What is the meaning of life? This is probably one of the greatest existential questions ever and not a few sages and crazy souls have gone through unthinkable lengths to find the answer. John Strelecky found his after going through a backpacking journey around the world. Sitting down for 21 days in an absolute state of inspiration, John typed his way into what would become the history-making, The Café on the Edge of the World, a five-time bestseller that has been translated into 42 languages. What kind of allure does the search for meaning have to pull a person from what could have been a successful career and into the unknown? What lessons can each of us take away from one man’s story and apply to each of our own excursions to this intriguing journey called life? Listen in as John bares it all in this conversation with Dr. Diane Hamilton.
What can leaders learn from the best speakers in the world? Leaders may not have to deliver presentations to a crowd of hundreds or thousands every day, but being a good communicator is a non-negotiable skillset that each of them needs to have. At Missing Link, Richard Mulholland and his team have been helping leaders and presenters turn up their presentation skills since 1997. As a former rock n’ roll roadie, Richard knows that good presentation has almost nothing to do with visuals and fancy lighting, but everything with the person speaking onstage. His powerful work in speaking and coaching has earned him the reputation of being a “public speaker to public speakers.” Listen in and pick up some useful tips along the way as he takes a bit of his time to speak with Dr. Diane Hamilton.
I’m glad you joined us because we have John Strelecky and Richard Mulholland here. John is the number one best-selling inspirational author of The Cafe on the Edge of the World. Richard is the Founder of Missing Link. He’s a professional speaker and former rock and roadie. We’re going to talk about many interesting things on this show.
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Reflecting On The Meaning Of Life With John Strelecky
I am here with John Strelecky, who is the number one bestselling inspirational author. His books have been translated into more than 42 languages and sold more than 6 million copies worldwide. It’s nice to have you here, John. Welcome.
Thank you, Diane. It’s great to be on the show. I want to start by saying how much I love the things that you do on the show. When I looked through the different episodes, you have this incredible knack for finding cool stuff to discuss like the biggest questions of humanity, the biggest questions of leadership, stuff about the brain and learning, and what’s possible. I think it’s an awesome mix.
I appreciate that. Since I write about curiosity, I’m curious and I like to get the most interesting diversity of discussions. It makes my day great because I learn all day long.
One of my personal big five for life is to mastermind over matter. I’m fascinated by the capabilities that are often untouched by the human mind. I enjoy a lot of the discussions that you’ve had with your guests.
That’s great because that ties into my work with curiosity. My whole goal was to figure out what keeps people from being curious. That’s what I do every day is to help build curiosity. I love that you’re curious and you looked around the site, so that’s wonderful. I mentioned that you were a number one bestselling inspirational author. I can’t imagine that people haven’t heard of The Cafe on the Edge of the World because it made history. Can you tell me a little bit backstory to what got you to that point? What made you want to write that book?
I have a weird backstory in terms of I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a life, a career, any of that stuff when I was younger. I wasn’t one of those people who at an early age know, “I want to be a doctor or a fireman.” I wandered around until I figured out what I wanted to do. I still hadn’t figured it out when I was in my early 30s. I was successful in different arenas, but I still hadn’t quite figured out what was my thing. I ended up leaving everything behind and going and backpacking around the world in my early 30s, which is at a point where most people say to you, “That’s crazy. Why are you possibly leaving a successful career and the rest of that?”
I had arrived at the point in life where I looked out and thought to myself, “If I keep doing what I’m doing ten years from now, I will be in those people’s shoes farther along the career path, and would I be happy with that?” The answer was no. Despite the fact that everyone said it was crazy, I went off and backpacked around the world on $40 a day. It changed my life. It was something that I had dreamed about, seeing the animals, the people, the experiences of different cultures. When I came back from that experience, I didn’t have a job lined up. I didn’t have anything in the queue for the next phase of my existence. A guy called me and said, “I know that you’re back in the country and I need a consultant. Would you be willing to do it?” I was like, “This is what I left behind, but I could use the money.”
I did a gig, but honestly as I was on the last flight coming home and I had left my book in the hotel because I had finished it. I had run through the airport to get to my flight. Here I am, sitting on the airplane, I got nothing to read and you get the announcement that you hate to get if you’re a traveler, “We’re going to be stuck on the tarmac for a while.” I had this thought come to me, which was, “I had spent a year in Nirvana doing everything that I had dreamed of doing and then I had gone back to this other thing, which was not Nirvana.”
The thought that came to my mind was, “What would I tell someone now is the meaning of life?” I found myself writing out a speech, even though I was not a speaker and didn’t do that stuff. Strangely enough, the next day, I got up and something inside of me said, “Sit down and type.” I sat down at my computer and I started typing. The next day, something said, “Sit down and type.” This went on for 21 days of a stream of conscious type of experience where I didn’t look at what I had typed the previous day. I didn’t plan what I was going to type the next day. I just typed. At the end of the 21 days, I printed it out and put it on a shelf, and let it sit there for a week.
When I read it a week later, what are on those pages are almost word for word of what is in The Cafe on the Edge of the World, which is five times the bestseller of the year in 42 different languages. The big takeaway for me was when you’re out traveling the world, one of the things that you most rely on is your intuition. It’s the unexplained ability to comprehend information and think in a way that is not your traditional way of thinking. Luckily, I was in that headspace. When my intuition said, “Sit down and type,” I sat down and typed. Thank goodness I did because everything about what I do now and the contributions I’ve been able to make are directly tied to that decision.
