How to find your own “voice.”

Those of you who read my American Idol post know read about the crucial importance of finding your own voice. Thanks to a wonderful email from a budding magician and his questions, I have a follow up to that post. His question, in a nut shell, was: “Ok, that’s fine. How do we find our own voice?”

He asked about coaching, studying pros, etc.

Ok, since you asked, here are Brad’s Top Three Tips for Finding Your Own Voice in your pursuit of professional speaking, presenting, or entertaining.

1. TIME. Know that it takes time. Perhaps a lot of time. Maybe even years. I know, this is not what you wanted to read, but it is true. You just gotta do it a bunch. There is no substitute for stage time. Find a place to “practice” your craft, and get started. It could be working on the street as a street performer, working in a lousy theater, doing Career Track — if you want to be a professional public speaker — or whatever. I first started working at the Colorado Renaissance Festival and that experience was invaluable. As was a three month period (that felt much longer) doing 190 shows at a comedy theater in Tennessee. Find a place and get started.

2. WORK. Know that real success is more about YOU than it is about your material. Johnny Carson is a great example of a guy who is just not that funny when you see his stuff written down. But when you saw him live there was no mistaking his likability. He was charming, likable, and very funny. Therefore his stuff became funny.

And it takes time. Lots of time. Before Carson has his own show, he worked hard and paid some dues. Unless you’re a natural genius, you’ll have to do that too.

3. FEEDBACK. Unless you are doing a character (like Charlie Chaplin or Las Vegas Magician Mac King) you should be doing a bigger version of yourself. After years of experience, when I’m on stage before an audience it is just a bigger, louder, more-prepared version of the guy I am the rest of the time. Sure, I’m a bit bigger and louder. And more silly. And funnier. But mostly I’m the same guy. And the day I “got” this point was the day my career really started to take off.

How do you test this skill? Glad you asked. Do your show or presentation and then record it. Get you spouse, kids, neighbors or best pals to look at the tape and to honestly tell you if the YOU they see on tape is the same YOU they live with. If they say anything like, “That laugh is weird,” or “Your voice sounds funny,” or, “your timing and cadence seems different” then you have some work to do.

The best compliment they can offer you is that you are EXACTLY the same on stage as off.

If you have an accent, talk fast or slow, etc. and you DON’T take that characteristic with you on stage you’ll be found out. And the audience will not suffer frauds. Be yourself.

(Sure, top flight actors can change the way they come across, but be honest; are you really a top flight actor? And even if you are, you clients are hiring you… the real you. They want an authentic, real person on their stage, and it is your challenge to give them just that. (Only, as I mentioned above, don’t forget that you can be authentic and very well prepared at the same time.)

So, in answer to that question from that magician’s question: no…. I’m not sure that studying the “character” of famous film actors (or comedians, or magicians, or public professional speakers) really helps. In fact I think it might be confusing. If you study them for character you might accidently adopt some of them in yourself.

(I’m a huge fan of studying comedians, speakers and other entertainers, but just let them soak in. Don’t take their character or it will end up making you bi-polar.)

In the end, this task of finding the REAL US to put on stage is probably the most difficult part of being a top notch presenter. It ain’t easy. In fact, it’s hard. Very hard. A few people come to it naturally, and start their performing career with a natural, likable and genuine version of themselves. (I didn’t …. it took me years of pushing along to even get close.) But for must of us, the answer is lots of stage time, honest feedback, and hard work.

Now…. if you want me to help with that, sure, I do presentation skills coaching all the time and love it. Let me know if you want to go to that level.

But for the rest of you…. be yourself!

Check out what I do for a living — as myself! — at my main site here.

Cheers!

Brad Montgomery
Motivational Humorist Motivational Speaker, Comedian & Magician, Presentation Skills Coach

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I found this funny video on—where else—YouTube and I think it has something to say about competition in the workplace. Now, whether we like to think of the workplace as a happy-go-lucky-everyone-gets-a-long-equality-driven environment, we all know that when push comes to shove, you want to edge out the guy sitting next to you (even if it’s your best friend).

And, all in all, that’s OK. Employee competition isn’t a bad thing: it’s motivating, it keeps employees on their toes, it can even make bonds between coworkers stronger. Think of it as a neighborhood game of flag football. As long as you don’t take it so serious it becomes debilitating, or not serious enough so that you slack off at work, workplace competition can be one of the most effective ways to be productive and increase office morale.

I’ve included the above video because, hey, it’s funny! And it shows a humorous side to office competition, which is how competition should be handled in the workplace—with a dose of funny. So how do we do that? How do we keep the pedal to the metal while making sure that we aren’t burning out our engines? Well, the first thing you gotta monitor is your outlook on the situation. Remember, it’s like a game! You want to make it fun! Not just for you, but for your competitors as well. You’re not looking to blaze to the top, leaving everyone burning in your wake. Rather you want to do as best you can while also helping and motivating other to do the same; and if they get there before, great! Give them a pat on the back and tell yourself that next time you’re going to cross the finish line first (hopefully with everyone else not far behind).

