don’t think I’m a good speaker?”

“You’re good enough for now,” he replied. “You have lots of enthusiasm – which is great in your 30’s, as you are today.  It will be OK in your 40’s.  By the time you reach your 60’s, your level of volume, pacing, and enthusiasm will become really sad.”

“Well,” I said, “I want to be the best speaker that I can be – and one of the best, if not THE best, in the industry.  That’s my goal.”

He sighed loudly. “I was afraid you’d say that.  It means we have LOTS of work to do.”

Looking back, I know with total certainty that he was exactly right.

Later that day he asked me the critical question, “Scott – what is the basis of your speaking?  From what point does your program originate?”

I was ready with the answer: “Oh, Ron! I am sincere…I am no phony – I always speak from the HEART.”

Ron Arden rolled his eyes and said under his breath, “Good Lord, not another one.”

Aghast, I demanded an answer, “What is wrong with speaking from your heart?”

“You know something about film, Scott.  Think of the most powerful, emotional moment you’ve ever seen an actor portray in a movie.  Do you think that was a first take?  You’ve seen Broadway plays – do you think the actor always has the same emotional composure and deportment every performance?  Yet, they have to deliver the monologue to the audience exactly as they did on opening night.  Where is that coming from?  The heart?”

“Have you,” he continued, “ever given a speech when you had the flu…feeling under the weather?”  “Of course,” I said.

“So, did you speak from the heart?  Get up and tell the group that you were nauseous? Tell them – from the heart – you couldn’t wait to get back to your hotel room and go to bed?”  “Of course not,” was my terse reply.

  • “Here’s the critical point,” he said with words that changed my life and career: 
  • “WRITE your speech from the heart.  DELIVER your speech from your skill.”

“That means that even when your heart is heavy, you can make the audience laugh.  Or, when your heart is light, you can make the audience cry.  When you are a master at the skills of your profession, you can create the results you desire, regardless of whether you’ve had a good day today – or a bad day.  Because, either way, it’s not the audience’s fault what kind of day you’re having.”

Skill Level
“Wring out your heart as you write your content.  Pour out every fiber of yourself as you prepare what you are going to say.  Then, when you stand in front of the crowd, let the words you’ve written be from the heart – but do not make your performance dependent upon how your heart feels at that random moment.”

“The audience deserves your SKILL…not whatever condition your heart may be in at that particular juncture.  And, they deserve the most skillful presenter that you can become.”

  • When speakers (or just about any other professional) fail, it is very seldom because they didn’t put enough “heart” into their presentation. 
  • It’s because they failed to develop the skill required to do their job in an extraordinary manner.

I’m fanatical about basketball.  I will promise you, there’s no one in the NBA more passionate about the game than I am.  I love the game with all my heart.

  • So why am I not an NBA player?
  • Because performance at that standing isn’t just about playing from the heart.
  • It’s about having the skill to deliver at such a rarified level.
    • I’m not playing in the league because I’m not good enough from a skill level to do so. (No matter how passionately I love the game from my heart.)

The hard – and critical – lesson I learned is that most people fail NOT because they aren’t passionate enough about what they do…it’s because they haven’t become skillful enough to create distinction in the marketplace.

It’s one of the two greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received about my profession.  I wish more speakers knew it…more sales professionals delivered it…more corporate leaders grasped it…and more people applied it.

Regardless of your business, it’s great advice:

  • Write (or choose, or plan, or create) from the heart…speak (or paint, or make a sales call, or prescribe medical advice, or whatever you do) from skill. 

 

Distinction is crafted by people who innovate and create from the heart – then deliver what they’ve designed from richly developed skill.

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More Stories By Scott McKain

Scott McKain is a business leader, bestselling author, and Hall of Fame professional speaker.
Scott's latest book, "The Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails" reached the #1 spot on Amazon.com list of Customer Service Bestsellers! He is the author of two #1 additional business bestsellers (Amazon.com & 800-CEO-READ): "What Customers REALLY Want" (currently available in trade paperback) and "ALL Business is Show Business."
He is the Co-founder and Principal of The Value Added Institute, a think-tank that examines the role of the customer experience in creating significant advances in the level of client loyalty, and has appeared on multiple occasions as a commentator and analyst on FOX News Channel. His platform presentations have run the gamut from the White House lawn with the President in the audience carried live on CNN and NBC's "Today" show...to a remote outpost near the Amazon...all 50 states, seven Canadian provinces...and from Singapore to Sweden...Mexico to Morocco.
An inductee into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame, he is also a member of "Speakers Roundtable" -- an elite, invitation-only group of twenty of the world's top business speakers.