World of Speakers E.30: Bob Stromberg | How to be consistently creative

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World of Speakers E.30 Bob Stromberg  How to be consistently creative

Ryan Foland speaks with Bob Stromberg, a comedian, and speake with the perfect blend of standup, story and shtick. He teaches audience, in a light and hilarious way, how to cultivate creativity, using hilarious and tender stories from his own experience.

Ryan and Bob cover a lot of ground in this podcast, but dive deeply into very practical techniques speakers (and all people in the creative industry) can use to make creativity a habit, so that you never run out of great, fresh, inspirational material.

Listen to this podcast to find out:

  1. How to be consistently creative, avoid creativity blocks, and be inspired everyday.
  2. Do you need a booking agent? What exactly do they do?
  3. What hasn’t changed in marketing in the past 40 years?
  4. Fundamentals of becoming an expert speaker
  5. Why you need to do what brings you the most joy

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Transcript

Bob Stromberg: Hey, this is Bob Stromberg, I am here with Ryan on the World of Speakers podcast.

We had a wonderful conversation about mastering the craft to creativity, about becoming a speaker, about creating a career and how to keep it going for the long run.

I hope you can listen, thanks so much.

Ryan Foland: Everybody, we're back.

Today we're going to have fun because we're dealing with Bob Stromberg who is not only a comedian but a speaker and more importantly, the master of creativity.

Bob, how are you doing today?

BS: I'm doing well, thank you.

RF: Excellent.

The master of creativity—  do you think that that's more powerful, or is the comedian aspect of what you, do more powerful?

BS: Creativity is what has powered everything that I've done through all of these years.

I am 65 years old now and I have been a full-time performer for 43 years. That's a long, long time and it's gone through many phases.

I've had to reinvent myself several times during that career in order to keep doing what I love doing.

Creativity has been what made that happen. That's the foundation of everything.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on creativity - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

I don't make my money teaching about creativity, I don't make my livelihood that way. I make my livelihood doing comedy, but it's creativity that has made that possible.

RF: Technically, the speaking part is something that happens whether you're doing comedy, whether you're teaching creativity, it's that all-encompassing aspect that sort of weaves it all together?

BS: Absolutely, you're absolutely right about that, yeah.

RF: Let's learn a little bit more about there 4 decades of, I like how you said "full performance", right?

BS: Full-time.

RF: Full-time. Tell us about how this started?

Did you wake up as a kid and you're like, "Hey, when I grow up, I want to be a comedian."

Was it that clear to you?

BS: It was almost that clear.

The story that I tell is, when I was 8 years old, I sat in a music class in my elementary school classroom, 3rd grade.

My teacher, Miss Nagel came in, and Miss Nagel was a very large woman which was funny to us anyway. Then she sat at the piano on a tiny stool, I will not get that image out of my head.

We would all look at each other and smile and laugh quietly, every time she'd come into the room.

One day she came in and she said, "We're going to learn a new song today," and she said, "It's number 14."

I remembered that, Ryan, it was number 14. I can see a picture, a thin picture at the top of the page and Amish-looking fellow, the watercolor of him walking through a late summer meadow and storm clouds in the back, and a little river in the foreground.

And she began playing the song, "Oh Shenandoah". Do you know that song?

RF: No, step me through it, I can do some beatboxing but...

BS: I bet you've heard it, it goes,

"Oh, Shenandoah I long to see you,

gone away you rolling river,

oh, Shenandoah I long to see you,

away I'm gone away across the wide Missouri."

I'm in Pennsylvania, I'm nowhere near Missouri, I don't know what Shenandoah means. But honestly, you can hardly imagine how badly that must have sounded with 30 kids who had never sung before.

RF: Absolutely.

BS: She always encouraged us, we had to sing loud, whether we could sing or not.

And so it had to sound terribly with that off-key piano, and she was just pounding on it.

But I burst into tears. My classmates were looking at me and then Miss Nagel stopped and she came back and asked me what was wrong.

I couldn't explain why I was crying, and it's only in retrospect that I realize this— I was overwhelmed by the beauty of art.

I was overwhelmed by that melody, it just went right to my heart. I still to this day really can't explain it, but that's what it was.

From that moment on, it was like, "I want to experience that again", not meaning I want to cry in front of my friends again, I certainly didn't want to do that.

RF: Sure, or seeing you with a bunch of 30 kids in off-tone.

BS: Exactly. I wanted to experience that kind of beauty again.

I remember another time experiencing something very similar to that, where I was just blown away sitting with my dad on a Sunday night, watching The Ed Sullivan show and Richard Pryor was on.

Of course, this was in his Ed Sullivan days, so it was clean, it was a family comedy.

