Below is a great interview with speaker and coach Maria Johnson, who is the author of a book I’m featured in, “The World’s Greatest Speakers: Insider Secrets on How to Engage and Move Your Audience to Action.”
In the interview, I share some great tips for launching your successful speaking career – so if you are a speaker interested in taking your career to the next level, this interview may be of real benefit to you.
One of the most important parts of the interview is where I reveal my simple secrets for telling captivating stories. I see so many speakers on stage make the mistake of NOT including the best stories in their speeches, and it can really have a negative effect on their performances and their careers.
Get a FREE download of the audio recording, CLICK HERE.
FROM MARIA JOHNSON’S BOOK “WORLDS GREATEST SPEAKERS”
CHAPTER – JANIE JASIN
“I listen to people, that’s where the miracles are.” Janie Jasin
Janie is a speaker, author, humorist, and storyteller. She’s been a successful professional speaker for 40 years. In the 1970s, Janie was in sales for Dale Carnegie training, and then formed her own corporation in 1976. She holds the Certified Speaking Professional, the CSP designation in the National Speakers Association, which only 10% of all speakers receive, and in 2012, received a coveted Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Speakers Association and is a Legends Speakers Award Winner 2015.
Welcome Janie, it’s great having you here!
Thank you so much! I’m all yours.
Let’s just go back in time a little bit and share with us, how did it all begin? What’s your story?
I’m the product of two grandparents who were Irish musicians in Wisconsin, so as a little girl; I saw a lot of dancing and playing. In the olden days, the polio epidemic was horrendous. I started putting on little shows in the garage and collecting money for charity. For me, it was always about let’s do a show and it all was very normal to me. I’m also an only child, and I had a father who was an entrepreneur who encouraged me.
I’m always amazed when you start to tell a story, because you immediately go to this deep human level, and I find myself almost in tears by a story told in two to three minutes. Many people have difficulty with this aspect of speaking. What are the keys to being a good storyteller?
I listen to people, that’s where the miracles are. I’m not so interested in myself anymore because I’ve had a phenomenal life. To give a good story, you need to stand up and say something. Give me some hope. Give me a kernel of strength. Give me something I can laugh at. Those stories are spectacular. We get preoccupied with the things we do. We count the money, or we drive the truck, or we make the bakery, and we stop looking at what’s going on around us. That’s where the magic is. If you have the nerve, the guts, the interest, or the love of wanting to speak, then the sky is the limit and then you can stand up and talk about almost anything, Wake people up to do their best around you.
What is it like pulling your message together?
Well, there is an opening, the middle, and a close, and the middle is always the same. The facts- benefits material came from working with the work of Conrad Barrs MD. He was a doctor who had been in the Buchenwald concentration camp, then worked with, chemically dependent priests and nuns and suicide survivors. His book “Born Only Once- the Miracle of Affirmation was the base of my speeches, If I look at you with kind and gentle eyes, and see your value, that gift of Affirmation will allow you grow. You will act more confident. You can stand on the steps of your life with belief in self. The end might be a song with the theme built into it. The Affirmation process was my base to build esteem and it worked with sales, teens, nurses and many others. I made a commitment to deliver that process.
Yes, and everyone can see that in your work. You’re open to seeing things.
It is about using what you have. How can we make that happen, and how can we use what’s current in the day? I always try to use what was a current song or whatever I have. I remember working at Dale Carnegie in sales. Oh, I was so proud of that. I was the only woman on that sales team. One day a man said, “Well, would you get me coffee?” I stood up, and I just stuck my bosoms out as big as I could and I said, “Nope. I’m a salesman.”
What was it like when you book came out?
When The Littlest Christmas Tree, came out, I really didn’t know anything about book sales, and how all of that worked. I was excited about the crowds that were coming, and at the book expo there was a big pile of people standing in line. I didn’t know why and I said, “What are you waiting for?” They said, “We’re waiting for the Christmas tree lady.” I said, “Well. I’m her,” but this crowd was like an audience. I said, “Well, let’s learn the song that I wrote.” Oh, it was a big crowd of 150 people. I sang and said, “Sing it back.” Oh, they sang, and they sang the whole song line after line. And walking by at that very time was a CNN.reporter and she wrote about the situation.
