The Message of You

Turn Your Life Story into a Money-Making Speaking Career

Judy Carter

St. Martin's Press

CHAPTER ONE
 
YOU ARE THE MESSAGE
 
 
Okay, I’m going to say something shocking. Ready?
Your greatest speech has already been delivered in front of a live audience.
And that speech was delivered masterfully and powerfully by you.
You may be staring at this and wondering how you missed this great moment, or thinking I’ve lost my mind. Hold on one second and think about what I’ve just said:
Your greatest speech already exists, even though you don’t know it.
It’s in the advice you give to your friends; in the lessons you teach your children; in the stories you tell your family. You’ve given parts of your speech when you helped your sister build her Web site, or when you shared the story of your immigrant grandparents’ journey to America. The Message of You speech has expressed itself in the volunteer work you do, the way you run your business, the way you just know which color suits you, and which doesn’t. It’s in the stories you share that inspire others to tell the truth, conquer their fears, and lead happier, healthier, and wealthier lives. Your greatest speech is in the stories you tell every day because at the core of those stories is The Message of You.
The Message of You is a distillation of all of your experiences, both personal and professional, that have formed the narrative or meaning of your life. The wrinkle is, The Message of You is usually not obvious. Most of the time, the meaning of our lives is invisible to us. We can’t be objective about our own journey. We can’t see how our life influences others. We are so busy living we don’t take note of the steps we took to find success. Yet, these are the very things that make people want to listen and know more about us. The good news is, not only can you discover The Message of You, but you can also develop it to inspire audiences, enhance your current profession, and launch a successful moneymaking career as a professional speaker.
I can prove it.
Chastity Davis had a problem. It all started with a simple dinner in Vancouver, Canada. Chastity Davis, BC Hydro’s marketing manager joined her boss for a quick meal after work to talk about their upcoming convention. After a second round of drinks had been ordered, Chastity relaxed and opened up, sharing stories from her childhood. Chastity was a member of the Tla’amin Nation, one of the indigenous tribes of Canada. As she spoke about her passion for healing the earth and the words of wisdom she’d inherited from her ancestors, her boss looked her straight in the eye and said, “This is exactly what our convention attendees need to get inspired—you! I want you to be our closing keynote speaker.”
Chastity’s first thought was, “Absolutely not!” After all, it was one thing to share the dramatic and highly personal tales of the abuses suffered by her parents over dinner with her boss. It was quite another thing to stand on stage in front of five hundred of her colleagues and share those same intimate details. Chastity shook her head no, but her boss was persistent. “Chastity, it’s only thirty minutes and all you have to do is just tell your story. Your message is exactly what everyone needs to hear. You’ll be great.”
Maybe it was the feeling that she could really make a difference in the world, or maybe it was that second glass of wine, but Chastity said yes. Then she did what all speakers, professional and amateur, do: she procrastinated.
One week before she was scheduled to step on stage, she realized she’d better write something to say—and quick! She sat down with her laptop and started writing. She wrote about her life, her parents, and the history of her people. Hours passed and, exhausted, Chastity gave up. She now had twenty pages of single-spaced, disconnected anecdotes and passionate pleas that read more like a manifesto than a coherent speech. She absolutely could not get up on a stage and read from it. What was she going to do?
It sounded so simple when her boss said, “Just tell your story.” But what did that mean, exactly? Which story should she tell? The horror story about her mother’s childhood when she was forced to attend Government Residential Schools on a reservation? Her family’s battle with alcoholism? Her work with the First Nation families? How about her turbulent dating life? Or should she just focus on the warm and fuzzy stories of living with her grandparents? Her boss had said, “You have a great message.” What did that mean? What was the message that her boss heard in her stories? More important, why would anyone really care?
