A study by LinkedIn shows that one of the top skills required going forward is oral communications. For many leaders taking the stage though, it’s still a challenge to keep people awake and engaged during their presentations. On today’s podcast, Jeffrey Edwards chats with Anthony Lee about discovering your heroic voice in leadership in order to deliver your best presentation and elevate awareness, support, and reputation into your organization. Anthony is an executive communications coach and trainer and the Founder of the Heroic Voice Academy, a communications training company.
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Elevating Awareness And Support Through Discovering Your Heroic Voice With Anthony Lee
This is one of those days that I am always excited. I’m excited to have someone that is an example of what leadership is all about. We have a guest, and this gentleman is someone that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him and learning from him. The work that he’s done is not only in the corporate world but also in the communities that have touched people around the world is quite tremendous. Let me bring to our leader’s chair, Anthony Lee. Anthony, how are you doing?
I’m doing great. I’m happy to be here and chat with you.
Anthony, let me prepare our audience with your bio because it’s only fair to give you the props that you deserve because it stands out well. Allow me to introduce you to Anthony Lee. Anthony is the Founder of the Heroic Voice Academy. It’s a communications training company based in San Francisco. The Heroic Voice Academy has prepared clients for their high-stakes presentations including conference keynotes, TEDx presentations, conference training, investor presentations, media interviews as well. Their clients have made a significant impact in the areas of animal welfare, entrepreneurial education, disease diagnosis, re-engineering schools, ending human trafficking and curing Alzheimer’s disease. This is the work and the outcome of the many people that have come through the Heroic Voice Academy. Anthony Lee is the leader of the Academy with his team of people who are out there making big changes by helping people find their voice. I read this bio, I know you, also I can speak from personal experience. When you hear someone read what you’re doing, how do you react to that? Knowing what you’re doing out there in the world.
Jeffrey, the keyword that stands out is impact. I love the impact that’s created when any one of our clients takes the stage. This is something where they jump on a TED stage industry conference. They deliver their best presentation but what happens afterward is they elevate awareness. They bring into their organization’s money, support and reputation. That’s the biggest thing that I celebrate. I was able to prepare them for these big conversations and help forward their mission of global impact.
What was it that inspired you to start the Heroic Voice Academy?
The inspiration that I’ve gotten came from the world of internet security. I’ve been in technology for the majority of my career. One of my favorite things to do with members of my team is to teach engineers how to present to non-technical people. I thought this is a good skill to have. If I can teach an engineer how to speak well, I can do that for anyone. Who should that anyone be as I expand beyond the technology field? Back in 2014, I was invited to train a group of TED speakers for the stage. This was a tremendous group of Global Impact Leaders. In working with them, what I found was in the training, it’s not any other training. Jeffrey, you’ve taught in a lot of training and there is the kind of training where we teach an audience and we have to drag them to the finish line. Another type of training where the students are all-in because they’re motivated. They are totally dedicated to a mission and that’s what made a light bulb click in my head. If I can talk to these clients, those that are committed to global impact, that could be the rest of my career. I don’t have to teach anyone else. If I can have everyone be able to speak well on behalf of their mission of global impact, I want to live. That was the turning point in how I took presentation skills to a specific audience.
It sounds like bridging that passion that you have for social good, give back, community building, coupling that with your technical experience, speaking, training and bringing those two communities together. When you do that, what have you seen unfold from the work that you’ve done over the years?
It’s the habits of our leaders when it comes to presentation skills. You coach leaders all the time. There’s a study by LinkedIn, they publish it every year and they cover what the top skills that are going to be required going forward. The skills gap that they always identify is oral communication. I start to alluded a little bit more research into this. Why are leaders taking the stage and failing? Why do they put people to sleep, bore them, confuse them on stage? I’m aware that presentation skills aren’t something that’s formally taught in schools nor is this something that we carve aside time for. If leaders aren’t to present well, my belief is they have to adopt better practices.
Who do we look to for these practices? In looking at our most successful clients, we found some interesting things about their background. Number one, they have been in some competitive sports. Number two, they’ve been in performance arts, dancer, musician, something on that category. Number three, they served in the military. The key thing there is they all have a lifestyle of practice. The athlete would never go into a competition without practice. The dancer and musician would never take the stage without practice. The soldier would certainly never take the field of battle without drills and practice. That’s the secret. How do we instill this lifestyle of practice into the voice of all of our leadership?The back of a napkin is where a lot of ideas are born. Click To Tweet
I wrote those down. I thought I’ve never made that connection but that makes a whole lot of sense. I’m thinking that it’s one thing to speak in front of a group of people and have a message that’s clearly written out and typed out for you as we see many corporate heads have those people in place. I would think that it’s more than simply saying the words but it’s gained the meaning across. It’s inspiring people and having that call to action jumped out in what they’re saying that you work on and you help people promote it and develop within themselves.
