Is Every Presentation a Remix?

Posted by Kristin Arnold on July 7, 2011

One of the reasons I love long weekends is that I can catch up on my “reading” – including links, blogs, videos and the like that help me explore different lines of thinking.

And so I stumbled upon the Everything is a Remix videos.  I started with Part Three as a recommendation from Scott Berkun’s blog.  And it is still haunting me.

The premise goes something like this:  In order to innovate, you must first “copy”.  I don’t like “copy” as a stand alone word, but it really means to “become fluent in the language of our domain – and we do that through emulation.”   In the copy phase, you spend hours mastering the basic principles of your craft – typically by “copying” others to build a foundation of knowledge and understanding.  Then once you have solid grounding in the fundamentals, creativity kicks in.  You can create variations – which Kirby calls “transformational.”

So where does the notion of “copying” fit in with professional speaking?  I have been noodling about this for the last few days.

As a professional speaker and as President of the National Speakers Association (NSA), we really discourage others from “copying” stories, speech patterns, brands, ideas, etc.  And yes, it does happen.  According to the filmmaker, Kirby Ferguson, I guess it HAS to happen.   Neophytes will unintentionally copy (literally) someone else’s speech.  At the Global Speakers Summit in Holland this year, I cringed in my seat when one of the mainstage speakers started channeling Dr. Wayne Dyer – without attribution!

But a PROFESSIONAL speaker is NOT a neophyte nor a book reporter.  A professional speaker has already gone through the painstaking process of “copying” the fundamentals of their topic and techniques – reading, discussing, speaking, testing the theories, principles, methodologies, mechanics and such.   When your ideas become transformational and unique to you – that’s when you should you move into the professional speaker space.

But if I think about it, most professional speakers had to start somewhere.  Where “copying” was encouraged, tutored, mentored and even taught – in an ethical way.  I caught the speaking bug when I was certified by Franklin Quest (before it merged with Covey to become Franklin Covey) to teach a FABULOUS time management course.  I was licensed to copy.  I was then certified to teach Total Quality Management (TQM) Principles and Tools by Organizational Dynamics, Inc. (ODI) – which gave me even more confidence.

And then I fell into the rabbit hole.  I had been asked to facilitate a process improvement team, putting the TQM principles into practice – and I made every mistake in the book!  Vowing never to let that happen to me again, I read everything I could about team/meeting facilitation.  And I mean everything.  Good news is that this is back in 1990, and there really wasn’t that much on “facilitation” as it was a new field!

Transformation comes from a mix of fundamentals matched with a desperate need.  And so I invented a Team Facilitation Skills workshop – it is uniquely my own and has evolved over time.  It still serves as the basis of my facilitation training and practice.  Where appropriate, I still attribute the original thoughts to the masters who have gone before me, and I have brought new insights into the mix.

Theoretically, at this point, my work is ripe for a “breakthrough” – a combination of diverse ideas.   And so I spend my weekends reading and researching other ideas.  You just never know when creativity and breakthroughs will occur!

But then comes the slammer.  I don’t want to be spoiler, but the interesting thing about invention is that several people might be heading toward the same path you are on.

So where are you on your presentation journey?  A neophyte working at mastering the fundamentals and finding your own voice?  A transformer where you have created original material or a breakthrough artist?  I’m reaching for the breakthroughs – where presentations are more of a conversation with the audience.  What about you?


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