Shane Parrish


Create Meaning By Making Connections Across A Wide Range of Ideas

Key Takeaways

On being well-read:

I want to come across as a person who has a decent base knowledge so that I can talk to people from different disciplines and I can interact with professionals at different levels and so that I can solve problems across different fields. I want to be able to hold my own having a conversation with an engineer or a physicist or somebody else, so I can extract as much knowledge from them as I can.

The more I know – it’s a knowledge economy. The more I know the more I think I’m valuable and employable to other people as well. If I can learn from you and learn from everybody else I think that’s a great thing. One of the best ways to do that is through books, but another way is through engaging with people. If you can have a conversation with an engineer or a physicist about their discipline and you’re not from their discipline, they tend to really open up with you.

On getting comfortable:

I think we all have our own story and that story evolves. It changes. I know for me, I got interested in speaking because it was a way for me to challenge myself and frankly, it scared me. It was something I wanted to do to kind of push myself towards my limits, but not go past them and I really appreciated that.

As I do more speeches it becomes more comfortable. As the topics become the same it becomes easier to put together speeches. The story that was my first speech is a lot different than the story I have today, which is my 7th or 8th speech, which is much more well rehearsed, which is better examples. You learn what works and you adapt.

On making a lasting impact:

Well, I think what resonates with people are stories. Where we tend to go astray is where we find stories that just fit what we want to say, but don’t actually back up something true and something meaningful. It’s about connecting meaningful stories to people in a way that resonates with them and that largely depends on your audience.

You’re not going to give the same speech if you’re talking to a group of business executives as if you’re talking to a group of high school students. What resonates with those people and the stories and the connections they’re going to make are different, but on the back end, the fundamentals, the house, the foundation to that house, should still be the same. You’re just changing what it looks like and how it interacts with those people.

On dealing with nerves:

My first speech, it was that practice that actually enabled me to overcome that fear. It’s the fact that I had rehearsed it so much that at the end of the day I could almost do it blindfolded. Getting up there, you look at all these people and you’re like, “I did the work.” It’s like football. You practice all week. You do the motions, but it doesn’t mean anything until you show up on Sunday and you play for those 60 minutes.

On getting people to take action:

I think it’s up to people to take meaningful action. That’s a choice you make as a person. I can give you all the tools and the blueprints to build a house, but unless you’re willing to do it it’s not going to happen. I think the way to do that is make things easy for people. If you want to start a new habit of flossing your teeth, I think it’s like B.J. Fogg who says, “Start with one tooth a night.”

Then the minute you do that one tooth you’re going to do the rest of them, but you break it down into the first step. Remove the inertia of doing nothing. Create some positive momentum. Two or three days later you’ll be flossing your teeth every night. I think that part of what we can do as speakers is when people walk away, the big thing to do is not sell all your possessions, fly to Tibet and become a monk.

It’s what can you be doing that’s a small step in your life, that may resonate with you or may not? Although it’s opening the door for people, but I don’t want to make people walk through doors. I want to open doors.

What does it mean to speak like a pro?

It means connecting with an audience and doing that in a professional way. The professional way for me is that you’ve done your homework. You’re not showing up and looking up at a PowerPoint and reading the slides to an audience. It’s that you know your topic, you’ve done your work and you can tell them stories that resonate with them.

Top Tips and Resources:

 I think rehearsing – that doesn’t sound like a good thing. I can go online and look up 20 tips for public speaking and I should’ve. I totally should’ve because in hindsight it would’ve cut down my video editing by hours, I’m sure. I went up there. The first thing I’m doing is shifting my feet. I’m like, “Well, that looks pretty retarded, so I probably shouldn’t do that.”

It’s like the number one tip on every website. Don’t stand with you feet too close together because you’re off balance. I learned that organically, but yeah, I think that that was a good help.

I watch amazing speakers, people who I think are really good like Atul Gawande, and Nancy Duarte and I watch them talk. How do they resonate with people? What kind of language do they use? What kind of intonation do they use? Where do they pause? How long do they pause? Just try to mimic that. By no way am I nearly in that league, but if I can slowly improve over the next year or two I think I’ll be in a good spot.

Where to find Shane:

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