As I look at presentations, there’s a model that we came up with and interestingly enough, you and I have taught in a lot of scenarios. This idea came to mind during one of our training. When I stepped up into the AD booth. What I saw from the AD booth is there is an energetic triangle that exists in the room. If you can see the presenter, that’s point one of the triangle, the audience is point two of the triangle and then the PowerPoint presentation or the message is point three. Looking at this as a triangle, I can easily determine where the connection is strong, if the presenter is connected to their message. If the presenter is connected well to the audience, then finally the audience connects well to the message. There are specific tools and skills that can help you strengthen each one of these connections and that’s what we focus on. Evaluating a presentation and coaching people on how to connect better with their audiences.
The way you described it, it sounded like an engineer describing a project plan that they were putting out there, the whole project strategy and you’re applying that knowledge into how we can better communicate and get our message out there from a speaker point of view. It’s funny how the whole engineering background still plays a part in what you do.
Now that you put it that way, this does look like an engineering schematic. When we reverse-engineer and troubleshoot but what went well or what went wrong with a particular presentation. I love that.
I’m thinking that you work with a number of social entrepreneurs. How would that be different?
The global impact organizations and leadership.
That particular group versus more of the public company that you may have worked with before, what would be some of the nuances behind it?
What happens is Global Impact Leaders think that they come in with this vision. They have a clear vision of the world that they’re creating and that’s different than a standard C-suite executive for a Fortune 500 company. One of the clients that I coached back in that TED Talk 2014 was the Chief Marketing Officer of an organization called the Best Friends Animal Society. They’re one of the leaders in the no-kill movement. When they started, their vision is to go from seventeen million dogs and cats being euthanized every year in America and bringing that to zero.
For them, the vision is quite clear. Every dog and cat in a shelter finds what they call a forever home. There is no needle, there’s them enjoying the rest of their life with a loving family. That’s the difference in working with this demographic. They have a clear vision of where they’re taking their community. Where they’re lacking is when they go on stage, they don’t know how to communicate that vision or enroll the audience into supplying money, donations, support in the form of partnerships, or even reputation. How do I go out, present well and up-level the reputation of my organization so that we can together get there faster?
When you look at more of your private or your corporate clients in the public trading space or public companies, what do you see is different from them? You mention investor presentations, so you’re looking for types of investments and that might be in that space. They’re clear on their numbers and what they need. What do you find that they’re lacking? How do you support them?
In the space of entrepreneurs, startup companies, there is a common presentation called the Pitch Deck where I pitch a great idea, how it’s going to change the world, and how much money we’re going to make together. The element that’s lacking is how about the personal side of this? The one question that the investor or any venture capital partner has is how can I count on you? That missing element is vows. How can I count on you to work eighteen-hour days when it’s necessary for you to stand tall in times of adversity, times like now? Investors invest in the person first, the idea second. It’s strange to me that I’m excited, I’m going to share my idea and hope that earns me at investment check where we know that’s not the first question. The first question is who are you as a person? Where are you going? What’s most important to you? How can I count on you? Answer those questions with an investor or with a VC partner, you’re getting another conversation. If you miss answering one of these, you’re not getting that second conversation. That’s the difference that I see.
It makes a whole lot of sense. It seems like on one hand, you have the Global Impact Community. They were clear on their mission and their purpose and they are passionate about what they’re doing but the gap for them is how do I ask for assistance? How do I get the investment to come in? The other side is they’re good at the numbers. They have the business plan but the gap in that space comes from an entrepreneur perspective. Tell me more about you. What’s your vision? What’s your mission? What’s your level of commitment to your idea going forward?
This is something that you can apply to any conversation or presentation. You’ll notice when you sit in the audience, also listening for answers to those same questions. Where are you going? That’s an expression of your vision. What’s important to you? That’s an expression of your values. How can I count on you? That’s an expression of your vows. Any speaker whether they’re in front of one person or in front of a huge audience, they answer those three questions, they’re in great shape. Someone will approach them and they get off the stage. I’ve seen this happen to you and engage you in conversation. For those that do not remember to share mission, values, vows, they’re not going to get audience engagement. There’s a missing element of trust that has not yet been communicated. That’s what I take forward is to communicate those three things every time you’re in high stakes situations.
Out there in the world, there are a number of different public speaking organizations. I know you have a specific purpose and vision for your company. If I’m looking at Toastmasters, Dale Carnegie, and trying to decide which one should I go to if I’m new to this, what would be some advice that you can provide to someone who’s a leader in terms of how to disseminate which service will be best for them?
