Sponge: Mastery-Dirt Bikes, Speeches And You! | Darren LaCroix

Sponge: Mastery-Dirt Bikes, Speeches And You!

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

Let’s face it, the basics can be boring. Mastery is not only a choice, it requires discipline. I heard T. Harv Eker say that the most dangerous words adult learners can say to themselves are, “I know that.”

If that’s your reaction — especially when you’re listening to a master teacher — mastery isn’t possible.

When asked for their secret to success, countless championship coaches in all endeavors reply, “mastering the basics.” That makes sense to me when I hear these interviews, but do we follow such logical advice in all areas of our lives? That’s the question.

After deciding we want to master a skill, the next step is finding the teacher who knows what basics are truly important to master. It’s easy to get advice, but finding the right mentor to mastery is the difference between success and failure.

Recently, I went back to school for the second time… dirt bike school. Although I have a street motorcycle, dirt bikes are different. My sister, Donna, and my nephew who have never ridden a dirt bike, went to school alongside me.

I knew I needed to become a learning ‘sponge’ again and catch myself if I had any ‘I know that’ thoughts. Knowing something and mastering that skill are completely different. I started from scratch, focusing on the basics. My instructor, Kiko Trincado, was Chilean National Enduro Motocross Champion. Not only does Kiko know how to ride, he is also brilliant at teaching. The last time worked with him, I remember how quickly he brought me confidence in a new skill area. I trusted him, which is crucial in the student/mentor relationship.

In speaking, there are many amazing speakers who are not good coaches. There are also some great coaches who are only average speakers. A month after I won the World Championship of Public Speaking, I dedicated myself to becoming a great teacher of speaking. It took me years to become good, and I’m constantly learning.

I was listening to Kiko in two ways. First, I was listening as a student. Second, I was listening to the ‘processes’ he was teaching. A master teacher knows that each student has a different learning style and a different foundation of knowledge on which they’re building. This made my day doubly fascinating.

Before we even started around the motocross track, Kiko had my sister and me master putting our feet down properly and knowing instinctively where the shift and brakes were located without looking down. Sitting there with the dirt bike on a block, internalizing the feeling of where the controls were – for a brief moment, it seemed silly — but when I caught my know-it-all self, Kiko asked me to do it ten times. I did it 15 and kept going until he told me to stop. I want the feeling ‘in my body’ to know what to do when I’m in trouble and don’t have time to think. I just want my body to react.

Before presenters even begin to create their presentation, they need to get clear on their message. Whether a corporate presentation or a motivational speech, step one is the same. Ask yourself, “When I’m done speaking, what do I want the audience to Do? Think? or Feel?” You must gain clarity on this first. If not, the process will take much longer, be more frustrating; and the end result could be way off the mark.

Have you ever seen a speaker who was passionate about the message but had unpolished techniques? They said “um” and you still loved what they said? I heard Lou Hotlz say, “Have something to say and a burning desire to say it. It doesn’t matter where you put your hands.” All the advanced techniques in the world can’t polish an unclear message.

“Darren, for the next two laps, I want you to focus on your seat positioning when turning,” Kiko instructed. As my dirt bike training progressed, Kiko gave me only one ‘new idea’ to focus on for a couple of laps. What he was doing was adding one idea until I had internalized it and, it became a habit. Then, and only then, did he build upon that.

I could hear Craig Valentine’s brilliant quote in my head.

If you want a masterpiece, you have to master the pieces.”

It’s hard to be thinking of what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Master one piece at a time. Though we’re excited to grow quickly, if we try to do too many things at once, we won’t internalize any of them. Or worse, we’ll be so much in our heads thinking and editing that we won’t be ‘present’ with our audience. Kiko only gave me one focus at a time, so I can still remember the steps. If you were watching me circle the track at seven miles per hour, you wouldn’t have been impressed.

Skills Kiko taught me:

“Squeeze the bike with your knees.”

In dirt bike riding, this gives you control. It allows the body and bike to become one. Our natural tendency is to have our knees out.