It’s amazing how certain decisions have such an impact on one choice. It can change your whole life. You started off with the title of The Why Are You Here Café. You were selling this self-published originally.
I came from a consulting background. I knew how to start companies and how to launch things. This is going back many years, but when I looked at the world of publishing, I looked at the different options. I was like, “If I do this on my own, I can have this in the hands of readers in six weeks.” I think it’s 6 or 7 weeks to have it on Amazon being sold. One of the great things about being an entrepreneurial type of person is you’re willing to do things differently. Sometimes, it’s good that you don’t know what you don’t know. I’ll tell you a great example of that. There’s a funny story. I had gone through these 21 days. It looked like a book and it felt like a book.
I thought, “I’m going to turn this into a new book.” Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I took one of my favorite books off the shelf, a little book called Illusions by an author named Richard Bach. I measured it and I said, “It’s 7 inches tall, 4.25 inches wide. My book is going to be 7 inches tall, 4.25 inches wide.” The margins are a half-inch so I’m using half-inch margins. This is a great takeaway for life. If you don’t know what you’re doing, if you imitate someone who is doing something well that you admire the way it’s being done, that is a great leaping off point. The other thing that happened was cool. I thought to myself, “I’ve got this book, so I need to get publicity and marketing.” I called the editor of a lifestyle magazine and I said, “I’m John Strelecky and I’ve got this book. I was wondering if I would be able to do a profile piece about the book or me.” She was like, “Who are you? Why are you calling?”
I eventually wore her down and she said, “Send me the book.” I was such a complete amateur that I said, “I don’t have the book, but I can send you the manuscript.” Looking back now, I realize how completely clueless that is. Nobody would ever do that. No magazine is ever going to run something off of a manuscript. She was like, “Fine, just send it to me.” I sent it to her and I called her a week after it arrived and said, “I’m John Strelecky.” She was like, “Who?” She did not even remember this. I was like, “That was great. I wasted $25 on an ink cartridge. We’ll move on from here.”
Three days later, my phone rings and I picked it up and it’s her. She said, “We need to meet.” I thought, “That sounds promising.” She arranged to meet me at a restaurant. I got there and I sat down. Here I am sitting in front of this person who we’ve never met. We’ve never spoken except for brief phone calls. Her opening words to me that day were, “Your book has changed my life.” I remember sitting at that table getting chills up and down my spine. She told me this amazing personal story of her life, how she was adopted and the things that meant to her, and the questions in the café because the guy finds three questions in the cafe menu, starting with, “Why are you here?” The very first person to read the completed manuscript opens with, “This book has changed my life.”
The key takeaway for me is whether you’re doing something entrepreneurial, something core leadership in a bigger corporation, whether you’re doing something purely for yourself. When you get little kicks from the universe, let’s say you are on the right path, it is worth listening to those as opposed to what we sometimes do in life, which says, “They were just being nice. They said that, but they probably didn’t mean it.” It’s easy to put these filters in our heads that diminish the moments where the universe is talking to a nice person saying something good about the path you’re on.
That’s interesting because the four things I found that inhibit curiosity, the second thing is assumptions, that voice in your head that’s going, “I’m not interested. This is going to be too hard.” We talk ourselves out of many things. That goes right in with my research and that’s fascinating. People want to know why we’re here. You said there were three questions. Why don’t we hit all three so people can see what to expect, and what they’re going to learn from the book in the first place?
It said in the context of a story, I was one of those kids in school who would have the ten-pages of content, and then on the eleventh page, it would be like a purple shadow box and they would tell a story. I lived for the story. I couldn’t call my attention through the ten pages, but I got it through the story. When I write, I write in stories. A guy walks into this cafe and he’s trying to figure out life. He’s trying to get away from it all to find there is something more than just the day in and day out. He finds on the back of the menu, three questions and they are, “Why are you here? Do you fear death? Are you fulfilled?” As you can imagine, initially he’s like, “Where the heck am I?” He starts having conversations with people in the cafe. He starts looking at things from a different perspective and by the time he leaves the next morning, he looks at life in general, in his life in particular from a whole different viewpoint.
Why those questions? Why do you fear death?If you can step back from any experience and the emotions associated with it, you will learn that there is a reason why it's happening. Click To Tweet
What I’ve discovered over the course of my life is that what people fear is not death. They don’t fear the act of dying. What they fear is getting to the end of their life and realizing that they haven’t lived. I think that we’re hard-wired with the awareness that this is an amazing planet. There are many adventures, experiences, and things that would fill our moments with quality memories and experiences. When we’re not doing those things, we have a sense of loss because every minute that ticks by get us closer to the end. Statistically, the average life expectancy is about 28,900 days. If you want to freak yourself out, you take your age multiplied by 365, subtract from 28,900, that’s about how many days you have left on the planet. Those days became precious as you get older.