Oh, my gosh.
The CNN people did a huge write up of “The Littlest Christmas Tree” and it was not about Santa, or a reindeer. It is about growing and going on. It was about the little tree that needed to learn patience. She stood in the field, and said, “Thank you for allowing me to grow today and to see the world and it’s many possibilities.”
Is the Littlest Christmas Tree you?
I suppose she is like me. She was really a tree I found in Wisconsin, in a big Christmas tree field while I was crying in the forest, because my both parents had lost their minds. I was in Wisconsin trying to deal with their estate. I’m an only child, so I was crying. I thought, “I’ll just walk in the Christmas trees,” and their soil was so warm, and the branches of the big trees were rubbing me. They seemed like guardian angels and then I looked over, and there was this one little tree on the side, and I thought, “I don’t know if that one’s going to make it.” So, that Christmas, I wrote the story on one page, and sent it to my speaking clients.
So, what happened?
My wonderful career and the speaking was all put on hold. I was dealing with my mom and dad, and that’s why I wrote that to my clients. There was a power greater than me that had a different plan. I wrote the story with the love of what I loved in life and would wish that love for you, too.” That’s all any of us can hope for. That’s what you’re doing with the amazing work that you’re doing, Maria. You’re helping people be able to stand up and say something. It’s strange that people are so frightened of speaking when it is the first thing we try to do as little babies.
What’s unique is your depth of compassion, and it’s not about you.
Oh, but it is. They clap for me. I love that, and they turn the lights on, and they play music. I want everybody to have a good time. Okay. Stand up. It’s just so great.
Did you invent things on the spot?
I sometimes invent things in the agenda plan, in the speech. There’s always the opening, middle, and a close, and I like to do creative things within the company, association theme using music, movement, and art, and that is the fun of it. You can teach people using that, and you can encourage them.
You mentioned you had a beginning, middle, and end. When you first walk out, what’s the very first thing you do?
Pray. I look at them, and I say, “Please, God, help me.” I usually walk and step down into the rows of people within a minute and a half. I also go up and down and stand on the platform for major verbiage.
On the floor with them?
I’m starting out with whatever the opener is, “and today we’re going to be talking about enthusiasm. What does that mean? Who has it? There are some who don’t have it. Some people came here needing it.” Bam. I go down to steps one, two, three, four and see someone that looks willing- not those that are introverts. I see a smiling someone and say, “You, sir, you look like you’re a very enthusiastic person.” I’m into the people. The minute you walk into them, and you ask them, “Oh, was it hard to get up this early? Oh, yeah. You brought your husband? I thought it was only for women. Oh, you’re here, sir? When did you meet her?” Now I’m into their life. “You met her where, at a dance, did you? I suppose you got up early this morning, and didn’t even have time to kiss her, did you, before this conference began? Oh, you met her at a dance. Let’s just sing. Everybody sing with me.” May I have this dance for the rest of my life- (singing) and they do…
You make such great connections with the audience.
I’m always looking for a way to connect with them in a mini moment, because I have the content of the talk. I’m hired to come to deliver a sense of purpose, a sense of well-being and a sense of humor, and I need to address how people can get them. In between, they are going to experience it, and then I can talk to them, and allow them to be seated and enjoy each other. When the speech is over, they’re out in the hallway, and they’re all talking. “Oh, I saw you up in front. Janie had you up there, and then you danced.” They just love it, so they’re the stars and I am the facilitator.
How did you get so good at that?
I didn’t always have that ability to connect and wasn’t very connected to my own feelings. But after working on it for years, like the song Amazing Grace. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see. It’s all about amazing grace.
What is the hardest part of speaking that you think looks easy to people on the outside?
I think the hardest part is the prep, for me, in the office. What is it going to be? What parts am I going to use, so I draw circles with possibilities. Then in the end, I put the circles in a line, or I choose three out of five, and I put it together like that. When I get to the event, the hardest thing is being nice, because there are always things that are wrong. I don’t want a lectern. I just need a chair up here, and the steps going down the middle. Do you have the sound tuned in? Are the lights up? Is the microphone working? Is the book signing area prepped so they see it as they enter the seating area? It is to see the popcorn before the movie concept.
What’s a memorable experience you can remember speaking about your book?
