Ryan Foland speaks with Charlie Mechem, an expert on effective communication with over 60 years of speaking experience. In this special edition podcast, Charlie offers advice for speakers who now have to operate in a time where there is civil unrest. It is an open and powerful conversation.
Many speakers are anxious about what is going to happen in the future, and this can lead to immobility, but you can acknowledge that the world is changing, and you can be part of that change or you can resist that change.
In this podcast, Ryan and Charlie encourage speakers to be patient during these challenging time, to take this opportunity to work in and on their business, to work on making their content relevant, to not give up, and to have a sense of humor along the way.
Listen to the interview on iTunes or Soundcloud.
Ryan Foland: Ahoy everybody, welcome to a special edition here of the World of Speakers.
I mean they're all special, let's be real.
My guest today, Charlie Mechem—he has over 5 completely different industries that he's been involved with.
He's got 60+ years of speaking, he's got more than 90 years of experience in this life, everything from being a lawyer to working in entertainment to the commissioner of the LPGA, worked with Arnold Palmer.
And just an overall guy who has spoken about everything.
I'm excited to have him here on this podcast, the World of Speakers sponsored by SpeakerHub, a place where you can get found and find speaking engagements, to really get his insights on how we can navigate the current climate.
And that means the current climate not only just the COVID-19 and the pandemic, but the more recent civil unrest and the reality of the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality.
And as a speaker, as a person of color, as a person who is white, person of all colors— how as speakers do we navigate the times right now?
So Charlie, welcome to the show, I'm so excited to have you here.
Charlie Mechem: Thank you, thank you very much.
Ryan Foland: I mean, I could probably intro you for a while but we're going to start with a story.
Can you tell me a story, if you pull something from the last 90 years of your life, is there a single moment that you can think of that really represents who you or a major learning experience so we can get to know you?
What would that story be?
Charlie Mechem: I can't pick a single moment, I probably have 50 of them, if we sat here and talked about it.
But I can tell you a story about a counter, it's a wrong word but it's always struck me as very meaningful.
When I became a commissioner of the LPGA, it was having a pretty tough time.
The media was beaten up on them, the Senior Tour now called the Champions Tour, had just started with the legendaries Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino, and so on.
So, everywhere these gals looked they were getting beat up on.
So at the first player meeting of my commissionership, one of the players got up and said, "Commissioner, what do you think is our biggest problem?"
And I thought for a moment and then I said,
"I think your biggest problem is that you have a massive institutional inferiority complex.
You are so worried about what others may think of you, or what others may be saying about you— people aren't going to do a lot of worry about us. The head guy at the PGA tour is not going to spend a lot of time figuring out how he can help the LPGA.
So, what I want you all to do: I want you to think about how good you are.
I want you to walk out on the golf course looking good, feeling good, being good to people, and the next thing you know you'll be where you want to be."
And they got it immediately.
They knew they had to do something and that made sense.
They all embraced my philosophy and turned things around.
So to me, that story exemplifies an all too common problem, it's not just institutional, although in this case, it was— if you don't believe in yourself if you have an inferiority complex, you've got to grab yourself by the shirttail or whatever and say,
"Wait a minute, I am the only one that could really make a difference. I'll have friends they will help me, I'll have people I can turn to, but in the final analysis, I've got to believe in myself. And if I don't do that, probably a waste of time."
Ryan Foland: And as a speaker that rings very true.
I would think that for a lot of people who want to become a speaker or they're already a professional speaker, you're looking at yourself in the mirror and you're convincing yourself that you need to show up, you need to put in the work.
So, I'm assuming that advice of “do good and be the best you can,” is very relevant for speakers in particular.
Charlie Mechem: It's unbelievably relevant.
One of the things I've always tried to tell young people over the years is prepare, prepare, prepare.
You can't overprepare for a speech your giving.
Number 2, understand your audience.
Don't talk to an audience about something that common sense would tell you: they're not going to care about.
Be sure that you talk about something that you know your audience will be interested in.
And for god's sake, don't talk about something that you really don't understand.
That happened to me one time when I was back in college at Miami University in Ohio.
I was on the speakers' bureau, and I'd go around making speeches on a variety of topics.
And it was fine, I got along just fine.
But one of my topics in those days, “the fate of Yugoslavia” was very important.
And I had a speech about Yugoslavia.
Well, without giving it any thought or preparation I ended up in a meeting with a group of eastern Europeans who knew a lot more about Yugoslavia then I did.
And after about 10 minutes I just said, "Folks, I'm not going to kid you, I underestimated you. You can probably tell me more about what I'm talking to you about."
Well, my point is always know your audience and know what you're talking about.