So, once you’ve got the right attitude, you’ve got to keep the competition itself on the fun side. Sure sure—actually trying to up sales might not be the most fun thing in the world. But, if you’re in the middle of a monthly sale push, take some time and actually have some fun office games! Organize a lunchtime activity that is strictly for fun but keeps everyone in the competitive mood. Office bowling is always fun, or maybe set up an office golf course! Really anything that will take the edge off of all the work that needs to be done.

And what is competition without awards? It’s OK to stick with the obvious ones—Most Total Sales, Biggest Single Sale, etc. But everyone loves superlatives, right? It reminds us all of the good ole days of high school! So think of stuff like “Best Sales Pitch” or “Best Sales Attitude,” or “Most Motivational.” And, remember what I said about making fun of your co-workers? How about “Best (or Worst) at Taking Rejection,” or “Worst Sales Pitch.” You get the idea. Just tailor them to your specific duties in the office.

It’s like I’ve always demonstrated: the happy workplace is the productive workplace, and nothing spurs productivity like competition, especially fun competition. It’s like a formula. Competition + Fun = BIG NUMBERS!!!! Jot that down on your notepad. You’ll want to save it for later.

Cheers. Check out my humor in the workplace seminars and keynote speeches here.

Brad Montgomery
Motvaional Keynote Speaker, Clean Comedian, and Competitive Worker

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An Open Letter to Crappy Magicians

I recently was hired to coach a speaker who also happened to do a bit of magic in her programs. It seems to me that the things that I told him are the same things I tell a bunch of people. Usually I’m nicer than what follows… but since I’m not talking to anybody in particular, perhaps you’ll forgive me.

This letter is to all of the magicians doing sub-par magic. (It seems to me that there are a a bunch of you.) As well as all of the speakers and trainers who dabble in magic and do a tiny bit of it to add to their presentations and public speaking.

(If this letter isn’t for you… then you’ll know it. If it is… you should take notes.)

I think your choice of props can be improved. My favorite magicians use props that look like stuff they bought at TARGET or Home Depot. Not the magic store. Our audiences today are so hip and sophisticated that their eyes glaze over when they see magic wands, velvet (change) bags and silk scarves. They see that stuff and immediately connect us with the dweeby 19 yr old that did our little tykes’ neighbors’ birthday party. If you don’t believe me ask your pals. Seriously… ask your pals. It might mean that you are looking a little dweeby yourself.

So I like your card and rope tricks… no schmaltzy props. They’re a bit tired, but what the heck; I use ‘em too. But … ok, I’ll say it… I hate the “magic scarves.” The box with the fake Chinese characters on it. The silly table that doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen any where but at magic shops. And I hate the change bag. It immediately tips you as an amateur. Not just to me, a guy who loves magic. But to the whole audience. To the whole world.

Here comes the straight talk.

My five year old uses a change bag and gets away with it because he is a cute little boy and people forgive him for doing a stupid trick. You are so smart and charming yet I can’t believe anybody is fooled, nor are they impressed with that little red bag. I think it is almost that simple: you are never gonna be a top-level speaker or entertainer if you are holding the same $25 magic-store prop that Skippy the Magic Clown uses. Trash it… or give it to my kid.
If you ask 10 people to describe a cliché magician they will come up w/ the same words and images. Top hat. Wand. Rope. Velvet bag. Get the point…? I think we, as magicians, need to immediately lose the props that on on the top shelf of the magic store and are done by birthday-party magicians around the globe.

My soap box: as magicians we need to recognize that magic has a deservedly bad rep. There is so much bad magic in the world most people don’t love it and I don’t blame them. If we accept this as true, it makes our path clear: avoid cliché magic. Big time… we just gotta stay clear of mediocre and crappy stuff.

But….I challenge you do learn that trick… or something like it using sleight of hand. Sure, you do the Prof. Nightmare trick with rope. Cool. Now keep going with the sleight of hand.

Let’s face it; audiences are impressed by what they perceive as skills. So if you dazzle them with a trick that they could never do… if you do some sleight of hand without a bag, without a dove pan, without….

Trust me.. they’ll be blown away. You work will be totally worth the effort. If they see you, a terrific person who can dazzle them with skills, personality, and his or her own hands…. Wow!

You can do it. Just make sure you’re doing the right thing.

Cheers.

Brad Montgomery
Magician, Comedian, Fed Up with Horrible Magicians, and Magician Speakers


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