For speakers, this is structure. After you get clear on the message, you create an “order” or “framework” for your presentation. Though I fought against having structure in the beginning of my speaking career, now I see the fatal flaw in that thinking. Good structure allows you the freedom to go on tangents, answer questions off topic and come right back to where you were to continue your presentation with clarity. The right structure also makes for a much more memorable speech.

“Don’t look down — focus on where you want to go.”

It’s easy to get caught up in ourselves or where we are, instead of focusing on where we want to go. Kiko taught me the bike will go where I look. He said to look ahead of the turn to the next obstacle, and the bike will take you over the current obstacle.

In 2003, Craig Valentine and I decided to start teaching a public seminar on speaking. Our first Champ Camp was in Dallas, and three people showed up. We lost money, but it didn’t matter. At the end of the weekend, those three people were transformed, and we knew we had a great process; we just had to learn how to sell it. We became students of filling rooms and becoming master teachers. If we had focused on that one event, we would not have five world-class Champ Camps; and Lady and the Champs, our big annual event, would never have come to fruition.

“Your back brake has 25% of the power, your front brake 75%.”

Stopping power is important to safe riding. I assumed that the brakes were equal. I didn’t realize that the front brake had more stopping power when riding a dirt bike. Big ah-ha. An even bigger insight, Kiko’s number one rule is you never use the front brake while turning. It usually means loss of control and instant crashing. That was a big one.

Where is the power for presenters? Stories. Even in corporate presentations, although stories may tend to be shorter in that industry, they still need to be present. If I could tell you one skill to master to become a master presenter, it would be storytelling. Craig Valentine is one of the best teachers on that planet of that skill. If you’re serious about speaking, commit to being a student of storytelling.

“Attack position.”

This is one idea that Kiko drilled into me last time. Although the position feels a bit awkward at first, having your elbows up gives you much more control. I remember asking Kiko when he was going to teach my sister, “Attack position.” His Chilean accent made the term so memorable it stuck with me; I wanted her to hear him say it. He told me she had to master the other basics first. Ah, she is coming from a different foundation; and her path is different from mine. That is a great teacher.

For us as presenters, our control is intention. If our intention is to look good, chances are, we won’t. If our intention is audience-focused, chances are much better for looking good. Audiences can see an ego a mile away. You can still learn something from someone with an ego, but it’s not as much fun; and students are less likely to want to come back to you for more. It’s about rapport.

The words that you choose, create a different depth of connection. When a speaker says, “I’m going to show you five ways to…” Who is that about? The speaker. The ego. Craig brought this to my attention. We can easily flip the words to say, “You are going to walk away with five ways to…” This is now audience-focused, and much more digestible.

“Now, shift into second gear.”

I was just feeling comfortable doing the whole motocross course in first gear. Once you get comfortable, it’s time to stretch. Kiko noticed.

One of the advanced skills that we teach is taking stories and converting the key lines into dialogue. In the original version of my winning speech, I narrated how I went home to tell my parents that I wanted to be a comedian; and they were speechless. With my coach Mark Brown’s guidance converting it into dialogue, it became, “Mom…Dad…I want to be a comedian.” Then the audience members saw me show my emotional reaction to their silence. Ouch.

Using key lines of dialogue makes more of an emotional connection with your audience. It makes your message more memorable as well. One of the speech contestants this year in the Toastmasters finals had a great motivational story but didn’t let the right characters talk. It was a good speech. With this small change, it could have been great.

When I worked a little with Jim Key on his World Championship Speech, I remember being amazed at how quickly he could implement changes. I was in awe. I had wished I could implement feedback at the rate he did. We each have a different path. Your path to mastery is different from mine. We all learn at different paces. I’m still not done; and I often catch myself when I hear that little voice inside my head say, “I know that.”

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE says, “Habits are like train tracks, they take a long time to put in place, but once you do, they’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”

Knowing the right habits comes from finding a Master Teacher. If you have challenges anywhere in your life, find a Master Teacher to point out the right habits to master. Finances? Relationships? Career?

Basics are boring. However, when mastered, they are the difference between good and great. With the right habits internalized, confidence makes riding much more fun and easy. In fact, by the end of the second day, I was “catching air.” Though it was not much air, Kiko’s teaching me to master one step at a time was the difference between catching air and eating dirt.

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