I’ve crossed over 50. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience. You go on vacation. You’re super busy and your schedule is crazy and you’re like, “I need a week off.” You head down someplace beautiful and the first day that you get there, you’re like, “This is amazing. They’ve got tennis, kayaking and samba lessons. This is going to be the most amazing week ever.” You chill, relax and it feels great. You’re like, “I can’t believe we’ve got a whole week of this.” The next day, you get up and you do some kayaking, a little parasailing and you’re like, “This is amazing. We’ve got a whole week.” About the fourth day of vacation, you’re like, “What the heck? It’s half over already.” Those next two days fly by at a pace that is radically different than the first two days. What I’ve discovered about life is that when you cross 50, which I have, I’m on Thursday to the end of my vacation. It’s going by faster. That awareness of how precious life is becoming more apparent in that urgency to live in a way that makes you feels like, “I did it. I came in and did see everything that I wanted to do while I was here.”
My mom is 87 and because of COVID, she feels like she’s losing days. She says, “At this age, it feels like I’m losing more than what you would be losing at your age. You’ll catch up a little bit because you can do things later.” What do you say to people who feel like that now?
That’s an incredibly inspired observation. That’s one of the reasons why you do see people feeling particularly sad or depressed at times during the COVID experiences because they’re fully aware that this is the case. The third book in The Cafe series that I wrote, which isn’t out in English yet, but there’s this wonderful character called Max. He’s a 78-year-old guy and he challenges the character of John. He says, “Tell me something that you love.” John was like, “I love Christmas.” He’s like, “How old are you?” John said, “I am 40 some years old.” He said, “You got only so many left.” You think of, “I’ve only got 28 Christmases left?” If you’re quite a bit older and you’re experiencing COVID and maybe you can’t spend it the way you normally would by getting on a plane and spending it with family, it’s going to be frustrating.
My suggestion is, and this is something I’ve done my best to adopt for myself and my family if you can’t go macro go micro. I’m an adventure traveler at heart. Normally, for at least three months of the year, I’m out there kayaking rivers in Central America or doing something exotic and interesting. Since I can’t do that on a macro-scale then I’ll do it on a micro-scale. I’ll throw my kayak in the back of my truck to try and find a place that I haven’t been that’s within an hour drive or two-hour drive of my house. If you can’t spend quality time with your family in person, thank goodness we have Zoom and other technologies, which enable you to be virtually there. This is the thing that when I was a kid and you’d go to Disney World and you’d go to the Carousel of Progress and they talked about the future, “In the future, you’d be able to see your family on the TV.” Do you remember that?
I’m old enough to remember eTickets. It was a big deal.
We looked at that back then and I was like, “That would be crazy cool.” That’s our everyday reality now.
I loved Disneyland with all the future ones where you shrink and Adam was the smallest thing back then. It’s interesting to think of it this way what you can do at a different level because my mom’s whole thing was to be able to play Bridge, which she couldn’t do in her cards over her life. We’ve found a website, which I love called Trickster Cards. My kids could get on from California and I’m in Arizona and she gets on. All four of us play cards and it’s like you’re on Zoom. You can see each other and there are ways around these things. That’s what we’re doing. I’m like you though, I loved hiking out of the Grand Canyon doing different things. I miss some of the travel that I used to do, but I’ve been doing a lot of local traveling because you got to do what you got to do. We had talked that you have updated The Cafe on the Edge of the World for a new edition of the book. I’m curious, what kind of stories and things did you change based on things that you’ve experienced since the last time you wrote the book?
Let me talk to you about that and also, let me give you one more tip because you were asking about things to do, and it sparked something in my head. I loved the Trickster Cards. It’s funny you brought that up because my dad and mom like Euchre. That has been a great resource. If you have someone in your family who is older and loves to play cards, check that out. It is super cool because you can see each other. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to share with my mom how to move one window over so that she can see us play. Be ready for that.
My other tip would be I can’t be out there traveling so I’ve tried to treat this time as preparation for launch. If you have a desire to go to New Zealand, for example, and you’re not able to grab your ticket and go, then this is an awesome time to get your copy of Lonely Planet’s Backpacker’s Guide to New Zealand and spend time on that every night and watch cool YouTube videos. You’ll probably be well-prepared, maybe even better than you’ve ever been before for this adventure when it’s time to jump on that airplane and go. Mentally, our brain loves to experience these things in actual format, but it also loves to experience them in preparation. Let’s say if you’re in New Zealand and kayaking a river, that’s a 10 out of 10, but the prep time reading about it, getting excited about it is probably in the range of a 7 out of 10. You can still have great quality minutes preparing for the experiences that you’re going to have when COVID is done.
It is harder for older people though because they are seeing their time being limited. Anything you can do to find alternative routes to having people feel something that they’re doing the things they love is important. Did you come up with new stories in the latest edition? What changes did you make to your book?
One of the things that I discovered in the process was that some of it was tactical and stylistic. I’m a much better writer now than when that first one came through me, my ability to process and think through things, and the dialogue patterns. There were improvements in the dialogue patterns that way, but I also found that a slightly different perspective was there for me. It’s interesting because when you’re farther along the adventure, and you have to put yourself back into place when you were 28 and mentally in that state, you have to make sure you’re holding that space for the 28-year-old who hasn’t figured out these questions yet. The improvements like that and the feedback that I’ve gotten has been good so I’m happy that I did it. That’s always the question too when you’ve got something that’s successful. Do you go back and make changes to it?
