Be a Sponge: Your Essential First Step | Darren LaCroix

Be a Sponge: Your Essential First Step

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

It was the early 1990s. I was all in. I was on a mission to learn how to be a comedian. The best thing I had going for me was that I knew I didn’t know. This is huge, but at the time, I had no idea that a true transformation starts with this mindset. I was hungry, open and eager. If you are facing a massive challenge or have a huge goal, you can’t stick your toe in the water and expect transformation. That is not reality.

I sought out every class possible and searched for every mentor I could. I was also willing to do whatever I could to make things happen. I came across this adult education Night Life Class about Comedy Writing. It was inexpensive, which delighted me, and was taught by a Boston Headliner. His name was Dave Fitzgerald. He had been on Caroline’s Comedy Hour, but I had never heard of him. Then again, I had only known of the famous comedians who were national names.  I had not even heard of my other mentor, Vinnie either.

I walked in the classroom the first night, eager and nervous. I took my seat in the classroom at a standard desk and felt like I was back in high school. Our teacher, Dave, was talking to one of the students and laughing.

The first thing that struck me about Dave, was when he opened his mouth. He has a distinct gravelly voice. It was deep, unique and his delivery with it was completely engaging. You could tell he didn’t shy away from that distinction, while many others may try to disguise it. He had such a grace-filled wisdom that came through with his clear intention to help. I liked this teacher. He really seemed to care about helping us. He gave us hope.

I learned rule number one about comedy, acknowledge what people are already thinking about when they first see you on stage. Find a way to make that funny. This becomes a quick bridge between you and your audience to help create trust and a connection. He then said, “I quit smoking. Well, you know, once I got my voice down to the level I wanted.” LOL… that was funny! It proved his point perfectly.

He also told us about his experience learning to drive as an adult. When growing up he never had to drive. His whole life was a little triangle, work, home, and his favorite bar. He could walk to each one. When he decided to get his license late in life, he said the first thing he had to do was get the book. He had to get the book on the rules of driving. He said it’s like anything in life, when you have a goal or a challenge the very first thing you need to do is get the information. Who has the information you need? Who has been there and done that? Wow. His advice was so simple and yet powerful. As adult learners who want to prove to the world that we know it all and we are right. Our ego often stops us from learning the things we need to know for the challenges we face. To me, it was a deep confirmation for what I was doing.

It pains me when speakers who say they care about their audience dive in to write a speech and don’t have a direction to follow. They are bound for a goal and yet not first seeking out any proven process to follow. They want to present like pros, but figure it out on their own. The only thing sadder than not starting a goal is committing to a big goal and working really hard in the wrong direction.

Last month during a National Speakers Association meeting in Las Vegas, a woman, who was a guest, came up to me and abruptly asked, “Who will pay me to speak?” I think she expected a direct answer. After asking her a few questions, I could see she had two topics she was well qualified to speak about. To be qualified is important, but then to have someone pay, you need to be able to transfer your knowledge in a form that has value and as Alan Weiss, Ph.D. says, “Improves the client’s condition.” She didn’t get it. She was wanting someone to pay for a product that was not yet created. Being qualified and having a valuable presentation are different. She did not seem to want to hear it. She wanted the money without transferring the actual value to the client. As a $200 speaker, that may happen, but she’ll never be a $10,000 speaker unless she has a $10,000 speech. She’ll never create a $10,000 speech until first she is hungry and eager to get the information on how to create a valuable speech that a client would pay for. As Dave said, “Get the book.

I had no ego at the beginning of my comedy career because I knew that I didn’t know. As my confidence grew, so did my ego. I was far from good, but in my mind I was much better than the truth. In 2001, if I was not humbled by my two coaches, I probably would never have been able to quit my day job. It also pains me when I hear Toastmasters who want to win the speech contest and don’t try to learn the process of creating a world-class speech. That’s like someone who wants to win an Olympic Gold Medal, but never gets help and trains like a high school athlete.

If you have a massive life challenge or a massive goal, start studying others who have achieved the level that you wish to attain. Find out their story, mistakes and good habits. Do some research and ask around about which are the best ones. Don’t just get one book, get all of them.

Dave was very approachable and was confident without the ego. He encouraged us to come to one of his shows. I think he had no idea who he was telling. I was there. I watched him perform as often as I could. It was cool to show up and be acknowledged by him when I was there. I liked that feeling.

The class was just what I needed and I learned so much, while knowing there was so far to go. Dave confirmed what I learned from Vinnie, that spending time writing was important, but the actual time you are up on stage, stage time, was the gold.

What is the lesson?

  • Knowing you don’t know is a huge asset. In fact, this alone can be life-changing. As adult learners, our ego usually gets in the way and we are out to prove we are right and we know everything.
  • If you have a massive goal, you need to be “all in.” You can’t dip your toe in the water and expect transformation.
  • Get the book.
  • Get all of the good books. Ask the people in the industry which are the best and start with those. Bad advice can be worse than no advice. We pick up different insights from each body of work.
  • Get insights from people who are actually doing what you want to do, or accomplishing what you wish to accomplish.
  • Application of the learning is where it counts.

What do you take from this?

Please add your comments/read other comments, on this blog post.

(3) comments

Add Your Reply

​Are you making any of these Top 10 Speaking Mistakes?