You are a professional- No, it’s not OK!

It was the mid 90’s. I was attending a speaker’s conference in Nova Scotia. Still an amateur in comedy and even greener in the speakers world, I was very excited to sit in on a breakout session on “how to be funny” as a speaker.

I had attended a few sessions in the past and found most of the presenters to be funny, but not really explain the “how to” be funny. It usually felt more like a chance for them to shine rather than teach. This one sounded different after all is was a regional conference, not a local one.

I was shocked! Absolutely beside myself, and me and myself were both ripping mad! The gist of the presenter’s instructions was to find funny stories in old Reader’s Digest Magazines and memorize them! The presenter actually said, “If they are from years ago people won’t remember the stories.” My head exploded, “WHAT!” Not only is that stealing, you’ll never learn to do it yourself with that strategy.

I not only filled out the evaluation form, I filled the whole back-side of the paper as well. This event actually lead me to have a passion for teaching “how tos.” Partially because it was what I craved and I saw few other people teaching specific “how tos.” It is when I thought, “Not only is this wrong, but I can help people better than these presenters!” This incident also lead me to making sure our Lady and the Champs Speakers Conference is very content-rich.

You see, I grew up in the comedy world where the fastest way to end a career is use other people’s material. It is a small world and everyone knows everyone else’s material. It is easy to spot those who steal. I’ve learned over the years that somehow people in the “emerging speaker” world think it is OK to use other people’s material. It is also not “policed” as much in the speaking world as in comedy. I want you to know that it is not OK!

In the Boston comedy scene where I started, there was about fifty working comedians. In the emerging speaker market there are literally tens of thousands around the world. As people go up in fees the numbers reduce dramatically. Working speakers in the $5000 fee range and above are a relatively small group. Event planners know speakers in the range often share the stage with colleagues repeatedly. They too know each other’s material and stories. They talk.

A couple months after I gave my “Ouch!” speech at the National Speaker Association, Rick Segel and Larry Winget were speaking in the UK and witnessed someone there do my fall. They “called him” on it. He at first denied he saw me at the national convention do my fall, but later admitted to them that he was actually there.

Though that speaker may have gotten some compliments from others, what do you think happened to his credibility in they eyes of Rick and Larry? Do you think they would ever refer him? It is a small world especially at the top.

I’ve had a professional speaker, who should know better, actually use a page from one of my handouts and taught humor from it! The shock to me was it was at the same conference I spoke at a year prior. That’s not OK! They got a call from me and to my surprise they saw nothing wrong with it. Yikes! They ignored © stamp at the bottom of the page. I may have expected it from someone who is a naive novice, but a pro? It’s not OK!

Rory Vaden, when teaching his humor workshop, uses a couple of my ideas with my permission and gives me credit. That’s perfect. That is OK!

Recently, it came to my attention that someone from one of our boot camps came out with an e-book. I had more than one person tell me that this speaker was teaching our material. When I looked at it, though there was some original info it seemed like a highlight reel of teachings from the other Champs and myself. The bigger challenge was that no credit was given. I emailed the person and they replied telling me they “reworded” the content from their own head so they thought it was OK. That writer replied to me,

“Most of the techniques were known to speakers in ancient Greece, actors of the past etc….For example many speakers of today use techniques taught by Dale Carnegie. Dale Carnegie learned them from Socrates and Socrates learned them from somebody else.”

That is absolutely correct. Universal principles can’t have a copyright. Specific techniques and applications can be. For example, my message in my speech “Ouch!” is willing to fail. That is a universal principle. I found out after winning that John Maxwell had a book titled: Failing Forward. Same universal principle. What I saw in this ebook was some of our exact terminology. That speaker in the UK who “lifted” my fall idea realized the power of truth, brand and credibility.

Much of what I teach has been learned from Patricia Fripp, Craig Valentine and Lou Heckler not to mention Mark Brown. Give credit. Make it your own and personalize from your life experience. I remember seeing a speaker at a summer school class who gave a wonderful speech on self-responsibility. I was mesmerized. A few years later I heard Tony Robbins give the exact same example. Yikes. I had not realized I had seen a copy back in summer school because that was before I was aware of Tony and his material. At an amateur comedy night in Boston, I saw someone do a Robbin Williams routine word for word. He bombed. The truth does always come out.

Many professional speakers now, may have made a similar mistake early in their career. Once you are aware, stop please. I thank the people who taught people to steal material. They inspired me to become a teacher. I realized I could help people more than they were.

I’m grateful for my comedy up bringing which taught me, though it was more work to create unique material, doing the work actually forced me to grow faster. It may seem like a shortcut to “lift” someone else’s material, but it makes becoming a paid professional a much longer road. It can be challenging when you get started. If it was easy, everyone would become a success. The audience wants to know your story from your experience. Regurgitating someone’s material especially without giving credit… That’s not OK!


Ford Saeks     Leveraging Your Expertise, Professional Speaking and tagged , , , .

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