I’m not your thought leader.

Most people in the public speaking business (and also other experts) call themselves thought leaders in a certain area. It has become a big buzzword and it looks like that even somebody who has read two books around a topic call themselves already a thought leader. Combining a few definitions, I would say that a thought leader is the informed opinion leader – an authority and go-to person in their field of expertise. I would add that a thought leader is aware of the latest innovations in their field and is on the frontline of exploring new trends in their expertise.

Curator & Simplifier

I consider myself more as a ‘curator & simplifier’. Let me explain these concepts. The curator in a museum is responsible for the selection and oversees the artworks of a certain collection. I love to select and oversee the different trends that are happening in the domain of the Change mindset. The difficult role is the ‘simplifier’ – bringing the very broad range of perspectives, models & trends back to some simple, fundamental principles.
There’s a paradox at play here because if I do a good job, it seems that my message is very simple and easy to understand. It doesn’t look complicated or new or special. It feels like the participants could have come up with that message themselves. This is quite a different experience while listening to other speakers (and some trendwatchers & futurists are very quite good at this) who overwhelm their audience with 200 slides in 30 minutes with all new kind of innovations. It’s quite easy to overwhelm people with trends & innovations that are happening right now in the world but bringing this back to some simple guidelines is the hard work. How can you help them to cope with all these changes or can you at least show them the bigger picture of what’s happening?

The curse of knowledge.

A lot of beginning speakers (and even experienced speakers) often get trapped in the ‘Curse of Knowledge’. You want to share all the things that you have discovered – over a period of several months or even years – with your audience. Or you want to bring all the content of a two-day course into a keynote. And you try to fit it into a 30 or 45 minute presentation because that’s the allocated time that you’ve got. But sometimes we forget that our audience doesn’t have the same background & experience as we have. In most cases, they are not familiar with our topic or theme. The result: a speaker who is talking very fast, using all kind of jargon words to get as much information out as possible in the limited time-frame – leaving the audience confused and gasping for air.
I also got trapped ‘again’ in this Curse of Knowledge – while working on my new presentation ‘Great leaders Improvise’. I wanted to deliver real added value to my audience and give them my best insights and examples that I had discovered in the previous 6 months. But during my try out sessions, I’ve noticed that I really need (a lot) more time to share all the insights that I gathered and that I overwhelmed my audience. And that’s where the role of ‘simplifier’ had to come in again and it’s a very hard job. Because you think that you’ve already condensed all your knowledge to a minimum but than you need to reduce your content again with 75% of your original content. Man, … it feels like killing your own ‘mind’ babies. But it has to happen if you want to deliver a simple message.

Learn from your heroes.

Due to my struggle with the new content, I’ve asked a few of my hero-colleague-speakers (people who I really admire as a professional speaker) if I could watch one of their videos (filmed while they give a speech for a real audience). And I was quite astonished. Their message was so simple – it almost felt like it was not new or special. Everybody in their audience got the message and they loved it. And that’s where the real magic happens – the real professionalism happened in the delivery of the simple message. If you analyzed the presentation closely (like I’ve done – I’ve watched their presentations 3 or 4 times) I could discover several layers. And every layer went back to the same basic message that they wanted to share.
It also inspired me to go back to my essence – the Change Mindset. In my previous talk, I had condensed 15 years of experience in the domain of creativity and innovation in 3 simple words: Yes And Act. The Yes stands for suspending judgement and daring to dream big. And stand for changing your perspective and using imagination. Act is experimenting and daring to fail. and those three words have already several layers. Let me zoom in on one of those to show you what I mean with several layers for the same message.

Different layers in one message.

The Yes stands for suspending your judgement. I start with a cartoon to explain the concept of an ideakiller [layer 1]. Then I ask the question if they can share an ideakiller with their neighbour and I collect 3 or 4 examples in a plenary way [layer 2]. At that moment, everybody will get a beer coaster with a red (ideakillers)/green (idea boosters) side [layer 3]. The next step is an interactive exercise from improvisation theatre where people form pairs and go for 1 minute in the Yes but mindset and 1 minute in the Yes And mindset – I let them experience the power of thinking in Yes And [layer 4]. And the last step is that I make the whole exercise easy accessible and pragmatic by explaining the 3 minute rule [layer 5]. It’s such a simple concept but by allowing my audience to explore the concept in 5 different ways, it becomes a very powerful tool. At almost any conference where I can present, I get an email afterwards from an enthusiastic participant who shares that the 3 minute rule and the beercoaster with ideakillers was the highlight of the event (and sometimes it’s a 2 or 3 day event).

Back to the Essence.

My biggest insight that I got during the last month is that I have to stick to the essence. I’m good in curating content from others, select some elements that resonate with my message, finetune the message for my audience and make it as simple as possible. And that’s what I’m now also doing with my new talk ‘Great Leaders Improvise’. Instead of trying to overwhelm my audience with all kind of trends and examples in leadership, I distillate the main message and try to integrate several layers to that message to make it stick. Still a lot of work needs to be done. I hope I inspired you a little bit to explore your Essence (of your message) again.

PS: Title is inspired by the great Netflix documentary about ‘Tony Robins – I’m not your guru‘ (worth watching)
PS 2: If you want to know more how you can get to the essence with your message, please read the book ‘Made to Stick’ – written by Dan and Chip Heath. They came up with the ‘SUCCESs’ which stands for Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Story. Those elements help to bring a story back to the Essence.