NSA Convention – The Illusion of Relatedness

I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

Saturday night and Sunday morning the NSA 2006 Convention kicked off in style. Main tent sessions on Saturday featured professional magicians and illusionists who messed with my eyes. Sunday morning’s five hour marathon Rally showcased six speakers delivering motivational keynotes that messed with my emotions. In different ways, both events cleansed my doors of perception.

Opening General Session

This was the Big Tent kick-off that sets the Rah-Rah tone for the NSA National Convention. All 1,600 thousand-watt light bulbs gathered in one room. Presenting to an audience of pro speakers must be one of the more paradoxical challenges for anyone on a podium. Like a hooker at a swingers party, the presenter is being paid to engage in acts the audience openly embraces. There’s precious few novices to dazzle with amateur moves. They expect the Full Monty. They appreciate a fellow-professional, but are probably dissecting your technique before the applause ends. Where was I? Oh, right, the NSA General Session. Standing ovations at the drop of a hat. What’s not to like?

Amos Levkovitch

Amos worked the conjurer’s art with a half-dozen tame doves that disappeared into thin air to emerge in a puff of smoke. They circled him and landed. Landed and circled. One escaped to the rafters only to return to land on an unsuspecting audience member (or was she?) in the middle of the closing act. Who was performer and who audience?

Dan Menendez

Dan juggles tennis balls and drops them onto a keyboard to create classical music tunes. Simply amazing. He cracked the first testicle joke of the Convention (at last, Beethoven with balls).

Craig Karges

Was the hit of the evening. His act, The Magic of the Mind—Experience the Extraordinary and Ignite Your Intuition, combines the art of magic with the science of psychology and the power of intuition. With his eyes duct-taped shut he correctly identified the serial numbers on currency, guessed phone numbers and the contents of sealed envelopes. Trickery or not, the audience was amazed. Even more amazing was the result of 1,600 people using pendulums he left on the seat to divine the symbol on cards.

By the time he levitated a table four feet into the air we doubted both the evidence before us and our grasp on reality.

Thanks to Craig for re-introducing us to our inherent feeling of Ignorance and the realization that we truly don’t what anything is.

NSA Rally

At what seemed like a ridiculously early hour we re-convened in the main hall.

It fell to a Canadian to wake us all up.

Michael Kerr

Used a hilarious opening video to set the Kerouac-on-speed pace of his fabulously funny forty minutes. He wrapped the serious message that we need to bring humor into our working lives in the cloak of jokes.

He used pro-speaker in-jokes to turn the tables on us, sympathizing that “the pressure of being an audience at this convention must be tremendous – sitting there looking engaged, nodding at appropriate times. I’m not gonna offer you feedback and at no time will I think ‘that could be me out there’.”

He recommended five R’s for a successful career and life:

  • Relax: Get off the rat race and into the human race. Lead the life you want to lead and build your business around that. Don ‘t wait until you are dead to start having fun.
  • Be Real: drop the speaker techniques.
  • Be Relevant: Speak on topics that are founded in good ideas. Avoid Deja Moo (the feeling the audience gets when you feed them bullshit).
  • I think he skipped Reward and Reframe, his final two R’s that were promised in the program.

    Howard Putnam

    Ex-Southwest Airline CEO and current NSA big wheel Howard Putnam used more traditional presentation techniques – and the first PowerPoint slides of the event – to review his survey findings of the top echelon of NSA members (the CSPs or Certified Speaking Professionals). Most work alone from home offices and outsource anything that’s not a core competency. To this extent, they employ the same business model as the big technology companies like my ex-employer Sun Microsystems. They focus on profitability and tracking their net fees after taxes and expenses. Finally, they strive to achieve balance between work, family, church and community.

    Bonnie St. John

    Amazingly inspiring. An Olympic Silver medalist in downhill skiing, despite the amputation of one leg at age five, Bonnie encouraged us to reach out to help others who look different from us, even those who we might be scared of. She won Silver not because she had the second-fastest time but, since all the one-legged skiers in the race that day hit the same ice patch and had to climb back up to finish the race, because there was only one other racer who was faster at getting up after the fall. Invest in helping others and they’ll be there to assist when you fall.

    Robin Sieger

    Robin was introduced with the second testicle joke of the Convention. An accidental record holder who played a round of golf in the coldest conditions ever when he completed a game at minus 26 in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was so cold his balls shattered ba-doom, ba-ding!

    He confessed to a number of mistakes in life. Running the New York City Marathon in a kilt with no underwear was one that caused as loud hiss from the audience as all the men collectively inhaled through clenched teeth at the thought. This testicle reference was no laughing matter.

    He’d also made the same mistakes we all make when learning to walk. Most infants fall 240 times before they succeed. None accept their failure and continued to lie on the floor and ask Mum to just bring a can of lager and the TV remote to equip them for life. As adults we give up too early.

    Recovering from mistakes is one key to success. Recognizing opportunities is another. Immigrants are four-times more likely to become millionaires that the native born in a country (maybe that’s why the Alamo Alliance wants to keep ’em out – envy?).

    The real secret of success? Good old John D. Rockefeller said it best:

    Get up early
    Work hard
    Strike oil

    Bob Bly

    Bob is a writer. He presented content as many writers do – in written form on PowerPoint slides and lots of ’em. More information that he had time to cover. Much more. In a font size that many of us at the back of the room had a hard time reading. Bob is a writer.

    His tips included:

  • Use the largest unit of measurement. Over a quarter century is a more compelling statement than saying 25 years.
  • Clearly articulate your Unique Selling Proposition (USP):

    My product (or speech, or seminar) is the only one that _______________ (does what?)
    for _____________ (say when?) by _______________ (say how?).

  • Leverage a known name or brand into your USP is a great idea (“The Secrets of Scott McNealy’s speechwriter” might have potential for me).
  • Make your one sheet headline Urgent, Unique, Ultra Specific and Useful.
  • Download and digest the text of Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins.
  • Write copy for your material from the point of view of the prospect not the product. Speak to them and address their needs. It’s not about you.
  • Seek out quality images and make wise use of statistics.
  • Martha Williamson

    To conclude the morning the executive producer of the TV hit show Touched by an Angel departed from her prepared notes to deliver an emotional plea for all speakers to find their true selves and speak with real passion. A slender and attractive 51-year old, she made frequent references to her Muumuu wearing 250lb former self and her struggles to make the show a success on TV. I was left wondering about three things. How can anyone lose that much weight and look that good? How did that make the 250lb people in the audience feel? And did she really depart from her prepared script?

    In conclusion

    There were illusions aplenty at the NSA last night and this morning.

    We related spontaneously to speakers who inspired us; to speakers who overcame our feelings of separateness, emptiness and the sad litanies of limitation we all feel – of being small, threatened and inadequate beings. But weren’t these feelings of relatedness and attention from the speakers themselves an illusion? How could 1,600 really know the Sun was in his pocket and that all the uplifting stories were authentic? We left the room alone, each to ponder by the pool.

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    […] This is the third in a series of chronological reports on the NSA 2006 Conference in Orlando, Florida, July 22-25. Previous chronological posts are here and here. […]

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