Great Speaker to Paid Speaker with Rina Rovinelli

After spending many years surrounded by Professional Speakers, World Championship Speakers and Owners of Speaker Bureaus, Rina Rovinelli finally spills the beans on why it’s not enough to be a great speaker, if you want to become a paid speaker.

Rinas headshot.jpg


Rina Rovinelli is the Co-Founder of Speaker Slam – Canada’s Premier Inspirational Speaking Competition with over 200 attendees monthly and attracting a stellar lineup of speakers and professional judges. She is a Speaker Coach and creator of the Emerging Speaker Program. Most recently, Rina has connected forces to spearhead the Too Much Woman Movement – empowering women to create meaningful impact by celebrating their too muchness. Rina’s greatest passion and life’s mission is the pursuit of human connection which she blogs about at

(If you prefer these tips in vide, click here)

Journey to Speaker Slam

With an eye for opportunity and extremely competitive spirit, Rina took Dan Shaikh’s offer to partner together in the speaking world. Initially, the idea was to create a debate club but as Rina recalls, “I couldn’t think of anything more boring.”

Fortunately, a few weeks later, Dan’s imagination was sparked again (or maybe for the first time ;)) and said, “let’s run a contest!” to which Rina replied, “OMG… Speaker Slam!”

Within weeks they were searching for venues, dreaming up themes and enrolling speakers and judges to make the first contest happen. Now, almost two years later, with over 200 attendees monthly, Rina and Dan have become the Largest Inspirational Speaking Competition in Canada.

I, adore Speaker Slam.

I love the people who attend monthly. I’m invigorated by the energy of the night. And most of all, I stand behind it’s purpose. As Rina says, “the most beautiful thing about Speaker Slam is that it’s real people sharing authentic stories. There’s no sales pitch. We’re all aligned for a night of transformation and to empower others and ourselves.”

Fortunately for many of you locals reading this blog, Rina was also willing to share her most important tip for winning Speaker Slam.

Focus On Your Message

Rina believes,”stories, are the great equalizer.” She and Dan have seen Professional Speakers and Public World Championship Speakers cross their stage. On the flip side, they’ve also had newbies and people who were competition for the first time up to the mic sharing their souls with hundreds of people.

Guess what?

Both types of competitors have taken home the title of Speaker Slam champion.

Should you be polished and ensure that you’re prepared to take the stage? Yes. You should give yourself the highest probability of success. But know that your story, your ability to resonate with the audience, your authenticity and your vulnerability will always been the greatest determining factor of Speaker Slam success. It’s not the person who’s most polished that will ultimately stand out, it’s the one who speaks to the heart and souls of the audience and judges.

Today, as Rina develops new businesses and products, she’s reflecting on the lessons gleaned from her journey to Speaker Slam for a few important insights on building a strong company.

  1. Find the right partner. Often people will fall into one of three categories, the artist, manager leader or the entrepreneur “In a partnership, Rina said, “it’s important to have two or more.” Rina sees herself more as an artist who has a big vision and loves planning, while Dan is more of the manager leader who can ensure the work starts today.
  2. Ready, Fire, Aim. As a result of thier successful partnership they were able to initiate action from day one. Together, they make a plan, execute the plan and then re-evaluate to determine if that is the best strategy or if it’s more appropriate to pivot. Rina feels blessed to have Dan as a partner because while she tends to dream big and spend a lot of time thinking while Dan ensure they’re executing the strategy by dramatically reducing their time to action.
  3. Build Community. Speaker Slam continues to grow and be one of the cities most exciting events because of it’s beautiful community. The second you walk into that space it’s filled with love, positivity and a collective mentality of support. As a fly on the wall watching what Rina and Dan have created over the last 2 years, I know without a shadow of a doubt that the secret sauce to their events success is the commitment to fostering this unique community. In time Businesses die but communities endure. If you want to build a great event, company or personal brand, ensure you’re building a community.