What’s interesting is you typically hear about catastrophic failures. The messaging is, “That would be about the dumbest idea ever to do something like that,” If you delve into great biographies, one of the things you also hear is this intuitive connection. I remember Steve Jobs and his leadership style is not something that I personally would emulate because he had some stuff that people didn’t appreciate. One of the things that he did well was he was in-tune. If he felt something was off, he was willing to dive deep and explore why that was the case. I remember the story of the Apple Store where they had mocked it up. They were ready to go. They were within six months of starting to roll these things out and he walked through it and said, “Something’s not right.” They drastically changed the look and the feel of the layout of the stores. Now, people love hanging out in the Apple Store. For me, one of the points of courage was to go back to the story and say, “I’ve never quite been happy with that one line or these two lines. What would make it better? I challenge myself to do that.
It’s hard sometimes. I have people send me their books. I had a friend who sent me her book because she gets right in it. She kept looking at it and sometimes you need some outside perspective because you’re so sick of looking at the same thing over and over again. Do you give your book to other people or you rely on your own intuition?
I have a process that I use where I will go through and I very much let the story flow through me as opposed to editing chapter by chapter. I’ll let the story flow through me and then I’ll start the editing process at the end. I’ll edit it 30 to 40 times before anybody else sees it. After that, I have a group of ten people who are trusted readers and I tell them, “I want critical feedback. I don’t want to hear, ‘It’s all great and everything is very nice about that.’ I want to hear, ‘In chapter four, you lost me or I love this story and here’s why.’ What I’m looking for is trends and patterns.” It’s a good technique for a broader context, not just as writers. If one person tells you, “I didn’t like that part,” that’s just an opinion. If 3 of the 10 tell you that that part didn’t work for them, then as a writer, if your goal is to inspire the reader, which mine is, and 3 of the 10 people didn’t connect with it. I owe it to the reader to go back and look at that part and say, “How can I make that better?”
It’s a big process. I’ve written five books and every time I write, I learned something new. I get more input and it is helpful to have outside eyes. I was looking back at your bio and I used to work at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical. I saw you went to that. I have been a professor in different universities and doing different things. I’ve worked for ten different ones throughout the years and I liked working there. You wanted to be a pilot, but you weren’t able to make it due to your heart condition. How are you with all that?
This is another interesting example of the way in which life pushes you in a different direction. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up going through high school. I was a very good student and a good athlete, but I didn’t have a clear direction of what was calling me. I then saw the movie Top Gun, and I thought, “I want to do that.” It wasn’t the military aspect of it. It was pushing yourself to be the best that I was drawn to. I did at one time go to Embry–Riddle Aeronautical down in Daytona Beach, Florida. I went on the path of becoming a pilot. I did all the training.
I had been working since I was twelve years old because my family didn’t come from a lot of means. I took all of my life savings and invested it all in this education. I ended up getting an opportunity to do an internship with United Airlines very late in my college career. It was one of the most sought-after interns in the country because you could accelerate your path by about ten years to becoming a pilot. When I went back for my interview with the United Airlines, I failed the medical exam. When I got the results back and I went to see a medical professional, they said, “The good news is that this only impacts about 1 out of every 100,000 people, so congratulations. The other amazing thing for you, John, is that this only matters if you want to be a pilot or an astronaut.”
I was like, “Are you flipping kidding me? I’ve invested my life savings in this dream and you’re telling me I had better chances of winning the lottery than having this condition.” On top of that, the condition is that if I’m in rapid descent, if I’m an emergency free fall, the aircraft has lost all its engines and we’re plummeting to the earth, if I was laying down, I have a higher risk of blacking out than the average person. My comment to them was, “If I’m the captain of the aircraft and we’re an emergency descent, what would I be doing laying down?” That’s the issue you have. You’ve got bigger issues, but they said that for insurance reasons, knowing that and having that as part of my medical story, the airlines would never hire me.
My dream ended in one letter one day, but the thing is if I had followed that path, I never would have become an author. Here I am, I get to do what I consider to be the greatest gig ever as it relates to me, my personal values, and my desire to try and make a contribution to the lives of others. If the universe has not sent me a very strong tap on the forehead, I would not be who I am now. What I’ve learned in the process of that is if we have the ability when something is happening that is different than we expect, earlier in my life, I did this when it happened for my flying career. I got that letter and I said, “Why is this happening to me? This is so unfair. I have worked my ass off. I’ve been a great student. I’m a good person.” It was from a place of anger, frustration, and disappointment.What people fear is not death, but getting to the end of their life and realizing that they haven’t lived. Click To Tweet
What I’ve learned over time is in those moments, when something is different than I expected and I do feel it’s unfair, I can ask that question from a place of curiosity like, “Why is this happening? I wonder why this is happening.” If I can step back from the experience and the emotions associated with it, I’ll learn that there is a reason why it’s happening. There is a destination in mind that I couldn’t possibly have imagined, which is going to be even better than the path that I was expecting. I’m not saying it’s easy to do. I’m not saying I’m an expert on it, but I am saying that in my experience when I’ve been able to do it effectively, it is amazing, the good things that follow.
