Darren LaCroix is the Toastmasters International 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking. Last night he gave a free presentation here in Vegas called “Learning From a Dead Frog,” which I attended eagerly along with about 150 others. During his presentation Darren dissected his 7-minute championship speech (titled “Ouch!”) and explained how he developed, rehearsed, and executed it.
Darren claimed this would ruin the magic of the speech but that we would learn valuable lessons about how the speech was put together. For me, however, the opposite was true. When I saw all the hard work and intentionality that went into every segment of that speech, it only increased my appreciation of it. I took copious notes and gained a plethora of workable ideas for improving my own speeches. Many of Darren’s ideas were subtle tweaks here and there, but collectively it was obvious how they can make a speech so much more effective.
From Chump to Champ
Darren shared many lessons about his path from a wannabe stand-up comic in 1992 to world champion speaker in 2001 to well-paid professional speaker/comedian today. He showed us a video clip of one of his early performances in a comedy club in 1992. His performance was downright dreadful! He wasn’t even remotely funny. It was hard to tell it was the same person in the 2001 video of his championship speech.
Darren emphasized what it took to go from chump to champ as he calls it. He had to learn to overcome failure, to fall down on his face again and again, and to keep getting back up to take the stage another day. I was amazed after seeing his 1992 video that someone so clearly lacking in comedic talent would have the wherewithal — nay, the insanity — to ever want to get back up on stage again.
Darren explained how his transformation wasn’t accidental but intentional. His talent was certainly not inborn. He built it himself brick by brick. He showed us photos of those bricks — shelves filled with video tapes and CDs of his speeches. He taped his speeches and reviewed those tapes for lessons he could learn. He invited multiple mentors to help him progress, and he did his best to apply their advice. And year after year, he got better.
Hard work was the key for Darren. If he had taken the lazy path through life, the path of least resistance, he’d never have achieved his goal of becoming a professional comedian and speaker. That became abundantly clear by looking at his starting point. No amount of luck would have made him funny. Without hard work his talent would not exist. For Darren it came down to sweating through the grind of giving lots and lots of free speeches and doing open-mic nights at comedy clubs, getting feedback (sometimes very negative feedback), and improving his technique little by little.
Darren asked us why people now pay him thousands of dollars to give a one-hour talk. He said what they’re paying for is his talent, the talent that allows him to change the way people think in just one hour. The way he sees it, he’s finally getting paid for all those lean years when he was working so hard to reach this point.
Stage time, stage time, stage time!
Darren’s mantra for building talent as a speaker is “Stage time, stage time, stage time.” What does “stage time” represent in your life? Everyone has their own stage where failures and successes occur and talent is expressed. For a blogger it’s the time spent blogging. For a salesperson it’s the time spent selling. For a programmer it’s the time spent programming.
What’s your stage? How often do you take the stage? And how can you improve your performance on stage?
After you step down off your stage, do you review your performance, get feedback from people with greater talent, and make conscious improvements? Or do you keep performing at the same level year after year? Are you blindly following the mantra “practice makes perfect” without doing anything to intentionally improve your practice? As Denis Waitley says, “Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice make perfect.”
If you’re interested in developing your communication and humor skills, Darren LaCroix provides some free articles on his web site. I recommend you read “Ouch” — especially the part about finding your 11. Darren also offers a collection of books, CDs, and DVDs. I don’t own any of his products (yet), but several Toastmasters I respect have told me they’re outstanding.
Tonight Darren LaCroix is doing a 3-hour workshop at the Rio Hotel on how to go from free speaking to making a living as a professional speaker. I’m grateful that people like Darren choose to share their time and experience with those who are eager to sponge off someone with greater experience and talent.