Business and Leadership Lessons I learned from Speakers at the National Speakers Association #Influence15 Convention in DC

Business and Leadership Lessons from Speakers at the NSA Convention

In addition to helping my clients with leadership development strategy and workshops, I am an international professional speaker at conferences and meetings. Therefore, to keep my own skills sharp, I belong to the National Speakers Association (“the other NSA”). This week I’m attending their annual convention right here in DC (taking advantage of the fact that it’s still ‘local’ for me, even if for less than two more weeks!). Although I’m still not finished (that won’t be until later this evening), I thought I’d recap some of the many lessons I’ve learned this week that can apply to all leaders and team members no matter the business and not just relevant to speakers.

“Chef Jeff” Henderson, a former convict turned celebrity chef, taught me that poverty is a mindset. Regardless of your misfortunes of origin or circumstances, you can turn yourself around through exposure to new ways of thinking that break that pattern of thinking as well as hard work and ‘hustle’. Chef Jeff also described the pivotal role mentors play in giving perspective and helping you feel supported and helping you discover your strengths.

While Chef Jeff charismatically described many kinds of hustling he did throughout his life, I enjoyed his concept of an ‘ear-hustler’ – emulating those who are successful, listening and observing their behavior and habits, and acting ‘as if’ before you’re there to take on new behaviors and skills to upgrade your personal brand and skill-set.

Chef Jeff mentioned Marcus Buckingham’s strengths teachings and implored us to “forget your passion: follow your gift!” He said that we should become passionate about our gift and quit spending money and time on “what you suck at” – i.e., your weaknesses.

Immaculée Ilibagiza has a remarkable story: she is a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda who spreads a message of love, forgiveness, and hope (and quite a religious one, at that…). What I took away from her story that was not religious in nature (which doesn’t appeal to me) was that you can be free to work more productively when you let go of grudges and resentment.

Bernhard Wolff has a very unique gift: he can speak (and sing!) backwards with great ease, in German AND in English (who knows, maybe in other languages too?). He really entertained the audience and demonstrated that everyone has some special gift that they can leverage and become known for, create a differentiated personal brand, and find great success by being unlike any other.

The infamous George Takei has lately been associated with his funny social media shares and built his notoriety as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. But as one of our keynotes at #NSA15, he spoke of the somber personal tale of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, including his own family. I took away more than a history lesson. Takei reminded us that we all have to be actively engaged in democracy. All of us can make our democracy better by being active and forthright. This is a message that is true in any system or organizational structure: it is comprised of its parts, and all of us are actors in the system and should not be passive, reactive, and just accept what’s handed down. Rather, we should actively engage and if there’s something we know is wrong, we should speak up and act to make a positive change.

Joe Calloway and Jane Atkinson, both successful speakers and authors, taught me that “stickiness” in your business is a factor of the work that you do. Your current work begets your future work, so always do great work to create word-of-mouth raving fans!

Also, in order to establish your brand, you need to narrowly focus and be clear on what you do and for whom. They suggested these two key focusing questions to ask yourself: What do you want to be *known* for? And what do you need to *let go of* to get there? Hmm…. Think about that!

Finally, I really enjoyed the keynote from entrepreneurship expert Verne Harnish, founder of Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). He suggested that we each need to find our 'front domino' – the one that sets all the other important dominoes in the chain in motion -- and carve out 1.5-3 hours EACH DAY to work on it! You have to work on your top priorities and your important work.  

Harnish also shared that all the top leaders are readers. In fact, to see how serious someone is about leadership you can simply ask them what they’re reading or just finished reading and see if they get flustered. Verne encouraged us all to make a commitment to read more every day.

Finally he suggested that success is more about WHO you know and who you hang around with. He suggested that we each write down the top 25 most important influencers for us (i.e., people who are where we want to be eventually). He said we need to take one hour every week to work that list by reaching out, connecting, learning from them, and working on maintaining these relationships if we want to speed up our success and get advice and shortcut ideas.

Of course, I learned lots more technical stuff that helps me in my business as a speaker, facilitator, and author. But I think that the above lessons are universal and I think they can help you in your work. Which resonates with you the most? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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