I was speaking in Atlanta recently. It was for the Georgia Chapter of the National Speakers Association (NSA). I’m a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) and have been for 21 years and even a member of its Hall of Fame. I mention that because I’ve been a guest of other Chapters as far away as South Africa and Australia and I am always intrigued with how it feels to hang out with other professional speakers. The instinct would be to view these folks as “the competition”, and while that’s technically true, I see them as peers and want to pass on my over forty years of experience to help others, especially those new to the industry. My talk is my core material for all my groups, but for speakers, I believe in tweaking it a bit to give them more specific advice about our shared careers.
So, I created a new title called…”Follow The Footsteps; The Power of Impression”! It’s a play on my using my feet and the message was quite simply my belief that professional speakers can change people’s lives, as idealistic as that sounds. Ironically, when people in the chapters invite guest speakers, they tend to avoid the “motivational speakers” because we are theoretically all motivated but need more professional and practical advice around our businesses since the majority of us are entrepreneurs and small business owners.
But, the Georgia chapter hadn’t met in person since March of 2020 and for their first get together, they invited me to do more of an “inspirational” program than “motivational” and honestly, there is a difference. So, it was an emotional day for all of us. It turns out, I even knew a couple of the members in Atlanta quite well from attending national conventions for speakers. One, Dan Thurmon, was even an NSA President in 2019 so he’s a big deal. I’ve known him for many years and we met when he was speaking and doing what he’s also really good at…juggling! We became fast friends when I challenged him to teach me to do that. Still working on it!
When I was finished what turned out to be a very successful program, Dan came up and said something off the cuff…”You are quite the impressionist”! He added that he really liked my spin on what speakers sometimes forget they are capable of; making a lifelong impression.
So, let’s back up from this past Saturday to the beginning of the week (November 8, 2021) in Niagara Falls. I was the opening Keynote speaker for the Ontario Student Leadership Conference. I’ve spoken for this event several times going back many years. But this one was different. In the past decade, it’s attracted a crowd of over 2,000 students every year there for three days of learning about leadership!
Sadly, it was cancelled in 2020, so getting back to this in 2021 but only 100 students were there with perhaps 1,000 online, so it’s a reflection of the return to “live” events. In keeping with that, the person who owns this franchise, Stu Saunders hosted a nice dinner for a few of the speakers and his small team. Before we ate, Stu made a toast and I need to paraphrase, but it went something like this: “I’m super happy to have all of you here for this special dinner, but I am elated that Alvin is here. With no school events, we’ve all had lots of time to think so this week, in particular, I’ve gotten quite emotional. Did you all know that Alvin was the first speaker I ever heard? Andy and I (Andy Thibodeau) were in Grade 12 and after hearing Alvin, we decided we should do what he did after we graduated the following year. Deciding to be speakers, together, for many years and then going our separate ways, Andy and I spoke in thousands of schools to hundreds of thousands of students and teachers, all because of a one-hour talk by an incredible speaker. In fact, If it weren’t for Alvin, I wouldn’t have bought the OSLC and taken the event from a hundred to a couple of thousand every year for as long as I can remember. If it weren’t for Alvin, I wouldn’t have bought the camp (Stu also owns a huge summer camp on a lake in Ontario) that changed my life completely and I’m sure all the campers, counsellors and staff have had their lives change too. Remember, when Alvin came to our school in 1986, he was “The Guy”. There were maybe three school speakers in Canada at the time and he was simply the best. He led the pack. Today, there are over 800 school speakers in Canada alone and the roots of the industry all lead back to that man right there (pointing at me).
A Life Plan
I try and picture where my life might have gone if it weren’t for someone I’m so lucky to call a colleague and even more important, a friend! Because there was you, there is us…Cheers”!
So, it was a lot longer toast and there were also tears, all around. I’m not writing this to boast, but I’m wondering how many of you reading this, actually knew this. I knew it, but I also try to remain humble. By the way, I didn’t become a speaker because I heard one. I had no such plan. I was going to be a Broadcaster for life. But it seems, life had another plan for me.
Look, try and picture how a life described as a tragedy when it began can flip to such a polar opposite. Lots of factors contributed to my success in speaking and life, like my often-talked-about parents, special teachers and friends. But I want to ask you a very important question;
What kind of “Impression” do you make in your world?
I acknowledge my public persona and work changes the numbers but that isn’t my point. I remember one day driving through the New Jersey Turnpike in a rental car, I stopped to pay a toll and the guy in the booth giving change wanted to “chat”…for almost 10 minutes! A couple of people came up behind me waiting for me to leave and he shouted at them to use another lane…we were busy! Just before he let me go, he suddenly got tears in his eyes and said, “I’ve worked in this booth for over 20 years and I’ve never had a moment like this. I can’t wait to get home and when my wife asks how my day was, I’ll actually have an answer! I’ll never forget you”!
What if every moment of every day when interacting with people, even strangers, you can make an “Impression”? What would yours be like? Are people who meet you glad they did? I realize how rude that sounds but think about it. Every single person I encounter not only notices me, they remember me. I’ve mentioned many times how often strangers approach me and ask me if I speak in schools, play drums with my feet, and all kinds of personal references all leading to…”I have never forgotten you”! Often, they even say…”You are Alvin Law, right”? I’m blown away every time. There is no question, in the quickest of moments, we can create a memory. But, what if it’s isn’t a positive one? In fact, my wife and business partner, Darlene, made me understand the downside of being “memorable”.
Many years ago, while driving home I have to pass through two school zones in our neighbourhood 30km/h speed limits. I “always” slow down but that day, a driver behind me didn’t like it and was so close to my back bumper, it made me angry. So, I tapped my brakes and he leaned on his horn and gave me the middle finger salute out his window. So I went even slower and he got madder. When I got to our driveway, I pulled in and he actually stopped his car and got out. I thought he was going to assault me. But he then clued into my having no arms and stopped in his tracks.
I wasn’t afraid of him so we traded some loud expletives and Darlene went inside. She was so mad at me.
When we were done outside, he slammed his door and sped off. I actually noted his license number and was going to call the police. But, I was confronted by Darlene and we had a “husband/wife” moment when we argued our perspectives on the event and I was, admittedly, getting very defensive. So, we agreed to calm down and talk rationally and she made one of the best points ever!
“That was an expensive car, Alvin. What if that a-hole just happened to be the CEO of the next company you are hired to speak to”? On the surface, that sounded ridiculous, but it wasn’t the specific notion. It was an excellent point.
That was over fifteen years ago or more and I’ve never done what I did that day again. I still get annoyed with bad drivers but with another piece of self-discipline, I let it go! Honestly, how many times have we all heard of a Road Rage incident ending in assaults or even death? It is a real thing. And it comes down to one simple word; Choice! Which one are you using to make an “Impression”?
In closing, I need to add that I’m not suggesting we all cruise around being “happy people”. It’s just so simple to me. You can make someone’s day better with that being the intention. Holding a door, letting someone have a parking spot, even something as easy as a smile…okay masks have definitely messed with that tactic I use all the time! In its place, how about…Hi There! The point again is if we all applied the ancient “Golden Rule”, we can not only have a positive impact on someone else but who knows, maybe they can make your day better too.