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249: Leading When You’re Not in Charge with Clay Scroggins

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Clay Scroggins discusses how to lead without being in the top position.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three simple questions to help you collaborate better
  2. The equation for powerful leadership
  3. How to have difficult conversations with your boss

About Clay 

Clay Scroggins is the lead pastor of North Point Community Church, providing visionary and directional leadership for all the local church staff and congregation. Clay understands firsthand how to manage the tension of leading when you’re not in charge. Clay holds a degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech, as well as a master’s degree and doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary. Clay and his wife Jenny live in Forsyth County, Georgia, with their four children.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Clay Scroggins Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Clay, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Clay Scroggins
Oh, Pete, I am excited and honored to be a part of this. I have listened to a few episodes and I’m a big fan, so thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, I’m so glad to have you. I think we’re really going to enjoy this chat because one episode we had before, Dodie, Gomer, talked about leading without authority. It was a hit. And you had a whole book on this subject so I think we’ll have some fun digging into it. But, first, I want to hear, we had to reschedule you because you had a new baby to welcome into the family. How is that going?

Clay Scroggins
Oh, my goodness. I should’ve asked you earlier. Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, we are expecting our first in a couple of weeks.

Clay Scroggins
No kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, or maybe he’ll already be here by the time this airs. We’ll see. It’s any day now, yeah.

Clay Scroggins
Well, it is our fifth, and so I don’t know. How is it going? I know the drill and it is, I’ll be honest with you, I love kids. I don’t really like infants.

Pete Mockaitis
Speaking about men, in general, because they don’t do anything.

Clay Scroggins
That does feel like, I don’t know, more of a guy thing to say, but I’m not against infants. Yeah, kind of like, like you said, they don’t do a lot. And then they’re just kind of you just kind of get through the first three months, so I’m trying not do that. I’m trying to be present and enjoy the little moments. And the great news is he’s healthy and everything is great, I mean, that’s a huge deal. And birth really is like this crazy amazing miracle to get to experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Yeah. What is the name of your newest addition?

Clay Scroggins
His name is Whit.

Pete Mockaitis
Wit? Nice. How do we spell Wit?

Clay Scroggins
Whit Aries Scroggins, and at some point I’ll stop enunciating Whit so strongly but for now like it’s appropriate.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it W-I-T?

Clay Scroggins
W-H-I-T.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, yeah, like Whitman or Whitney, okay.

Clay Scroggins
Or Whitney, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I got you.

Clay Scroggins
Or Whitney, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, and you said your name is a little bit fun. So, tell us, what is Clay short for? And what’s the origin of this?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, I’m Robert Clayton Scroggins, Jr. and, yeah, my parents grabbed the middle name and they call me Clay. My wife is so funny because when we had our first child, Regus, the first child was a girl, second child boy. I said, “Okay, we’re going to go Robert Clayton Scroggins, III,” and she was like, “I’m carrying this child for nine months. I really would like to have a say in the name of this child,” which I loved, and so we don’t have a third.

But, anyway, yeah, she’s also a big fan of naming the child what you’re going to call the child. And so, it does create some complications but it helps me. Whenever someone calls me, and they say, “Hey, is Robert there,” I realize, “Oh, this is a person that doesn’t know me.” So, it helps me screen the call.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I had read that somewhere online that it was short for Claytonius.

Clay Scroggins
Oh, my gosh. So, I had this guy write some copy for this website I did. He’s a good friend of mine, he’s very funny, and he did make that joke. Or, in college, I’m a big OutKast fan there in Atlanta, rap, going to college in Atlanta. They had an album.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright Alright Alright.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right. Alright Alright Alright Alright. They had an album that were released called Stankonia and they called me Claytonia in college quite a bit, but, no, it’s just short for Clayton.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I thought you’d say, “Yes, it’s short for Claytonius,” so, yeah, I thought it was going to go into an interesting Roman emperor sort of vibe. It’s just a gag.

Clay Scroggins
Like, I’ve never been asked that. I wonder what it means by that, but, yeah, it does say Claytonius or something. I don’t know. That was a joke.

Pete Mockaitis
Claytonius Maximus Claudius Brusus, you know.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now we know. Now that’s settled, to set the record straight once and for all. So, I want to chat about your book How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge. But maybe, first, we could get sort of the quicker version of your backstory. You know a thing or two about leading when you’re not in charge. So, could you give us a quick overview of that tale?

Clay Scroggins
Sure. I moved to Atlanta in 1998. I grew up in Alabama – Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the University of Alabama, they play a lot of football there, and I went to Georgia Tech in Atlanta to major in industrial engineering. I studied engineering there. It’s a great engineering school and it made me realize very quickly that I am not cut out to be an engineer, but I stuck with it, finished school.

While I was in Atlanta, I got connected to this church called North Point Community Church which is in kind of the northern suburbs of Atlanta, and I volunteered there while I was in college. I was kind of a mentor to high school students, and just found a lot of purpose in that, really enjoyed it. It was really a great way for me to try to give back and try to help some people in a way that I felt like I had been helped in my life.

And so, anyway, I graduated from school with this engineering degree, and committed to never use it because I really felt like I wanted to find, I don’t know, purpose is a big deal to me. I really want to be able to find what I do to have a lot of meaning. Anyway, so I went to seminary to get a Masters in Theology, and ended up becoming a pastor at this same church in Atlanta called North Point Community Church.

So, now I lead, we’re a multisite church, so we have six campuses or six churches in the Atlanta area, and I lead our original campus in Alpharetta, Georgia. And, yeah, that’s what I do. It’s a pretty young vibrant church, it’s fairly large. On a Sunday we’ll have, I don’t know, anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 people here, and I manage our staff here that’s about 110 people. But, in a way, I kind of lead a franchise, like a local franchise.

Pete Mockaitis
Can I have fries with that?

Clay Scroggins
That’s right. I do the burgers not the fries. And I have loads of bosses. So, yes, I do manage a good amount but I still have, I don’t know, there’s probably four or five people technically that are my bosses. But the whole process of, I don’t know, the kind of franchise multisite, you’ve got a central headquarters, and you’ve got these churches that are out trying to kind of do similar things, that’s really where I bumped into these principles of influence and authority is through my own professional story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Understood. Thank you. So, then, well, could you unpack a little bit of sort of the key sort of theme or principles or messages inside your book there in terms of how does one go about leading from a spot of influence as opposed to authority like, “I am the boss who is in charge because of my title or position”?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, I think what happened to me was I got a few promotions. The first job right out of graduate school, for me, was to manage one of our high school ministries at one of our campuses. And, I don’t know, I had dreams, I had aspirations, I had things I wanted to do, I had ideas, and then you quickly kind of get, I don’t know, you feel a little stuck, you feel a little frustrated, and kind of the reality of the way the working world works where you realize, “Oh, I can’t do all that I want to do because I don’t have enough authority. If only I had my boss’ job, if only I had all of the authority that my boss has.”

So I kind of started bumping into that, then I got a promotion and started managing more and, in a sense, I had a bigger job but still had the same feeling of, “Oh, no, I can’t do all that I want to do.” Then I became what we call the lead pastor of this one location and that’s when it really set it that, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve got a lot more authority than I ever have had but I still feel kind of hamstrung by what I don’t have,” and I think I was focusing on or feeling victim to the authority that I didn’t have at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, most interesting.

Clay Scroggins
And I started realizing and, honestly, I wrote this book thinking no one would read it. But the more I’ve gotten to be able to go into organizations and a lot of businesses and speak to teams and companies about this topic the more I realize this really, it does connect with people that a lot of people feel the same way. They feel like, “Yeah, I’m on the team and I sit in the meetings but, man, if I were in charge this is what I would do.” Or, “If I had more authority this is how I would handle it.”

And so, we end up, what happens is I found that I became passive and I would sit on my hands and I felt like I was waiting until someone put me in charge of more to be able to really step out and try to make a difference, try to bring some progress or some change. And so, honestly, it was through a few promotions that I bumped into this myth about leadership that we feel like we’ve got to be in charge in order to lead, and it’s just not true.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s so interesting when you say, “It’s like I need more authority in order to do the thing that I want to do,” and then you got some more authority, it’s like, “Oh, wait a second.” And I think that there may be any number of resources, I guess you might call it, in the course of life and work in terms of, “If I only had more budget, if I only had sort of more personal income, if I only had more ‘free time’ then I’d really be able to do,” you know, whatever.