Now that Rina’s quit her full time job to dive again into the world of entrepreneurship, her latest business offering is called the Emerging Speaker. Within that business is a solution to the gap I see all to frequently in the public speaking community, great speakers that don’t know how to become paid speakers.

Hell, I personally feel that pain from time to time as a Professional Speaker. I get gigs make a decent living doing it. But all Speakers who’re serious about going pro want to get booked more frequently and for more cash.

Enter Rina.

While her program will tackle all of the angles that will help you go pro and get paid handsomely in the process, Rina was happy to extend the following non-negotiables:

  1. Use a Rifle Not a Shotgun. As a speaker, it’s critical we’re not delusional enough to believe our message is for everyone. Even Presidents of Nations are disagreed with or even hated by about 50% of the people. What makes you think your message is so special that everyone and anyone will resonate with your personal beliefs? As a result of this truth we need to stop using a shotgun in choosing the verticals and markets we’ll serve. Let’s instead begin to challenge ourselves to be specific about the industry, demographic, psychographic or type of group that will benefit most from our value proposition. Without that clarify around who you’ll serve best, you’ll end up fracturing your message like a shotgun rather than focusing it like a rifle.
  2. Market the Message. “I’ve met so many friends that run Speaker Bureaus and are paid Professional Speakers,” Rina said, “that to me, the clear difference between a great speaker and a paid speaker is the marketing of their message.” Not only do you need to be able to clearly articulate why you’re the right person to speak to a particular audience, you also need communicate why it should be you rather than someone else! To bridge the gap between being great and being paid, we need to immediately focus in on our key messaging, get clear on our unique value proposition and consistently and shamelessly convey that message to those who have the authority to pay us. As Grant Cardone would question, “who’s got my money?” And after asking that question, we need to proceed to create strategies of outreach to target those people.
  3.  Video Rules. Event organizers will not pay you, or in the least, pay you handsomely, if they can’t see you speak prior to bringing you into their event. We need to understand that they’re putting their reputation on the line every time they book a speaker. Consequently, they need to ensure you’ll be entertaining, educational and facilitate a memorable experience. Otherwise, you’re either not worth the money or they’ll simply look bad as the person who brought you in. That’s why Rina believes that creating a speaker reel or speaker video highlighting your strengths is an absolute non-negotiable for earning top dollar as a speaker.

Rina’s Do This Directives

  1. Be a Relationship Builder. Wether it’s to help support the growth of your business,  create credibility in your industry or for your own personal happiness, becoming a relationship builder will only enhance your life. Rina personally tries to meet 3-4 people for coffee every week to grow her network as well as deepen the connections she already has. “Nothing beats meeting in person, giving someone a hug and feeling their energy,” Rina commented. So although social media has made it easier to connect, she encourages us to never replace our face to face time as a relationship builder.
  2. Maintain Integrity. We live in what Rina calls the cancel culture. Where it’s okay to drop plans last minute or pursue something more interesting even though you’ve already made the commitment to another person. There’s nothing more detrimental to your reputation with someone than to cancel and bail on an agreed upon plan. Rather, as individuals who want to build strong relationships and hold ourselves to a higher personal standard, maintain your integrity and follow through on your word. It’ll go a long way in building trust. And in 2018, nothing replaces the power of trust.
  3. Get Your Butt to Speaker Slam. It’s the most inspirational event in the whole city! If you haven’t been, then come! If you’re thinking about sleeping on the next few upcoming events, don’t! You deserve to give yourself the gift of being enveloped by the energy and positivity that surrounds Speaker Slam. And more importantly, you have no idea what the connections and relationships you build in this room full of like minded individuals with forever change your life.