It’s easy to look back and go, “That was a great thing.” Sometimes you get to remind yourself when you’re going through some of the bad parts of getting there. A lot of people want it to be easy. You can get to the top of the mountain by having somebody drop you at the top. The experience of climbing it, that’s the cool part. Sometimes, it’s the hard part and a lot of people get caught up in the hard and forget the cool part. Everything that you write about is inspirational. A lot of people who are reading this are going to want to pick up the latest edition of your book and learn more about you. Is there a link or something you’d like to share?
We’re available on Amazon. The first book title is The Cafe on the Edge of the World. I’m also available on all social media channels, Instagram, Facebook, etc. I post content regularly and the goal is to inspire people to live a truly spectacular and amazing life, whatever that means to them. If you’re looking for that dose of inspiration, then definitely check out the stuff that we post. People can find me on my website, JohnStrelecky.com
John, this is interesting. I’m glad to have you on the show. Thank you so much.
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to have the discussion. Thanks for all the stuff that you’re doing.
The Missing Link To Presenting Powerfully With Richard Mulholland
I am here with Richard Mulholland, who is the Founder of Missing Link. He’s a professional speaker and former rocket and roadie. I’m excited to have you here, Rich.
Thank you. It’s a privilege to be with you.
I was looking forward to this. You have an interesting background. I know you’re a Co-founder of several different types of companies, you’ve written three books, and you’re a global speaker. You do so much of speaking in 26 countries and 6 continents. That’s quite a bit. I want to get a little bit of background on you if you wouldn’t mind.
I used to tour with rock bands. That was my entry point. I was touring with bands in South Africa. The Africans are great. I’m from Scotland originally. Africans are quite funny. If the weather was bad or it was cold, they wouldn’t go out to concerts. We were the second-largest supplier of staging gear on the planet, but in winter, we didn’t have work, which is crazy because I’m from Scotland. People didn’t go to concerts when the weather was bad in Scotland, there would never be any concerts. I ended up starting a corporate division. I was about 21 years old. I said to my boss, “Why don’t we try to sell to the rave market and the corporate markets?” I will sell them like there could be the rock stars at their conferences.
They loved this idea and the business took off quite well, but what I quickly realized is that it didn’t matter how good the light and sound was. If the person who stood up on stage was rubbish, it was rubbish. I moonlit at the side and I ended up started Missing Link when I was 22 years old. The idea was that I was going to try and have a little side hustle where I helped people with the presentation components. After six months, we had five employees and I figured, “Maybe this could be an actual hustle.” I quit my job at GearHouse and I went and started Missing Link. I’m 46 now, I’ve been doing it ever since.
I’m in a lot of speaker groups and different things since I speak quite a bit. I know that this whole industry is going through a lot with COVID. A lot of people are having challenges who work as speakers, but I know a lot of things that I do. I work with people to help them learn to be in front of the media, speaking in front of groups, and having radio shows and stuff. I see a lot of leaders need help with learning how to present the way a speaker might. I don’t think a lot of leaders have had that training. Do you think that all leaders need to be able to speak well? How much do you focus on that?
If you can’t communicate, you’re not a leader, you’re a manager. I believe that effective communication is the difference between leaders and managers. Leaders are not necessarily the people with the authority in an organization, they’re the people with the voice. To me, any executive that can communicate has an unfair advantage over an executive that can’t in any field. I believe that leaders need to step up and figure this out because unfortunately, in university, college, and schools, they don’t teach this well. They teach a lot of intellectual skills, but they don’t teach you how you can communicate that intellectual idea once you have it. That’s what changes the world. That’s what wins the pitchers.
It’s a challenge to speak well. Having taught so many courses, I’ve had to work with people with getting the ability to communicate and connect with people. First of all, you got to know your audience. A lot of people don’t think about all the preparation that goes into speaking. Do you find that you’re spending a lot of time helping people with the preparation part?
Yes. Probably the misnomer here is the word speaker because we give too much value to the speaky bit. I’m sure you have this as well. These incredible speakers that are so charismatic, but they breathe hot air for 45 minutes. In the end, you’ve laughed, you’ve enjoyed yourself, you’ve had a great time, but nothing has changed. You then see these quietly confident thinkers who have structured a narrative that hooked you at the beginning, that kept you. I call them leaning speakers. They don’t speak loud, they’re not over the top, but you ended up leaning in because you don’t want to miss anything. At the end of the talk, they have rocked you to your core and driven you to action.
The difference between a good speaker and a bad speaker is preparation. It’s the narrative, the action framework. They follow to get their content across. A lot of people think they have to learn to be good speakers. We say, you have to write a good presentation before you design it and before you deliver it. You have to become a good writer. You’ve got to structure your message well. I always say that a mediocre speaker that is confident in a well-structured narrative will always kill it on stage. You earn your applause long before you might have.
I’m thinking a lot of these Zig Ziglar type of speakers who run across the stage and they are very dynamic. They’re fun but I think some of the TED Talks even that I’ve seen, do well like Sir Ken Robinson, he’s leaning there against the wall. He’s not doing anything spectacular, but it’s one of the best TED Talks or most viewed because he gets through to you.