I remember my dad and I laughing so hard together and I remembered again that overwhelming feeling of, "This is so great!"

I think it was right in there somewhere that I decided, "I want to be a performer."

I'd never heard a speaker in my life, but I did know something about folk music, I was listening to that and early rock and roll, I was thinking, "Oh, I'd like to be able to do that."

And then watching the comics on Ed Sullivan, that's the only place you could see them around the daytime, talk-shows after school, watching these guys and going,

"Oh man, I want to be able to make people laugh like that."

I always could make my parents laugh, I always could delight them and my friends. I would have been the class clown for certain, but my dad was the principle, so that was an impossibility for me, I could not realize that dream, but that's what I wanted to do.

I remember watching the class clown of my class who was quite good, I remember thinking, "Oh, I could do better, I'm better than that."  

But I couldn't do it, I had to wait until after I got out of high school. And then, when I went to college, I wanted to be a performer, I knew it then for sure.

I didn't know exactly what it was, was it music, was it comedy, was it theater, what was it going to be. I wasn't sure, but I wanted to be a performer.

And so I began experimenting with all kinds of stuff, I sang in coffee houses and I auditioned for a play.

I tried storytelling, I would tell funny stories in between songs that I had written and at one point I realized, "Oh people love the stories more than they love the songs."  

One time I showed up at a gig, this was in my 20's and my guitar didn't show up, and I had nothing, I was thinking, "What am I going to do?"

I stood in front of these people, and I couldn't sing a cappella. So I just took the stories that I had been telling between songs and strung them together and people loved it!

They were saying, "Hey, can we have you back next year?" And that's when the light started to go on that, "I could probably do this."

I was 24, married, starting a family and I thought, "Well, I am going to give this three years and see if it is possible to make a living."

I went around to schools, knocking on doors saying, "Please, could I come and do a program for you?"

Back in those days, marketing consisted of a trifle brochure and a calling card, and a telephone somewhere, that was it.

There was nothing else, it was just so low tech.

RF: No QR codes?

BS: Nothing.

I remember after 3 weeks of going around the schools, they didn't want me because they didn't know what I did, and they had never heard of me before.

I was trying to tell them that, "Your kids would love this and it will be really positive, and it will be fun, and funny."

But nobody wanted me.

I was living in Massachusetts at the time, on the East Coast and I walked into a middle school at the end of the day. I was like, "Well, one more try."

I told the secretary who I was and what I was doing, and I heard the principal say, "Send the man in here." And he said, "How much do you charge?"

I think I said $150— this was 1977, he said, "That's for two performances, right?"

I said, "Yeah fine, it's for two." So he said, "I need you tomorrow."

Well, obviously something had fallen through and I just happened to walk in on the right day. I did this performance for the kids, I spoke.

I'd been studying mime for a while, I never was a silent white face mime, but I learned a lot of mime techniques, and body movement kind of stuff.

I added that into my comedy and it was a very crude, very early on, there is nothing of it that remains in what I do all these years later.

But I did this for the kids and they loved it. And the teachers loved it.

And afterward, he said, "Do you have any more of those brochures?"

I said, "Yeah, I have some more."

"Do you have them with you?"

I said, "I have about 1000 in my trunk." thinking he wanted 4 or 5. He said, "I want them all." I didn't want to give him my brochures, they probably cost me $200, $300.

But he said, "I am the president of the New England's principals association, and we have our meeting this week. Every principal in New England is going to be there and I want to give everybody a brochure and tell them what you did."

I went out, brought in several boxes of brochures and he did it!

My career just took off!

As I am telling you this, it truly is an indication that there's no one way to do what we do in terms of marketing, in terms of reaching some sort of level of success.

There is no one way, nobody could recreate what I did, it was totally unique to me and I would suggest that as speakers who are looking to get into a field, it'll be totally unique to them too.

You can try everything, you can try podcasting, blogging, you can try all types of marketing techniques, but it will end up being something special and something unique to you.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on unique marketing - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

RF: One thing that I'm hearing throughout your story is taking the opportunity that was sort of thrown at you.

Your guitar player doesn't show up and now out of necessity you just are there and you kind of have to wing it to the extent that all of a sudden, you have to pull together what you have.

You are in the principal's office and you are a victim of the opportunity, but you just jump on it and then, before you leave, another opportunity jumps in your door and you throw something at it.

It sounds like this is unique to each person and there's no magic pill or magic formula.

But the thing I'm hearing is that because you kept pounding the streets and kept knocking on the doors, the gold was always 3ft further and you just didn't stop digging.

Is that what I'm hearing?

BS: Yes it is.