And so, it seems like it may be is sort of a theme or pattern in terms of similar lies or deceptions that we’re entertaining for ourselves. So, maybe, you could get at that sort of what do you think is at the root of the lie and why we buy into it in the first place?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, you know, Jim Carrey is not necessarily the source for How To Be Awesome At Your Job, but here’s a Jim Carrey quote. I don’t know where he said it or when he said it, but he said, “I really hope that everyone could everything they ever wanted in life so they realize that it doesn’t meet all their needs or it doesn’t fulfill them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Clay Scroggins
It’s a great statement and it’s kind of what you’re saying that maybe one of the most disappointing things in life is thinking you need more and then getting it, and then realizing that didn’t do it. and I would imagine there’s a lot of people listening today who feel that way about a promotion or about, to your point, “If only I had more income,” or, I’m single. I wish I was in a relationship,” or, “I’m in a relationship, I wish we could get married,” or, “We’re married, I wish we could have kids,” or, “We have kids, I wish they would leave the house.”

And then you get there and you go, “Huh, this wasn’t it.” So, I think part of what is in that for all of us is to try to figure out, “How can I not be a victim to my circumstances? But how can I use the circumstances I have to own the moment, and to say, ‘Hey, what do I have? What’s unique to the situation that I have?’” And there’s some power to bringing some ownership to the situation that you currently have and not be victim to it but instead try to leverage what you have to help make somebody else’s day better, to help make somebody else’s world better. So that may be is at the root of what I was experiencing.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, and as you’re speaking I’ve got this lyric in my head, it’s from a song by The Avett Brothers, and the song is called Ill With Want, and the lyric goes, “I’m sick with wanting and it’s evil how it’s got me, and everyday is worse than the one before. The more I have the more I think I’m almost where I need to be, if only I could get a little more.”

Clay Scroggins
Wow.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that song is powerful, and it’s a good tune. I mean, check it out. But I think it really plays into that notion, it’s like, “Oh, you know, I’m almost there. A little more authority would do it. Oh, well, maybe not quite. A little more.” And so, then you wake up, the Jim Carrey realization so, then, very cool. Thanks for sharing that.

Clay Scroggins
Real quick one about that. You know, one of the things I’ve loved about writing this book was getting to interview a number of leaders who have experienced being in a role where they’re not the senior point leader. One of the people that I talked to was a guy named Frank Blake, Frank from, I think like maybe, 2007-2014, he was the CEO of the Home Depot, an Atlanta-based company, it’s maybe, I don’t know, fourth or fifth largest retailer.

Frank is a fascinating individual because he has worked or a lot of great leaders. He worked for Jack Welch for a long time at GE and worked for both Bushes in different parts of the government. Worked at the Home Depot for Bob Nardelli, the CEO. But he’s always been in a kind of a second or third-chair position, he was never the senior leader until he became president of Home Depot, the CEO of the Home Depot.

And I asked him about this, I said, “So, Frank, I’m sure once you got in charge then you could finally lead like you wanted to lead.” And he kind of laughed, and he said, “No, that’s a very true point that even when you get to be the CEO you still don’t have all the authority that you feel like you need.” He said, “I remember the first week I was CEO of Home Depot, and I’d sent this memo out to everyone of our employees, saying, ‘Hey, from here on out this is something we’re going to do,’” and he said, “I walked down the hallway not 20, 30 minutes later and I see the memo in the trash can.”

And he said, “It made me realized, ‘Oh, there it is, authority alone doesn’t create great leadership.’” Which that’s one of the major tenets of this book, is that we all know leaders who have a lot of authority and they’re not leading well. And we know people who don’t have a lot of authority who are getting a lot done and are making a pretty significant difference in their world. And I would just rather be the one that is not using my lack of authority as an excuse. And so that’s what I hoped to help people with through this process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Awesome. Cool. Well, let’s get into it. Let’s say, hey, here you are in the middle of a professional career, and you want to exercise some more leadership and getting some results, make some things happen, and you got to lean upon influence instead of authority. How do we make that happen? What are some key principles or action steps to do it?

Clay Scroggins
Sure. Well, I think the first thing anyone could do, I would imagine maybe if you’re listening to this and you’re running on a treadmill or driving then I wouldn’t write this down, please. But if you are at a place where you could, I think just jotting down the question, “How would someone cultivate influence?” I think that basic question is worth everyone of us answering.

And maybe even flipping the question of, “Hey, the people that I look to that have influence over me, what have they done that has cultivated influence in my life? Why do I want to listen to them? If they called me, and said, ‘Hey, here’s an idea,’ why would I be willing to try it? What makes me give them my ear when they talk?” I think that alone is really that’s where I started. It’s just saying, “Hey, if I’m not in charge, which I’m not, how do I begin to cultivate more influence with my boss, with the people around me, and the people that work even for me?

And so, what I did was I wrote down, “Here’s four things I want to do. Here’s four behaviors, I don’t care if anybody else does this, this is for me. I’m not trying to prescribe this. I’m no John Maxwell leadership guru. I’m just a guy. So, what can I do?” And that’s where I started. And then, for me, they really are behaviors that I’m trying to do.

The first one is to lead yourself well, and I know that seems, you know, there’s been so much written on self-leadership, so much content about self-leadership, but that really is where it begins, is to go, “You know what, we’re all so apt to blame our boss for how are boss is or isn’t leading us. And the truth is we have an opportunity, and maybe even a responsibility, to lead ourselves well. And the great news is if you lead yourself well you will ensure that you’re always well-led.”

And so, you can always start there, going, “Okay, what does it look like to lead me really well?” For me, self-leadership is all about knowing where I am right now, that’s the hardest part, because I think a lot of us have an idea of where we want to go, where we want to be, but you can’t get where you want to be until you know exactly where you are.

And I have tried to have a ruthless curiosity about my own strengths and weaknesses, my own blind spots so that I can be more aware of where I am right now so that I can lead myself out of where I am to, ultimately, where I want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, you said knowing yourself and where you stand right here, now, in the moment is the hardest part, and you try to be ruthlessly curious. So, I’d be curious to – I’m curious about your curiosity – specifically in terms of what were the processes by which you came to find the answers to those questions?

Clay Scroggins
I do a lot of live communication in front of groups and audiences, and I love asking that question, Pete, to a crowd, is just say, “Hey, what is the easiest way to find out when you don’t know?” And it’s usually peoples gut-level response which is great, you know, “Well, you ask somebody. How do you know what you can’t see in the mirror?” Because none of us can really see ourselves clearly in the mirror. We’re all biased towards ourselves, and the easiest way to find out, “What do I really look like?”

This is one of the hardest things about getting married or being in a meaningful relationship is that other person oftentimes is a mirror to ourselves, which is hard, you’re like, “Wow, I never knew my breath smelled as bad as you say it smells,” or, “I never knew I had that little tick that you say I have whenever I meet someone new,” or whatever it is. But asking someone is the greatest way.

So, for me, my last job change, I left one of our campuses that has about 50 people that work there, and I just sent three simple questions, I just made a Google Form and asked three questions to all 50 people. And not everybody filled it out, but maybe, I don’t know, half of them did. I said, “Hey, here’s three questions. Number one, what do you feel like I’m good at? What do I do that inspires you?” to say it in another way.

“Second question, what am I not good at? What bothered you about me?” I think actually is what I said. “What bothered you about working with me? And then, number three, what are my blind spots? What do I not see about myself?” And it was amazing how basic and simple that process was but it was, I mean, to say it was life-changing might be a little strong, but it was genuinely I felt some significant breakthroughs in my own life that things about myself that I knew but I was hoping no one else saw.

People said, I mean, one of the themes was, “We feel like whenever you’re leading a meeting we don’t really feel like you’re prepared for the meeting.” And I was like, “Well, you’re right. I’m not usually prepared because I can think off my feet pretty quickly and when you can you rely on that too much which is not always great.” So that really changed me, it made me go, “Okay, I can be more prepared for meetings.”

A number of people said, “Hey, when we’re on one-on-ones with you it feels like you’re not always listening.” And it’s true, I have a hard time focusing listening. So, one of the things I did is I started spacing my meetings out. I pull a little space in between them to give myself a chance to have a breather.

Pete Mockaitis
Makes all the difference too. You listen better I found. I’m with you there.

Clay Scroggins
It was so helpful because it allowed me to take a little walk around the building and then walk back in the next meeting, and I had a little more mental clarity. And then the other thing was they said was, “It feels like you’ve moved ahead. You’re thinking about the next thing,” which is very common. But, anyway, all of those things just helped me identify things in my life that I wouldn’t have identified if I hadn’t asked. And now that I know where I am I can know how to lead myself better. But I would’ve never have chosen to lead those areas until I identified them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s perfect. Now, on this Google Forum, was it anonymous?

Clay Scroggins
Oh, I’m sorry. I had a friend execute it essentially. So, I had a friend send it out. I say, “Hey, I think I sent an email to a number of people so you’re going to get an email from so and so, and I’ve asked them to send this form and they’re going to compile the results.” Yeah, just to make it anonymous because you spend half the time trying to figure who said what which is not good.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely.