That’s because he got you on the hook early. To me, there are four phases or four acts of presentation. In act one, you have to give them a reason to care. In act two, you have to give them a reason to believe. In act three, you have to tell them what they need to know. In act four, you have to tell them what they need to do. Good talks delivered by even bad speakers follow that format. Elon Musk is an example of that. He’s a South African as well. We were at the same high school, but at different times. I remember watching a talk that he did where he was launching that battery that goes on the wall. I showed it to my staff and I said, “What do you guys think of this?” They were all like, “It’s terrible. It’s not good. This presentation was bad. He said ums and ahs. He didn’t have a clicker. He wasn’t slick and prepared.”
At the end of it I said, “Do you want one?” They were all like, “Yes, definitely.” I said, “How can you say it’s bad?” Our action framework, those four steps, he made you care in the beginning, then he gave you some reasons to trust him. He gave you the detail you needed to know and then he called you to action. If you got through that messaging, then it is a great presentation delivered maybe with a little bit less finesse than other people. For some, that can be charming. There are some speakers who come across as so polished and perfect that it almost feels turkey.
I’m with you on that. That’s interesting about going to the same high school too, even though it wasn’t the same time. I went to high school with David Spade at the same time. It is a challenge to get into this business. A lot of these speakers are either talking about how it’s a bad time to get into speaking, and a lot of the conferences have been canceled.
It’s an amazing time. It is an incredible time to get into speaking. It’s the single best time. I’ve been working for many years, and there are more stages than ever before in human history. Every business that were running one conference a quarter is now running a webinar a week. They are looking for talent. Your geographical anchor has been lifted. I speak every week in a different country around the world and I am not at home. Earlier, in 2019, I spoke in 26 countries and 6 continents. We can glamorize that to make it sound nice, but I’m not yet at the point where I’m commanding first-class travel everywhere I go.
I’m stuck in a crappy economy class airline three quarters of the year. I spent seven days in a row, twice at home in 365 days. I have a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old child. This has been an upgrade in every sense. I’m able to speak all over the world. I’m able to amplify my authority with much less friction. I have a conversation with somebody. I’ve got a meeting about a talk that I’m doing in Atlanta. If it goes well, I’ll be in Atlanta. This couldn’t have happened before. This was a 3 to 4 months discussion. It’s an amazing time for people who have thought and authority and position to put themselves out there because the world is looking for leaders.Leaders are not necessarily the people with the authority in an organization; they're the people with a voice. Click To Tweet
That’s the other thing. Leadership has been democratized again because as of March 2020, nobody was ahead in the race. Nobody knew how to deal with this. All of a sudden, the few that we’re able to stand up and say, “I have a hypothesis of how this will look,” they were the winners. There’s another opportunity for this in January 2021. Everybody’s going to be looking for that back to school, back to work, after the festive season talk. If you have a thought and an idea, it’s a great time. We’re sitting here almost in early 2021 and people are looking for leaders to help them through this New Year. It’s a great opportunity for us.
It is in a lot of ways. It was interesting because I was talking to somebody about this. In a lot of groups, a lot of the world-class speakers are not getting the same kind of money they were getting though because of the supply and demand of speakers, and the companies have had to cut back because they haven’t had the funds. When he hears that, he asks them to give him their four biggest challenges. He creates videos for each of those that they could have in addition to the regular pay that they pay him for the talk. They go, “That will be great. You give me this extra value.” Are you having to add any extra value to get them to pay you your normal fees?
There are two ways to do that. In some cases, I have been adding extra value. With this group that I’m chatting about, I was going to arrange some time for them to have access to my Academy. After I finished my masterclass top-level content on speaking and presenting, I’m going to give them hacks, tools and tips for their team to jump onto with my staff who do this for a living. Let’s be honest, I believe public speakers, you get paid for your talk. The good speakers get paid for their talk. The great speakers get paid from their talk. I want to get paid to arrive on the stage, but I want to get paid more because I was there.
I have a lot of downstream offerings. I give a small taste of value beyond me as a speaker with my trainers from my company. At the end of that, there are a lot of opportunities for us to engage as a business. I am adding on more value because it’s easy. In the past, that would have been difficult. I would have to maybe send my trainers run to their offices and do these things. If it was an international gig, it would have been cost-prohibitive. Whereas now, I’m able to add value in a way that I never was before. The other thing is, I don’t know if you find yourself doing this, but I’ve started enjoying presenting online more. I’m in total control of my experience. I’m like a stage manager. I can manage how I want it to manage. Also, the expectation is low. If you are at 7 or 8 out of 10 as a regular speaker, you are up against other 7 or 8 out of 10s in the real world. If you’re a 7 or 8 out of 10 online presenter, the gap between you and everybody else is massive. You have to be quite good and standing apart. I’ve been saying to people, “If I come to your event, I’ll do it for this amount, but if I’m speaking at you remotely, if you want me to speak from my home studio, then I’ll be speaking for 30% less.” I would take that deal all day long.
I do the same thing. It’s so much more flexible. You can do more speaking. As a professor, since I’ve worked remotely, I’ve taught many classes online. You can make more money if you work remotely because you’re able to work for more of your time. You’re not driving, parking, flying, and all the things you’re doing. It’s the most efficient way. One thing is I’m seeing a lot of Zoom fatigue with people. They’re not wanting to attend anymore Zoom events in some respect because they’ve spent six hours for work on Zoom or whatever platform. What are you doing to standouts to capture attention because people are Zoomed out?