There are times when you go, "What next? I feel like I've gotten to the end of the road."

But you just keep working, you keep, "Well, let's try this, let's try this," and you keep your eyes open. You can't sit and wait for the phone to ring, it won't work or seldom will it work.

Yeah, I think you heard me exactly right. The only thing you didn't hear right was it wasn't my guitar player who didn't show up, it was my guitar.

RF: Okay, your actual guitar.

BS: Yes, it didn't come off a plane.

RF: Okay, that's actually more so your fault then, you can't blame anybody else.

BS: Except the airlines, which I did, of course.

RF: That was an interesting path.

It sounds like you started off as a performer, then you turned into a comedian.

At what point did you make the transition to where you are a speaker?

At what point did you at least self-identify as a speaker?

BS: I actually identified as a speaker about 20 years ago and had 7 or 8 years of speaking all the time, several times a week for years.

And then I had an opportunity that came along.

When I speak, because it's the nature of what I do, it's just the style of what I do, it always had a high level of comedy to it because that's what I had worked hard to do.

And I used that in my speaking through the illustrations and through the stories that I told.

Because I basically am a comedic storyteller, that's the style of my comedy. So I was able to use that illustratively in my speaking and my talks.

My wife and my kids and I had moved from Chicago to Minneapolis. I had been asked to tell some stories on a live radio show, which I did.

Then I had an opportunity, I sat down for breakfast with two of my comic friends. I got to meet the musical director there, he said, "Hey, do you want to have breakfast?"

I said, "Well, I'm actually having breakfast with another comic tomorrow morning, why don't you join us?"

And so the three of us sat down for breakfast at a restaurant and somebody said, "Why don't we write a play?"

I know it was me who said, "Well, we better book it first, because all three of us are so busy, we will never write it if we don't book it, if we don't have a deadline that we're pushed up against."

So one of my friends said, "I can get us booked." So he called around and I think he called up a church and he said, "Do you want to have a family night at your church, we'll come and do a program for you." And this young pastor said, "Sure, I could do that."

Well, 600 people showed up a month later. We had spent one month, we decided to take pieces of our own acts and put them together, create a story and see if we could create some characters and so on.

It turned into a play called "Triple Espresso, a Highly Caffeinated Comedy"  which went on to sell 4 million tickets. In fact, it's still going in Minnesota, I'll be doing it tonight.

It ran 7 shows a week, a year round for 13 years in Minnesota and it was 11 years in San Diego. It was played in 70 cities.

That took off, and kind of ended my speaking career after 7 or 8 years of really enjoying that and having some success.

But then, this play took off and it was one of those opportunities where I found myself going, "Okay, do I leave, do I risk this and leave what I've been doing which is going so well, or do I stay where I am."

Of course, as you get older you realize even more that you only get one shot, this life.

When it's over, it's over and you never know what's going to happen.

It just seems to be such a great opportunity with a play that we took it, which turned out to be a very fruitful thing.

We were in the West End in London for months and that's really been a wonderful thing. That's another reinvention of myself through the years.

And again, it's something that happened to me, it was unique to me. When I tell you about the success of this play and there are some others that followed as well, it sounds like,

"Oh, this guy, everything he's done has just worked out beautifully, I mean what's the big deal, my life isn't that way."

Well, my life isn't either, the work has never ended. I mean, for 40 years now it's been hard, but really wonderful work.

I feel like as difficult as it's been, and as much time and energy as it's taken and creativity on my part, I really do feel it's what I was created to do, it's what gives me the most joy.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on performing - World of Speakers Podcast (Black) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

When I look back now over the past 43 years, there were some really hard times and some dry times, I wouldn't change them for anything because they have allowed me to do what I love doing.

RF: It really taps into that, the Parkinson's Law, where you get things done according to the time schedule that you set up.

I think that's a brilliant use of one of those natural laws and it obviously created a bit of success.

It seems like you're running, but you also stop and you realize these opportunities along the way, and you don't stop running, you just kind of run in that direction.

And then you see something else and you run in the other direction. It's like constantly running, but you're choosing these different paths along the way.

BS: As a result of the success with Triple Espresso, I had a producer who saw me doing my speaking, he said,

"I enjoyed your talk so much, have you ever thought about doing a version of that as a solo theater piece?"

And I said, "Well no, I never have." He said, "Well you should."

And I didn't, I was just, "Thank you very much, that's nice." I didn't give it much thought.

And he kept coming back to me saying, "You need to do that, this is really good, you need to do that." So I did that.

Now listen, I actually won some awards for this piece, it sounds like I'm maybe trying to lift myself up, I'm really not.

