I don’t follow tennis much, but I am well aware of tennis stars Venue and Serena Williams, sisters who turned women’s tennis into a power game with their sheer physical domination. Picking up the newspaper last night, I read an article about these exceptional athletes, and was struck by a statement that Venus Williams made after advancing to the finals of the 1997 Women’s Open: “I’m tall,” she said, “I’m black. Everything’s different about me. Just face the facts.” Venus doesn’t apologize one whit for who she is, and what makes her different: she just accepts it and embraces her Great Big Voice. When tennis buffs were put off by her colorful and bold courtside clothing, Venus simply kept wearing her colorful outfits. She is who she is; and the game of tennis has changed immeasurably because of it.
Now, I may not smack tennis balls around, but anybody who has ever met me, or seen my TOUCH THE SKY musical keynote program, knows that, like Venus Williams, I’m tall and don’t exactly fit in the typical mold. Which is fine by me– a conclusion I came to after many years of trying to literally and metaphorically shrink to fit. I finally decided to fully embrace everything I am., and in so doing changed my life, and my life’s work. And that message– choosing to TOUCH THE SKY and to show up fully in all your uniqueness in spite of obstacles or challenges– is at the core of my TOUCH THE SKY keynote program, and the basic premise of my work as a presentation coach or trainer. My mission is the same whether I am giving a presentation or helping others give them: To show up– in word and deed– as fully as possible, so that I can encourage others to do the same.
It takes guts to simply be who we are, fully and fearlessly, especially when what we are is, well, different from the norm. Sometimes, when we do show up in all our uniqueness, it can scare the heck out of people, make them uncomfortable, or even drive them away. But it can also attract towards us those people who are looking for exactly what we have to offer. And that’s why, when I delivered my TOUCH THE SKY keynote to several hundred entrepreneurs at TechTown’s Fast Trac to the Future conference in Detroit recently, I said the following words:
“Can you tell by now that this is not your usual business keynote? The guitar is a dead giveaway, huh? This is not your usual business keynote, because I’m not because I’m not your usual business keynote speaker. I mean, do you see any flow charts here? How about statistics? Nope, they’re! Instead, my presentation is filled the very things that you ordinarily don’t see in a business setting. It’s filled with the very things that make me unique: A larger than life personality and presence, an undeniable theatrical flair, and original songs and stories designed to make you feel and think!
Those very things, those very qualities that make me–and this presentation, unique, will draw some of you to me, and push some of you away. I guarantee it. That’s the risk I take by choosing to be completely who I am on this platform. And that’s exactly the risk you must take as entrepreneurs, when you go out into the world and declare your big idea with passion and purpose. Because some people are going to call you and your idea crazy, and run screaming in the other direction. But some people are going to want to hitch themselves up to your wagon and invest in your business and your big idea. And the only way you’re going to find the people who want to support what you have to offer, is if you’re willing to risk showing up fully and fearlessly….”
Venus and Serena Williams changed the face of women’s tennis by taking that risk: By being exactly who they are, whether people liked it or not. In so doing, they’ve become world champions, inspiring others to embrace their own uniqueness, talents and abilities. As entrepreneurs, you have the power to do the same– by embracing your Big Idea and your marvelous uniqueness with every fiber of your being, no matter how many no’s you hear or how many obstacles you face. Because, as entrepreneurs in a dicey economy, you are the backbone and the great hope of the state of Michigan. It’s entrepreneurs like you that will put this state — and the city of Detroit– back on the map and back in business.
So choose to TOUCH THE SKY: Have the courage and the will to Shout out and Share your Great Idea and Your Great Big Voice! The right people will hear it, support it, believe it, and be changed by it.