Simon Sinek is a trained ethnographer, as well as the author of two highly acclaimed books: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, and Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Sinek is also known for delivering the second most watched talk of all time on TED.com, How Great Leaders Inspire Action.
Ethos3 Marketing Director, Leslie Belknap, had the pleasure of asking Simon Sinek a few questions about public speaking. Included below are some Q&A’s from that conversation.
Leslie: Thank you for talking with me today, Simon. I don’t know if you know much about Ethos3; we are a presentation design and presentation training agency. We spend a lot of time of watching presentations, and your TED talk is one of our favorites, so it is a real honor to speak with you.
Simon: Thank you.
Leslie: I reviewed your presentation Speak to Inspire on your website. I loved it. You provide some wonderful and unique tips. I was impressed by your ability to walk on stage with nothing more than the destination in mind. I think that is exceptional, and would be really scary for most people. What would be your advice for people who want to try that presentation method?
Simon: What’s really important is that people should work to their natural strength. Some people, their natural strength is to prepare and to have an organized outline or presentation that helps them communicate what they’ve done. They should do that if that’s when they’re at their best.
I think out loud, and I like problem solving, so when I start with a destination in mind, what you see me doing on stage is thinking. What you see me doing is trying to figure out how to get to this destination. I actually am terrible with notes, because when I have notes I get all freaked out because I don’t know if I’ve left something out, or if I forgot something. If I say something too early then I’ve screwed up the whole thing and I don’t know how to get myself back on track. So I am at my best when I am actually thinking out loud. When I get to know something too well – for example, I really struggle to give the Start with Why presentation anymore because there is less thinking now. It comes out like rote and that’s really hard for me. I’m not a good performer.
I do a speaking class, where even the people who like to present, I have them do something that they know well without any preparation. It’s a really great exercise. What I have them do is tell me what they did this morning. You know that, right? You know what you did this morning when you got out of bed, right? We teach them techniques about eye contact and it’s really amazing. They get up and they say, well first I got out of bed and I brushed my teeth. It’s really funny for those who are thinking about it – they’re like, well, I brush my teeth a little differently from most people, and they share these lovely little stories. The amazing thing is it’s totally captivating, and all they’re doing is telling us what they did this morning.
My point is, when you know your stuff, you can present your stuff, even on the spot without preparation. People think they need more preparation than they do. If you know your stuff, you’re good. And I cheat. I talk about things I care about, and I talk about things I understand. That’s it. If I didn’t care about it, and I didn’t understand it, then I wouldn’t talk about it. Like I couldn’t give you an impassioned presentation about the migration of African swallows because I don’t care.
Leslie: I didn’t know that you give a speaking class. That is really exciting. How does that work? How does someone sign up for it?
Simon: I did it as a favor for a friend of mine who runs a company, but I should probably offer it because it’s a great class.
Leslie: I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed reading Speak to Inspire. I read about presentations all the time, and most of the information is just recycled and lacking a fresh perspective. You had some unique insights, though. I loved your suggestion for people to take a ballet class. I know that many people struggle to understand body language, and a dance class is a solution that I have not heard before. What was that experience like for you?
Simon: Well, it was very uncomfortable to start with, and it started because of my love for the medium. I love dance, and all of my dancer friends were like, you should take a class, and I’m like, I don’t really care. But I did it, and it really had some unintended byproducts. It really started to inform my posture and the way I hold my body, and I didn’t even realize the impact it was having.
If you go look at my original Start with Why talk, and if you go look at my talk that I gave at 99 percent, either the most recent one, or the one where I talk about 100 percent of customers are people, look at the style. My original TED talk – I am so stiff and the way my body moves is very square, and if you look at my newer stuff you’ll see how much more relaxed I am, and yet my posture is still good. It’s amazing how much more presence I have, and it came from those ballet classes, and I had no idea it was having such an impact. It was really incredible.
Leslie: If you could offer one piece of advice to anyone struggling with their Why, what would it be?
Simon: For people who are struggling, one of the greatest opportunities is to help somebody else find their Why. There’s an entire section in the bookshop called Self-Help and there’s no section in the bookshop called Help Others. And the amazing thing is, the more we commit ourselves to help others overcome the thing we are struggling with, the more we overcome the things we are struggling with.
Leslie: My last question Simon is: What’s next for you? What is on the horizon that you’re excited about?
Simon: Well, I’m always looking for ways to spread the message, and so I’m going to be starting a podcast soon, which is really exciting. I will be helping people find their Why on the podcast, which I am really looking forward to. We are starting an MBA program where we are going to teach leadership the way it needs to be taught. And I’m doing more work in government and politics, and I’m probably going to write another book, something a little more light-hearted. So there’s a lot of things bubbling around.
Leslie: I am very excited about the podcast.
Simon: Yes, I will announce it when we launch it.
Leslie: Thanks again Simon. It’s an honor to speak with you.
Simon Sinek’s Bio
Described as “a visionary thinker with a rare intellect,” Sinek teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. With a bold goal to help build a world in which the vast majority of people go home everyday feeling fulfilled by their work, Sinek is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.
A trained ethnographer, he is the author of two books: the global best seller, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and his newest book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Fascinated by the leaders and companies that make the greatest impact in their organizations and in the world, those with the capacity to inspire, he has discovered some remarkable patterns about how they think, act and communicate and the environments in which people operate at their natural best. He has devoted his life to sharing his thinking in order to help other leaders and organizations inspire action.
He is best known for popularizing the concept of Why and for the talk he gave on the subject that became the second most watched talk of all time on TED.com.
Sinek’s unconventional and innovative views on business and leadership have attracted international attention and have earned him invitations to meet with an array of leaders and organizations, including: 3M, Disney, KPMG, Pfizer, NBC/Universal, jetBlue, the military, multiple government agencies and entrepreneurs. Sinek has also had the honor of presenting his ideas at the United Nations, the United States Congress and to the senior leadership of the United States Air Force at the Pentagon.
Sinek shares his optimism with all who will listen. He speaks around the globe and has commented for local and national press, including The New York Times, Inc. Magazine, NPR, BusinessWeek. Sinek is active on Twitter and writes his own blog, simonsinek.com.
Sinek is an adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world. He is also active in the arts and not-for-profit world, working with charity: water, an organization devoted to helping bring clean water to the over 700 million people around the world who don’t yet have it. He also serves on the board of the Tami Stronach Dance Company. He lives in New York.
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