Audio Time Stamps

  • 00:00 Rina intro
  • 2:08 what is the connector
  • 3:00 Rina’s networking philosophy
  • 4:41 networking best practices
  • 545 Speaker Slam inspiration
  • 9:00 how to win speaker slam
  • 13:00 why come to speaker slam
  • 16:00 biggest gaps from great speaker to paid speaker
  • 20:00 do you need content?
  • 22:00 whats on Rina’s heart

Till next time stay on the offensive. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And remember what Jim Rohn said, “you cannot change the destination of your life overnight but you can change the direction.”

Jonathan Andrews








Asking Better Questions and Improving Communications Through Podcasting

Stefan Headshot

Stefan Spinoff is one of what is becoming a virtually endangered species. Someone who’s pursuing a career in the same field of his formal education. After graduating from Journalism school, Stefan embarked on a journey to change the way millennials are labeled through his Podcast, “The Restless Millennial“.

Throughout our discussing we were able to uncover some deeply person truths rarely shared amongst even his closest friends, the benefits of networking and

using LinkedIn as a platform to both share content and meet like minded people and finally the spiritual destruction of comparing yourself to others.

(If you’d prefer these tips in video format, click this link)


It’s my personal hope that each and everyone of us are driven by a burning desire to fulfill their own personal mission. And when I see it manifest in the lives of those around me, it’s clear gravitational pull, it’s impact on individuals work ethic, their demeanour, and most importantly actions, it’s a thing of beauty.

Stefan Spinoff is one of those men. “The Restless Millennial,” he shares, “is an attempt to change the narrative around millennials and give young entrepreneurs the platform to add value to others.”

Our youth have ideas, wisdom and often a contemporary outlook of ways to improve our world. It’s Stefan’s belief that by shifting the label from lazy and entitled to competent and valuable contributors, we’ll begin to see significant progress and hopefully moment towards the future development of youth leadership.

It’s an admirable mission and one that I’m grateful to have been able to work towards and contribute to throughout our conversation together.

Lessons From Great Youth

As a byproduct of running his Podcast, Stefan has had the opportunity to meet and learn from a plethora of successful and ambition Millennials. One in particular is someone I’ve seen develop a considerable following on multiple social platforms, Manu Goswami.

Manu’s a Top 20 Under 20, CEO of Trufan and 2x Tedx Speaker. After amassing a following of 50+ thousand professionals on Linkedin, Manu was able to glean some wisdom that Stefan’s taken advantage of to this day. Many shared that if you jump in and begin creating and curating content on LinkedIn today, you’d still be considered an early adopter. The platform hasn’t reached saturation, there’s room for youth and adults alike to build a strong professional brand.

As businesspeople, influencers and future world movers and shakers, attention is currency and according to Manu it’s not too late to take your fair share of the pie on LinkedIn. With over 250 million active users… I’d be happy to take a small crumble of the left over slices falling off the side of the table!

Today, as a result of the show, Stefan’s taken strides to increase the volume and quality of his posts on LinkedIn and he’s seen immediate results.

“I can already see the exact same posts I put on LinkedIn getting more traction and views than the ones that I post on Instagram.”

You don’t need to tell me twice. If we’re going to take our professional brand seriously, there’s no time like the present to aggressively leverage LinkedIn to build our brands.

Fun Facts About Stefan

Stefan admitted to being a huge Michael Jackson fan back in High School. So much so that he would video tape himself learning the moves and post them on Youtube. The name of that channel is still unknown, but what we do know is that you can see an extremely revealing (and impressive) 30 second clip of Stefan dancing here (skip to 18:30).

The Death of Joy

As a parting thought from our time together, Stefan offered the idea he’s been pondering over the past few weeks,

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I personally returned the thought with an axiom I frequently revisit,

“Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 7.”

Stefan reminds us that while there are so many opportunities today because of social media, it can be equally as destructive, if we allow it. As Jim Rohn says, we need to stand guard at the doors of our minds.  If we don’t we’ll allow the lifestyles, possessions, and perceived happiness of others to plant seeds of fear, doubt and uncertainty of our own unique paths.