Zoom or webinar fatigue, in general, is a real thing. What’s probably the real bit about it and it’s different because if you’ve been in a meeting. There are two points here. The first is that I don’t think people have webinar fatigue. They have crappy webinar fatigue. They’re not tired of smart people sharing smart messages. They’re tired of people who do not respect the attention being paid to them, just showing up unprepared to deliver a bad presentation and rushing through it. One of the big amounts of work I had to do is go through all my 45-minute keynotes and drop them all down to 30 minutes because you’ve got to respect people’s attention. There’s an efficiency there that I get through things in a shorter period of time as well, but it did take some work to get there.
The second part is the change of venue is a big deal. I see Zoom as a venue. I see tools like Hopin or Crowdcast as venues. You’ve got to choose the venue for the experience you want to give. Zoom is to me in many ways, the best in class, when it comes to a small intimate meeting, 20, 30, 40 people jump on, get your cameras on and we’ll smile and joke and laugh at each other. There’s a lot of cool things you can do and have fun with your audience by using your filters and engage with everybody and see their faces. As soon as I start going up in the numbers, I want them to feel like they’re into something else. I’ll take them to a tool and I’m very partial to Crowdcast. We’ll go to Crowdcast and I’ll present on there. There are certainly different things I can do to make it feel different. It’s small little things.
I don’t get fancy but I always stand when I present. I always use much more interaction. I find that audiences have shifted. They were passive attendees, and now they’re active participants. It’s your job as a speaker to make sure that you treat them as such and keep them active throughout your presentation. The old world of presenting was to hold an audience’s attention. The new world of presenting is to interrupt their distraction. You’ve got to assume that you’ve lost them and ask yourself, “I’ve been speaking for five minutes and they’re checking their email. How do I win them back?” You’ve got to use interaction or various other tools and tricks to draw them back into the room with you and to win them back. I’ve loved the challenge. It’s more nuanced than it was before.
I like that too. I know a lot of people are training. Let’s say you’re training 100 people to do something interactive, would you use Crowdcast and why? I’m curious. I know I do a lot of sessions where you’re training people to do a personality assessment and that thing. You need them to be able to interact. I’m curious what platform you would like for something like that.
Most of mine personally, I am using Zoom and Mirror and things like that. The interactivity with each other is great. I think what Zoom is doing with their ZAP now, they’re launching their Zoom API to allow people to create apps that integrate the experience. It is a genius move. I think Zoom and Mirror mix is going to be incredible. It’s going to change the game for everybody. For interactive, there are two platforms or venues that I quite enjoy. The one is Hopin. In that, you can have multiple different experiences and little expo rooms. You can have breakouts, but you can also have sessions where there can be speed networking or speed problem-solving.
We can pair up people with a technical mindset with people with a creative mindset into one room and give them some questions to answer. They have a timer and after two minutes, it kicks them out and they meet the next person, and then they share all those ideas. Hopin is great for that. It’s a phenomenal tool as well if you want to have exhibitor space and do things. If you want to create some serendipity, I’m not a big fan of this super fancy-schmancy, big 3D avatar and walk around like you’re on second life. They trade visibility for novelty. They are fixing the garnish instead of fixing the steak. Gather.town is a very interesting play that I recommend people to check out.
I went into it as complete skeptic. I was like, “This is ridiculous.” It looks like Final Fantasy version one game. There are these cute little avatar people who walk around because they’ve gone with these low almost 32-bit graphics. It means that the onboarding is super simple. You’re up and running within two seconds. You know exactly what to do ten seconds later, and then you walk around. Do you see other people? As I walk up to you, my little person walks up to your person. As we get closer, our cameras start feeding it. When we get within each other’s area, we chat like a normal Zoom call, but when they announce that the presentation is about to start, we walk into the presentation room. You can either do it using their presentation software or by walking through a room, it can initiate a Zoom call.
You’re just in Zoom, Teams, WebinarJam, Crowdcast or whatever you want to be. When you come back home, you can have these little individual meeting spaces and things, and it’s highly functional. We had award-winning offices that we’ve closed, but we’re now building out our meeting spaces and our individual Zoom room in a virtual version of our office so that I can walk into somebody up to somebody else’s desk. If they’re not in a meeting, I can see them and ping them. If they’re available, I’ll chat to them easily. It’s a very cool tool for serendipity, which we’ve lost, but functional, which I’m quite surprised by.
I do a lot on Zoom and Teams and different versions of different software. I’m always fascinated to see what people have had that worked well. My daughter was telling me she was in a meeting. If somebody pinged her, it would come up onto her Slack screen, which you don’t want other people looking at what you’re working on. I’ve never had that in anything like Zoom or Teams. I can’t remember the name of the software that she used for that, but she said that was a problem in that particular setting. Teams is good for some things, but then having to share your screen and then let go to share a different thing is a challenge. Zoom has been my favorite for ease of use, but I would like to see more interactivity. Which one do you think is the best for the largest groups of people?