RF: You can just email it to me real quick, and then I'll say it so it's not as bad.

BS: I have one or two awards in my life, I'm looking at one here at my desk. I'm going to reach and get it here.

It says, "Second place cactus kid accordion studio, 1961", little gold award.

And then my play, which ended up being called "That Wonder Boy" won top honors at the United Solo Theater Festival which is the largest solo theater festival in the world in Manhattan, 700 shows.

And once again, I won an award in 1961, I had not been recognized with any sort of awards ever. But I had work, which was much better than awards by the way.

I was so surprised to win the top three awards at that festival, but once again, it was an opportunity, it was somebody coming to me and saying, "Have you ever thought about doing this?"

And I grabbed that opportunity and interrogated it and ended up going, "Yeah, I've got a play here that has some life". Now, that's a good story.

The tough part of that story is that the theater world being what it is, I understand how difficult for the speaker is starting out. I understand how difficult it is to go,

"Yeah, I am listening to this guy's story but it's nothing like mine and I'm having a real hard time getting things going here."  

I know how difficult that is because my play, which two years ago in 2015 won these top awards at the largest solo theater festival in the world, I've not been able to do it since.

It requires so much money to put a show in a theater and producers to come alongside and all these other people have to come along to make things possible, and the money has just not been there, especially during tough times economically.

I don't mean for me personally, but I mean for our whole culture, and for me personally, too.

It is hard work, it truly does never end, you just keep working at it, but you do it because it's what you love and because that's what you're made to do.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on hard work in performing - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

RF: Let's unpack some of the methods behind the madness that happens and give some of our listeners your best tips of advice for the up comers, the people who are sitting there going,

"Wow, I'm inspired and I want to continue, I want to have a 40-year employment as a performer."

What are some of the tactics, what are some of the skills if you were to leave them behind in a treasure box and you want somebody to find them, the tactical methodologies that you're using?

How does that work? How is it that we can unpack some of the parts of your success from a technical perspective?

BS: Let's go right underneath that if we can, to the foundation of what makes it all happen, and that again is creativity.

I believe there are two ways to think about creativity, one is to think about creativity as a gift and it is, and as much as it's woven into our very genes we were born with it, but we weren't born creative.

What we were born with is a capacity and a desire to experience creativity.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on desiring creativity - World of Speakers Podcast (Grey) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Any speaker, anybody starting out trying to find their way I think if they can tap into creativity that's the best thing that they can do.

As a speaker, you don't want to be like anybody else.

Now, your style may resemble somebody else's, that's one thing, but you want to be uniquely yourself, you want your stories, you want the sense of who the speaker is to be uniquely you, nobody else.

You are the only you, there is nobody else who speaks like you do, who stands like you, who gestures like you.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on uniqueness - World of Speakers Podcast (Orange) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

That's what's going to set you apart when you find out what that is and when you discover who that is.

And particularly in terms of the story that you're telling, when you're speaking, you're going to have to give information but nobody's going to want to sit and listen to you give information very long; you're going to need to weave this into a story somehow.

And that story should be your story, I believe. That's the most powerful thing that you can do.

RF: Shall we call that you're the speaker snowflake?

BS: Sure, absolutely. Absolutely, yeah.

RF: Alright, so you are your own speaker snowflake, completely individual, it's your own voice, it's your own story, you've got to give information but you've got to package in a way that's entertaining.

BS: Yep. That's where I think you need to recognize the other part of creativity, it's not only a gift, creativity is a craft that can be mastered.

The way that you master it is the way you master any craft or another word would be skill, you master it by practicing the fundamentals of that craft, or of that skill, or of that process.

Those fundamentals are something that needs to become for us— this is I think the most important thing I can give to any of your listeners, or anybody for that matter, even if they're not speakers or even if they're not in the arts— creativity needs to become a habit for us.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on creativity being a habit - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

And as you probably heard Ryan, you can form a new habit in three weeks.

I've heard that since I was a child and I think people said it because they just recognized that, "Yep, I've been doing this about three weeks, it feels like a habit now."

Neuroscience has now proven that that's actually true.

By practicing something, by intently focusing on something 5 to 16 minutes a day for 3 weeks, you actually form a new neural pathway that did not exist three weeks earlier, and they actually can see it with pictures, they can identify it with the brain scans that they do.

That is not a strong habit, by the way, it'll take another couple cycles so it gets up to 2 or 3 months before it's a strong habit, but we need to develop a strong habit of creativity, and we do that by practicing these three fundamentals and here they are:

I've put them in an acronym to make it easy to hear. I say this is how you GIT your masters of creativity. Grab, Interrogate, Transform.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on mastering creativity - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Number one, you grab anything that grabs you emotionally.

