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I spent the past week in Washington, DC at Influence 2015, the annual convention for the National Speakers Association.

It was a great opportunity to connect with other speakers, share my thoughts on the value of what we do, and, of course, learn a ton of great things.

Here are 10 Insights I gained from Influence 2015:

#1 Model Your Content [Neen James]

In a session on Commercializing Thought Leadership, Neen James suggested creating a model for your content. There are a number of benefits to this, including enhancing personal branding and building credibility, but the most important benefit is that it can clarify thinking.

Think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how informational this single graphic is (now with WiFi!).

wifi hierarchy of needs

#2 The Power of Analogy [Roger Courville]

Roger was part of Jeffrey Hayzlett’s morning session that included Q&A. What impressed me about Roger was his ability to answer questions through analogies.

Roger spoke of the value of Virtual Presentations and, when addressing concerns about their typically one-sided, impersonal nature, he reminded us that we’ve experienced that for years with TV and Radio.

That simple connection clicked in my head to help shift my perspective on doing things virtually.

#3 A Story is the Most Engaging Thing of All [Immaculee Ilibagiza]

immaculee

Immaculee delivered a talk during the opening general session of the conference.

It started with a short video, then she came out, took her spot on stage, and began to speak. And for the duration of her talk (I’m not entirely sure how long it was as it flew by, but at least 30 minutes), she didn’t move anything except her mouth as she told her story.

There were no slides, no big gestures, and no audience participation. And yet we all listened. Because her story was engaging, powerful, and moving.

She told the story of surviving genocide by hiding in a bathroom for 91 days and what it was like coming out of it all as a different person.

Compelling slides, big movements, and audience activities can certainly make for an engaging talk, but there’s nothing quite like an incredible story told by an incredibly storyteller.

#4 Being Good is the Best Marketing [Laurie Guest]

Laurie led an incredibly useful breakout session on a deep-dive into sweetspot pricing.

She covered a number of tactical things to do, but my biggest takeaway was more strategic. Laurie said her goal is 2-to-1 speaking; at every event she does she wants to get 2 more engagements out of it.

Translation: be so good that you get future bookings from people in the audience. There’s still strategy that goes along with this (such as giving out Tent Cards that have a spot for people to check “I want to hire you”), but it all starts with being great on stage.

#5 Can’t Knock the Hustle [Chef Jeff]

The opening night started out with a bang with a great presentation from Chef Jeff, a former drug dealer and prison inmate who’s now a successful chef, entrepreneur, speaker, TV personality, and more.

He told the tale of how he ended up in prison and ultimately became a hustlepreneur, turning Federal Penitentiary into Federal University.

The number one ingredient to success: hard work. Where you’ve been is certainly a part of your story, but what happens next is entirely up to you to write, and you write it through hard work, focus, and dedication.

#6 Use Principle-Driven Decision-Making [Bruce Weinstein]

Bruce, a fellow NSA-NYC chapter member, is known as the Ethics Guy. So it’s no surprise that he led a session on Ethics.

With the help of Gerard Braud, Bruce created a Family-Feud style game to teach the value ethical leadership. They would get a group of people up and ask them an ethical question (such as “Would you get on a flight and do an event if you knew you had the flu?”). The participants would guess, there’d be discussion, and then Bruce would give his perspective.

When giving the reasoning behind what decision to make, Bruce returned to 5 Principles. Every. Single. Time. The 5 Principles?

  1. Do No Harm
  2. Make Things Better
  3. Respect Others
  4. Be Fair
  5. Care

Having a set of principles can make the decision making process easier—you return to each time and use that to determine the course of action. Not “do whatever is easier” or “whatever makes more money” but do what should be done based on your principles.

#7 Be Grateful to the Audience [Mark Scharenbroich]

Mark’s closing keynote of the conference is one of the Top 5 speeches I’ve ever seen live. It was absolutely brilliant in terms of message, pacing, humor, and poignancy.

2 hours after delivering a keynote to 1700 people in a packed room, Mark took part in a breakout session for less than 100 people where he deconstructed how he prepared for the talk.

In both sessions, Mark started off with saying thank you to the audience, showing gratitude for them just being there.

A man who has delivered over 1,000 talks, is a CSP and CPAE, and had just given an incredible keynote, was still thankful to a room full of strangers. It didn’t matter the size, nor the context, of the group, Mark was appreciative that they were willing to listen.

