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Stoke the Fire

Posted on July 16, 2012 and read 2,574 times

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michaelw Stoke the FireMichael Weiss
Managing Director

I recently had the opportunity to hear Simon Sinek speak at a private corporate event.  There were about one hundred of us in the audience; there was no stage, no microphone; no dimmed lights; it was an intimate gathering. Simon is a seasoned speaking pro; there is no doubt that the man has mastered the art of storytelling. He spoke for about 45 minutes and took questions for another 15. And like a great speaker, I don’t necessarily remember everything he said, but I do remember how he made me feel. I laughed; I shed some tears; I felt inspired. We all walked out saying “Wow!”

While I cannot recall all of the details of his talk, I do remember one particular thing Simon said. One of the audience members asked Simon when he realized he needed to change his life and follow his current path. Simon paused, looked the man in the eye and replied, “When I hit rock bottom.” And that was all he said. In the moment I, like everyone else in the room, thought, “it must have been pretty bad…” And then as I drove home I thought to myself, “What is rock bottom? What was Simon’s rock bottom? Have I ever hit rock bottom? Will I even know when I hit rock bottom?” Here I am weeks later and I still have no idea what Simon Sinek’s rock bottom is. No one in the room asked him to elaborate; there were no follow up questions. Simon said it with such raw emotion that asking would have felt intrusive, almost rude.  It was quite a dramatic moment. And let me tell you, it worked. That one short sentence quieted the room and still has me wondering.

As speakers we possess an enormous amount of power and influence. And with that comes the responsibility to be authentic and unique. What sets the best speakers apart is their ability to be all that, plus truthful. While I have no idea what Simon’s “rock bottom” is, I knew at that moment that he knew it and that was all that mattered. Rock bottom could mean many things for many people – a financial collapse, an emotional loss, or a battle with addiction. For the 100 of us in the room, we didn’t care, because Simon was being as open and honest as he would allow. And, dear readers, this is how a great speaker engages the audience. If you have read my book or any of my blogs, you will be familiar with these two statements:

A presentation is not a meeting – it’s a performance.
Don’t tell the whole story.

When Simon said, “When I hit rock bottom,” he was not only performing, he was holding back the details, because they were not needed. All that mattered was that he stopped walking, looked the man in the eye and with a delicate timber to his voice summed it all up in five words.

Whether you are in front of 10 or 100 or 1,000 people, it is your responsibility to engage the audience. Being open, honest and authentic will get you there faster than a good joke, or facts and figures. Sometimes it will be easy and other times you will need to work a little harder. It all depends on your ability to read the audience and take command. This is not something you learn at Toastmasters or from a speaker coach. This comes from years of speaking and performing. Figuring out what works. Knowing when to stop sharing and to move on to the next point. I urge you to watch Simon’s videos and to spend time on Watching the best speakers is how you learn.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Alex Van Halen (yes, the often quiet drummer from Van Halen). He was recently talking with his brother Ed and David Lee Roth about what gets the audience “cookin’,” and this is what he said:

If you’re waiting for the audience to get you motivated,
then maybe you should find another job.
The band is there to stoke the fire – that’s what we do.

  • Yvette Clark

    Well said. Less is still more.




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