Clay Scroggins
You go, “Yeah, that sounds like Johnny.”

Pete Mockaitis
I wonder if there’s like a piece of software that is just like, “Okay, paraphrase this paragraph so they can’t tell it’s from me.”

Clay Scroggins
Right, because, like you said it, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
But I know that it’s great. Especially if they know that you mean it and you care about it, and I think it’s so cool to offer an example. Like, “For example, someone so gave me this feedback which is very helpful because I’ve been trying to work on that and I found some improvement.” And so, it’s like, “Oh, he means it.” And I’ve noticed that thing, too, now that you mentioned it. Okay. Very cool. So, leading yourself is where it starts. And where do we go from there?

Clay Scroggins
So, I saw recently, I still haven’t got a chance to listen to it but I’ve meant to, but you had a podcast on positivity. That was my second behavior that I tried to, you know, I just decided, “Hey, I want to choose positivity. I want to be a person that drops the negativity and the cynicism,” which, it’s crazy, but I don’t know. I can lean there very easily.

And I just decided that more important than my education, my ideas, whatever talent I may have, my energy is the best thing that I bring to the team that I work on. And we’ve all seen this. You’ve seen people that you work with that can change the climate of a room because of their energy. And if that’s true of them then it can be true of us as well, that we all have that potential.

The hardest thing about working, to me, is having to bring it every single day. I remember being in my 20s thinking, “Good grief, when do we get spring break? When does summer happen? Have we taken summer off?” Because it’s exhausting to have to bring it every single day. But the truth is that’s the best thing I have to bring, is the energy that I have.

So, instead of being a 40-watt bulb, I’ve really tried to be a 100-watt bulb. And the hardest time to choose positivity, to me, is when you’re being handed a decision that you didn’t get to weigh in on but you’re being asked to buy into it. Patrick Lencioni, a quote from The Advantage, he says, “People are more likely to buy in when you allow them to weigh in,” which I think is so true. It’s a great truth and axiom about the way we should lead other people.

The problem is most of us who are not in charge are being handed decisions all the time that we didn’t get to weigh in on, and we’re like, “What idiot made this decision and asking me to make it work? This is terrible. It’s a dumb process. It doesn’t work.” But what I’ve just learned is that it’s in that moment that I have a decision to make, “Am I going to take this and make it better and actually make it work? Or am I going to sit on my hands and be angry and sit back and watch this fail?”

And more important than making the right decision is owning the decision and making it right. I really believe that’s possible, that you own a decision that you don’t even agree with fully but you can own it with such positivity that you can make it work, and we’ve all seen that. The best companies in the world aren’t the best companies because they have the best ideas; it’s because everybody is leaning into the same idea. And I think that’s possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like that metaphor, the 40-watt bulb and the 100-watt bulb. I was curious with your cover. It’s got these three light bulbs, and one of them is illuminated. It’s not the one in the front. Is that the metaphor you’re going with?

Clay Scroggins
That is, yeah. And it’s a little bit like how the Counting Crows got their name. It’s like one little lyric from one of their B-side songs or something. But that was the attempt, was just to give a little nod to the light bulb metaphor.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig it. And so, when you say it’s exhausting to bring it every day, so how is it that you are expending energy to be positive? Sort about smiling and such. So, like what are those sort of little choices that you’re making over the course of the day to choose and exude and radiant the positivity?

Clay Scroggins
Well, here’s something that just has helped me, is it hit me one day that I’ve got days where I love my job and I’ve got days where I don’t love my job. And I think I was in one of those days where I wasn’t loving it, and I had the thought, “Am I going to be in this job forever?” And I started realizing, “Well, of course not.” I’m 37 years old, there’s no way I’m going to be in this job forever, and neither will you.

In fact, I bet 98% of people listening to this podcast, you’re not in the last job you’ll ever have. If you don’t like your job that’s good news, you know. But I think, on the flipside, recognizing that if this were the last job you ever have, can you be content enough with this job to enjoy it, to choose to enjoy it? Most of us are fairly fortunate to be able to earn a living and support ourselves and help out other people.

I think it’s a great place to be and to go, “I’m content enough in this job that if it is the last job I ever have I’m going to give it all that I got because when I leave this job I want people to be surprised. I want them to go, ‘Wow, we had no clue that you were thinking about leaving. You were so bought in.’” But what’s the alternative? “Oh, he was half in, half out. We kind of always thought he was about to leave.” That’s not going to cultivate influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Clay Scroggins
And, on the flipside, I think there’s a lot of hope just to know that if you don’t like your situation today you’re not going to be in it forever. There will be a shelf life to the job that you’re in. And so, you can be hopeful knowing that there’s a better future that there’s something else in your future, but you may as well buy in today because it’ll help your future if you choose to be positive about what you’re doing today.

And if you can figure out how to do that, it’s a skill that will help you the rest of your life, “How can I choose to believe the best about the people that I work around? How can I believe the best about my boss? How can I go into this with good intentions not accusing other people of trying to ruin my world? But, instead, he’s trying to do the best he can do. She’s trying to do the best she can do, and I’m going to choose to be positive about this situation. And it will, ultimately, cultivate influence for you if you choose to do that.

Pete, I was speaking to a group of virtual assistants. It’s an amazing company. You can hire somebody for 10 hours a week to be a virtual assistant for you.

Pete Mockaitis
May you drop the name. I’ve used several of these companies.

Clay Scroggins
Sure, yeah. It’s called BELAY, B-E-L-A-Y.

Pete Mockaitis
I haven’t used that one. Okay. Cool. Cool. Continue.

Clay Scroggins
Anyway, so I’m in the middle of talking about choosing positivity, and this lady – I’ll never forget this moment – she’s over on the side, and she just blurts out, she goes, “That’s so inauthentic!” And, honestly, it caught me off guard, and I was like, “Dang! She’s kind of right. Like that is inauthentic,” because you can’t just walk around being positive about things that you’re not positive about, that you don’t feel great about.

But, then, fortunately, in the moment, I had the thought, “Well, hang on a second, we’re not talking about how to be true to yourself right now. We’re talking about how to cultivate influence, and you can get excited about something that you’re not actually that excited about without being dis-ingenuine. We’ve all done it. And your boss, I guarantee you, your boss wants you to be excited about what you’re working on.”

“And when you become a boss, or maybe you currently are a boss, you want the people on your team to be excited about what they’re working on. And if they’re not, you want them to talk to you about it so you can at least help them understand why you’re excited about it.” And I think that’s a better way to cultivate influence.

Now, there might come a time where you go, “You know what, I just can’t fake this any longer,” but I do think there are times where when I choose to be excited about something and see the best in it, I end up finding the best in it and I end up actually getting excited about it, and it’s amazing how we can lead ourselves to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Yeah, inauthentic, you know, it’s interesting because that word is both so heavy and so loaded.

Clay Scroggins
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
And, I mean, in a sense, I guess, there is a measure of inauthenticity in terms of, “I don’t feel like this but I’m going to try to dig it.” Well, hey, you have an infant now, another one in your life. I imagine there are times you don’t feel like tending to…

Clay Scroggins
You’re exactly right, Pete. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
… to the sweet angel’s needs.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
But does changing a diaper or whatever make you inauthentic? I’d say, my hunch is, I guess my interpretation on that point, it’s about in terms of faking it.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess you’re being authentic to a higher value of yours which is to be a loving father or a compassionate human being, a disciple of Jesus, a lover of neighbor, whatever your role or identity is. So, you’re authentic in that realm and what are you is a higher authenticity than being “true to your desire,” yeah, in the moment.

Clay Scroggins
That’s right. That’s a great way to put it.

Pete Mockaitis
But I guess I’d wrestle with the same question myself in terms of, “Yeah, I don’t really feel like talking to this person because I think they’re kind of weird, and I would have a whole lot more fun talking to this other person over there. So, am I being inauthentic by like pretending to be interested?” And I think, in one way, yeah, I don’t actually care what this person has to say, that happens. I care about what all my podcast guests have to say profoundly, by the way, that’s why I’ve chosen them, so, Clay, you’re off the hook.

Clay Scroggins
Right. You’re playing solitaire as well while I’m talking.

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, let’s check out Belay, huh? Let’s click around.” But, in a higher sense, you know, “Hey, I’m being authentic to the person that I’m trying to be in terms of a generous kind, loving human being.” So, anyway, that’s how I have navigated that tension. But, yeah, I feel the concern is real and it’s cool that you have some candid audience members who will get you real good.

Clay Scroggins
I did appreciate that, you know. I was like, “Thank you for your honesty.” As opposed to just giving me a kind head nod, you know. So, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. So, after leading yourself and choosing positivity, where do we go from there?

