Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds

mindfireThis eclectic series of short essays discusses ideas, questions and concepts that make you think. Sometimes he challenges conventional thinking (why being a follower can be good), and other times he just questions our actions (should you pray for your team to win), there is some advice. And the rest of the time it is just plain interesting.

If you are looking for new ideas, or to find a different take on old idea, you will enjoy this book. As a Toastmasters, there are some great ideas for your next speech.

Some of the ideas discussed are:

  • The cult of busy
  • Why you must lead or follow
  • The size of ideas
  • How to keep your mouth shut

Many of the essay’s are on Scott’s website, so you can check them out before you buy the book. http://www.scottberkun.com/essays/

This book is kind of a “Chicken Soup for the Philosophical Soul”, and gives you interesting ideas to consider, without being too complex or deep (most of the stories are only a page or two, but the could be expanded into longer essays or books). If I had to criticise, I would like to see some more depth to some of the articles, I feel that sometimes he is just touching the tip of some very complex idea.

But then to contradict myself, it is refreshing to read a chapter that gets my brain engaged, but is only a few hundred words long.

The entire book is just short of 200 pages, but I don’t think that I would read it cover to cover. For me it is a book that you jump into from time to time, find an interesting chapter and read it. They are the kind of chapters that you can re-read a few times. You can buy the print or Kindle version from Amazon.com for just under $11.

An unexpected gift

Last week, I ordered a couple of cases of wine from Getwine.co.za. When the wine arrived, Getwine alse gave me a free 100g slab of Lindt chocolate. They didn’t tell me about it when I ordered, they didn’t tell me in the delivery note, the driver didn’t mention it.

It was just tucked quietly away inside one of the boxes. That is also not the first time they have done this.

  • How do you give unexpected gifts to your customers?
  • How do you keep your customers loyal?
  • What do you do to get your customers to tell everybody about your great service?

Truth or dare

I am often asked for my views on keeping the stories in a speech completely accurate as to what happened, as opposed to embellishing the story to make a great speech. My response is that while you need to be true to your stories, you must also be true to your message. Make sure that your audience remembers your message.

But it can be a fine line between embellishing a story to make it a great story, and telling an outright lie.

Darren la Croux has written a great blog post on this subject, explaining that your stories should at least be “Based on a True Story”. He says,

Have you ever noticed that Hollywood blockbusters always start off, “based on a true story?” They never start, “this is exactly how it happened.” If they told it exactly how it happened, we’d be bored!

Are you perfectly accurate when you tell your stories? The truth is important, yes. I’m not saying to lie or make things up. I just want your stories to be so memorable that people walk away clearly understanding your message.

If you are unsure how to approach this issue in your speeches, read his post; he gives a very clear an concise answer.

Be afraid of our customers

Heard in a presentation by (the other) Michael Jackson

Yes, you should wake up every morning terrified with your sheets drenched in sweat, but not because you’re afraid of our competitors. Be afraid of our customers, because those are the folks who have the money. Our competitors are never going to send us money.

Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon.com
Remember who could be sending you money, and do everything to gain their trust, respect and business.

Confusing your audience in stories

Last night I watched a speaker say something like this: “Do you remember the scene where they tore the page from the textbook in Dead Poet’s Society? ”. He then proceeded to relate the scene in the movie to his speech.

While using a quote, idea or story from a movie to help make a point is a useful and powerful technique, you need to be a little careful not to make one of these two assumption:

  • We had all seen the movie
  • We all remembered the scene/quote.

Those of us who had seen the movie will try to remember exactly what happened, and the rest of us have no idea what the speaker is talking about. This confused the audience and they loose the connection with the speaker.

Here are three suggestions.

  1. Pick an example that most of your audience can relate to.
  2. Give a brief summary of the scene; just enough to help the audience understand why it emphasises your point
  3. Provide context for people that may not be familiar with the example, so that they can relate to the story.