Meaning, as you go through a day and you see things,

I don't just mean emotions that make you laugh out loud, I do mean that, but not just to make you laugh out loud, or not just to make you cry, but anything in between or off to the side, all of your emotions, anything that grabs you emotionally you grab it back.

When I say grab it, I mean you write it down or more likely in the modern day we speak it into our phones in a recorder to our notepad so that we have it.

Just a sentence. "I saw a lady with the little girl on the street today and this happened."

One or two sentences, got it, you grab it.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on writing your idea - World of Speakers Podcast (Black) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Then you interrogate that.

So, you have this growing list of things that you're grabbing every day, every day you grab one thing, 5 things, 10 things and just speak it in.

These are not ideas, by the way, they're just thoughts that you're grabbing, experiences, it might be a memory that happens, it's just a thought and you just write it down.

Then you interrogate it, you say, "Okay I'm a young speaker, I'm trying to put together talks, I'm looking at this list of things I've grabbed in the last 2 or 3 weeks or the last year, long list of things."

I did this today Ryan, I went through mine again, I do it every week for sure.

You go through that list and one or two of those things will jump out at you, you'll be attracted to them again and so you look at that thing that you grabbed, that thought that you grabbed, "I saw a lady on the street with a little girl," and then you interrogate it.

You say, "Why do you keep grabbing me? How could I use you? Are you a story in my book?"

If you're an artist, "Are you a painting that I should be painting?"

"Are you a character in my book?"

"Are you an illustration?"

And this is where we really tie into speakers, "Are you an illustration I should be using?"

As you interrogate, you might not get it the first time or the tenth time, I've actually had some things in my list of things that I grabbed 20 years ago, I'm not exaggerating, 20 years.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on interrogating yourself - World of Speakers Podcast (Black) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Now, one of those pieces is a piece that's requested all the time from people, in fact, I get hired because people say, "Can you come and do that 10-minute piece?"

"Yes, I can do that."

So you keep going back and you grab, then you interrogate it, "How can I use you, what might you be?"

And then, this is a wonderful moment and every creative person, every artist knows this— every writer, and by the way that's who you are folks, if you're a speaker, or a writer, every writer knows this moment which they often describe as the “A-HA” moment, that's the moment when the thought that you grabbed becomes the idea you can do something with.

Thoughts are just there, they're not actionable, but when a thought becomes an idea, now it's actionable, you can use it as an illustration, let's say that's what it is. You know how you can use that as an illustration.

And you'll be so surprised folks to see that very often, those things that you've been going back and interrogating them, they make themselves known to you.

The truth becomes known just when you need it for a new talk or a new presentation that you're doing, it's like,"There it is, I can't believe it, there it is, it's so exciting!"

Then, T is for transform. You take that idea you have and you transform it into whatever it's supposed to be.

So, if it's an illustration for example, in my case, I would then think it through, I might outline it and then I would actually manuscript it.

I would type it out in text, and I would work with the language so that it sounds like I speak and I would get it the way I want it to sound, and I would read it.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on transforming creativity - World of Speakers Podcast (Black) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

And normally, by the time I finish something like that, going through it and going back and rereading it, editing and rereading it and doing it again, speaking it out loud, it's memorized, I could pop it right into a talk and have it word for word.

Because it will have taken several hours to do that, going back and writing it.

You grab, you interrogate and you transform. I believe Ryan that is the creative process.

As you know, I have this course "Mastering the Craft of Creativity" online which we can talk about just briefly at the end.

In that course, I interviewed 20 creative people, from one of the top conductors maestros in the country, one of the top drummers in the country, artists, painters, songwriters, just all kinds of creative people.

I interviewed them and in the process I said, "I'd like to talk to you about this," and I explained this grabbing, interrogating and transforming.

And to a person, I saw their eyes just go wide open, "Oh my gosh, that's what I've been doing, I wish I had known this 20 years ago, I could have been more intentional about it."

Because a lot of people are creative just intuitively, and that's fine, but it only takes you so far.

The problem is if you hit the wall, you often can't figure out how to get around it, because you're just stuck.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on intuitive creativity - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue-Grey) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

But if you know the process of grabbing an interrogating and transforming that that's what creativity is, then you just keep going back to that list, keep interrogating, keep interrogating, keep your eyes wide open.

As you do this process, working on it every day, as you're trying to be aware of things that are grabbing you emotionally, the first couple of days you might realize, "Nothing grabbed me emotionally, I didn't feel anything today."

But as you keep working and you go, "Oh there it is, there's a little tug, I felt that a little bit, I don't know what this means but I'll put this thought down." And you write it down.