Clay Scroggins
So, I love the combo of these middle two behaviors because there are a lot of people listening right now that you’re not wired for positivity. You’re wired for results. You’re wired for progress.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yeah.

Clay Scroggins
You come to a meeting and you see all the things that we need to do that aren’t getting done. In my world, I sit in a lot of evaluation meetings because Sunday happens every seven days, every week, and so on Monday we sit there and evaluate, “How did it go yesterday? Did we like what happened? Did good things happen?”

And we have a lot of people that want to talk about all the good things, and then there’s a lot of people that sit there and go, “Okay, let’s move on from the good things. Let’s talk about how to change this and make it better,” because of just the way you’re wired. A lot of people, when you hear about choosing positivity, it kind of makes you, I don’t know, sick to your stomach, because you think, “Oh, come on. Like am I supposed to walk around like with my head in the clouds going, ‘Oh, this is so great. Everything is so awesome’? Like those Legos in the Lego Movie.”

You don’t have kids just yet, Pete. But have you seen the movie?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I haven’t but we had a podcast guest talk about the creation of the Lego Movie, Jennifer Riel and about how they agonized over how to get that made.

Clay Scroggins
There’s this little song in the movie that they sing over and over again, “Because everything is awesome,” because they’re trying to basically brainwash the Legos. And I think a lot of people think, when they hear that point of choose positivity, they’re supposed to walk around just everything is awesome all the time, as if that alone cultivates influence. And it does in and of itself, but when you combine it with the skill of thinking critically I think it creates a really powerful leader with or without authority.

I know, for me, someone passed me this article one time about millennials, which I hate all the articles being written about millennials, but it says, “Millennials – are they misguided optimists or rainbow-puking unicorns?” I thought, “What a great word picture! A rainbow-puking unicorn.” And that’s the way people see positive people sometimes.

But the truth is that is if you can combine the posture of choosing positivity with the skill of thinking critically, you can really become a powerful synergistic leader who’s making a significant difference in a really positive way wherever you find yourself, whatever seat you’re in. So, thinking critically really is a powerful skill. I think it’s really simply the ability to notice things, question things, and connect things.

To observe things, to be curious and question things, to figure out how they work, and then to make connections between variables that are being changed and the outcome that you’re looking for. And everyone of us can get better at this skill. That’s the great thing about skills; skills are things that we can improve upon but we have to practice in order to do that.

And so, I think part of the reason why, in my own life, I have a harder time sometimes thinking critically is because I’m not practicing it because I’m either too busy, I either haven’t given myself enough space, mental space to be able to step back and think about my job, or I’ve squeezed out those opportunities. I think the phone is probably the greatest competitor.

The smartphone is probably the greatest thief of critical thought that there is because in the moments when we used to sit back and think about how to make things better, now we just aimlessly scroll through random Wikipedia articles about how rockets are made or whatever.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a little more productive than some options on your smartphone – Wikipedia.

Clay Scroggins
That’s good, yeah, than playing something.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think I was kind of stuck when you mentioned, okay, every Monday you have a chat about how things went at church services on a prior Sunday. And I was like, “Well, maybe that’s part of how you were ranked the largest church in America in 2014, 12,000 people?” Hotdog! I thought, “Well, how does that happen?” And I guess that’s part of how it happens in a way.

I don’t know of many people in many organizations who are putting that much regular thought and iterative repetition on making something better. Like, do it, reflect upon it, then do it again, reflect upon it, do it again. I think that’s a pretty powerful formula for excellence right there. Could you share maybe some of those questions that you ask, that you drill into when you’re thinking critically to surface these insights and how to do better?

Clay Scroggins
Well, that’s interesting, Pete, to hear that because I’ve never thought about that being odd.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s culture for you.

Clay Scroggins
It really is, I know. It’s so much a part of our culture that I’ve never even noticed it. But we are so passionate about one of our values as a team is make it better. I mean, that’s really what we’re looking for in employees at every level. It doesn’t matter if you’re an intern, we want you to walk in, in fact, we ask interns a lot of questions because they’re walking in with fresh eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Clay Scroggins
And they represent future generations, and so we want to know from them, “Hey, what did you see that we’re doing that’s kind of weird?” Because it’s so easy to just get so inundated with your own world that you don’t see kind of like the fact that I fail to even realize that evaluation meetings every week might be a bit much perhaps, or maybe a good thing. I don’t know.

But, yeah, the key to learning to think more critically, I think, is to figure out, as basic as this is, “What are we trying to do? What’s the goal here?” And then to start there and go, “Okay. Well, in our case, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get people to take steps. We want everybody who watches a message, or sits in a room for one of our church services, to take some kind of step metaphorically, figuratively-speaking, toward being a better person, toward helping someone else, toward looking more like Jesus, toward a growing relationship with God.

And so, when we step back and go, “Okay. Well, that’s what we’re trying to do,” then to try to be mentally present in the environment and go, “Okay. How is this going? What did we do that became an obstacle? What did we do that helped with that?” And then just trying to be as curious as possible in trying to notice things, question things, and connect things.

But, honestly, the greatest enemy is time. We just don’t, we very rarely do this. I ask people usually and in live environments, “Hey, when do you have your best ideas?” Do you know what the number one answer is, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Shower.

Clay Scroggins
A hundred times out of a hundred, people say, “The shower.” It’s crazy. And so, because I’ve Googled it, I’m an expert on this, evidently there is research that says that is the number one answer, and that it’s actually true. There’s something about the mundane task of the shower that actually allows our brain to function well and actually think things.

But, honestly, a lot of people say, after the shower, they’ll say, “Oh, driving to work,” “Laying awake at night,” “Doing yard work,” “Working out of the gym,” all of these kind of mundane physical tasks that we do that kind of free up our minds to be able to work. Well, here’s what I’m trying to do in my own life, is I’m trying to go, “Okay. Well, instead of having to wait until tomorrow morning when I take another shower, or instead of having to go try take a shower in the middle of a work day to have a great idea, like surely there’s some practice that I can learn something from it and put those in place.”

And so, for me, it really is about time and space, it’s about creating some space in my calendar to think about how to make what I’m doing better. And so, for me, it’s been waking up earlier in the morning, giving myself more time in the morning to actually just sit at my desk in front of an open notebook, or an open Word document, or an open Evernote file, and say, “What’s on my schedule today? What’s on my calendar? How can I make it better? How can I help the person that I’m going to interact with? How can I help solve the problem that we’re facing? How can I help fix this situation that’s in front of us?”

I really believe that if you can try to do that in a positive hope-filled “I’m trying to help other people” kind of way, it really can create some influence for you wherever you are, whatever seat you’re in. So, I think it’s a powerful behavior to try.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig it. Well, Clay, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Clay Scroggins
You know, where I land the book is I got done with a lot of the content, I thought, “You know what, I just envision someone sitting there reading this going, ‘I need to go have a hard conversation with my boss because I see things that I think need to change, or I have ideas that I’ve been holding onto, or I feel like I’ve been sitting back and not engaging as much as I want, and there’s some reasons why.’”

And so, I wrote a couple chapters on having a hard conversation with your boss which, to me, that’s one of the most difficult things to do, is, “How do you setup a time or walk in your boss’ office and have a challenging conversation?” So, that was a lot of fun to write about and, as people have read the book, it’s been one of the things that people have commented on most, is, “Hey, that was super helpful.”

Because I’ve tried to give just, “Here’s a game plan. Before you just walk in there and say, ‘This sucks. You’re stupid. I hate this,’ like let’s put a little thought into it, let’s get a little game plan on how to do that well.” So, I really hope that that’s helpful for people as they process how to challenge up because that’s not as easy to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I can’t let that go. If you give us a quick tip or two associated with how to challenge up well and effectively, let’s hear it.

Clay Scroggins
I mean, the first thing I try to do is I try to declare my intentions right up front. We’ve all read books on conversations, I would imagine. One of the most crucial ingredient to a difficult conversation is safety. People got to feel safe. And so, if you walk in, and it’s crazy to think, “Why would my boss be threatened by me?” But your boss is human, and maybe you intimidate your boss, or maybe you bother your boss. Who knows?

But if you can, right up front, declare your intentions, and say, “Hey, whatever you can say that’s most true, I really appreciate what we’re working on here, and I can tell that you really care about it. And I just want to let you know that no matter what we talk about here, I just want to let you know that I think you’re a really great leader,” or a great person, or, “You’re a nice person,” or, “I appreciate how hard you work.”