We’re quick to wish we could do more or have more, even if those things aren’t actual priorities for us. Stefan is working on and challenges us to stop comparing ourselves to others, especially from what you see on social media. To seek our own truths, to work hard on what makes us passionate, and attack each day, one step at a time.

Stefan’s Do This Directives

  1. Raise your LinkedIn game – It can be extremely challenging to break out on matured and saturated social media platforms. Yes, our content needs to be high quality. Yes, our ideas and positions need to be provocative and thought provoking. We won’t argue that. But if we’re going to be posting anyways, let’s up our game by using a platform that still has significant room for us to grow a strong and loyal following. See you on LinkedIn!
  2. Focus on your own path – We all have goals, desires and ambitions unique to us. However, we’re so easily intoxicated by the sizzle of others lifestyles. Hold your ground, don’t compare yourself to people’s possessions and lives. Can you use it as fuel to create a better life? Yes. But ensure you’re standing guard at your mind and not allowing comparison to steal your joy.
  3. Listen to the Restless Millennial. Now available on Spotify, you can find Stefan’s Podcast with Manu Goswami here.

Audio Show Timeline

  • 00:00 intro who is Stefan Spinoff
  • 1:30 what is the Restless Millennial
  • 4:30 favourite guests
  • 9:00 how to ask better questions
  • 10:30 taking advantage of journalism background
  • 14:30 challenges of doing the podcast
  • 16:00 things people don’t know about Stefan
  • 19 who is Stefan grateful for
  • 21 Stefans process for self improvement
  • 23:20 don’t compare yourself to others

Till next time stay on the offence. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And don’t forget what Jim Rohn said, “you can’t change the destination of your life overnight but you can change the direction.” 

Jonathan Andrews


LLL v3 – Don’t hold back your people

I fundamentally misunderstood the purpose of leadership as President of CSI Pitchmasters.

I thought club membership growth was a measuring stick of my leadership.

I thought successful events was an indicator of my influence.

I thought being called, “the best president we’ve ever had,” meant I was doing everything right.

I was certainly and without a doubt wrong. The truth is I failed as a leader.

Not because anyone said so, as you can see from above I’ve been praised over and over again for my dedication to our members, for representing our club professionally, and for ensuring that we meet our club key performance indicators, I say I failed because I know it in my heart of hearts that anyone could have done what I did this past year.

Dissapointed in mirror

It’s relatable to being a peacetime general. In good times, when you’re growing, when the revenue curve is going skywards, you don’t really see leadership. In fact, it’s not really that important. Everything’s working with or without great leadership. When you need leadership is when things go wrong. It’s when the curve flattens, you’re losing members/ employees, the economy tanks.

But my lousy leadership wasn’t that I didn’t make more problems that I could stand up heroically and solve. My biggest mistake is that i didn’t take advantage of the most important function of a leader during peace times. Developing other leaders.

The leaders most important task is to take good people and make leaders out of them.

You see, in any organization whether that be a non-profit like CSI Pitchmasters, your own business, or even your families and communities, people are the only assets that can continually appreciate. Systems become outdated, buildings deteriorate, machines wear down, but people can grow, develop and become more productive and effective if they have a good leader who understands their value.

Over the past 12 months I’ve been surrounded by 5 incredible board executives and over a dozen members all of which I’m extremely fond and proud of. Saying that I haven’t seen tremendous growth in them right before my eyes would be a lie. But their incredible growth is a by-product of an environment we’ve created, nothing to do with my personal leadership. In fact, it’s so clear to me now that on many occasions I was standing directly in the way of their growth. Here’s why: I didn’t give my team the space to fail and win and because I was insecure.

I took on jobs that should have clearly been delegated. And tasks that would have been huge confidence boosters for members, ended up on my plate because I didn’t set proper expectations and encourage members to take them on with pride and enthusiasm. When I look back, most of the talk about being an awesome president was because I took on so much work, personally.

