Find the extraordinary in the ordinary

My friend, Lance Miller is an award-winning public speaker and trainer. He graduated from Michigan State University with a Degree in Food Systems, Economics and Management. Lance has an extensive background in business and is a philanthropist who has worked in numerous humanitarian causes around the world.

Lance Miller

In 2005, Lance won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. Today, he is regularly invited to speak at events around the world. He is always engaging and always insightful. You can learn more about Lance here.

In a recent newsletter to his readers, Lance shared an important message and one which I often think about: How can we create meaningful messages for our audiences?

Often we see speakers who recount amazing tales of adventure or discovery or adversity overcome, and we think there is no way that we have anything remotely as interesting to share about ourselves. In fact, that’s not the case. You can create a powerful message based on the most ordinary of experiences.

In the article below, Lance shares what he considers the key to creating a message that will make an impact. He also shares three ideas to help you spark your creativity. (Hint: You don’t even have to leave home.)


Create your message

by Lance Miller

When I first started speaking I did not know where to find messages for my speeches. Most speakers I coach today are caught in the same conundrum.

I used to wish I had endured some horrendous near death tragedy so I could share my story of triumphing over the ultimate adversity! Unfortunately, I had no such tragedies in my life.

I have learned that the best messages are simple. The best messages share lessons that anyone can apply to improve their life. The trick is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary situations of life.

I used to drill myself on this concept.

  • I would be stuck in traffic and think: “Do a speech on this traffic.”
  • I would walk by some stairs and think: “Do a speech on those stairs.”
  • I would be washing dishes and think: “Do a speech on washing dishes.”

I practiced and practiced finding simple universal messages that applied to life. Each time I worked to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I soon discovered that what I was really doing was reigniting my creativity. I was creating my own significance of the world before me, rather than having the world create it for me.

Today, I see messages in everything! But this did not happen overnight. It was a process of learning to create again.

If you need to reignite your creativity, here are three suggestions:

1.  Go to your pantry, close your eyes, reach inside and grab something. Whatever you grabbed, create a speech about what is extraordinary about that item and how it applies to life.

2.  Next time you have a negative emotion like, frustration, anger, hopelessness, create a speech about what is extraordinary about that situation and how it applies to life.

3.  Take a normal daily activity, like getting up in the morning, making coffee, doing your laundry and create a speech about what is extraordinary about that and how it applies to life.

You don’t have to die to have a good message. You just have to create one!

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 284) – Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain (1956 – 2018) American Celebrity Chef

Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying.”

— Anthony Bourdain

Photo courtesy of Peabody Awards
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A lesson from the Parthenon

I was recently in Athens, Greece to speak at a conference. While there, I had one free day and, as it was my first time in Greece, there was one place I had to see: the Parthenon that sits atop the Acropolis.

As I stood before that architectural wonder, admiring the 69 pillars on which it was built, I couldn’t help thinking of Aristotle who said that a great speech is built on three pillars: logos, ethos and pathos.

So I shot the short video below to capture my thoughts.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 283) – Gary Vaynerchuck

Gary Vaynerchuck – Belarusian American Entrepreneur and Speaker

“The single biggest reason people are concerned about public speaking is because they worry what other people think of them. The quicker you start learning how to fix that issue and be comfortable with yourself, you’ll become a much better public speaker. Heck, you’ll become a much better and happier human being.

— Gary Vaynerchuck

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Analysis of a speech by Bishop Michael Curry

Embed from Getty Images

I hadn’t planned on watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but during a break from work, I decided to skim the news. And there it was: a link to the live stream of the event. “I’ll just take a quick look,” I thought.

Well, it so happened that I started the stream just as Meghan’s car was pulling up to St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Long story short, my wife and I didn’t stop watching until 90 minutes or so later when Harry and Meghan were husband and wife and hopping into a carriage.

I’m glad I watched. It was a beautiful and highly unconventional service for a variety of reasons that you can easily read in one of the thousands of articles written about the event. (The Kingdom Choir’s rendition of Stand By Me was a highlight.)

But the part of the ceremony that particularly caught my attention—and the attention of millions around the world—was the sermon of Bishop Michael Curry.

The 65-year-old preacher from Chicago and the first black presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church delivered an electrifying sermon, the likes of which no Royal Wedding had ever seen before.

You can watch the entire speech in the video below.

What I liked about the speech

  • I loved his passion for his message. You could tell he was right into it. To take just one example, at 1:44: “There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it. When you love and you show it. It actually feels right. There’s something right about it.”
  • He was authentic. It would have been easy to give a restrained homily given the occasion, given that he was in England and given that the Royal Family was present. But Curry remained true to himself. By several accounts—and by looking at some of the reactions in the video—not everyone was comfortable with his style. But good on Curry for not trying to be someone he isn’t.
  • I liked the quote from Martin Luther King Jr. at 0:34, particularly because it is not one of the better known quotes from that great man.
  • Curry varied the rhythm of his speech, sometimes going fast and sometimes slowing right down with long pauses. He varied the volume of his voice, sometimes rising to a crescendo and sometimes coming down to a whisper.
  • He used humour:
    • “Two young people fell in love, and we all showed up.” (3:45)
    • “Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying.” (6:40)
    • “And with this I will sit down. We got to get y’all married.” (10:00)
    • “Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other.” (12:00)
  • I appreciated Curry’s willingness to incorporate the issue of slavery in the pre-Civil War United States into his sermon, especially given that Meghan Markle is biracial and her mother, Doris Ragland, is a direct descendant of slaves. In fact, Markle’s mother’s surname comes from the name of the slave owner of her ancestors.
  • Curry used a number of powerful rhetorical devices in his speech:
    • Anaphora – “Fire made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating, which reduced the spread of disease in its time. Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates. Fire made it possible, there was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire.” (10:48)
    • Epistrophe – “Think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.” (7:38)
    • Asyndeton – “My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.” (9:38)
    • Metaphor – Fire was the metaphor that ran throughout the sermon. It was summed up in Curry’s paraphrasing of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin at 12:20: “[I]f humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

What I didn’t like

  • The speech went on too long. Bishop Curry himself recognized at 10:00 that he needed to wind up so that the ceremony could proceed, but then talked for almost four more minutes. Shorter is better and the speech could have been trimmed without diminishing its effectiveness. Indeed, a shorter speech could well have been more effective. Just think of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg AddressUpdate: After this post was published, I read that Curry said, “It was planned and I thought it was going to be six minutes.” If the timing was planned, it is almost a certainty that everyone involved in the organization of the wedding would have known and would have expected a six-minute sermon in order to keep to schedule. It is not good public speaking etiquette to go over your allotted time, especially when you are just one part of a larger event.
  • I didn’t like the rhetorical question at 11:32 in which he asked whether anyone came to the service in a car. Of course they did. He could have shortened that whole section by saying something like, “Many of you came here by car today; I flew to England from the United States in a plane. Without that controlled, harnessed fire, many of us wouldn’t have been able to be here.”
  • I don’t like it when a speaker tells the audience to nod your heads (11:37) or repeat a phrase. That style has never sat well with me. I’ll go as far as asking audience members to raise their hands if I am trying to gauge, for example, how many people are familiar with a concept. But that’s about it.
  • While I appreciated that Curry’s message of love was for everyone present (and the millions watching on TV or the Internet), it would have been nice for him to mention Harry and Meghan by name, at least once. After all, it was their day.

All in all, I was impressed by Curry. Harry and Meghan seemed impressed too. At the very end of the video (13:30), Harry turns to Meghan and says, “Wow!”

Harry and Meghan liked the speech

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