Ryan Foland: One of the things that I'm really interested to learn from you about is how to navigate change as a speaker?
Over your lifetime there's been everything from wars, Yugoslavia, to all these things, I don't have enough time or brain space to say it.
So, speaking as a speaker, are there any things that you've learned over the years as a general baseline of dealing with change?
And we are going to hit really inequality and COVID-19 and pandemic, we're going to dig into those.
But just in a general sense, how you've dealt with so much change?
Charlie Mechem: Well, first of all, I am an avid reader.
I believe deeply in reading and being current.
I can't claim to be current in the same sense that 30-year-olds are or 25-year-olds are because I'm not that technically proficient.
But I read, I think I know and understand what's happening even though I might not necessarily have a solution.
That's the first lesson, really be aware of what's going on.
Ryan Foland: So if you have a certain keynote speech that's your bread and butter and then all of a sudden a pandemic hits, things are going to change.
I want to touch on the civil unrest as a change first.
Charlie Mechem: Yeah, yeah.
Ryan Foland: Because I think based on what I've known from you so far here in your storytelling is that at the root of these different industries your value was coming in and seeing that maybe people aren't optimizing their performance and maybe they're not stepping up.
And that can translate across industries.
But you mentioned LPGA.
Historically, the golfing industry has been pretty, I don't want to say “segregated” but I think it was in the 1950s or something that they actually allowed African Americans to golf professionally and I'd have to be fact-checked on that.
But I say this because I was speaking at a sailing event which also, sailing historically has been a sport that is of privilege and it costs money.
There's a lot of great organizations that are trying to reach out to underserved communities to get them on boats because there's so much learning about experience and leadership, just like golf there's a lot of lessons, but there's a gap.
So right now we have a big light based on police brutality and it's raising this larger conversation at the local and national levels.
This is a significant change that's happening that's real-time developing.
So even if you're listening to this podcast things might have completely changed, hopefully for the better when you hear it.
Charlie Mechem: True.
Ryan Foland: But when it comes to civil unrest and your keynote how do you package those together?
Charlie Mechem: Well, first of all, I've written and spoken on this subject for at least 10 years. It's ironic that the shining star of professional golf is a black man.
And yet it doesn't go on down the road.
There are a couple of reasons for that.
Number one its access is very limited, still much better than it used to be. It's still hard for blacks to find places to play, but even when they can, golf remains an expensive sport.
I suspect sailing has some of those same issues.
But I genuinely believe there's important progress being made, there are a number of efforts being made at the level of young people under 10, teenagers in the programs, it's called “First Tee”, it's the name of one of the programs.
I would guess 70% of the participants are black.
So it's one of those things you can't snap your finger and say,
"Okay, tomorrow we're going to have 50% blacks on all our courses."
It just doesn't work.
But if you give them a chance to play, and hopefully as blacks become more affluent and can afford to play or prices come down, it is changing and I think it will change more.
Ryan Foland: From this idea of understanding what the relevant current changes are that are happening, as a speaker, what is the obligation to incorporate that and include that?
Because there are speakers right now that have their talks, granted there's really no speaking opportunities until we can get back based on the pandemic, so this is a good time to really think about it.
But what would you say to the speakers that have material prior to what's happening right now?
How can you make that relevant and how important is tying in that relevance to what you're going to speak about?
Charlie Mechem: I think one of the things, I've just been thinking more and more about this last day or so.
As a number of prominent, black athletes have spoken out very forcefully about the matters in Minneapolis and other cities.
And it brought to my mind just a curious thing— we almost seem to idolize it, maybe too strong a word, but certainly strongly support and identified with black athletes, in every sport you can think of, in football, in basketball, in baseball some of our great heroes are blacks.
As white people, why can't we bring some of that empathy, some of that understanding to just the average guy who lives around the corner?
He may not be a great athlete, but hell, you're probably not either.
But he's still a black man that could benefit and learn, and teach, if you just give it a try.
Just give 10% of the effort and the caring, and the attention that you give to a black athlete.
I think it's something very worth thinking about.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, and if we're speaking about access, the speaking industry is predominately white men, let's be real about it.
Charlie Mechem: That's right.
Ryan Foland: And it's always been a struggle for females, especially females of color.
I know a number of African American speakers that I'm friends with but not as many as I would hope or wish.
So how do we, as speakers, as privileged white speakers, how do we incorporate the civil unrest into our talks while still being genuine and authentic, without it being something that we're trying to capitalize on?
That's also I think fear.
Charlie Mechem: Here again, some of the greatest speakers in the history of this nation have been black.