We all had it twisted.

The best leaders would have inspired, delegated, and encouraged its members to take on the work and grow personally. They would have consistently modeled the behaviour they wanted to see,  mentored the team to acquire new skills, recognized their personal accomplishments and established the right support systems incase there were challenges.

That is the role of the leader!

Not taking on all the work, but ensuring the team grows in the pursuit of accomplishing lofty projects. If you’ve experienced this problem as well or want to be wise and avoid these mistakes as a leader completely, follow these two principles.

It’s in a leaders best interest to let your team win or lose

Understanding your teams abilities will multiply your effectiveness. The first step to great leadership is to surround yourself with people of great potential. That wasn’t my problem. My problem was that I didn’t know how to properly delegate responsibilities and tasks. Instead of recognizing my teams strengths and capabilities, I did everything myself. When I should have been confident in my team and motivated them to take on projects, I stepped in and stunted their growth potential.

team sleeping GIF by gamingWhat I’ve learned is that it’s important to give your team opportunities to show you and themselves that they are capable. Fostering leadership is about putting people in a position to become leaders themselves. And to do that without micromanaging. I didn’t clue into the fact that it was actually in my best interest all along to let them win or even fail because then you both know moving forward whether or not they’re suited for that task. Once you know what your team is and isn’t capable of you can delegate appropriately and multiply effectiveness.

Great leaders are not threatened by people with great potential

Gary Vaynerchuk has an excellent analogy where he says that as an entrepreneur building a company he wants to build the biggest building in town. And he wants to do that by building the biggest building in town… Unlike how most other business people do it by tearing down other people’s building.

Gary v biggest building

When it comes to my relationships with people I’ve definitely never purposefully tried to build a bigger building by tearing down anyone’s building, but I sure have been threatened by others buildings. I’m being very transparent for the sake of drilling deep into my own personal psychology when I say that I do avoid giving others opportunities, or share their work when I love it, or hold on to my own personal learning because I’ve convinced myself that if I do, they will build a bigger building than me.

Joze Piranian bumped me out of the Speaker Slam Grand Slam first place spot by .5 in November of 2017 and I still haven’t shared his incredible speech on Facebook (until now). I don’t share valuable insights that I know could help my roommate, Iain, because he’s already so damn smart and it exposes my insecurities. Finally, I don’t pass along all of the best practices in selling I’ve learned with specific members of my team at work because with it I know they’d outsell me.

Why? Because I’m not secure as a leader.

It’s an unproductive, disempowering, and candidly a pathetic place to come from as a leader. Fortunately I recognized the need for change.

Great leaders, the type of leader I want to become, are not threatened by people of great potential.

Great leaders want to lift them up and help them soar higher. I’ve learned that in order to be a great developer of people you need to be personally secure, because taking people to the height of their potential may mean they will pass you by…

And that’s okay. Our job as a leader isn’t to look good or to be at the top of some hierarchy. It’s to work hard and model the behaviour we want to see in our people. It’s to mentor and coach potential leaders to achieve big goals, goals bigger than the individual.

It’s about developing other leaders.

This radically transparent reflection, while painful, is necessary. It’’s not only necessary for me to be completely honest with myself, but it’s also critical for you, if you also want to step into a leadership role, to see yourself in my example. To decide whether or not you’re truly developing people or if you’re holding them back because of micromanagement or insecurity.

Do this.

  1. Give your team the space and opportunity to win and lose. Taking on all the work may get you short term credit and pleasure, but it doesn’t lead to long term satisfaction, trust and results. I want to challenge you to give your teams more challenging tasks and coach and encourage them until they’ve stretched into the leader they have the potential to be.
  2. Seek ways to elevate your team higher than yourself. Just like you move beyond mentors and coaches when you’re ready, the same should be happening with your people. If you’re maximizing your responsibility as a leader they should surpass you in skill and ability as well. Give them the strength, encouragement and recognition they deserve. It will only make the world a better place.