If it’s a complete one to many, if it’s a large theater-style venue, if it’s a few to many, it depends on the number of presenters you have. WebinarJam allows about eight presenters to be live on stage at a time and a stage manager with the backstage area. Crowdcast allows six, but one of those will be utilized by the stage manager, but there is something about the interface. We get much higher engagement there. Teams, as it stands right now, I still refuse to do talks on Teams. The way that they prioritize the slide over the presenter shows a lack of understanding of how a presentation is supposed to be. I don’t want to be a little thumbnail of the bottom. I tend to use a crazy video integrated into me. Instead of me sharing screen, what I do is the slide shares the screen with me. I’m in complete control. I’m not sharing anything. For the most part, I find Zoom webinar and Crowdcast would be my favorites to go to.
What my dream is I wish somebody would come up with a speaker centric system. What I would like is that let’s say you booked me to do my Legacide talk based on my first book. I have the slides preloaded and ready to go. I have the polls preloaded and ready to go. The polls will trigger when I get to a certain slide. If you booked talk A, I send you the room for talk A, where at the beginning of the talk, I just double click on this link. I don’t have to think about anything. The slides are preloaded. The videos are pre-loaded. Everything’s ready to go. It’s a packaged keynote room.
It’s like when you’re in Broadway, you go to a theater and the set is all ready to go and everything’s done. I want that for each one of my talks and I would pay a certain amount each time I deliver that talk. You arrive in there and all I do is click the next button. If the next button triggers a video, then the video triggers. If the next button triggers a poll, then the poll triggers. I want the ability to be able to set the preferences of my room based on the presentation or a talk that I’m giving. I would then pay as a speaker. Part of my service that I would offer to my clients is to say that I built up a nice, beautiful experience for their staff to come to in my own venue, just like you want to take them off-site, take them off Zoom, and come to my place. I have that set up to give them a very unique and tailored experience. Once I own that space, what I’m playing with is lighting setups so that as I changed slides, the lighting scenes around me in my room would change relevant to the slide I’m on, depending on the mood I want to create and some things I want to do. This is an opportunity to do cool stuff that we’ve never been able to do before.
These are all great tips. I’ve had people from Zoom and others on my show. I hope that they read this. I agree with you on the Teams thing. I have to use it for certain universities and you’re a little tiny thing in the bottom on the corner. Some of these things need to be addressed. We didn’t have a whole lot of time, but I want to touch on the fact that you’ve written these three books: Legacide, Boredom Slayer and Storyseller. When you’re speaking, are you speaking about the work in your books or are you speaking more about what you’re doing to help leaders speak? What exactly is your focus?
Some of the content is dependent. Each one of the books has to do with some part of the business that we deal with. Our primary business is helping people communicate better through a presentation. We care about how you activate your audiences. I have talked around those various areas, but also talks specifically built around public speakers and how to build better speaking engines. We have a speaking program that we run for people. I want to try and get that across. Storyseller, for example, is about how to use stories to sell more effectively. If I’m hired to speak at a sales conference or for sales teams, that would be the one I would go to. I have a number of different talks that I’ve written because these are the things that I’m passionate about at the time, which is something I wouldn’t advise most. If you were an aspiring speaker, try not to get distracted as I have. Many years in, sometimes you have these ideas and opinions you want to get out there. I tend to save those for TEDx Talks and things like that. For business, it’s mostly why leaders fail and in my case, it has to do with communication and speak to lead.The old world of presenting was to hold an audience's attention. The new world of presenting is to interrupt their distraction. Click To Tweet
I could see why you were voted at the top 300 South Africans to take to lunch. You’re an interesting guy. You’re voted at top 40 Under 40. You’ve won a lot of awards. I loved talking about this because I deal with this on a daily basis. I hope that the leaders at Zoom and some of these other companies read this and make some of those changes to the platforms. I would love to see some of that. Thank you for being on, Richard. I was hoping you’d share how people could find out more and contact you.
Thank you. If you’d like to get a hold of me personally, go to GetRich.af. It’s one of those little link farms and you’ll find links to all my websites, my social media presence, my newsletter and my YouTube channel. LinkedIn is probably the one where I engage the most and I enjoy spending time on of late. Feel free to reach out there. Let me know that you came across because of the show. For my business, if you go to, INeedMissingLink.com, there you’ll find details about our various things that we offer, including our public speaking program.
This has been interesting. I hope people take the time to check out your site. Thank you for being on the show.
It is a privilege. Thank you for having me.
I’d like to thank both John and Richard for being my guests. We get so many great guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode.
- The Cafe on the Edge of the World
- Missing Link
- John Strelecky
- The Why Are You Here Café
- Trickster Cards
- Backpacker’s Guide to New Zealand
- Instagram – John Strelecky
- Facebook – John Strelecky
- Sir Ken Robinson – TED Talk website
- Boredom Slayer
- YouTube channel – Richard Mulholland
- LinkedIn – Richard Mulholland
About John Strelecky
John Strelecky is a #1 Bestselling inspirational author of The Café on the Edge of the World and the Big Five for Life series of book. His books have been translated into over forty-two languages and sold more than six million copies worldwide.
About Richard Mulholland
Rock and Roadie turned entrepreneur Richard Mulholland is the founder of presentation powerhouse Missing Link, as well as the co-founder of 21Tanks, HumanWrit.es and The Sales Department. He has written three books, Legacide, Boredom Slayer, and StorySeller and is a global public speaker that in 2019 alone spoke in 26 countries on 6 continents.
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