Anything we can do to try to declare our intentions, and say, “I don’t want to ruin your day. I’m not trying to tear this thing apart. I just had a couple ideas on how maybe we can make it better.” I think it goes a long way to help the relationship what I have found. And it’s something that I would want people to do for me because you can’t catch people off guard with some challenging conversation, I think, unless you state it up front, “Hey, I’m for you. I want you to win in life. I want you to do well. I want you to do good things in life.” I think it’s just a helpful thing to begin with.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like that. Cool. Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, I don’t know where I read this, but I read this awhile ago, and it’s been sitting near my desk. But Thomas Watson, former CEO of IBM in the mid-20th century, said, “Nothing so conclusively proves your ability to lead other people as what you do on day-to-day basis to lead yourself,” which is so actionable and helpful to me because I just think, “You know, instead of being frustrated at what the opportunities I’m not getting or how I’m getting passed over, or whatever I don’t have, I’m going to pick up the mantle to lead myself well today. And if I do that, then it will conclusively prove that I have the ability to lead more.” So, I love that quote.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

Clay Scroggins
Favorite book. Well, I’m obligated to say the Bible, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Clay Scroggins
Kidding. Kidding. Kidding. No, I would say probably Leadership and Self-Deception.

Clay Scroggins
It’s a little book. It’s a short read. It’s kind of like Lencioni, kind of written like a fable a little bit, like a lot of his books are. But it’s terrific and it helps you create better relationships with people that you work with which, ultimately, I think is going to create more success for anyone of us in our careers. But it’s a fantastic little read. We read it recently with our leadership team here, and it was very helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Excellent. Perfect. And how about a favorite tool?

Clay Scroggins
I mean, Evernote is probably what I use more than anything. It’s amazing how, I mean, I have a number of different screens that I use, so just to be able to pick up any screen and have what you need is terrific, so I’ll go with Evernote.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And how about a favorite habit, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Clay Scroggins
You know, stating out loud what I’m grateful for has been something I’ve been trying recently, which I really enjoy. I heard recently someone say that, “Suffering ends when gratitude begins,” which I think is so true, and it is amazing the power of just being grateful. It’s hard to be unhappy in life and be a really grateful person. Joy and gratitude usually go hand in hand. They’re like peanut butter and jelly sandwich kind of thing. So, I try to start my day by just saying, “Hey, here’s a couple things I’m grateful for,” which feels weird to do in the car by myself but no one else is around, so.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s all good. And is there a particular nugget, a piece that you share that seems to really resonate, connect with folks, a Clay original quotable gem?

Clay Scroggins
Gosh, my favorite statement or, I don’t know, kind of the big idea of the book is that influence always outpaces authority. I really believe that. I believe that instead of waiting on authority or instead of leveraging authority, influence is just far more powerful. So, I really hope that whoever is listening, wherever you’re sitting today, whatever you’re doing, that you can allow yourself to cultivate more influence.

Because it will allow you to help someone else today and create more progress and try to make somebody else’s life better. And I think that, ultimately, is what anyone of us are wanting to do is to try to help somebody else. It’s the greatest joy in life. And so, if you can figure out how to cultivate more influence, it outpaces authority all day, every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And, Clay, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Clay Scroggins
I’m on Instagram and Twitter @clayscroggins, and then I have a website ClayScroggins.com that has a weekly newsletter or weekly email that I send out that really has got some great interviews that I’ve done with some terrific leaders both in business world and also the non-profit world on this topic. So, I’d love to keep in touch, say hello. I love this idea of this podcast, Pete, and I love the name because I’m a big fan of How-To names, How To Be Awesome At Your Job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you, yeah. And I think it makes it clear like this is what we’re trying to do here.

Clay Scroggins
Sure. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Clay Scroggins
Yeah, I would just say, hey, there’s a lot of people today that probably don’t like their boss. I don’t know, I’ve just interacted with a lot of people because of this whole process, who say, “Hey, that sounds great, but I just don’t like my boss at all.” But I just want to encourage you today that just because you don’t like your boss doesn’t mean you can’t get anything done, that people for centuries and centuries have gotten a lot done working for awful people.

And one of the great things, one of the hard things, but great things working for a boss you don’t like is learning to take notes of things that you don’t want to replicate when you become a boss. And maybe the very reason why you’re in the position you’re in is to learn some really difficult lessons, and that’s hard when you’re in the moment, but it’s just the way life works that resistance is what creates strength.

And so, if you feel resistance from a terrible boss, just know that there’s an opportunity for you to create even more strength because that’s the way the world works. And that might not be fun but I hope that’s encouraging to whoever is listening that if you don’t like your boss it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn anything and it doesn’t mean you can’t get anything done today.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Clay, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. This has been powerful stuff. I wish you all the best, and that your Sundays keep getting better and better and better with all the thoughts that you put into them.

Clay Scroggins
Thank you.

248: What Professional Speakers Do…that You Should too with Grant Baldwin

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Professional speaking guru Grant Baldwin shares lessons learned for becoming a better public speaker.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that distinguishes professional speakers from the rest
  2. Top things NOT to do when presenting
  3. Helpful ways to make a huge upgrade to your presentation skills

About Grant 

Grant is a veteran speaker who started his public speaking career as a youth pastor. Since then, he has given thousands of presentations in conferences, assemblies, conventions, and other events.  He is the host of The Speaker Lab, a podcast that helps other speakers start, build, and grow their business.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Grant Baldwin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Grant, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Grant Baldwin
Pete, it’s like Christmas morning waking up, looking at the calendar and saying, “Today I get to talk to Pete,” and it’s here, the moment has arrived. And it’s like accepting an Academy Award or something.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you probably say that to all your interviewers.

Grant Baldwin
You know what, you can go back to all of them. I don’t know that I’ve ever said that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you, boy, because we met years ago when you generously volunteered to speak at my HOBY, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, seminar back in Champaign-Urbana, and I’ve just been watching you from afar.

Grant Baldwin
How many years ago was that?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it is in the ballpark of ten.

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, I would say eight to ten.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so I’ve just been watching you from afar with your podcast and what you’ve been doing, and I said, “Well, hey, wait a second. I think there’s a fit here.” So, I want to dig into a lot of the learnings that you have developed and shared with all of your clients through The Speaker Lab.

Grant Baldwin
Okay. Hang on. Hang on. Hang on. Before we do that, I just did a quick search. I couldn’t help myself. June of 2009.

Pete Mockaitis
2009, yeah.

Grant Baldwin
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Eight and a half. Wow. And good organization.

Grant Baldwin
Well, I remember it’s a fun event.

Pete Mockaitis
Plus, the title is a pretty searchable keyword that won’t trip too many other things.

Grant Baldwin
It’s in the archives.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, yeah, I want to chat about some of your insights discovered and shared with your Speaker Lab clientele. But, first, I thought every speaker has a pretty wild story when it comes to their travel and their mishaps. Could you share with us one of your most hilariously awesome tales or a tale that comes from one of the speakers you worked with?

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, so I’ll give you both. I’ll give you both quickly. So, one that happened to me, I remember, several years ago was I was speaking at an event in Colorado and flying from Denver to Chicago, and then was going to, once I get into Chicago, had something like a two-hour drive into somewhere in Illinois or, I don’t know, what would that be, Eastern Iowa.

And so, I was in Denver and a big blizzard, snowstorm or something comes blowing in and it’s just dumping snow and we’re on the plane, the plane is delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed. So, they’re finally get ready to take off, and at this point it is something like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. And so, by the time I land in Chicago it’s like 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, got to drive a couple of hours, so I haven’t really slept.

And I remember just being in a daze of driving a couple of hours, getting to the venue, and I remember being like delirious, like brushing my teeth in the parking lot of the venue where I was getting ready to speak, and just feeling trashed and exhausted, and just feeling like, “You know, this is the glamorous life of a speaker.” So, yeah, a few of those type of war stories have happened a few times.

Pete Mockaitis
But, if I may, I got to push for the ending. How did the speech go? And what did the clients say? And did you collect your money?

Grant Baldwin
It went well. It went well. In fact, I was supposed to give two talks, and there was something of a break in between, and so I asked, I said, “Hey, if it’s okay I need to go back to the hotel and just zonk for a little bit, and then for the second talk I’m going to be in much better shape,” and they generously let me do that, and it went great. Yeah, it went fine. It worked out well.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Heroics when it comes to the toothbrushing in the parking lot? It reminds me once I was doing some consulting and we were eating cereal from a vending machine out of a Styrofoam cup with a plastic spork while wearing a hairnet in a cookie factory, I’m like, “This is the glamorous life.”

Grant Baldwin
This is the life. Exactly. This is the part that nobody gets to see.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. So that’s yours. You said you had one of the clients too.