Till next time stay on the offensive. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And remember what Jim Rohn said, “you cannot change the destination of your life overnight. But you can change the direction.”



LLL v2 – Say no to good work

If there is one commonality amongst achievers, it’s that we like to say yes.

Would you like to take this project on? Of course!

Are you free to volunteer at this event? Let’s do it!

Can you lead the team this year? Why not?

Even if we have 3 other projects running, multiple interpersonal commitments, and already feeling stretched and overwhelmed, we say yes.


Well it could be our fear of missing out. Our desire to test our limits. Perhaps even feeling guilt over letting a colleague down. Whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you it’s time to start saying no.

This past year I committed to 2 volunteer leadership roles, my more than full-time career as a salesperson, my fellowship with Venture For Canada, being a speaker, volunteer and delegate with, building my career as a professional speaker, writer and coach and of course the most important relationships in my life with my girlfriend, few close friends and family.

Speaker Slam Grand Slam sick pic

A mouth full I know…

And not only am I out of breath saying it out loud, it’s clear to me I bit off more than I could chew as a leader this past year.

I’ve stretched myself too far mentally. I’ve put too many demands on myself physically. I’ve weakened relationships that I cared about. All because I said yes. Perhaps you have too.

So I’m here to say, once and for all, that I hope my mistakes this year challenge you to believe that it’s time to stop overcommitting. To shortchanging our relationships. And from preventing ourselves from doing our best work. As my good friend Iain Gabriel always reminds me, “he who chases two hares catches none.”

Am I saying, don’t take on hard work as an achiever? No.

Am I saying I regret my decisions, actually, some of them.

What I’m saying and hope to make it crystal clear that as a leader, less is more. This year of pushing myself too far has taught me that having more than three top priorities means that we have no priorities. That the more you say yes, the more inevitable sacrifices you will need to make. Some of the sacrifices just weren’t worth it. Looking back I don’t want to dwell on Jim Rohn’s words ever again,

“Don’t trade your life for mediocre goals.”

If you struggle with this as much as I do, I think these 3 reasons to say no might help you moving forward, too.

1. Other peoples’ priorities take precedence over ours. If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.

2. We will not have time for rest and recovery. Therefore we ultimately end up frustrated and stressed. Similar to working out in the gym, everyone needs to de load every-once in a while. We need to exercise with lower weights, less intensity and have a greater focus on rest. That way, when do get back in the gym, we’re stronger than ever before. The same is true with our mental health as a achiever and leader.

3. We won’t be able to say yes to the really important things.

The last one was the clincher for me.

Out of guilt or fear of confrontation, we take on more projects and invest in someone else’s priorities.… In the process, we lose our most valuable personal resources—time, energy, and money—on things that aren’t important to us. Each time we agree to something without enthusiasm or interest, we waste a little more of these precious resources.

Finally, number 3 reminds of an audio by Success Magazine of Darren Hardy interviewing Michael Bungay Stanier on Good vs Great work. For those of you that have never heard Michael before here’s a quick primer from his book, Do More Great Work.

If you can’t remember how you just spend the day (or the week) – you’re doing Good Work.

If you’re about as anxious as you are excited – you’re doing Great Work.

If you’re bored of telling people what you do – you’re doing Good Work.

If you’re going to do it regardless – you’re doing Great Work.

If you’re sticking to your job description – you’re doing Good Work.

If you’re stepping out to the edge of yourself – you’re doing Great Work.

Over the last year as a leader, every-time I said yes to other people’s priorities, excluding those that I was genuinely excited about, I ended up doing good work. By continuously taking on that type of good work not only did I start to feel overwhelmed, stressed and burnout, but I didn’t have the strength to say yes to my personal passion projects and priorities.