There's no plaque up there that says if you're going to be a good speaker you have to be white. In fact, I had the great privilege of becoming a very close friend with a lady named Barbara Jordan who was a congresswoman from Texas.
Maybe the most brilliant public speaker I've ever known.
But my god, you know, not to look very far, Martin Luther King, W.D. Boya and on and on.
So again, I think all of us whites should step back and say, "Why can't I feel the same way about the black guy or the black gal who lives around the corner as I do about other blacks," blacks like the great blacks in the past who were great speakers, they can be great speakers.
But you've got to break out of the mold that says, "Well they can't be," because they have been and will be.
Ryan Foland: And I don't think it's a question that they can't be but there's just not that access too.
And they could start at the bureaus, they could start at the organizations, they could start at the CEOs that are at the companies that are looking for speakers.
It could be a lot of sidebar conversations.
So how as a speaker who is not from a marginalized community, how do we incorporate what's happening now into our material?
Because it's a delicate balance.
Is there anything that you're doing in particular?
For me, just having this conversation is special to have a conversation on a platform.
Charlie Mechem: Well I'm sadly too old to be anything very active but I do speak on this occasionally.
And if I was in the audience I wouldn't be offended or shocked if a speaker said,
"You know, my topic tonight was supposed to be XYZ. I don't think XYZ is important enough in comparison to the issues we've got to deal with.
So let's forget about the topic I was going to talk to you about and let's talk a bit about what are we going to do?"
Because I think, Ryan, I really believe this, I hope I'm not wrong— I feel that this latest blowup, whatever words you want to use, maybe is different.
I've seen more people say whether it's a tipping point or not, this has the potential to truly change our national culture, not entirely and not far enough, but this may be different.
And so I would tell any speaker, obviously, this is a risk, but I wouldn't hesitate to say,
"Folks here's a speech I was going to give you tonight, I'm throwing it out. Let's talk about what we need to talk about."
Ryan Foland: Yeah, and if you're a speaker that speaks on leadership, how can you address leadership in this day and age?
If you speak about sales, understanding that a true salesman is going to be selling in an environment that's cognizant of what's happening.
And so I love this idea of look, let's scrap what I wanted to talk about, let's talk about what we need to talk about and it still lets you speak from authority, it shows that you're acknowledging and I think that just the mere acknowledgment is a starting point.
Charlie Mechem: I agree and I think it would be important in that kind of a talk to say,
"Look, I don't begin to have all the answers. I don't begin to think that it is going to be solved overnight. But what I do know I've never been involved in any problem that got any better when you ignored it."
Ryan Foland: Exactly.
Charlie Mechem: You have to deal with these things and you'll make some mistakes but it's time we did that.
Ryan Foland: And I think that when I look back I have a friend Nina who speaks on resiliency, and she said,
"Ryan, when you look back in 5 years on this period, what is it that you're going to be most proud of?"
And I think I can genuinely say that I'm going to be most proud of the conversations that I'm having with people about this.
And this conversation here, calling my friends, speaking with store owners just having that conversation and I think as a speaker, you have the responsibility to make sure that you're acknowledging what's happening and that you're not just speaking in a bubble.
Charlie Mechem: True. Exactly right.
I wish I were still young enough to try that in person, but it would be fun to do.
Ryan Foland: Well hey, you can leverage the digital, you're here with me in Long Beach so it's all good.
Well, you know, I'm really inspired by that and the one thing that sticks out is one of the last things that you said which is,
"I don't know in my 90+ years of any situation that has gotten better by ignoring it."
Charlie Mechem: Absolutely, no question. It inevitably gets worse, certainly don't get better, no question about it.
Ryan Foland: And I think that prior to this current situation we were dealing with a different challenge which is COVID-19 and a pandemic and all these events being shut down.
Charlie Mechem: That's right.
Ryan Foland: So I think that now if you're a speaker and you're not participating in the conversation about Black Lives Matter, about police brutality, about equality, then you are going to stand out in the wrong way once things start to open up.
Because diversity and inclusion have always been a big topic, but I think now when the stage is open up I think people will expect to hear us as speakers tying this into the information.
Charlie Mechem: I agree and I think there's a connection between the civil unrest and the pandemic in the sense that to me, if somebody said,
"What's your advice for dealing with a pandemic?"
I would say, "All my life when I needed advice I sought out the best experts I could find."
I did what they told me to do.
I might not agree with it, but if I didn't reach out to experts I'm on my own and that's not very comforting.
So to me, when rules were issued they are to be followed.
Eventually, some of these rules might turn out to be wrong, they may turn out to be excessive.
But no one in civil society, in my opinion, has a right to say, "I don't believe that I'm going to do that because I don't think it's right."