Grant Baldwin
Yes. This wasn’t a client but a friend of mine, but they’re speaking at something and they go to check in at the hotel, and I guess there was some type of a guy on the hunt, manhunt going on in the area for some criminal for something. So, friend of mine checks into the hotel, and he looks like the dude apparently, whoever this criminal was.

So. gets to his room, a few minutes later the phone rings, and it is the front desk, or, no, excuse me, it’s the police, and they’re like, “Hey, it’s the police and we’re outside your door. You need to come out.” And he’s thinking like, “Yeah, whatever. It’s a joke. Someone is pranking me.” Hangs up the phone. A couple of minutes they call back, and they’re like seriously come at the door, people were banging on the door.

He opens the door, looks down like each end of the hallway is SWAT team, barking dogs, guns drawn, like the works.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Grant Baldwin
And just total case of mistaken identity there, but he’s just like, “I’m traumatized.” So, there’s that side of it, too, which seems much more mentally and emotionally damaging thing than having to brush your teeth in a parking lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you. You really delivered on that. I thought, “Okay, I hope we have a good travel story.” And I cannot conceive of a better one.

Grant Baldwin
It’s pretty rough.

Pete Mockaitis
SWAT teams and being surrounded beats, “I was really delayed on a flight, and it was bad.” So, thank you for bringing that. So, now, can you share with us, okay, The Speaker Lab, what’s it all about? What are you trying to do there?

Grant Baldwin
So, I was a full-time speaker for about seven, eight years or so, and a lot in the education space was doing anywhere from 50 to 70 events a year, and had a lot of people who asked me about speaking. A lot of people were intrigued, “Hey, how do I become a speaker? How do I get into this?” And so, we started doing a couple of different online trainings around this subject and topic, and just found there’s a lot of people that teach the art side, the presentation side, “Here’s how you put together a good talk. Here’s how you make a good presentation. Here’s how you put your slides together and all that stuff.” But there wasn’t a lot of people that were teaching the business side.
Yeah, but how do you actually find a gig? How do know how much to charge? How do you know how to take care and work with a client? And so, we started to put together some trainings around that, and that’s a lot of what we do today is we do a free podcast and then we also have various trainings and coaching opportunities, and basically just help people create and build a plan and a step-by-step system for how to consistently find and book speaking engagements.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. Well, so, and I would like to dig into, in fact, the art of speaking itself more so for this conversation as it’s applicable to our audience of professionals employed in various places. So, I guess I’m intrigued to see, when you’re working with folks, what do you see most commonly as the differentiator between someone who is like, “Okay, yeah, they’re decent at speaking,” to, “Oh, I’m looking at a professional here,” when it comes to their delivery? Could you sort of paint that picture for what makes the difference?

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, I think one of the big things that makes a difference, and something that anyone could do, is a lot of it comes down to the preparation and the practice or the rehearsal that they put into it. And I think oftentimes there’s this misconception that the best speakers in the world just get up on stage and they just make it up and they just wing it and shoot from the hip, and it all just naturally comes out, and you’re like, “They’re just naturally good.”

And, yeah, there are some maybe level of natural charisma that some people may have, but at the same time the best speakers on the planet spend an enormous amount of time really going over the material, really learning it, refining it, and practicing it, and rehearsing and preparing so by the time they get up on stage it looks natural, it looks like they’re just making it up, it looks like they’re just winging, when it’s something they’ve really spent a lot of time on.

So, I think that’s an easy thing for anybody in any type of context, whether you want to be a professional speaker or someone who, “I’ve got to give two or three presentations a year in my company or my business or some type of local organization or civic group,” just spending the time to really work on your material and to practice it and go over it makes a huge, huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Now, what comes to mind for me is a comedian. They make it look so natural, “Oh, they’re so funny. They just have all these jokes that are great.” But behind the scenes they’ve been testing them and used many jokes that didn’t work and bombed and embarrassed themselves at smaller venues. And so there it is, the practice and the rehearsals happening behind the scenes.

So, I know the number is going to vary wildly but maybe just if you imagine a context in which, “Hey, we’ve got this professional who has maybe a 30-minute chunk of an important presentation to be delivered in a conference room maybe to a combined set of stakeholders from some executives to some partners that the company works with.” Could you maybe lay it out for us, like what is the price of excellence? Is it like for an hour? Or is it 50 hours? Is it 500 hours?

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, so one of the things that you touched on there is some of it depends on the stakes and the context of the setting, meaning that, let’s say, for example, you’ve got to give a 30-minute talk to some friends and it’s kind of a casual type of setting. Yeah, you’re probably going to spend less time on it versus like you’re pitching some type of business or idea or opportunity, and this is like make or break for your career, you’re probably going to spend a lot more time on it.

So, I don’t know that there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer, but typically the higher the stake the more time you’re going to put into it. So, I can kind of walk you through, this will be helpful, like how I would go about preparing for something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, let’s hear it.

Grant Baldwin
The bigger the stakes for the type of event, I typically start with, well, I’ll do a couple just for some more context. If I’m speaking at something, I typically want to use material that I’ve given before, that I’ve used before, that I’ve told before that I know that work. Let’s say, for this context, like someone has never given a talk before, they have nothing to pull from. In that setting you want to be really, really clear about what’s the point of the presentation, what’s the point of the talk, what’s the main idea that you want to get to.

So, there may be talks that we’ve all sat through and listened through that you’re just kind of be, “Yeah, it’s interesting or it’s good or entertaining or whatever,” but like, “I’m not really sure what the point of it was and I’m not really sure where this was going.” So, are you trying to get someone to take action? Are you trying to convince someone? Are you trying to persuade someone? Are you trying to inspire or motivate or encourage? Like, what’s the point of the talk? So, being clear on that.

From there you can kind of reverse-engineer or work backwards. So, what I would do is once you kind of have that main idea is then you can just kind of brainstorm and come up with anything related to that idea. So, maybe it’s a story, maybe it’s a stat, maybe it’s an image, maybe it’s a video, maybe it’s a point, a principle, a quote, just anything you can think of, no filter, just brainstorming anything you can think of related to that topic.

From there you can start to put together a bit of a skeleton outline of, “All right. If I’m going to make this key point, then what’s like the natural progression that I need to follow in order to take the audience to that place?” And then you can kind of put together an outline and kind of fill in some of the meat from there. So, what I would do, personally, is I like to manuscript it out, and I manuscript it not from the standpoint of, “Hey, I need to have a script that I’m going to remember and memorize word for word.” That’s not the point of it.

The point of it, though, is I really want to take the time to get like all the thoughts down on paper to make sure that it all naturally flows well together. So, Pete, if you were to ask me, “Tell me about whenever you proposed to your wife.” Like I can tell you that story off the top of my head because I lived it. But I bet if I sat down and really took some time to, “Okay, let me think about the day, let me think about the weather, the context, what happened, who did we call, who did we talk to, what happened next, how did we respond, how did she respond, how did I respond.” All the details of it, my guess would be a much, much better, more compelling, more interesting and engaging story.

And so that’s kind of the point is you’re really just trying to like get down on paper everything related to that topic, the point, the story, where you’re going with it so that by the time you’re ready to tell it there is more structure, there is more meat to it. And whenever I’m working on, in terms of practicing and rehearsing and going over it, I’m not trying to go over from the standpoint of, “Here’s a script that I have to memorize, that I have to know word for word.” I want to make sure that I understand the gist of it, the idea of it, the essence of it of where I’m going with the presentation and with the talk, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this word-for-word script that I’m trying to memorize.

So, if you’re in front of an audience and you are singing some popular song or the national anthem, and you screw up the lyrics, like everybody knows it. But if you’re giving a talk or presentation, and like, “Oh, I forgot my line,” or, “I told the story out of order,” the audience has no idea, like it makes no impact, it makes no difference to them.

So, you’re not trying to memorize a script where you’re like, “I need to know every single word of what I’m saying,” and it becomes this robotic regurgitation of words, but I just need to know where I’m going, and I need to know how I want to tell this story or make this point so that the talk is much more prepared and practiced or rehearsed rather than just getting up and winging it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, when you say manuscripts, so then you’re saying that, in fact, you are writing every word but you’re not worried about saying every word. Is that fair?

Grant Baldwin
Correct. Exactly. Yup, so I would type, and I think, I mean, everybody’s different but I think, for a lot of us, we write or we type the way we would speak. So, I’m trying to, as I’m typing something out, I’m typing it out like thinking through, like, “How would I actually say this? If I’m standing in front of an audience, how would I actually be communicating it and making sure that I’m writing it in that way?”

Now, again, it’s not from the standpoint of, “This is exactly how I must say this.” Now, there’s going to be a couple key things, maybe a key point or a real main idea that you’re like, “These are the 10 words in this order, and I need to say it this way because, hmm, that works.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Ask not what you can do…” Oh, listen up already.