Making things even more difficult was the fact that her audience expected her to speak about environmental issues. Chastity was scheduled as the closing keynote speaker for BP Hydro’s annual convention, the topic this year being “The Green Initiative.” She would be speaking in front of an audience full of volunteers from various departments, just like herself, who had committed to making their company more sensitive to the environment and more sustainable. Chastity’s boss was, in fact, one of the co-chairs of the volunteer program, which was suffering through rough times. Volunteers were overwhelmed with the day-to-day responsibilities of their jobs. They didn’t have time to fulfill their volunteer commitment. Goals hadn’t been reached and the initial exuberance had all but shriveled up and died. How could her personal life story inspire others, and what in the world did it have to do with sustainability?
Chastity suddenly felt the full weight of this burden on her shoulders. Somehow, she had to convince a room full of stressed, fatigued, and already overworked volunteers to add even more work—without pay—to their hectic schedules. Who was she to show such bravado? She’d never been on television. She wasn’t a best-selling author. Her life was far from perfect. She wasn’t at her goal weight, she’d dated a few wackos, and all of her clothes were from Ross Dress for Less. She didn’t consider herself to be charismatic, funny, or gorgeous, and the vast majority of her colleagues in the audience came from very different backgrounds. Would they relate to her experience as a Native Canadian? Even if they did, how would it inspire them to strive for sustainability and give up their scarce free time to help the Earth? Chastity felt defeated. She had but one thought: “Get me out of this.” Unfortunately, it was too late to find another keynote speaker for the convention. Chastity was stuck and freaking out. She hopped online, found my Web site, and a few days before her keynote address we sat down via Skype to craft her speech.
Chastity’s stories were dramatic and interesting, but they had no frame or context and offered no solution to a problem. Her speech lacked a Core Promise, and Chastity was unclear about the larger message she wanted to convey, what I call The Message of You. She just needed a process, a structure, and a framework in which to discover and write these two important components. We weren’t starting from scratch—Chastity already had her topic and she knew her audience personally. As we examined her life, her message took shape. Chastity spoke about the time her alcoholic mother threw her out of the house when she was only seven years old. Seven years old and left to fend on her own! Revealing that story, Chastity found her Message, one handed down from her ancestors and a legacy of familial abuse. It was a Message that declared: no matter who we are, no matter how frightened we are, no matter how small and weak we feel, we can step into our power and succeed against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Chastity stood on that stage, looked the volunteers in the audience square in the eye, and said, “If I can do it at seven years old, we can do it now. For the sake of my mother, for our people, for our children.”
The results? She got a standing ovation with people wiping their eyes. Her message hit home and revived the volunteer program. Three managers from other departments asked her to present to the other divisions of BC Hydro and within one month of her talk, Chastity was officially asked by BC Hydro to spearhead their diversity training. She was just named Vice President of the BC Aboriginal Women’s Leadership Association and she is now paid to speak across Canada on the role of women in leadership. Chastity then started her own business, working with the native community on leadership and sustainability and inspiring Native Canadians to “Step into Their Own Power,” to get healthy, get educated, and start businesses. Sometimes, she still freaks out, but knowing the importance of her message gets her over her fears.
That’s the power of The Message of You.
*   *   *
I could relate to Chastity’s journey because, just like Chastity, my career as a professional speaker also began as a fluke. I was a high school teacher and I was terrible at it. I was fired after my second year in the classroom. Apparently, being the class clown is no more acceptable for a teacher than it is for a student. But as they say, when one door closes another opens. Getting fired freed me to pursue my real dream. I had been doing magic shows since I was eight years old and had always wanted to be a professional magician. So, at twenty-four years old, I took my comedy magic act on the road.
Traveling was a huge pain. My magic act had a lot of heavy props. I was lugging around a Black & Decker saw to cut men in half plus a whole assortment of props to accomplish such feats as my death-defying escape from my grandmother’s girdle. Hey, it’s a living. I was successful, touring the country, but it all came to a grinding halt when United Airlines lost my luggage and I had to go on without my props. No props meant no magic tricks. I had to stand onstage, just me, and so I told jokes. Unbelievably, I was a hit. Thanks to United, from that night on, I became a comic—with a carry-on.