I love sending people to Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie, they are great places to start. Why they’re great is in terms of the triangle that we mentioned, they’re good at creating the presenter to message or they’ll tell you how to sequence your ideas, and you get good practice developing your expertise and developing a passion for sharing this expertise. What they do there creates that strong connection, you take the message and that prepares someone to join us because we complete the triangle. How can you, as a speaker, connect better to your audiences? Those are skills of what we call relatability and empathy. How can your message connect better to your audience? There, we talk about comprehension and engagement. These are for what I call advanced tools that you’re ready for after you’ve done your work with Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie.
I mentioned those two because they’re top of mind for me. There are many other speaking organizations and training that’s out there that people can take advantage of. If I’m looking at where I am now, I’m thinking of the person reading this blog who’s asking themselves, “I’m not even sure if I have anything worth sharing. I’m not clear what my message is. I don’t know where to start or who I can turn to? In your experience, what have you seen or how have you helped people get out of that first step in terms of, “Let’s take that movement forward in some direction?”
There’s an exercise for the vision that we have in our training. It’s one of my favorite things to do. The exercise is to pretend that you’re a time traveler. I want you to go forward in time, go to a location where you can use your phone, and take a snapshot of one picture. That picture is supposed to be evidence that, “Whatever my mission was, we made it.” That exercise is so much fun because it allows them to use their creative mind and to get on a piece of paper to sketch, “This is a vision of what I’m creating.” Once they do that, they can draw it out and explain it to anyone that wants to join their team, donate, or invest in. It’s a skill that all of us do because when we were five years old, we’re first in class exercises, we have a show and tell. We didn’t need to have any presentation skills, we took something that we were interested in and we shared it with the class.
I love my lunchbox. I used to present that every second day. I’m tearing up over those days. I miss those days.If the audience know what's going on in your head, they're going to be behind you and continue rooting for your success. Click To Tweet
You bring everyone back to that time. We all had it in us, but the ability to draw and do public speaking, we had it when we were five years old. It’s a reminder and giving them a meaningful exercise to reinstall the confidence that had existed in them when they were five. That’s my one exercise that they love leading off with and it sets the tone for the rest of the training session.
I would think that it helps to take what is intangible. It’s something that’s in their head flowing your idea and you’re getting it on paper. It’s something that becomes real for them like, “This is what I’m doing. This is how I’m impacting people.” They can start to see the map of their experiences come to shape and form in front of them while they’re working in this exercise with you.
I have to give credit. One of my mentors, his name is Dan Roam and he has a book called The Back Of The Napkin. It was titled that way because that’s how a lot of ideas are born. We’re sitting somewhere, something drops in, it’s a brilliant idea and we sketch it on the back of the napkin so that we can refer to it later or we use it to show the person right in front of us. There is nothing more needed than shapes, stick figures to communicate an idea. All of us have this capability. I believe it’s the most powerful way to start. In Dan’s book, there are a lot of great tips on how to get started in this one tool of visual communication.
When you put it that way, it sounds simple. At the same time, I’m thinking if it’s not simple then why is it at the top of the list between dying and death that it’s up there in the top five of things that people don’t want to do? Public speaking, why does it seem big and debilitating sometimes for some people?
Jeffrey, there’s a set of beliefs that we bring on stage. The right set of beliefs set you up for success. The other set of beliefs create the experience you just described. In my mind, I have to deliver it perfectly. I need to see things and not forget. I have to stick to a script or any version of that, that doesn’t set you up for success. The set of beliefs that are powerful is, “I’m going to go on stage and I’m going to treat it like a coffee shop conversation or a conversation in my living room.” The audience is going to appreciate that much more. When that mindset is present, you’re more present. There are mistakes in conversation. I would never in a conversation like this say, “Jeffrey, let me go back to my other room to read my script so I can come back and give you a response.” That’s ridiculous in real life but we make up that we have to do that on stage. That’s the biggest thing. Once you take the stage, knowing that it’s your living room or you’re in a coffee shop. You tend to relax, more of you tend to come out and you’re always connected with the person in front of you.
I would think part of the hesitation is also centered around vulnerability. You and I have this conversation and if I’m having that coffee conversation, that’s fine with a couple of people in a corner of a coffee shop. It’s not that I’m going to have coffee with 500 people in front of it. In this day and age, people tweet this out or put this on social media. That went through my head many years ago. If I look stupid on stage, then how many people are going to find out about me out there in the world? I’ll try and have to be perfect, polished, and everything had to be that way. In many ways, it held me back. I’m sure there are lots of people you come across that feel that way too. How do you approach that?