#8 The Value is In the Hallways [Damian Mason]

Damian delivered a masterful impersonation of Bill Clinton at one of the evening events, as well as value-packed breakout session on re-invention.

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He was also one of the funniest, most authentic people I met at the conference. He shared his honest thoughts and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’s also been around for awhile.

He profoundly told me that the greatest value of a conference such as this isn’t in the general sessions or in the breakouts, it’s in the hallway (and the restaurant and bar).

Basically it’s where you connect with people, build relationships, and learn from each other. He was right.

It was in those places that I met people who gave me great insight on my own business, connected me with potential clients, and more than a few who became friends, which is helpful in a business such as this one.

#9 Embrace Your Strengths [Me]

Yes it’s a little weird and a lot narcissistic to gain an insight from yourself, but here we are.

I delivered a session on the ROI of what we do, quantifying the value speakers provide to organizations. It was a presentation chock full of numbers, something I’m passionate about.

After delivering the talk, I had a number of people tell me how much they enjoyed it. In a VOE recording session, the sound guy said he’d never hear anyone talk about what I was talking about in his 21 years of experience.

One woman stopped me later in the hallway to tell me it was the most valuable session she attended the whole conference. She didn’t say funniest or best, she said “most valuable.” As an engineer, that’s the best compliment I could ever receive.

It all came from sharing something that is my passion and my strength: thinking about numbers and how we can use them demonstrate our value. What came more naturally to me was brand new for others.

#10 We’re All Human [Everyone]

Perhaps the biggest insight was a reminder that we’re all human.

From a Hall of Fame Speaker who has made over a million dollars from speaking to someone who started their business last week, we’re all human beings.

And at a conference like this, you get to meet those people as human beings.

I talked with Mark about stand-up comedy, with Immaculee about NYC neighborhoods, and with Laurie about interesting audience questions.

I saw mainstage speakers working out in the gym, big name speakers waiting at the end of the line for food, and speakers of all experience levels rocking it on the dance floor.

No matter their skill level, topic, years of experience, or dollars earned, they were accessible, open, giving, and sometimes a little drunk.

We sometimes get enamored with those we perceive as experts, professionals, or celebrities. And while those who work hard and develop mastery in their craft should be celebrated, they shouldn’t be put up on an unapproachable pedestal.

Because at the end of the day (and end of the conference), we’re all human.

On to Influence 2016

Needless to say, Influence 2015 was tremendously valuable for me as a speaker and as a person. If you’re interested in getting in on the action, be sure to sign up for Influence 2016 in Phoenix, AZ next year.

When it came down to choosing the first topic to talk about in Personal Development Week, discipline was an easy choice. Without the discipline to follow through with anything, you’ll have a difficult time achieving any of the other categories.

The biggest misconception about discipline is that if you don’t have it, than you don’t have it. Discipline is a skill, and just like any other skill, it can be learned over time.

The Importance of Goals

Before I get ahead of myself, it should be understood that discipline goes hand-in-hand with goal-setting. If you don’t set any goals, then it’s pretty easy to have the discipline to follow them. Setting goals is absolutely critical to achieving success in life. Sure you might fall into some success by wandering aimlessly, but good luck sustaining that throughout your entire life.

The problem is that, many times, people set the wrong type of goals – “I want to lose weight” is fine and dandy, except it’s not well defined. How much weight do you want to lose? An ounce? 100 pounds? How much time will you give yourself? 10 seconds? 10 years? A good goal is quantifiable AND has a deadline. “I want to lose 10 pounds by the end of August.” Now you have something you can work towards, and something that you can measure success against.

Achieving Goals Through Discipline

Ok, so now that we understand a little bit more about goals, discipline is about achieving them. Just how it’s easy to have discipline if you have no goals, it’s pretty easy to have goals but no discipline. You create a to-do list for yourself, or make a New Year’s Resolution (“Yay I started something”) but then you never follow through and achieve it (“Well at least I ‘tried’ right?”).

The problem with mentality is that re-inforces failure. Failure itself is not a negative, in fact failing can often be the greatest teachers of all – the key is that you have to learn something from them, and then it’s not really failure, it’s experience.

So if your goal is to wake up at 6am every day for a month, then discipline is ignoring the extreme desire to hit the snooze button when the alarm clock rings. It’s getting up despite your brain and body telling you otherwise. It’s not skimping on the weekends because you were up late the night before. It’s waking up at 6am, day in, day out, for that entire month.

