Create Your Own University

Do you study at the feet of others in your industry?
I am not talking about literally sitting at their feet (yikes, maybe their shoes smell bad!), but I am serious about studying how others are achieving their successes. Knowing who they are is not enough, you must observe and learn…. taking the parts that will work for you and importing them into your own life.
This does not necessarily mean you have to personally know all the “industry giants” and meet with them face-to-face. I know lots of people who stalk industry leaders and hope they will magically lift them to the next level. The reality is those who are on top of the heap are busy, (and some are jerks who do not want to help you – even if they had the time) and too many up-and-comers are jockeying for their attention. Expecting them to invest in teaching you is not realistic.
If you want to be at the top of your field, but do not know how to get there, you need to become a student of success. Do not expect a miracle or lucky break, as those rarely happen in the same way they do in the movies. It is not about meeting a famous success story and copying their life, but rather seeing all that is happening around your industry and interpreting how to use what you have learned to construct your own victories.
I suggest you create your own university and always be learning. Everyone in your industry (and beyond) will instruct you how to succeed. They do not even need to know they are teaching you. We always can learn from others, whether they know it or not!
Over a decade ago I became fascinated with the business of “Professional Speaking”. Long before I was ever paid to talk I studied speakers. Everything they did helped educate me for my future in the business. I enjoyed watching anyone who presented (professionals and others) and started to study how people utilized the spoken word to inspire, educate and motivate audiences.
I called this “Speaker’s University”, and the student body was one…. ME!
But the faculty was unlimited. Professional speakers, authors, entrepreneurs, politicians, preachers, coaches, co-workers, entertainers, sales professionals, etc… Anytime someone spoke to an audience I took copious notes on as much their speaking style as I did the information they were sharing with the audience.
I have watched all the Democrat and Republican National Conventions on television since 1992 with an eye for how each speaker chose their words. At every business convention I have attended my ear was tuned on the vocal inflections of the guru’s. In church the priests manner of relating to his flock was observed. Annual State of the Union Address: Extra Credit!!! Everybody who was on stage was my “Speaker’s University” professor.
I joined speaking organizations and read everything I could get my hands on about the industry (the National Speakers Association’s “Speaker Magazine” is a great resource, and you do not need to be a member of the organization to subscribe to the publication).
I also spoke to any and every audience I could find. I set a goal to speak 50 times a year, as much like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory (did you read Outliers?), I knew that doing was what would make me great, not just studying! In 2008 I gave 48 talks. 2009 it was 53. In 2010 I will top 65 presentations. I have give close to 500 presentations, teleconferences, and webinars in total.
Does this make me a better professional speaker? YES IT DOES! Many people who speak at conferences and other events have never invested five minutes in thinking about the real art and science that goes into creating meaningful connections with the audience. They are on stage for a variety of reasons, but it is often not because they honor and admire the industry of speaking. I love working in this business and will continue to study at “Speaker’s University” for the rest of my life. There is no graduation ceremony!
If you set out to learn the ins and outs of your industry, and the people who work in the business, you will become great. Do not limit your study to the top tier industry leaders. I have learned a lot from lousy speakers! (and not just what NOT to do, everyone has something good inside them that can contribute to your education). Training yourself be an enthusiastic and open minded student will bring you more success.
Avoid being critical of the people you observe. There are many paths to success and when you discredit your peers for how they are navigating their careers (as long as they are being ethical) you are missing out on valuable lessons that could help you reach your own goals. You need not adopt every idea, concept, action or practice that you uncover…. but you should try to understand how and why those items are working (or not working) for others.
Being a student means you have to check your ego at the door, as it is admitting you do not know all the answers. No matter your personal levels of success, you can still learn. The best of the best that I have ever seen are always stretching and growing. Be open to the great supply of knowledge that others in your industry can impart into your life.
Create your own university and learn all you can every single day.

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