I continued my career as a comic, headlining at comedy clubs all across the country and playing Vegas and Atlantic City, opening for some really cool people like Prince. I did hundreds of television appearances and by any measure, my career in stand-up was a success. So why wasn’t I happy? Well, it wasn’t very glamorous—getting heckled by drunks, staying in cheap motels, and dealing with crooked club owners. Life on the road can be a lonely life. If I had known then what I know now about the speaking profession, I would have spared myself the trials and tribulations of being a road comic.
I can tell you the exact moment I decided to quit stand-up. I was in New York and Walter, my miniature schnauzer, had been mugged. That’s right. My dog had been mugged, not me, and I had to run the poor thing to an emergency clinic right before I was supposed to go onstage in Long Island. I was in no mood to be funny and I was late. I got to the club and it became clear, instantly, that God had tilted the world on its side and all the scumbags had trickled into this particular corner of the universe. They were drunk. They were mean. And before I even stepped foot on the stage, they were heckling me. I hadn’t even said a word yet. I pushed through part of my routine and I had a joke that started with the line, “I worry about getting old…” and some guy in the front row snorted sarcastically and yelled, “Getting old?!”—insinuating that I was already well past my prime. (I was in my early thirties, by the way.) I don’t know what happened but something in me broke open at that moment. I stopped and stood perfectly still. It hit me so clearly. Here I was standing in front of a bunch of drunks trying to make them laugh, just as I did as a kid in my own family. It was a Eureka Moment where ha-ha turned into a-ha. I was totally done. I walked off stage, picked up my dog, and went home to figure out what I would do next.
I formed a company called Comedy Workshops, and started teaching standup comedy. I wrote two books, Standup Comedy: The Book and The Comedy Bible to help aspiring comics craft their material and take it on the road. Oprah Winfrey booked me for her show and I became known as the comedy guru, the go-to gal for launching the careers of America’s top comics. I got so much press that thousands of students lined up to study with me via my Los Angeles workshops as well as via online classes, teleseminars, and international classes in Canada, Russia, Sweden, Australia, and Germany. Things were going well, and I was paying the bills … but I missed performing.
About that time, a friend asked me to speak at her company’s annual conference, The Produce and Fruit Association—ah the prestige! But all of a sudden, for one gig, one gig, I was getting paid ten times as much as I’d made doing nine gigs a week in a comedy club. Here’s the weird part: I didn’t have to do my act. They paid me to talk about comedy as a topic. I didn’t even know what that meant so I just made something up. I created kind of a mash-up from my experiences of teaching comedy and added a few bits from my act. It was very uneven and awkward, but the audience seemed to enjoy it. Even though I had to share the stage with a dancing avocado, nobody threw anything at my head and at the end of the talk they handed me a big check. After it was over, all I could think was, “Speaking for a living rocks! How do I do this full time?”
I started researching the speaking business and found there were a lot more speaking gigs available than comedy gigs. Every day, in every city, there are hundreds of meetings and they all need speakers. There were also a lot of perks. Speakers are paid more than comics, they have a full hour to perform in front of sober and appreciative audiences, and best of all, as a speaker I didn’t have to be the “hot, new, up-and-coming young talent” forever. In fact, in the speaking profession, experience, age, and wisdom are actually considered assets and not liabilities.
I joined the National Speakers Association where I met speakers who were making six figures every year. Many of these successful speakers had never been on TV, had never been asked for an autograph, and weren’t entertainers, but not only did they have vibrant careers they were really making a difference in people’s lives. I wanted what they had. I became obsessed with finding out the secret to their success. It didn’t take long to figure it out. Even though I had been on hundreds of TV shows and had been nominated for Atlantic City Entertainer of the Year, these speakers had something I didn’t: a message.
Ask any professional speaker, “What do you speak about?” and they can summarize, in a concise two-sentence phrase, their brand, their Message of You, the message of their lives. Even the “survivor” speakers, the ones who rely heavily on incredible life-and-death stories, still have a message to impart to their audiences. The same was true for the more technical speakers who gave informational-type talks on taxes, finance, and computer programming. Even they included a motivational message along with their facts and figures. No matter the speaker or the topic, everyone had one thing in common: they all included a message that was designed to inspire an audience to make tomorrow a better day than today.