In one of my TEDx training, we had a gentleman, his name is Bassam. He was speaking at a TEDx and he did something that I’ve never seen before. I always remembered it because it’s a great story. Bassam goes on stage and he starts his presentation the way that we rehearsed him. We went through tons and tons of run-throughs. He gets to the third sentence and he trips over himself. Instead of continuing on, what he does was, “I’m going to go off stage and we’re going to take this from the top. I am a bit nervous. I want to give a fresh start. Is that okay?” He went off stage. I’ve never seen this. He came on stage delivered a wonderful presentation.
When the audience sees that, “This person is not perfect. It’s okay making mistakes on stage.” They feel like, “He’s just like me. I have permission to do that as well. Any thoughts that I had in my head about being perfect, avoiding mistakes is put aside because I’m the kind of person who I trust like me.” The vulnerability on stage, let your audience see that, “I’m a little bit nervous. Let me take a breath and make sure that I’m fully present here with you.” Any number of tools can help you shift yourself and let the audience know what’s going on in your head. They’re going to be behind you. They’ll continue rooting for your success.
As you’re speaking, I can feel myself, “How can he do that?” I’m starting to shorten my breath, “It worked out okay. It’s good.” People need to understand that at the end of the day, if you’re able to deliver a message and it lands on people, you’re able to get out there and it can even change one person’s mind or their life. You’ve made a difference, haven’t you?
That’s the destination. Every time someone takes the stage and they had that mindset. My time up here, I’m going to shift the trajectory of someone’s life in this room. I am going to be fulfilled because that happened. How I presented, the number of mistakes I made, the number of places where I forgot to say something, it doesn’t matter because I changed the trajectory of someone’s life in that room or more than one person’s life. That’s what keeps me grounded. That what I recommend that any speaker, any teacher do to keep themselves grounded.
I love what you do with the Heroic Voice Academy and what it does. Having seen the work that you have and throughout that time, you’ve helped transform people’s lives through the experience of helping them express themselves and finding their voice in what they do. The question for you is, as you’ve gone through this process with other people, what have you learned about yourself over the course of this time in terms of your voice and your leadership style and approach to life?
Something that came up a number of years ago and it was a connection that I made an answer to a question I’ve had for a long time. In my traditions, I grew up with a Chinese upbringing. One of my grandparents had of giving us our Chinese name. This honor fell to my dad’s mom. She chose for me two characters. These characters never made sense for me. The first character means country, the second one means health. Healthy country, what does it have to do with me? In the Chinese language, you’re not intended to take each character, reverse-engineer it and go to a strict definition. What they meant to do in collaboration is to be abstracted. It occurred to me as I’ve been doing this training that she was right on target when choosing this name for me. These are two values, community and empowerment. What I’ve been doing all this time is bringing communities together and helping them express their voice. To me, that’s healthy and healthy expression of who we are and what we stand for. That was the connection I made. My grandma gave me a name and I finally realized that I’ve lived up to the name that she gave me. That’s my biggest learning.
That’s living your purpose as well. Anthony, I’m excited that you’re out there in the world and the Heroic Voice Academy is out there doing the work that they do with your team and helping people find their voice and moving people forward. In terms of next steps, if people want to find out more about Heroic Voice Academy, how could they find that?
The best thing is go to the website, HeroicVoice.com. The biggest question for everyone is, “Where are we going?” We’re heading telephone conversations with our company, team, colleagues, even at home with our friends and family. One of the things that we’re doing during this crisis is we’re holding these masterclasses. How do you hold these town hall conversations? What do you say? How do you say it? Promote the things that we want to see in the world. I would say come to our website, join one of our online training, and then learn how to have these great conversations with your company, your family and friends.
Thank you, Anthony. As always, every time we meet and chat, I seem to learn more. I feel like my IQ and my emotional intelligence quotient keeps expanding every time I meet with you. I want to say thank you for being part of our episode. Thank you for sharing in the work that you do too. I’m looking forward to hearing more great stories from Heroic Voice Academy and also seeing those changes out there, making some positive changes in the world.
Thank you, Jeffrey. It’s an absolute pleasure.
Take care. Until next time, thank you for being part. We look forward to seeing you again in the next episode. Until then, be well and take care.
About Anthony Lee
Anthony Lee is the Founder of the Heroic Voice Academy, a communications training company.
In his professional career, we find one common theme that illustrates his passion and purpose: Helping leaders develop their heroic voices to solve global challenges.
The Heroic Voice Academy has prepared clients for their high stakes presentations, including conference keynotes, TEDx presentations, conference trainings, investor presentations, and media interviews. Their clients have made a significant impact in the areas of animal welfare, entrepreneur education, early disease diagnosis, re-engineering our schools, ending human trafficking, and curing Alzheimer’s Disease.