Some of them end up being thrown away, but lots of them come back to be really great ideas that can be transformed into something really useful to you and your career.

RF: If you could see my eyes right now, they're lit up, I mean, I'm ginger so my eyes are always pretty sparkly.

That's interesting because this is something that I'm identifying as a tactic, something I'm using without realizing it.

BS: If you're creative Ryan, you are using this technique.

RF: Every day I do a stick figure drawing and I've been doing it for years, and I initially was using other people's quotes but I actually just ran out of quotes, I just couldn't find short quotes to illustrate.

And so out of necessity, I needed to have some sort of process to come up with a quote. And people are like, "How do you come up with a quote every day?"

Literally, anything that grabs my attention, I'll jot it down in my phone, in my notes and I'll sit there and I'll look at it, this interrogation process,

"What did that mean and how can I summarize it in four to five words,"

I like just fewer words so the illustration speaks. And then, it totally transforms into a stick figure and then I use those in my presentations and they are illustrations figuratively and literally.

But yeah, this is definitely a useful topic to then be tactical about it, to create that habit.

And on the habits, my karate instructor always used to say, "You need to do this move for 21 days," and I'm just doing the math, I'm like, "7 x 3 that's 21, 3 weeks, okay."  

Yeah, 21-day rule is something I grew up with an I didn't equivalate it to 3 weeks, but this idea of repetition is so key.

I love this idea that creativity is something that can be learned and honed in on as a skill.

Some people I think maybe don't feel that creative energy or juice maybe because they don't get it, right?

BS: If you're not doing it, you're not feeling it.

By practicing the process you get better at it, it becomes natural, it becomes a habit and then it becomes much easier to do, and you're better at it, and so it's more fun.

Just a quick story, I recently heard a TED Talk by Sting, the singer.

This guy has been nominated 35 times for a Grammy, he's won 17 Grammys, he's one of the most popular successful music artists ever.

He said that he had an 8-year dry spell where he did not write one song. 8 years, he didn't write a song.

I found myself, "How is that even possible?"

He said, "I wanted to write a song, but I couldn't, I was completely dry, I had nothing left, I couldn't write." He phrased it by saying, "My muse had gone away."

I listened to that, and after I listened to the whole talk I thought, "No Sting, there's no muse."

RF: "You just didn't get it."

BS: I would love to be able to talk to Sting, not to hold anything over him, but I'd love to talk to him about this.

Because it was so clear to me that he just didn't understand the process, he hit a wall and he didn't know how to get out of it.

Now, he did get out of it and listen to this Ryan, this is so exciting.

The way he got out of it is that he heard somebody speaking in the dialect that he grew up with in Newcastle in the UK, it's a ship-building town and all of the people spoke in this Newcastle dialect.

He heard somebody speaking in that dialect and it caught his ear, and that got him just thinking about little musical ditties that he used to hear as a kid, and so he wrote a couple similar ditties in that dialect.

He had never in his career written a song in the dialect of his own people. But he did, he wrote a simple little ditty, sea shanty thing.

And then he wrote another one, and another one, and then he started imagining characters.

And so what he was doing is, he was going back, he heard that dialect, it grabbed him, he grabbed it back, he said, "What can I do with you, I'll write a little ditty."

And he wrote a little ditty with this thing and that eventually transformed into his Broadway play which is now in the West End of London, called, "The Last Ship" which will play now for the next 100 years probably.

So that's the process. He stumbled upon it by accident, I don't think he still knows what he did, but he grabbed and he interrogated, he transformed, that got him out of that 8-year dry spell.

RF: Here's a Twitter challenge for everybody, because I know you're on Twitter.

You're @bobstromberg and I'm @ryanfoland and my challenge to anybody who has a one, two or three degree connection with Sting, let's get Bob connected with Sting so they can talk about how he did, or didn't get it.

BS: That would be fun, that would really be fun.

RF: Let's transition into how you've been able to turn this four decades into an actual career.

A lot of people can maybe get up on stage and they can be a comedian and they can be a speaker, but they can be, financially speaking an unsuccessful comedian, an unsuccessful speaker and still be passionate and still have amazing content.

How have you been able to support your family with being a performer?

BS: I feel so blessed that I have been able to do it very well.

Again, I just shared that story about how I got started doing school assembly programs, that took only 3 weeks to for me to run into that one guy, that one principle.

And over the next year I did 475 school assembly programs, now that's 3 a day, every day of the school year pretty much.

I wish I had the number right here, I would tell you, but I can't remember exactly what it was. It was a pitifully small amount of money, but it wasn't at that time, back in 1977, it was quite good at that time.