As a stand-up comic, message didn’t matter. My act was a series of disconnected jokes about everything—dieting, pets, relationships, and politics, whatever was on my mind. I had tons of material but no message, and I had no idea how to find one. I read every book on public speaking and the speaking industry I could find. I learned a great deal about marketing and how to keep my hands from flailing about, but there was no book on how to find a message or even how to write a speech! I learned about BOR (back of room) sales, how to have a dazzling Web site, and how to negotiate a contract even if I was a dummy. Where was the book that could help me find my message?
It didn’t exist.
I realized I was going to have to figure this out myself. Stumbling through self-doubt and fear, I took classes; I watched other speakers and I began to recognize a pattern. The professional speakers that were most successful were able to convey their message because they were considered experts in their field. From accountants to cancer survivors, salesmen to system analysts, athletes to astronauts, they had examined their own success (and failures) to develop their own step-by-step methodology that could help others be just as successful.
I asked myself, “How am I an expert?” and looked at my career as a magician, comic, and teacher. I examined my life story of growing up with a severely disabled sister in a family where Daddy getting angry was as scary as an L.A. earthquake. It took a lot of work, but I finally found the Message of Me. Underneath my stories was a larger message about the transformational power of humor. My Message of Me was right under my nose the whole time, but I was too close to see it. I had the ruby slippers all along. My Message of Me combined all the elements of my life. When I was a teacher, I used humor to help my students learn. With my disabled sister Marsha, making her laugh created many moments of happiness in her otherwise tragic life. At the dinner table, laughter could ease tense situations and diffuse conflict. Playing a comedy gig in Vegas, I could wake up a dead audience. Teaching stand-up comedy, I helped so many of my students overcome the tragedies in their lives by turning their problems into punch lines. I knew how to teach the principles of comedy to standup students but now I realized comedy wasn’t just for showbiz types. I saw humor as a life-and-business tool that could be used to decrease stress, resolve conflict, and improve health in the workplace. I had my Message of Me! Woo-Hoo!
I honed my speech by speaking for free at charity events, Chambers of Commerce, hospitals, churches; basically, any organization within thirty miles of my house got a call. At first, I sucked (note to self: don’t say “suck” at a corporate gig) and it took me years to figure out how to frame my message to truly motivate and transform others. I had to find stories that were not only funny and entertaining, but also revealing, and supported my message. After much trial and error, (note to self: do not mention “nipples” at a business meeting) I became an in-demand speaker, presenting for Fortune 500 companies, traveling the world, sharing the stage with President Clinton and other high-profile speakers, flying on private jets, and speaking in front of some of the most powerful movers and shakers in the world. Along the way, I learned how to market myself, get agents interested, find gigs, create BOR sales, and brand myself as an expert.
When Chastity called me for help, it made me realize that someone needed to write the book you are reading. As I crisscrossed the world for my speaking engagements, more and more people told me their stories: of dreams fulfilled, passions unearthed, and funny, dramatic, and even tragic parts of their lives. It was clear that all of them wanted to be heard, and that many of their stories were absolutely fascinating. (OK, a few of them.) But I tuned my ears to hear something underneath their stories—their messages. Messages that not only entertained but had the potential to make dramatic differences in other people’s lives. By helping people stand up in front of others and transform their messages into well crafted speeches, I felt that I too might contribute, in some small way, to the betterment of our world. By helping Chastity write a genuinely moving speech to inspire hundreds of Canadian volunteers, I might actually be helping the environmental movement become more than just recycling!
It was an amazing thought, and it’s the reason I wrote this book. I’m here to tell you that your life has meaning, your stories can inspire, and your message can heal. Your TED—Technology, Entertainment, and Design—talk (see chapter two for more information) is already inside of you.