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, you got to know that stuff but for the most part, most of the pieces within the talk you need to know the idea of it and the essence of it without feeling like, “I need to know verbatim, word for word, how to tell this seven-minute story.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I dig that. So, you’re actually typing as opposed to recording and transcribing.

Grant Baldwin
Correct. Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
And so that’s just kind of your flavor, and that works for you, and that’s helpful. Thank you. So, what I like there…

Grant Baldwin
Yeah. Well, let’s just say I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to go about either. Like that’s what I do, whereas I know some people who, they prefer to handwrite things out. Like, you mentioned, some people like to transcribe or some people like to have bullet points of an outline, and that’s what they go off of, and they kind of fill in the blanks as they go. And to each their own. I think that the more you speak the more you kind of figure out what makes sense and what works for you and just your preference and your style.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it’s going to vary how much time it takes, but as you laid it out there it’s like the level of thought you’re giving it is the level of the individual word as opposed to, “Well, I’m going to kind of talk about point one, then point two, then point three. Okay, I’m ready.”

Grant Baldwin
Correct, yup. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then, it sounds like there’s a wide variation in terms of just how much prep is enough prep. But could you give us, I know numbers are hazardous but I want to hammer home the point that I think is in your head. So, if it’s moderate stakes, 20 minutes of talk and new content, how much prep is like the bare minimum you think a person should invest?

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, if you’re doing 20 minutes of content, I mean, from I just found out I’ve got to give 20 minutes to giving the presentation, I’m probably looking at maybe five hours’ worth of just like really… again, it depends on the stakes of it, but anywhere from three to five hours, I would say, because it takes time to really… it’s not like you’re going to sit down and you’re going to type for 20 minutes and it all are going to naturally come out, and then you’re going to go over, time to turn it, it’s ready to go. It just takes time to go over it.

I think, also, the more often you are speaking and the more that you’re generating content, or the more that you’re learning new material, the quicker and more efficient you get at it. The first time you do anything is not nearly going to be as efficient as the time when you do it the hundredth time. So, the more you do something the more comfortable you’re going to start to feel with it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Perfect. So, I dig that. So, then, that ratio that’s like nine to 15 times or so of prep time to content time, and I think that’s just handy because I’ve been in a position where the team works long and hard on the underlying backend data and the slide creation and locking down the deck just perfectly, and then very little time on, “So, how are we going to say this if we really want to be persuasive or inspiring?”

And so, I think if I could touch upon that for a moment, how does one be all the more persuasive and inspiring? Because, in some ways, I think speeches are easier if your goal is to like, “I’m going to inform them about this. By the end of the speech they will now know about this thing that I’ve told them about.” I think that’s kind of an easier hurdle to clear or goal to hit. But when it comes to like human beings having their hearts stirred and wanting to take action, boy, what’s the secret sauce to making that happen?

Grant Baldwin
Well, I would say this, I think that motivating other people to do something is very, very difficult. Like, at the end of the day, I can’t make someone else do something. So, one thing that I think is very powerful and effective that I think anybody can use is stories, and ideally first-person stories. So, that’s something that I tend to use a lot of whenever I speak is first-person stories, stories that I’ve actually lived.

So, yeah, sure you can tell, “Let me tell you about this story from the 1930s, and here’s this person who overcame this thing, and here’s how it all worked out in the end.” Like that’s great and there’s a place for that but, at the same time, saying, “Here’s something I experienced, something I lived, and something that I did.”

And, you know what, sometimes we think like it has to be some crazy, impactful, like, “I climbed Mt. Everest blind in shorts, and I lived to tell about it.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be that. I think, again, that’s kind of a misconception with speaking is that, “I can’t become a speaker because I haven’t done or overcome some crazy obstacle.”

So, like in my case, I’m a white male from the Midwest who’s had a pretty normal life. Like, on paper there’s no reason I should be a speaker. But the funny thing is you don’t have to overcome some crazy obstacle in order to be a speaker. Just you sharing your own personal experience, or sharing life from and sharing things that you have learned can certainly be valuable to an audience because your audience, most people haven’t climbed Mt. Everest blind in shorts.

Most people are just, they’re normal people going through their daily lives. And hearing someone else is doing it and hearing someone else has overcome something or accomplished something can be extremely impactful for them. So, using stories is really, really, really powerful, and stories can be used in a variety of different ways. But from just motivating and inspiring and connecting with an audience, just as human beings, like we’re really, really drawn to stories, so I highly recommend that as a tool for any speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I like what you said, and earlier we had Dr. Carmen Simon talking about what makes great stories memorable. And often, she said, them being relatable is what trumps being sort of dramatic with regard to their emotions. So, what makes a story good then? It may not need to be super epic tales of Everest, but what sort of separates a great story from an okay story?

Grant Baldwin
Well, I would totally echo the relatable part. So, I’m thinking through several of the stories that I tell on a regular basis. So, stories like the skydiving and just the funny experience that happened with that, or going to Disney World with my daughters and how funny interaction that we had, or as a teenager, toilet papering a friend’s house and getting busted, or my very first car and all the problems that I had with that.

None of these are just like, “Then I met the President and this happened, and then I was on the secret ops mission, and then this happened. And then I won the Olympic gold medal.” So, it’s like this is normal human everyday stuff. Like anytime I tell a story about my first car, anybody in the audience has had a first car and they can relate to it, or something that’s gone wrong.

Even like you mentioned the travel thing at the beginning, is like those are just relatable normal, like human things that we have had, “Oh, let me tell you my travel story. And here’s what happened to me.” Just relatable human stuff that people can connect with. I remember hearing General Colin Powel speak several years ago, and it was great. He was a phenomenal speaker. And I think, at the time, or maybe he had been the Secretary of Defense, I believe, something to that effect.

And so, he’s telling a really cool story about being on Air Force One, and on and on, and you’re just like, “That’s pretty cool, but, like, I’ve never been on the Air Force One and I don’t see that in my future anytime soon.” So, it feels like there’s some level of disconnect, versus like, “Hey, let me tell you about my first car,” and you probably had a similar thing.

Or, “Here’s a funny experience I had with my kids,” and you may have experienced something similar. Or, “Here’s something that happened in a restaurant,” or traveling, or whatever, that is just a relatable type of thing that a high percentage of the audience is going to be like, “Oh, yeah, totally understand that, totally get that, and I’m with you as you’re telling the story.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, I dig that. Thank you. And so, now, I’m wondering a little bit in terms of thinking about you in the audience of another speaker. It just makes me wonder, given the eye and the ear that you’ve developed by beholding many a presenter, can you share, are there a few things that are sort of like, “Dude, or lady, cut that out. This is an annoying suboptimal habit or thing that presenters do that has just no place and needs to stop”? Are there a few like top pet peeves in the Grant no-no list?

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, like one that comes to mind is having a huge dependency on your slides. So, here’s one way to approach it, and I rarely, if ever, use slides. They have a huge value, there’s a huge place for them to be used, and they can provide an impact that your words may not be able to provide. But what often happens to speakers is they are more fixated and focused on the slides than on the audience and the presentation itself.

So, as a good kind of barometer here is, think of it this way. If you’re getting ready to give a presentation with slides, and your slides go down, or they don’t work, or the technology breaks, if that were to happen just five minutes before you’re supposed to speak, can you still be ready? Are you still good to go? Because if you’re someone who is like, “Oh, I can’t even function without my slides,” then you’re not ready, like you shouldn’t be up there speaking.

So, I’ll give you an example. My wife is attending a conference a couple of months ago, and she texted me, and she said, “Hey, I’m in this session that was supposed to start 15 minutes ago, and the slides aren’t working, and the speaker just told the audience they can’t speak without the slides.” I was like, “Then you shouldn’t be up there, you shouldn’t be speaking.”

So, I think just like one of the things I always like to say is that your slide should be an enhancement not a replacement for your talk. They shouldn’t be a crutch. So, if they break, you’d be like, “Oh, that sucks,” but your talk should still stand on its own. It should still be solid. Even the other day I was, a couple of weeks, I was at a conference and I was backstage talking with one of the other speakers. And they were going over their slides, slides, slides, slides, just their whole head was absorbed with the slides. I was like, “Dude, get out of it. Like, forget the slides. You have to connect with the audience.”

Using your slides as a cheat sheet or as a guide, or as knowing where to go, like I get some of that, but you also need to know your material. You need to know where your presentation is going without just having to, “I’m just going to throw up a bunch of bullet points then I’m just going to turn and read.”

I mean, if you’re just going to do that, like what’s the point of you? Just give the audience your outline and leave. There’s no point in you just reading stuff and regurgitating stuff to the audience when they’re fully capable of reading. So, slides are good, use slides but just make sure that they’re an enhancement not a replacement for your talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s the top pet peeve that leapt to mind. Any others?

