I spent the past few days in Austin, TX at Creator Cabins. Wild experience meeting online friends in real life for chats around the campfire, podcasts interviews, and long term strategic planning.
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“But isn’t the plagiarism?”
I knew this question was coming. It always does during the part of Performative Speaking. And that’s why not only was I ready for it, but I wanted it.
In the words of Admiral Ackbar “It’s a trap”.
I had set it earlier in the week with the choices put into presentations.
The Transformation Strategy
I’m going to dive into answering this question in just a minute but before we go there it’s important to discuss this strategy piece for any speaker, coach, or course creator. Too many people only focus on what is immediately in front of them. They don’t have a long term structure or plan.
That’s why the fail. It’s why they won’t deliver a transformation to the audience, client, or student. Always answer these two questions before you start anything if you want to be more strategic.
Where is my audience, client, or student currently at?
Where do they want and need to go?
The role of the leader is to help them along that journey. To prepare the way for them.
I often think of climbing Mt. Everest. Not that I have but it’s still a useful process to think through. There are stages to the climb.
First the climber has to spend months if not years preparing for the climb. Physical training and mental training to successfully summit the world’s tallest peak. Next, the climber has to get to base camp where they must wait and acclimate to elevation and climate.
The same is true for an audience, client, and student. They need time to acclimate and prepare for the journey ahead. This is why the beginning of a coaching program or course can lead to comments like “this isn’t what I signed up for” or questions like “when is the good stuff coming?”
So if the leader doesn’t have a structure and plan, everything falls apart.
But once the acclimation process has taken hold then it’s the leaders job to make sure the route is safe. In this case I think of the Sherpas who scale the dangerous route to set ladders that make the crevices possible to pass.
The speaker, coach, or creator needs to lay that ladder.
Each step needs to be safe but also feel a bit dangerous and adventurous. It keeps the people coming back for more. Growth.
And growth leads to transformation.
So each session, each week, and each assignment needs to build on itself so that you can point back to all the things that got you there. It builds trust to know the leader has a plan and knows the way. It builds trust when the leader shows that each step takes people closer to the summit.
It’s why I was ready for this question about plagiarism.
Inspiration is Everywhere…Use it
We were talking about themes on this day and I had given a bunch of examples from movies, television, Ted Talks, Historical Speeches, and my own experience as a trial lawyer and speaker.
I have taken lines from JFK, The West Wing, Battlestar Galactica, Jeff Bezos, and even Yu-Gi-Oh. When I gave these examples I knew what was coming and sure enough it did.
So why isn’t this plagiarism?
Every speaker, every writer, every artist, and so many more people are re-using and remixing past ideas.
One of my favorites is Kanye West. Just look at all the music he samples and turns into something completely new and amazing.
But I want to give you two actual speaking examples. They are two of the most famous speeches in American History and they both take direct and indirect inspiration from other sources.
The Gettysburg Address
Doesn’t look like Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg right?
That’s because it’s not. This is the painting by Philipp von Foltz depicting Pericles’ Funeral Oration. This funeral oration comes through Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.
One of history’s most famous speeches that most people don’t know because it took place in the 5th century BCE. The Athenians and Spartans had gone to war against one another and Pericles delivered the funeral oration for the fallen Athenians. Most funeral orations at the time focused on the individuals who died in the battle.
What makes this speech stand out is how Pericles turns it into a glorification of Athens. He focuses on the state, the accomplishments, the military, and the future. Rather than looking towards the past and the men who had died, he frames it in a way that projects a powerful future for Athens.
It’s meant to inspire the populace to keep the faith and embrace the role Athens has to play in the world.
Why does all of this matter?
This speech is the direct inspiration for Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Lincoln follows an almost identical format as Pericles. Most of all he gives honor to the slain but calls out on the American people to continue the struggle to live up to the American Dream. It’s a focus on the future and the greatness ahead rather than the traditional solemn memorial address like so many funeral orations.
It works because it’s a tried and tested approach. Two thousand years earlier it worked for Pericles. Lincoln used the same approach.
It’s not plagiarism, it’s inspiration.
I had shown this speech and talked about this connection exactly one week before the question of plagiarism. I knew it was coming so I recalled these two speeches to help show that even the very best borrow from others.
But while one example would be nice, two would be better. That’s why on this day I had set up the question by first using my favorite speech of all time.
I Have Seen The Mountaintop
The greatest orator in American history is Martin Luther King Jr.
Nobody is better.
The way he understands strategy, persuasion, connection, storytelling, imagery, and most of all delivery is a constant source of study for me.
Most people find the “I have a dream” speech to be his finest. I love that speech but it’s not my favorite.
On April 3 he gave what would become known as the “I have seen the mountaintop” speech. In it, MLK talks about how he has climb the mountain, seen the Promise-land, and does not have any fear about what may happen. He even says how he may not actually reach the destination but he knows that others will reach it.
The reason this sends chills down my spine is because the next day MLK was assassinated. It’s as though he knew something bad was coming and wanted to make sure people had a final speech that laid out the strategy and path to take.
It’s the greatest speech in American history.
But one thing stands out when it comes down to inspiration. MLK uses language directly from the Bible. The mountaintop, promised land, and that he may not make it there with his people all comes from the journey of Moses.
The imagery is both beautiful and powerful. This reference makes the victory a sure thing just like with Moses. It’s impossible to watch the speech and not feel a sense of awe at the delivery as well as the inevitably of the victory. It feels like the promised land is just on the horizon to be reached in the coming days.
And yet, my favorite speech by the best orator in American history still took inspiration from another source. He used an event that happened thousands of years ago to connect to his audience. It works but it also shows that even the very best aren’t creating from a blank page.
If MLK can do this, so can anybody.
What this means for you
It’s not plagiarism.
When I finally answered that question with these two examples it quickly had the intended effect.
You can absolutely use inspiration from other sources. Use their lines. Use their ideas.
Because you are still putting your own spin on it and using it for different purposes. That makes it a remix, not plagiarism.
Go out and build your inspiration list. It’s the first step to knowing what moves you. It’s also the key to unlocking your full potential as a speaker, coach, or course creator.
I might even release my inspiration list that’s fully categorized to help out.
This week I wrote an article on what I call Looping.
I break down 3 different strategies to use for Hooks and Dismounts when it comes to a presentation, pitch, or any talk.
We are currently entering week 7 of Performative Speaking. As we near the last quarter of the course it’s been an amazing journey watching people take advantage of all the lessons and learnings inside of the program.
I’m beyond excited for where Performative Speaking continues to go in the future especially after this cohort with over 100 people.
If you’re interested in staying up to date on the next one, you can always email me and I’ll make sure to keep in touch.
If you’re a founder, entrepreneur, salesperson or executive and looking for help around speaking, storytelling, or fundraising you can check out my notion page and book time to chat.
And finally, here is one of my absolute favorite TED talks ever about the danger of a single story.
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Have a great week ahead!
As always feel free to email me: Robbie@robbiecrab.com
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