I didn’t get to be the President at CSI Pitchmasters I envisioned I would be. I didn’t get to make as big of an impact for youth in Canada suffering with challenges with their mental health as I promised myself I would be. And I didn’t get to I didn’t have the energy to be fully present in my relationships or go all in on my personal brand. As a result I’ve accomplished less in the last year than I know I’m capable of.

Dissapointment pictureI’ve learned my lesson. And it’s time to turn it around.

Every time we say no to something that is not important, we are saying yes to something that is: our work, our relationships, our resources, our health.


Every time we say NO to something that is not important, we are saying YES to something that is.

Do this.

Decide to stop trading your life for mediocre goals. Decide to stop putting other peoples’ priorities before your own. Decide to start saying no to good work and yes to great work.

Find the work that lights you up. The work that makes a difference. The work that matters. Say yes to that work. If you can muster that courage, your health, relationships and of course your leadership will flourish.

Till next time, stay on the offensive. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And remember what Jim Rohn said, “You cannot change the destination of your life overnight but you can change the direction.”



Lessons in Lousy Leadership V1

Almost everyone I’ve ever admired were or are leaders.

Jim Rohn, became a millionaire leading a team in network marketing. Eugene, my first Gymnastics coach led scrawny kids to become powerful young superstars. My dad, learned his chops in the military and went on to lead hundreds of men and women for the Metro Toronto Police Force.

It’s clear to me that leadership is an uphill battle. It demands excellence, discipline, and vision. It can quickly expose you, if you aren’t prepared, to the chinks in your armour. And it is surely a humbling pursuit.

I admire leaders for the same reason you do. Leaders lead. They take the first step into uncharted territory. They organize, rally and inspire. They take ownership over the direction and strategy for the team and ownership of the failures along the way. Leaders, force you to grow.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve decided to crawl out of my shell and embrace leadership. Not for the admiration, but for the growth. Looking back to when I started I never would have imagined how far I’ve come and how many missteps I was soon to make in the process… It’s a journey that, for me is just beginning, and a journey that I encourage you to travel for yourself.

Today, I’m currently the president of CSI Pitchmasters as well as the Area Director for Area 71 with Toastmasters. And as I’m sure you’ve experience first hand, most of our growth, almost all of our greatest epiphanies as leaders, are through our errors. The purpose of this series is to share them and call them out so you don’t need to make those same mistakes as I have.

In late 2017, as the President of CSI Pitchmasters, the board and I decided on our club contest dates. Every 6 months, each Toastmasters group runs a contest to test the members and ensure their progressing by going head to head with other members from across the globe. When we sat down as a board to discuss the next steps, it was decided that our VP of Education would organize the event with my support along the way. The next 4 weeks leading up to the event were a blur. The next thing I knew it was 4 days until the contest with very little progress made. The club was excited but I was nervous.

TI Area Contest

The only thought going through my head was, “I guess I’m screwed!”

Sound familiar?

Let’s unpack this first lesson in lousy leadership, together.


Autonomy Over Blind Faith

My first major blunder as a leader was misinterpreting the word autonomy. I thought, our VP has decided to take on this project so we can meet once and he’ll get it done! He’s an intelligent, educated and hardworking guy, this is going to be easy I thought.

How could I have been so naive?

It’s true that he is intelligent. He is Educated. And he is certainly hard working. But as a leader I totally dropped the ball. What I thought was autonomy was actually blind faith.

It’s a mistake I’ll never make again.

This, like all failures, merited reflection. After playing out other scenarios in my head and understanding more about the way autonomy worked in my current job, here’s what I should have done. If you’ve ever worked with a great leader they probably did this – They define the expectations.

As a leader, I should have set expectations for who was responsible for what, when it needed to be done by, and how often we should have had a progress update. Although we clearly needed to organize the event, I never set the expectation around food and our budget. Who would print off all the materials and forms. I missed communicating what needed to happen in order for us to be ready and when did it need to be ready by. That simple method of setting expectations would have saved my ass.

If I had done that, I would have been giving him autonomy instead of blind faith.