Sound naive? Too idealistic? In my twenty-five years on the speaking circuit and coaching other speakers, I’ve seen it happen over and over again. A person who feels they are “nobody” steps up, tells their story, and discovers that they truly are “somebody” in this world. I see the surprise on their face when people in the audience line up to hug them and tell them that their stories made a difference in their lives. Unfortunately, most people don’t know where to begin. Amateur speakers usually will tell their story in chronological order, as a list of “this happened, then this happened, and then this happened.” That is more of an exercise in narcissism than an effective speech.
Mind you, I didn’t find my Message of Me when I was giving my first speech. After much trial and error, I branded myself as a stressreduction speaker who showed corporate America how to use comedy skills to relieve stress. In order to find my Message of Me, I had to examine my own journey, identify my life lessons, my professional credentials, as well as what Bookable Topics corporate America would be interested in hearing about. The combination of those elements created The Message of Me. I then used that information to create the Core Promise for each of my speeches, to develop my methodology (my Action Steps), and to choose my Heart Story. This book will walk you through that identical process, saving you the painful trial and error of flopping in front of a live audience.…
WAIT, WHAT PROCESS EXACTLY?
So, now you’re going to ask me …
But Judy, how do I identify which of my stories is my Heart Story? What are Action Steps? How can I possibly boil down the experiences of my life into one message, one Core Promise? And what the heck is a Core Promise anyway? And what does all this have to do with the speech I have to give to a room full of nurses (or executives or socialites or new parents or drug addicts) next month? HELP!
Okay, take a breath and let’s start at the beginning. Let me give you an overview of my process. I’m going to try not to throw too much at you at once. If you just go through the chapters one by one and do all the exercises, you will succeed in finding your message, creating your speech, getting bookings, and making a difference.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
Part One of this book will help you to identify The Message of You. This is the foundation of your speech, your marketing materials, and even all your Tweets. You’ll find it by combining different components of your experience: your life lessons, your professional expertise with the Bookable Topics of the speaker marketplace. With explanations and exercises, I will lead you by the hand and assist you to clarify your speaking goals, mine your professional experiences for expert credentials, scan your personal life for the tragedies and triumphs that shaped your outlook on life, identify your own methodology for success, stop procrastinating, and discover a bookable, marketable Message of You. And hey, even if you have no interest in pursuing a career as a professional speaker, you can still benefit from incorporating your Message of You into your work presentations or even social situations like a toast at a wedding or speaking during your child’s Career Day. If this is the case, I’d encourage you to focus solely on Part One and Part Two of this book. You can skip the business primer in Part Three.
Part Two of this book will walk you through my Six-Step Method to Create Your Speech, with a final chapter that will guide you through a Carter Comedy Pass that is sure to keep your audience laughing. You’ll learn how to write a great opening that will make the audience love you within sixty seconds, keep an audience engaged by talking about their problems, brag about yourself without isolating your audience, inspire your audience to take concrete Action Steps, share your Heart Story to create meaning, and bring the audience to their feet with an interactive Call to Action.
Part Three will show you performing and memorizing techniques so you can avoid flop sweat and other disasters, as well as showing you how to gather together the materials you need to successfully market your talk, write and negotiate contracts, and turn free gigs into paying gigs. If your goal is to become a paid, professional speaker, then make sure you don’t skip any of the exercises in Part Three.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO MASTER THIS PROCESS
A Support System
It’s important to work with a Buddy who will act as your audience, supplying feedback, writing material, and giving you support when you want to quit. Don’t underestimate how powerful fear is. If you are like most people, you will hit points where you are stuck, confused, and just stop the process. Having regularly scheduled meetings with a Buddy will help both of you navigate your way to a speaking career. Many speakers form “Master Mind Groups” that meet at least once a month to help them develop, hone, and market their speaking skills. Or ask a friend, someone you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with, to act as your sounding board. The best Speaker Buddies are people who make you feel smart and funny when you’re around them.
Don’t make excuses. Hook up with a Speaker Buddy right now. Being in the same location is no longer necessary as working via Skype works just as well. Matter of fact, me being a Jewish yenta, let me fix you up with someone. Visit MySpeakerBuddy.com to hook up with someone who can be there for you.