Now I look and I go, "How did we ever live on?" I don't know if it was $2,000 a month or something, it was a really small amount of money.

But anyway, that got me going and I was just very, very fortunate to do that.

Then as I continue to follow other things that I was grabbing along the way, people say,

"Hey, can you speak at our conference?"

"Can you speak at a retreat on the weekend?"

"Can you do a family night here?"

"Yes, I can do that."

And all of those things kind of came together. The story would be an interesting stick drawing, to see all these different paths that I took.

My wife Judy had our two little babies at home and I was off running around New England doing these schools every day.

I'd leave early in the morning and I would get back about dinner time which was nice, so I'd have a time with the family.

The phone would ring and so she would pick it up and say, "Well no, he's not here, he's working, but can I take a message?"

So she, by default, became my booking agent and she ended up doing it for 17 years, she actually started before the kids were born.

We were in the office downstairs in the basement of our house, we're working all day long. I always made sure that when the kids came home from school at 3 I was waiting at the door for them and they thought that dad has been standing there all day waiting for them to come home.

They didn't realize we were working all day. But we worked till 3 o'clock and then I was traveling all the time, too.

And she said, "I don't want to miss these years with the boys, especially now as they are in highschool before they are going to be gone for good. I really don't want to do this work anymore."

I said to her, "Well, I'll find an agent."

This scared me a lot because I had heard nightmare stories about agents, but I had to do it.

So a friend of mine said, "I have an agent," and this friend of mine was quite successful and he said, "He's a great guy, you'd probably really enjoy him."

I wrote to this agent in Nashville, we were living in New England at the time or maybe we were in Chicago, I can't remember.

I wrote to him and I said, "Can I send you some of my stuff?" I had some videotapes, some audio tapes, this kind of stuff, and he said, "Yeah you can send some stuff."

So I sent him some stuff and in the package I said, "Take a week to look at this stuff and if you would like, I'd be happy to hop on a plane and come down and talk to you."

Now here's the truth, at the time I really couldn't afford to hop on a plane because it was like it is today, it was expensive to fly, even worse back then.

But I thought, "If I am going to do this I've got to do it, I have to give it everything I have."

This agent later told me that the one thing that made me stand out from all the other people who were sending materials to him so that he could be their agent, the one thing that stood out was the fact that I said,

"If you're interested let me know, I'll be there whenever you want me to come and talk about it."

He said, "That was the one thing nobody else said that, they just wanted me to look at their stuff and be impressed and call them, but you said you'd come down and talk to me, you were the one who stood out. "

I went down and talked to this guy, wonderful guy, he was my age and I would have been in my 40's at this point.

We talked for a couple hours and he said, "I operate my business on a handshake, do you want to do it?" I said, "I sure do."

We shook hands and I was so excited, and he said, "Now, I want you to meet your agent."

And I was, "Oh, no, I thought you were going to be my agent!" I didn't say that, but that's what I was thinking.

And he got on his intercom, pressed a little button and said, "Tim, come down."

And this young kid came in — I'm not kidding you, right out of college, I think 3 or 4 months earlier he had graduated from college.

I was his first artist and I was quite disappointed because I was thinking, "I don't want a college kid, I want somebody who has done this forever."

But, he was young and hungry and really smart and he said, "We're going to make this happen," and just got behind me all the way.

He served me so well all these years, Tim Grable is his name, by the way, he now has his own agencies called "The Grable Group" in Nashville.

If any of you are bookers out there, you can't deal with a better agent, Tim Grable is just the best. I've been with him for 27 years now. And we had a wonderful relationship.

Now listen, I've recommended him to other artists who came on with him and they said, "I was with him for a year and he didn't get me anything that I wouldn't have gotten myself."

Here's the truth— it's really important for people to understand what a booking agent does.

What a booking agent does is answer the phone and negotiate contracts, and maybe some marketing, but a booking agent isn't running all over the country, trying to get you bookings.

A booking agent is answering the calls that come in for you and doing the work to negotiate your fees and then takes care of the details to get you to do the thing.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on booking agents - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

A lot of people misunderstand what they're supposed to be getting with a booking agent.

A booking agent takes care of you, looks after you, makes sure that you're okay in that he keeps you and keeps the client happy, that's the nature of that work.

People misunderstand that they think, "Oh I'm going to go out with this agent, I'm going to be working like crazy."  

Well it takes time, everything takes time and if you're willing to serve a booking agent and the booking agent is willing to serve you, that relationship can actually work well.

I don't know if that's helpful or not.

RF: It is. What I think is unique is one the clear conception of what an agent or a booking agent does, they're not out there pounding the pavement as much as they're dealing with sort of the flow that happens.