And simply that's a prescription for ignorance. I think that fits in both of the areas we're talking about.
Ryan Foland: It does.
And a lot of the marginalized communities are the ones that are most impacted by the pandemic because of the situations in which they live in the local resources for them to get medical help and even education and things, I think they are really tied in, and I think there's just a lot of anger that's pent up.
Moving on to a little bit more particular on what to do as a speaker during a pandemic, we know to follow the rules but just even from an emotional standpoint can you think of a time in the past 60 years when all of your speaking engagements just sort of got shut down for an indefinite amount of time?
And what were you thinking during that time? How do you emotionally, as a speaker, work through this?
Charlie Mechem: Well I just want to say I have lived 90 years.
I don't know that anything quite like this has happened, but my wife and I have been through a lot of situations back through our childhood when a couple of my friends were crippled with polio. My dad and mom lived through the 1918 flu epidemic.
So I don't know that anything has ever been like this in terms of all the bad things converging at one point.
And WW2, WWI even worse. It was an absolute bloodbath, we didn't know it then because we were so removed.
You get a newspaper, it tells you what happened a week ago and if you believe this, some of your younger listeners, in WW2 I was 11 when the war broke out, I was 16 when it ended.
But particularly with the European campaign, every day on the front page of the newspaper would be a frontline of where the battleground was and it would show if we had advanced or if we'd lost ground.
Can you imagine something like that?
And here we are, 5K miles away and we're glued to this and the way the world has changed.
Now, my god, if a guy runs out and grabs the weapon and shoots somebody else, it's immediately on social media, criticized or supported.
So I've never lived through anything quite like this.
And I don't mean to sound pollyannish, if people just use common sense and respect other people's views we'll get back, we'll get back and we may never get back to where we were, maybe that's not all bad, I don't know.
Ryan Foland: Right, that opens an opportunity for you, you can probably get your hologram sometime soon and be there virtually kind of deal.
Maybe even if there's not an absolute comparable, what would you say to a speaker who has really invested in their own business and they're at the point where they've made the leap and they are now stuck with zero income and no foreseeable deals in the future?
What do you say to that speaker right now, who's kind of lost?
Charlie Mechem: Well, you start by saying, "Don't give up, this won't last forever."
As you and I have just demonstrated, there are a lot of subjects and topics that have been generated by this, and 3 months ago wouldn't have been there at all.
So again, I'm not trying to be a pollyanna but I think it was why I never give up.
There are tough times and there are bad times, but I have said this is a little game I played with myself if God was getting ready to send you to Earth and he said,
''Now Charlie I've got about 150 characteristics on this wall, but you can only pick two of them, which two are you going to pick? And I'll send you to Earth with those two."
And I thought about and I said, "Lord, I'll take patience and a sense of humor."
And I haven't ever changed that.
Patience is incredibly difficult but unbelievably important. 9 times out of 10 if you don't fire off immediately, and just, “okay let's just cool a little bit,” it works out.
And a sense of humor has defused more problems in my career than I can even begin to remember.
Obviously, there are 6 to 8 other characteristics I would love, but I can only pick two.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, you've got to pick 2. I'd talk to God and be like, "God, you need to give 3 options at least, like just 3, like the magic number 3."
Charlie Mechem: I agree.
This is a fun part of the game. You have maybe 4 or 5 couples, and you say, okay here's the game, God gives you a chance to 2 or 3 and in 15 minutes you give it some thought and then we'll come back at.
You tell us what they are, it's really interesting.
Because at the end of that 15 minutes the responses will really be fascinating.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, well one thing that really sticks out from all that, of your two, is patience.
I think that those speakers who are patient, those speakers who are taking this opportunity to work in and on their business using this time to find out how you can make your content relevant, making sure that you are not giving up, making sure that you do have your sense of humor along the way, knowing that the world is changing and you can be part of that change or you can resist that change.
But for me, the idea of being patient through it all and coming out on the other side is really one of the main messages that I've learned here from you today.
And it's not easy, it's extremely frustrating to just say, "You have to wait," but that's kind of where we're at.
Charlie Mechem: You probably have to work at it, you probably have to say,
"How did I get started in the first place, I did this, this, this, and this, I made these calls, I did these things."
Maybe you've got to do that again because there are going to a lot of people in that same boat and if you're not proactive and going out and trying to make things happen, there are probably a few people out there that will outrun you.
Ryan Foland: Oh and that's a great reminder because I'm going to go back to the very beginning, your initial story when you said what you told them to do was to get out there, feel good, look good and do your best.
Charlie Mechem: Believe in yourself.
I've written a couple of books.