But what if you don’t have discipline? What if you can’t force yourself to wake up at 6am, or to eat healthy to lose 10 pounds, or save money for retirement? Well there are often two main problems that are preventing your success: the goal itself and reward/punishment.

Setting Goals

When you are setting your goals, they have to be attainable. And that may be the hardest part, because it requires you to be completely honest with yourself.

While it might be great to think that your going to de-clutter your entire life in an afternoon, be honest with yourself – will it really happen? Have you achieved success that way before? Probably not.

Humans only have a certain capacity for which they can do the same activity before they must take a break (and some can go longer than others, but everyone has to eventually stop). That’s why your goals must be actionable and ideally broken down into sub-goals.

If your overall goal is to de-clutter your life, create smaller sub-goals or tasks that can help you achieve that. Start by throwing away something you don’t need away, every day. Just one thing. You don’t have to go through your entire closet, or finish an entire room – just throw one thing away today, and then another tomorrow, and then another the day after, etc. By the end of the year you’ll have removed 365 things from your life by taking just a couple minutes out of each day.

A goal broken into tasks like that is attainable, it’s easier to have that type of discipline. Once you start to achieve success with those smaller goals, create more involved ones. Over time you’ll create the habit of achieving your goal, and you’ll want to continue that streak, even though your goals are more stretching.

Rewards and Punishment

One of the keys to building that habit is to have rewards for when you succeed, and punishment when you fail. This can be easy to do when your goal deals with a third party (there’s a reason so many people learn discipline in the military: you have someone there you will not let you fail, and if you do, you will be punished till you succeed).

But for more intrinsic goals, you don’t always have someone there, to be in your ear about just having that one piece of cake that falls outside your diet, or those mere 15 minutes you slept in today – you have to be your own punisher. You have to accept that if you sleep in now, you won’t be getting that SleepComfort bed at the end of the year.

The other important part to this is that you should reward yourself. Just like dogs/kids/co-workers learn via a reward/punishment system, so do you. So if you drop those 3 pounds in the first week, reward yourself with something (not food, as that would be contradictory, but maybe a trip to the spa, or purchase of a new DVD).

Creating Accountability

Many of you may be wondering though, what if you don’t have the discipline to discipline yourself for lack of discipline? (Great question, you’re really paying attention.) That’s where your friends and family can help, as can remembering to always start small.

Friends and family can help by simply letting them know what it is you are trying to achieve. Hell, this blog is great for that. Once I state I’m going to do something on here, I feel like I have to, otherwise, in a way, I’m letting people down, and worse, somebody could call me out on my failures.

Too embarrassed to tell your close ones about a certain goal? Join a group that has a similar interest and make it public to them, or try a site like http://www.43things.com where you can post what it is you want to try to do and you can find others trying to achieve the same thing.

The other part is so important that it bears repeating yet again: start small. Remember: discipline is learned, and once it becomes learned, it becomes a habit, and once it’s a habit, it’s a sure-fire way to success in all other aspects of life.

A Process to Build Discipline

If you really have trouble with discipline, try this:

  1. Set the goal that every day for a week, you are simply going to clap 5 times. That’s it: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Done.
  2. For each day you achieve this goal, reward yourself with something small (bubblegum from the store, and extra 2 minutes in the shower, whatever, just some type of reward, something small).
  3. The next week, set the goal to do 10 jumping jacks every day.
  4. Again reward yourself for the days that you make, and this time punish yourself for the days that you miss (each day missed = 10 situps the next day).
  5. For the third week, write out the word “discipline” 15 times.
  6. Repeat the reward/punishment for each day of success/failure.
  7. Now for the final week, simply say “I will succeed” (or any other cheesy phrase you want), 20 times a day.
  8. Reward yourself for the successes, punish for the failures.

By the time you are done, it will have been 28 days – coincidentally the number of days (it is believed) to establish a habit. If you succeeded every day for 28 days, you’ve just learned the habit of success.

Now take that, and apply it to something slightly bigger, but still a relatively easy goal. Over time you will be able to keep increasing the stakes of your goals, while achieving success.

So now that we’ve learned some of basics of goals and discipline, tomorrow we’ll talk about achieving success. The two topics are closely intertwined, but tomorrow, we’ll get more into the definition of success as well as talk more about the grand scheme of life.