And you're still marketing, you're still working and you're making it work together.

BS: Even after all these years and even well into the internet age as we are now, 10 years into it, really big time, I'm still convinced that the word of mouth is the very best marketing that is out there, period.

Ryan Foland with Bob Stromberg - Quote on word of mouth marketing - World of Speakers Podcast (Black) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

So if you don't have an agent, I think it's really important that you seek opportunities yourself as you will continue to do for 40 years by the way, you seek opportunities yourself to speak wherever you can and that you serve those people you are speaking with there.

You make sure that you really are a servant to them, that you make sure that they have the materials that they need to have ahead of time.

You make sure if you said that you are going to adapt your talk specifically to their company or to their organization, make sure that you do, make sure you know who your audience is, make sure you know how to dress.

Don't come in a suit if people are there for the picnic in their sandals and vice versa, don't come in your jeans if people are in three-piece suits.

Incidentally, I've discovered that generally business casual, I'm talking about for a man now with a coat and what do you call them, dockers kind of stuff whatever; that kind of look or even nice dress jeans if you're in doubt, that look seems to work almost every time.

Our culture has become extremely casual in the last few years, and it's important to adjust to that. But you want to know how to dress.

You want to know if they ask you to do 45 minutes, then you do 45 minutes, you don't do 30, and worse— you don't do 60. That's where you really get yourself into trouble.

If you carry your own mic like I do— I have a headset mic that I use because I do a lot of stuff with my hands, I make hand shadows for example, I can't have a mic in my hand if I'm making hand shadows.

I have a headset, a high-quality DPA headset, I carry it with me everywhere I go.

So make sure when you're there that you got the adapters you need to plug into their equipment or whatever, so that the person is bringing you in is not wondering,

"I don't know if he got to the hotel, I don't know if he's here yet, he said he was going to be here, but I haven't heard from him yet."

Make sure they know so that they can relax.

Then ask them for feedback afterward, just say, "Hey, would you mind writing a short sentence or two about our experience together, would you highlight a few things that stood out to you?"

And if your client ends up saying to you in a letter, "I want you to know that this person was on time, he did exactly what we asked him to do, he was well prepared, he fulfilled all of our expectations," those things carry a tremendous amount of weight.

Those are all things you then use in marketing as you can put these up on the internet, in your written materials and so on.

RF: It all comes down to those fundamentals at the end of the day.

Bob, I love the fact that you heard a song that was a sign, you were repressed as a class clown because your dad was a principal.

It inspired you to take on that class clown on the public stage which then you put yourself into situations where necessity created opportunity, only to create 4 million ticket sales on a play that you sold before you even wrote it.

To continue on with your individual shows and as a family team booking until you ran out of time to book to get an agent, to then continue to hustle every day, even tonight.

I think that's amazing. It's not only inspirational, but very foundational.

I think that those two combinations along with the fact that you can get creativity every single day if you make it a habit for at least 21 days, I think there's a lot of information that we were able to unpack from you here today.

I very much appreciate it, and if someone is going to find you online or learn more about you or get into your class, where would you send them?

BS: First of all, let me say, Ryan, thanks for being a podcaster who actually listened, that was really great. That was a good synopsis.

I am putting together a page just for your listeners called bobstromberg.com/world.

If they go there, I have a page set up for you that will connect if you wish to the rest of my website and you can look at my videos and my comedy and everything else there.

You'll see there's a free multiple choice test entitled, “Are you as creative as Steve Martin” which I understand most of your listeners probably feel they already know the answer to, but they might be surprised, it's a fun little quiz, it only takes about two minutes to take and it's the real deal.

And then also, there are 3 30-minute training videos there on mastering the craft of creativity that we've talked about here.

They can grab that and then also information on how to buy the whole course “Mastering the Craft of Creativity”, should they choose to do that.

There is booking information for me and there's contact to my podcast which is called "The Wide-Eyed Creative Podcast" which I'd love to have any of your listeners listen to it— I am not trying to steal listeners here.

RF: No, the podcast for the podcast, it's all good.

BS: I think they would enjoy that a lot. So that's bobstromberg.com/world.

RF: Excellent.

Well, awesome, good luck tonight and good luck to continue to crush and smash it and I look forward to connecting with you online and hopefully sharing the stage sometime.

BS: Thanks so much, I appreciate it!

 

A bit about World of Speakers

World of Speakers is  a bi-weekly podcast that helps people find their own voice, and teaches them how to use their voice to develop a speaking business.

We cover topics like: what works versus what doesn't, ideas on how to give memorable presentations, speaking tips, and ideas on how to build a speaking business.

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