A Recording Device
Ideas don’t necessarily happen when you want them to. They happen in life—at a party, during a business meeting, in bed. Come on, you can have sex anytime, but ideas need to be recorded whenever they happen, otherwise they will vanish. I use my iPhone to forever preserve my ramblings but you can use a digital voice recorder, an old tape recorder, a notepad, or a cocktail napkin. If you are like me and can’t stand listening to your voice, go to TheMessageOfYou.com/services, where you will find a list of inexpensive services that will transcribe your audio notes and e-mail them to you.
A Notebook
In order to find The Message of You, we are going to do a lot of writing. The journey to find The Message of You is not a direct route. It would be great if I just asked you a few questions and … jackpot! The three cherries line up and out comes your winning Message of You. It takes a lot of writing to find the kernels of truth that will develop into your speech. In writing this book, there are hundreds of trees that had to be cut down to supply all the pages that nobody will ever see. Every writer knows that writing is a hit-and-miss process, but it would be a good idea to have a place to store all your ideas as they come to you, either a physical one, or a folder on your computer.
A Commitment
I’m sure that there are many things in your life that you’ve tried and when it got hard, you stopped. I would like to help you commit to this process of finding and putting together your speech, and not be like me on my diet program—which I always start with enthusiastic intent that ends three days later with a plate of pasta primavera.
I have no doubt there will be times in this process where you will want to quit. I’ll be asking you to remember a story, and perhaps you won’t be able to think of a thing. Here’s the thing: creativity doesn’t always happen on our time schedule. If you commit to this journey, you might find your Message of You sneaks up on you. You may be frustrated with an exercise in this book but then two days later, the dry cleaner says something that shakes loose a memory and suddenly your whole speech comes together. It’s about staying open to the process. Commit yourself to staying open. If you quit, you’ll never find that a-ha moment. There’s a reason you picked up this book in the first place. Honor that intention.
COMMITMENT PLEDGE
I commit to the following:
1. I will read the whole book by___________. (date)
2. I’ll complete all the exercises in this book (even if I don’t do them well) by ___________. (date)
3. When I get scared or find myself procrastinating, I will call ___________. (name of buddy)
4. I will not stop until I’ve ___________. (name your ultimate goal)
e-mail to: commitment@TheMessageOfYou.com
In my stand-up and speaking classes it’s not always the talented ones who end up with major careers, it’s the ones who never gave up. I just hate it when people quit. I think that if they stayed in the process one more week, one more day, one more hour, they could have succeeded.
Sharing your commitment with someone will help you stay accountable, so commit to me. The Message of Me is me helping you find The Message of You. Shoot me an e-mail at commitment@TheMessageOfYou.com and let me know that you are committing to this process. Let me know what kind of speaker you are, or, what kind of speaker you would like to become. If you’re not sure how to answer those questions, keep reading for some guidance. Set some dates for yourself. Pick a date when you will finish Part One of this book. Then set another date to finish Part Two. Do not spend longer than one month on each part or you will lose your momentum. Shoot me an e-mail when you discover your Core Promise. Shoot me another when you give your first speech. I will follow your journey and send you encouragement throughout our process. Hey, some call it codependency. I choose to call it helpful.
Remember, Chastity had one week to write her speech! Just imagine what you can do with a lot more time to do the work. Are you going to have to get personal? Yes. Are you going to have to dig a bit to get to the juicy stuff? You better believe it. But don’t worry. The Message of You is more than a book, it’s a community and a movement. Come take this journey with me. Speak your message and change lives—including your own.
CHAPTER ONE CHECKLIST:
Got a buddy (MySpeakerBuddy.com).
Gathered my supplies (notebook or laptop and recorder).
E-mailed Judy my commitment pledge. (commitment@TheMessageOfYou.com)
Set a date to finish Part One.
Set a date to finish Part Two.


 
Copyright © 2013 by Judy Carter