I’ve been speaking professionally for almost as long as I’ve been working professionally. Back in the early 1990’s, I was giving presentations to educate the business world about ‘The World Wide Web’. (Yes, I’m that old.) Then in 1995, I launched a dotcom — the world’s first online searchable directory of creative professionals — and I toured art and design colleges North America to show students and alums how to make friends with the Internet.
I kept getting invited back, so I guess I was doing something right, but it wasn’t until I spoke at a conference for immigrants that my perception of the power of public speaking changed.
Near the end of my talk, after realizing my “personal branding” presentation wouldn’t resonate with this audience (as immigrants probably don’t face the kind of personal branding challenges I talk about in my presentation) I had to think of what was I going to tell them that could be useful?
So I told them how my father grew up as a Jew in Iran and how he joined the French foreign legion in Egypt to escape the anti-Semitism and discrimination. I told them how my mother in France was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz for a year had to walk the 3-day death march in the mountains of Poland, how they both met in an elevator in Paris, (that this is when I realized the importance of a good elevator pitch). How they decided to come to Canada, to give their children the life and opportunity that they never had – and never would have – in their own countries.
If I was trying to maintain any sense of professionalism, I had clearly lost it by this point. I got emotional. Everyone seemed to be getting emotional.
When I was done, a solidly built African woman came over to me. Her face was wet with tears. In broken English I could hear her mutter: ‘thank you, I hope in 30 years my children will say the same thing about me.’
I came home, still filled with emotion, knowing that somehow I had made a real difference in people’s lives. Now when I think about to that day, I realize that was the day I became a ‘motivational’ speaker.
From the beginning of time, stories are how we have passed on our values, made sense of the world and effected change. Today, it’s how we influence our customers, our teams and our audiences. It’s how we sell, inspire, motivate, create change and give hope to sometimes desperate people.
It was also that day that the seeds of momondays were planted.
I believe that more than ever, we just need to put away the business cards and connect authentically, one human being to another. When we do that — when we are just ourselves and share our personal stories of challenge and growth — we have the power to transform lives, starting with our own.
It doesn’t have to feel like a twelve-step program. Nobody has to cry. It doesn’t have to take thousands of dollars and several weekends. No gurus have to be flown in from far-away places.
It seems that momondays has become the modern day campfire, a place where people can gather around, tell stories, have a good time, and open up to a community of people who can identify with them. I view these shows as a place where people can connect and let go, enjoy each others company, understanding that each of us has a history, and whether it’s the good, the bad, or the ugly, we can laugh about it and learn from it.
It’s all encompassed in a beautiful story called life.
Michel Neray – Founder of MoMondays