This article is part of the Remarkable Leaders Series (RLS), where I interview leaders who are making a positive difference in the world and share their stories with you.
Today I’m excited to share an interview with Lance Miller. Lance is an award winning speaker and trainer. He’s held multiple leadership positions throughout his career and is currently the President of Lance Miller Speaks, where he helps people around the world achieve their personal and business goals through his unique approach of Hands-On Leadership. He’s delivered over 3,000 speeches in over 40 countries from Saudi Arabia to China to Ireland. His topics include the fundamentals of public speaking, leadership, effective management, sales and overcoming failure and adversity.
Lance is also member of Toastmasters International and is a Distinguished Toastmaster. He was instrumental in building his home Toastmasters Club, Renaissance Speakers, to the #4 Toastmasters Club in the world. In 2005 he emerged from a field of 28,000 contestants from 90 countries to become the World Champion of Public Speaking.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Lance speak at a local Toastmasters event and was inspired by his message. I hope you enjoy today’s interview.
In 2005 you won the Toastmasters’ “World Championship of Public Speaking.” Tell us about this experience and what the title means to you.
I competed in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest for 13 years before earning the title of World Champion of Public Speaking in 2005. For me, this was of a journey of self-discovery and uncovering my value to others. I was able to ignite my creative skills, discover messages buried within me and learn how to communicate them without hesitation or reservation.
I wanted to be competent as a public speaker. I wanted to speak internationally and to be worthy of any audience. During my years of competition, my biggest fear was winning the World Championship of Public Speaking but knowing I really wasn’t World Champion caliber. I wanted to be able to write and deliver a championship speech over and over. I viewed the International Speech competition as a test of my competence.
I am forever grateful to Toastmasters International for having the competition. This gave me the arena in which to practice and hone my speaking skills. Without this opportunity I could not have achieved the growth, knowledge and ability I did.
For me the “Title” means competence. When I get up to speak as a World Champion, the audience expects to see a competent speaker. No one has ever asked to see my trophy.
What prompted you to join Toastmasters?
I had a friend who invited me to his Toastmasters Club…..eight times! He didn’t tell me that I was a bad speaker and needed help. He told me that they “had so much fun!”
I did not attend his Toastmasters Club the first seven times he asked me because I didn’t want someone “evaluating” me and telling me how I should speak. I wrongly thought that the Toastmasters Group would have some strict set of standards that I had to meet, such as speaking like Winston Churchill, complete with British accent and cigar!
When I finally attended, I discovered a fun, friendly group of people and a place I knew I could grow as a speaker. Had I known what Toastmasters offered, I would have joined years earlier.
What’s the most important lesson or skill you learned from Toastmasters?
The most important lesson I learned from Toastmasters is that it is OK to fail. It is OK to make mistakes and to totally crash and burn. I have learned how critical failure is to success and learned to welcome and embrace it.
The most important skill I learned from Toastmasters is how to look at the smallest moments in life and see how each moment holds a message that brings meaning and understanding to existence. This has brought inspiration to my daily life far beyond the stage.
You were instrumental in building your home Toastmasters Club, Renaissance Speakers, to the #4 club in the world. How has Toastmasters helped you become a better leader?
Prior to Toastmasters I had held several leadership positions. In those positions, there was always someone senior to me guiding and directing what needed to happen. If I faltered they were there to catch me before I fell, to correct me and to keep the show on the road.
I had often scoffed at my bosses thinking I could do a better job, if only given the chance. When I lead my Toastmasters Club, it was the first time I was the senior executive and I did not have someone above me telling me what to do. When things did not go well, I wanted to blame others. But I realized that the success or failure of the club was a direct reflection of my leadership ability.
Toastmasters allowed me to identify my strengths and weaknesses as a leader. The experience allowed me to discover my leadership style. The best way to lead is to ignite the free will of those you are leading to accomplish a common purpose or goal. Harsh words and blind orders are the nemesis of effective leadership. Inspiration, understanding and a caring smile are the tools that instill the confidence and trust in others so they can accomplish great things.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be a leader?
- Take the attitude that “You have to figure it out for yourself.” If you wait for someone else to figure out how to get the show on the road, they are the leader, not you.
- The amount of communication necessary to run any group or organization is grossly underestimated. Talk to people regularly and more importantly listen to people. Let them know you hear them and that they personally matter. Even if you disagree, let them know you heard them and their points and suggestions are valuable.
- Have fun. Even when things go wrong and problems abound, nothing stimulates solutions like a good laugh! People want to enjoy their work. Keep it fun!
In addition to achieving some note-worthy business goals, you’ve also achieved some audacious “life” goals. You’ve climbed 14,000 ft. mountain peaks, sailed transatlantic from the Virgin Islands to Norway, and piloted your own aircraft from Michigan to Key West (to name a few). Why are these types of goals important to you?
My definition of Life is – imbuing energy into your purposes. The activities you mentioned bring me to life. They make me feel alive. When I reflected on the moments in my life when I felt most “alive” I realized I love challenging adventures. These goals are important to me because if I cannot do what gives me life, then I am by all means, dead, no matter how long my heart beats.
And how do you go about achieving them?
It may sound simple, but I start. I show up, take a chance and put one foot in front of the other.
These experiences showed me the power in having the purpose of doing something. I wanted the adventure of climbing, flying and sailing. When I look at many areas I did not excel in, I can see that I didn’t have the same purpose to it as I did with activities I did succeed with.
Some of our readers might be struggling to attain a meaningful goal. What advice could you offer to help them overcome adversity?
No one lives a perfect life. I have learned that life is a messy proposition. It is mostly shades of grey with few straight lines or right angles. The true test of my character was how I handled failure and adversity. Once I was able to embrace failure and smile at adversity, success was ensured.
My best lessons were in the losing. My advice is to learn well and enjoy the journey.
Today, you help people around the world achieve their personal and business goals through your unique approach of Hands-On Leadership. Tell us a bit about your company, the types of people you serve, and where we can learn more about you.
There is so much inapplicable, unworkable, outright false information about leadership, communication, public speaking and management tossed about in the world today. By looking at a Hands-On approach, I force myself to identify what I know works for me. What I do when faced with a challenge, adversity and failure. It is fine to tell someone they need to be “assertive” or “organized.” I show them how to do so it will work for them.
If a person cannot understand a concept and cannot apply it, the concept is useless.
My approach is to help people tap into their potential. I help them understand that they are greater than they have been told they are. I want to ignite their Life Force, their life energy and purpose and allow them to be true to themselves. I teach people how to communicate what they believe and how to lead with what they know.
I hope you enjoyed the interview. If you’d like to watch Lance’s winning speech, you can check it out below.
Scott Mackes is a leader and founder of the blog Margin of Excellence. A U.S. Navy veteran and graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Scott’s mission is to help others lead remarkable journeys. Connect with Scott on facebook and twitter.