Grant Baldwin
Well, I would say, you speak a lot, I speak a lot. I don’t know about you, but I’m not really overly critical with speakers, in part, because I know most speakers haven’t done as much speaking as you or I may have done, Pete. So, it’s not fair to look at someone and say, “Okay, this is your first presentation so let’s just go through every single thing that you did wrong here.”

I remember speaking at a conference and had a friend of mine who gave me a nice compliment but a humbling compliment. And I spoke at this conference, and it’s like the fourth or fifth year of the conference, and I gave a closing keynote, and it went really, really well. And the client came up afterwards, and said, “You’re the best keynote speaker that we’ve ever had.” And I was like, “That’s awesome. That’s so cool.” Well, most of the keynote speakers they’ve had are people who give a few talks here and there but not to the level that I’ve done in terms of just the number of engagements, right?

So, I told a friend this, I was like, “Dude, check this out. He just said I was the best speaker they’ve ever had.” And he’s like, “You’re a professional speaker. You should be the best that they’ve ever had. If you weren’t you’ve got a problem with that, right?” So, the point being, if this is your first time speaking, like I don’t want to be hypercritical of those who are just getting started or only have done a couple things, but the slides should be one thing, using stories should be another thing.

The other thing I would say, too, going back to what we talked about earlier that I think any speaker at any level can do is really spending the time to practice and go over your material. Again, just don’t get up and wing it, don’t just get up and make stuff up, don’t just shoot from the hip           . Like really spending the time to go through the material, know the material, and it makes a huge, huge difference.

A good exercise to go through with this, or maybe a little homework assignment, is to go on Netflix and look up the documentary called Comedian. Have you seen this before?

Pete Mockaitis
Is this Jerry Seinfeld?

Grant Baldwin
Yeah. It had been a DVD for many, many years. I’ve got the DVD, but actually, like recently, within like literally the past few weeks came out on Netflix. It is a great documentary. And the nutshell of it is basically it was filmed in like, I think, the early 2000s. It was right after the show Seinfeld wrapped up, and it’s following Jerry Seinfeld around as he’s doing his standup comedy.

But, really, he’s working on new material, so it shows him getting up on stage and he’s bombing, or he’s forgetting the punchline, or he’s being heckled. And he’s at the top of his game, like he’s one of the more recognized people in entertainment, and yet, here he is showing like, “I’m trying to work on this craft, these jokes.” It’s not just, “Oh, Jerry Seinfeld is funny,” so he just gets up and talk and it all just works out.

It just shows him behind the scenes of how this comes together. So, you watch a special on Netflix or HBO or Comedy Central or whatever, and you think like, “That just happened.” It just doesn’t work like that. They just spend so much time behind the scenes going over and over and over their material so that they feel confident, they feel comfortable, and they feel prepared when they get up and speak. So, I think a speaker/presenter at any level can spend time practicing and preparing and it makes a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, perfect. Thank you. Well, so then, I’m curious to hear, as we kind of transition a bit, of all the suggestions that you have offered a number of times, what do you believe is sort of the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to, over the long term, improving your speaking presentation skills? Like, if there’s one thing you would have people do regularly to get better, what would that thing be?

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, I mean, practice would be definitely up there on the list. I think a couple other things that would come to mind would be to get feedback from not just respected people that you know who have a lot of speaking experience who can give you specific feedback, but also from peers and colleagues who may be other speakers as well.

So, getting that feedback, I think makes a big difference. Working with speaking coaches, again, depending on if you’re just like, “Hey, I give one talk a year, and it’s not that big a deal,” it may not be necessary. But if you’re someone where, “Hey, I give a lot of presentations, they’re very high-stakes presentations,” getting that outside feedback from a speaking coach or from a professional speaker who can go through and can really help you on that content of what you’re presenting but also on your presentation style, your presentation skills, can make a huge difference.

Another simple thing that you can do is just recording yourself and watching it back which, for most people, could be brutally painful. But, oftentimes, we can identify things that maybe we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. So, maybe there’s some type of a filler word that you use regularly, or maybe there’s something you do with your hands, that you’re like, “I didn’t even realize I did that but once I watch it back I see how distracting that is.” Or, “Here’s something every time I tell this story, then this part isn’t funny, and I think it’s funny but now that I’m watching it back, that doesn’t make sense. There’s no flow.”

And you’re kind of just trying to pull this, like have this out-of-body experience where you’re going back and going through the material to figure out like what’s working and what’s not, and just kind of breaking it down in that way. So, recording yourself, going back, reviewing it, watching it is another good exercise that any speaker can do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Grant, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Grant Baldwin
I don’t know what my favorite things are so I’m excited about that. Let’s get to that.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it. Okay. Could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Grant Baldwin
One of my favorites quote I like to share is, “Who you are is more important than what you do.” Meaning, if you’re a great speaker, if you’re a great employee, if you’re a great entrepreneur, if you’re a great fill in the blank, but you drop the ball as a husband, as a wife, as a mother, as a father, if you’re just a shell of a human being, that’s just not worth it. So, that’s one I try to remind myself of regularly, “Who you are is more important than what you do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Grant Baldwin
Let’s see here. I’m just looking at what I’ve got on my desk here. A lot of times I think it’s kind of depends on your current situation or what you’re chewing on. There’s a book I read recently, or I actually read it a couple of years ago but then was re-reading it recently called Built to Sell. And it’s not necessarily, like, yeah, it’s in the context of if you want to sell your business, but it’s also in the context of trying to build a business that doesn’t depend on you. And so that was a really good one that there’s a lot that could be pulled from.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And, tell me, do you have a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Grant Baldwin
I use Slack constantly with our team, with communicating with others. If you’re not familiar with this, it’s like a modern-day instant messenger tool, and so there’s a lot of different functions and uses to that. But, yes, Slack is something I use super regularly. I also use a tool called Evernote a lot. It’s kind of my digital brain of any ideas or projects or tasks, or any type of thing that just something I want to save I could keep in Evernote. So, yeah, both Slack and Evernote are pretty common ones I use.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a favorite habit that helps you be effective?

Grant Baldwin
One thing that I would say would be very critical would just be exercise. And I know this is something that’s thrown around commonly but you’re only as good as the body that you have, and that you’re taking care of yourself. So, I just regularly exercise. I do a couple of things. So, there’s a strength-training class that I go to three times a week. I think going to an actual class, for me, personally, has made a big difference because there’s kind of a built-in accountability of the peer pressure of being around other people who can encourage you, that can support you.

That, “Man, I don’t want to get out of bed this early but I know that they’re going to be there and they’re going to give me grief if I’m not there, so, all right, I’ll just get up and go even if I’m not feeling like it. Or those guys are pushing harder so I’m going to push a little bit harder.” So, being in a class setting, for me, for my health, has made a big difference.

So, I do that three times a week and then usually several times a week I will do biking. I’ve done that either outside or we recently got a Peloton Bike so I do these indoor spin classes and those things kick your butt too. But, just bottom line, just taking care of yourself doing something makes a big difference to your ability to focus, get stuff done throughout the day.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a particular nugget or piece that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients, sort of a Grant original that gets them taking notes and saying, “Oh, yeah”?

Grant Baldwin
Well, I would say, like from a speaking standpoint, like if you want to get into like professional speaking, if that’s something you want to do more seriously, then a big thing I would say would be to make sure you’re really, really clear on who you speak to and what you speak about. And I think this is where most speakers have a difficult time is they try to speak to anybody and everybody about everything and anything and nothing all at the same time. But, as counterintuitive as it feels like, the more narrow and focused you are, the easier it is to find and book speaking engagements versus just trying to appeal to anybody and everybody which just doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And, Grant, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Grant Baldwin
We’ve got a podcast ourselves over at TheSpeakerLab.com, and if people are interested in learning more about how to find and book paid speaking engagements, we’ve got a free training that people can check out over at FreeSpeakerWorkshop.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Grant Baldwin
Yeah, I would say the big thing would just be to take some small step of action. And I think that that’s even going back to if you’re working on your talk or your presentation, thinking it through the lens of, “What do you want the audience to do as a result of this?” So, taking some small step of action. If you take the time to listen to this podcast, or any podcast, or read an article or a book or a blogpost or whatever, and you don’t do anything different, like what’s the point of that? So, any little nugget of thing that you want to just take and apply and implement, just taking some type of action makes a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Awesome. Well, Grant, thanks so much for taking the time and sharing your perspective here. I wish you and The Speaker Lab tons of luck, and success, and gigs, and all the good stuff.

Grant Baldwin
Thanks, Pete. Appreciate you letting me hang out with you, man.