The Gift of Gab // Q&A with Speaker Hall of Famer Stephen Shapiro

By Debra Heller

On July 21, 2015, Stephen Shapiro was inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame. That evening he also received the National Speakers Association’s Council of Peers Award of Excellence (CPAE) in front of 1,500 people at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC, an award that was established in 1977 to honor those speakers who have reached the top echelon of excellence.
More recently, Stephen Shapiro addressed the Winning Edge 2018 Conference, which took place on Monday, June 18, at Montclair State University. The conference was produced by Yitzchok Saftlas, president of the Bottom Line Marketing Group, and presented by Saul Friedman and Company.
I spoke to Mr. Shapiro following that event.

Q:Everyone knows about sports halls of fame and music halls of fame, but I wasn’t aware that there was a speakers’ hall of fame.
A:Many people aren’t. There’s an organization called the National Speakers Association, which is the primary group for professional speakers. Each year they induct five people into its hall of fame, so over the past 40-plus years, 237 people have been inducted into it.

Q:Was your induction also based on your success in influencing people, or was it strictly because of your speaking skills?
A:Being selected has to do with how influential you are in terms of the impact you’re making. It isn’t about how much you charge for speeches, it’s about the quality of your speaking and if you really represent the industry. It’s a lot like the Academy Awards. They don’t necessarily go to the most profitable films, they go to the ones that they feel touched and inspired people the most.

Q:It’s very nice to be honored like that. Does it come with a monetary award as well, or do they just mention your name?
A:They gave me a nice little trophy and that’s about it. There’s no monetary recognition, but it’s a nice way to stand out from other people.

Q:Are the inductees only those who speak on business topics?
A:No. It’s for anyone who uses the spoken word for a living. Some inductees have been humorists or comedians. Others have been in the health industry; it covers a wide range of topics. I have a friend who’s in the Hall of Fame and he’s a cultural anthropologist. His big thing is climbing mountains.

Q:It’s really fascinating that you use the art of speech for business purposes.
A:It’s also used for individual motivation. If you look at how the Association was originally founded, a lot of people were ministers and preachers who decided to branch out to groups outside of their religious organizations. That’s actually how the profession began.

Q:In business, it’s usually the doers and not the talkers who are successful. But I guess there are people like Donald Trump who use the gift of gab to make money.
A:Any successful person has to be a great communicator. The difference for us is that we’re looking for people who can get on a stage. Okay, it’s not always an actual stage, but 99% of those in the Hall of Fame are people who can get up and speak on a topic for 45 minutes to one hour. It’s one thing to have a conversation with someone, it’s another thing to speak to a camera, and it’s an entirely different animal to tell a compelling story for 45 minutes that gives people insight and motivates them at the same time.

Q:I would imagine that if your message isn’t well received by the audience, you’re in very scary territory.
A:Yes, and I’ve been there. It’s not so much that they didn’t like what I was saying, but when I look at an audience I start to make assumptions based on body language. If I’m saying something I think is funny and people don’t laugh, I’m thinking, Oh, no! I’ve lost them! One of the things I’ve discovered, and this was really fascinating to me, is that some of my most impactful speeches were ones where I didn’t feel that the audience was engaged. The reason why it seemed that way is that they were thinking and processing on a very deep level, or else they were in an industry that doesn’t emote, such as engineers. Engineers aren’t exactly the most emotive people. It’s really about the result more than it is about them loving me as a speaker.


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