This doesn’t just apply to scene’s from a movie, it could be a quote from a famous speech, or even an important event. For example if I was giving a speech on national unity, I could say something like this

“Do you remember when Nelson Mandela walked onto the rugby field in 1995 after South Africa won the world cup final?”

The South African’s in the audience will remember the moment, but not many others will. Here is an alternative:

“It was 1995, and South Africa having just come out of years of racial segregation, was hosting the Rugby World Cup competition. Due to anti-apartheid sporting boycotts, this was the first year that South Africa was allowed to enter, and they beat New Zealand in the finals to take the trophy. Nelson Mandela walked onto the field wearing a springbok rugby jersey, and presented the trophy to the captain Francois Pineaar, and a nation cheered.”

Which example do you prefer?

Mandela, Rugby World Cup Final, 1995

Even if I gave that story to an audience that does not follow rugby, they can probably relate it to a similar story that is relevant to sporting matches that they follow.

Keep your examples powerful, relevant and simple to capture your audiences, build powerful connections and leave memorable messages.

Do you leave memorable messages – Darren LaCroix on originality

Do you give your own memorable messages, or do you sound just like everybody else? Here is an interesting lesson from Darren LaCroix, the 2001 world champ of speaking. He tells an interesting story:

Never use someone else’s story. This is a small industry… it won’t take long for the ‘owner’ to find out. After doing my “Ouch!” speech at NSA a few years ago, it was copied by somebody overseas just a couple of months later. One of my mentors happened to be in the audience, and called the speaker on it. At first, he denied it. But later, he admitted it. As speakers, we can be inspired by others — but it’s important that we be original in our own messages, techniques, and stories.

As Darren would say “Ouch!”

You can read the entire article on Darren’s website.

Do you tell your own stories?

This is something that I have heard so many speakers talk about, but I have only recently found out how powerful it really is.

I recently completed the Toastmasters humourously speaking advanced manual. This manual requires you to use humorous stories and jokes in your speeches. Almost every time, I got a better response from using my own stories, than I found by using a joke that I found, or from somebody else?s stories (not just for humour, but for making a point in general).

A story is a bit like a new word, once you first hear it, everybody seems to be using it (think the starfish on the beach story). Even though it may be a great story, it gets boring very quickly.

There are several reasons for this:

Your own stories or jokes

  • Have a personal meaning to you
  • Are easy to remember
  • Are original
  • Have a message that you can convey in a unique manner
  • Keep the audiences interest

Other people?s stories or jokes

  • Have been heard before (possibly many times)
  • Are not original
  • Tell somebody else?s message
  • Lose the audience

One of the best ways to use your own stories is to keep a story file. Whenever anything interesting happens, or something strikes you as interesting, make a note of it in your story file. It can be as simple as a word document. Here is an example (that did happen to me).


  • Recently, I was cycling up a steep hill (next to the Cape Point Nature Reserve)
  • I got tired and was about to stop when I saw a pack of baboons
  • I raced up the hill faster than I have ever done before


  • You can do anything with the right motivation
  • No matter how tired you are, you always can always find that extra energy

Now, when you are looking for a story to illustrate a point, it is a simple case to look through your story file. A story file is also a great place to look for ideas when you are getting stuck on a speech.

I also use my digital recorder to jot down ideas and stories when I think of them, and then add them to my story file later.

The 7 P’s of a great story

Here is a great outline to follow when creating a story. This list comes from a storytelling workshop presented by Dorian Haarhoff at the Toastmasters Conference in Port Elizabeth.

  • People
  • Place
  • Problem
  • Pleasant
  • Plan
  • Process
  • Product

Take Little Red Riding Hood for example:

  • People   – Red Riding Hood, her grandmother, the woodcutter and the wicked wolf
  • Place   – a forest
  • Pleasant – Red Riding Hood going to visit her grandmother
  • Problem  – the wolf eats and then masquerades as grandmother
  • Plan   – chop off the wolf?s head
  • Process  – saved by the woodcutter
  • Product  – we all live happily ever after

Remember, facts tell, and stories sell ? so go out and write some great stories.