Blind faith is saying, “Let me know if you need any help!”

Autonomy is saying,”this is what we’re responsible for, here is our desired outcome, and these are our agreed upon check ins.”

That way, it’s clear what needs to get done and everyone knows their personal responsibilities.

Trust me when I say that your team will thank you for setting expectations and appreciate you caring enough to check in when you said you would.

If You F Up Be Like A Duck

Finally the day of the event arrived. I ended up scrambling like hell to organize the people, the paper work, the food, and get the venue set up to support the desired outcome. It goes without saying that you don’t need that kind of  stress in your life.

I’m now standing in front of the room, 10 minutes before the start time with our VP and the MC we invited to run the night. While my VP and I franticly ran around trying to set everything up, our veteran Toastmaster and MC, Emilio, demonstrated to me what it looks like to be a leader under pressure. I’ll never forget that night because it was the first time that I saw first hand what it meant to be like a duck.

Emilio Pic
Follow Emilio on all Social Channels @ecmspeaking

Leaders of all capacities will be required to execute under pressure. When the chips are down, when you’re the underdog, when it’s clear you’re underprepared and no one has a clue what the hell is going on. The leader still needs to lead.

That night, 10 minutes before we started, Emilio walked up to my VP and I and said, “We’re missing forms and you see these other forms? Ya, all of those are for the wrong competition.”

My stomach sank. I tried to keep my composure but both my VP and I were panicking. All of a sudden my VP was not only panicking but he had verbal diarrhea and lost his nerves in front of the whole group. They were beginning to realize we F’d up.

Coming to our rescue, like a war tested veteran who had clearly done this hundreds of times, Emilio grabbed us and pulled us outside the room. We have a room of over 20 people ready to participate in the contest, he said. A few missing forms is nothing to ruin this night over. Yes, we screwed up. Yes, we don’t have everything we should have. But we’ll make it work, he said boldly.

With a straight face and head held high, one that only a real leader could muster under pressure, Emilio guided us back into the room and worked diligently for the next 5 minutes briefing our judges, the timers, and our ballot counters on the missing forms and what we were going to do about it. When we F’, he acted like a duck. Cool and calm on the surface, yet working like hell to paddle hard under the water.


When you watch ducks, it looks as though they are smoothly gliding along the surface of the water with very little effort.  However, a closer inspection reveals that they are paddling hard under the water to get where they need to go.

It was easy, even default, for my VP and I to get frazzled that we had screwed up.

But the best leaders, leaders like Emilio, are more like ducks.  Sure, they’re still working hard, but they make it look easy. With warm smiles and a relaxed demeanour, they bring a sense of calmness and reassurance to those around them.  They are less likely to explode in rage when the team has made a mistake and more likely to focus immediately on a solution.

As Emilio would say,

“The show must go on.”

Staying cool, calm and collected is the only way to keep everyone level headed and productive. Emilio told me that he works best under pressure. He’s learned from all his past experiences that it is best to focus our energy on the factors WE CAN control and not to lose sweat over what we can’t.

Because of Emilio, that event was still one of our biggest successes to this day. Thank you, brother.

Do this.

Don’t make the same mistakes I have. In your next leadership opportunity practice these two lessons from my lousy leadership.

  1. Set the right expectations. Don’t lead with blind faith, instead give your team autonomy. Who’s responsible for what, when does it need to get done by and what are our agreed upon check ins.
  2. If you make mistakes, which you will, receive them relaxed. Choose intentionally to focus on the solution rather than the problem. If you act like a duck, you won’t project your anxiety and frustration on the rest of the team. Instead you will become an example they aspire to emulate like I do with Emilio.

I hope these stories inspire you to share your own leadership lessons. Please leave a comment below so I don’t have to make them all myself!

Till next time be on the offensive. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And remember what Jim Rohn said, “You cannot change the destination of your life overnight but you can change your direction.”