And in one of the books that I did about 8 or 9 years ago, I quoted a speech Neil Simon made, a great playwright, who basically was stressing the importance of passion in whatever you do.
And he said, "From the moment you take off those long black gowns in the commencement speech, every move should be choreographed by George Gershwin—give it the passion."
And he said, and I love this line, he said, "Maybe people say you can't do it, maybe you can't, but maybe you can."
And then he said, "Because if Michelangelo had decided to paint the Sistine floor it would be rubbed out by today."
I've never forgotten that line.
As crazy as it sounds, he painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel which was a monumental accomplishment, and he is probably right, if he had painted the Sistine floor we wouldn't be able to find it today.
I've always loved that line.
Anyway, my first book called, "Who's That With Charlie?" is not a memoir but it's a series of memories of people I've known and been close to, some very famous people like Neil Armstrong or Arnold Palmer, some just a barber around the corner.
But all are stories about friendships that I've made and this I hope would be interesting to your speakers, I wrote another book called "Total Anecdotal".
It is a collection of anecdotes.
It's like a glossary form so that you can look up if you want to make a point on ego or whatever, you can look in the index, come up with some anecdotes.
I'm a great believer in anecdotes.
Ryan Foland: I'm going to buy that book.
I don't want to disturb the podcast, but I kind of want to leave and go buy that right now.
One of my communication theories is the 3-1-3 method, the last like how you get your business in the 3 words is using an anecdote or a metaphor, you get people to think for themselves.
Charlie Mechem: Yeah, particularly if they bring a smile to people's faces. It's a wonderful way to illustrate the point you're trying to make. I am a great, great believer in anecdotes.
Ryan Foland: If people want to find more information on you where do we want to point them so they can go grab these books and connect with you and engage with you?
Charlie Mechem: Well, I have a website which is www.CharlieMechem.com and they can google me, I've been around so long, I've done probably 15 or 18 podcasts of my own where I've interviewed people.
And they're all shown on the website.
Some of them are people you've never heard of before, others are pretty well-known people, like the CEO of Starbucks who has phenomenal advice on business.
Anyway, that's kind of me in a nutshell.
Ryan Foland: Well that is awesome.
You know, 3 words come to mind if we're pulling them off the shelf and if you need a cheat sheet this is Charlie's cheat sheet when you're looking at all the characteristics to come into town, especially when it's in today's day and age, with civil unrest and with a pandemic that has you frightened because of uncertainty.
3 things: patience, passion, and compassion, that's what I get right there.
So you take those as a speaker and you can participate in the conversation, you can feel good about supporting, creating more access, giving more anecdotes that bring marginalized communities into the conversation it really all starts with us following those rules.
But again, I go back to patience, passion, and compassion.
I feel like I'm now equipped to ride out the storm but not just patiently wait, but be passionate while I wait and also compassionate knowing that we're all in this together.
Charlie Mechem: There's nothing contradictory about those 3 words, indeed they go together pretty darn well.
I'll give you one more anecdote, I've always loved the CEO of a major dog food company was speaking to the sales team and he was really given them business, because business was terrible.
He said, "I don't understand it, we've got the finest packaging, we've got the finest advertising, the finest marketing, why are we not selling more dog food?"
Well, no one wanted to put their hand up, and finally, one little guy in the backroom said,
"Sir, I think I know."
"Well, the dogs don't like it."
This is one of the great anecdotes I've ever heard because if what you're selling is not what somebody wants to hear and likes, you've got to dress it up.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, and so right now your speech, which is your dog food, it might be the best speech that you can do based on the best information, your experience, but right now the dogs being the entire public, the entire world, we got to make sure that it's something that they want to eat.
Charlie Mechem: That is a very, very good analogy, very good.
Ryan Foland: All right, well that is one analogy of many in your book and your multiple books, but thanks for sharing just a little snippet of your years of experience and congratulations on all your success and I'm excited to get to know you and continue to stay in touch with you.
Charlie Mechem: Let's do it again.
Ryan Foland: All right.
Well, everybody, this has been another episode of the World of Speakers, brought to you by SpeakerHub and if you are a speaker and you want to be patient, passionate and compassionate in this time of uncertainty, feel free to go to SpeakerHub.com and you can sign up for a profile, you can build and work on your business as we are patiently waiting for the opportunity to show our passion on stage without forgetting about the compassion.
Alright, I'm inspired, thanks Charlie, we'll talk to you soon.
Charlie Mechem: My pleasure, thank you, bye-bye.
A bit about World of Speakers
World of Speakers is a bi-weekly podcast that helps people find their own voices, and teaches them how to use their voice to develop a speaking business. This special series of episodes has been created to help speakers navigate during the coronavirus crisis.
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