I went to the Minnesota Zoo when the Christmas book came out, and they were going to have me read it in the evening. I went in this room and there were people sitting there. They had been touring the zoo. While I’m getting ready to go on, a woman comes in, and she has her daughter, and the daughter has a red and white cane. The girl is blind, so I say to the little girl, “Well, how do you check for buying a Christmas tree?” She said, “Oh, I lean into it and I feel the branches.” When I saw the little girl, my first thought was, “Well, how is she going to see these people acting out the tree story? So, I’ll just put her in.”
Okay, so now in my mind, I had the plan. I’m going to have some people, seniors + 60, be the tall trees. I’m going to put them up on the platform. I’m going to have some little ones that are the little trees. And I’m going to have the trimmers, and I’m going to lead them into the story. Trim the trees, stand up, and look good. Then I said to this little blind girl. “At the end, I want you to be standing behind one of the bigger, tall people, as if you’re checking the tree.” She said, “Okay. Okay.” Now the story starts out. Once upon a time in a field, da, da, da, da. We’re going along. We’re doing well. All the little children, they’re up, and they’re down, and they’re all around, and then, the lights go out in the Minnesota Zoo. Not planned. Dark.
Oh! Oh my gosh!
I know the story, so I just kept going and they kept acting it out. There was kind of a dim hall light or something and then the last line came. “At last, the Littlest Christmas Tree understood the magic was in today.” At that very moment, the lights came on in the Minnesota Zoo, and that girl, Annessa, was reaching up on the big tree and looking up, and I said, “She understood that the magic was today. Looking up, she said, ‘Thank you for life, thank you for dreams, and thank you for choosing me to grow today in this world with its many possibilities.'” Bam. It was done.
Wow. That is just amazing. That’s beyond coincidence.
I had to think of something. Yeah. Big stuff happens, but that’s the risk. I didn’t want to drag my stuff into the Minnesota Zoo, my little bestselling books, and when the light goes out should I just sit back at a card table and say, “Well, sorry, folks. “Time’s up. Go home.” By gosh, we’re just going to do it.
What motivates you to do this?
The truth is, I have a drive that’s so strong to help other speakers experience the best of their selves. If you have the nerve, the guts, the interest, or the love of wanting to speak, then the sky is the limit. You can stand up at showers, weddings, your church, or anywhere. You can do almost anything, and awaken people to do their best around you. I just get very excited about speaking. I guess I will always be excited that somebody can stand up and say something, and try to make a difference in somebody’s life. What a miracle.
What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you as a speaker?
The guy speaking before me is using technology and the stage was full of it. I was supposed to go on at 10 and speak for 90 minutes. However, he ran a half-hour over. I knew that I was supposed to end at 11:30. However, I didn’t get on until 10:30, so I ended it at 11:30 to be on time. The meeting planning woman, God bless her, was so upset, and she started screaming, “You cheated us. You cheated us.” She was afraid she would get reprimanded. She was sitting at her lunch table and I just gave the check back. It was hard.
What was the hardest part about speaking at that time in your life?
The hard parts were the travel and sometimes the loneliness. I would go to the hotel room and later I didn’t want to go in anymore, and I would just have to pray and say, “It’s okay, Janie. You just sleep now, and then in the morning, you’re out of this room, and then you’re speaking and you love it. That’s where the wear and tear was.
You’ve worked with a lot of great speakers. Who were some of your mentors?
Jack Canfield was always great to me. Zig Ziglar & Og Mandino were very kind. Cavett Robert sent me cassettes when I started. He was a spark of energy. Then the support of the National Speakers Association cheered me on. I remember I was going to speak at an event and Jack Canfield spoke before me. I was waiting in line for dinner the night before, and the people in line were just shouting, “Oh, Jack. He’s so wonderful. Jaaack. Do you know Jaaack?” The next morning, I was going to be on, and Jack was at the panel’s breakfast table behind me. I get up there, and want to get even, so I say to the audience, “Well, here we are, and I’m up here with Jaaack.” I look over at Jack. I say, “Wow, they just couldn’t say enough wonderful things about you, Jaaack.” He was laughing so hard. I said, “Yes, yes, and now I’m up here with him. I don’t know who you were last night when we were getting ready for dinner, but I know you wanted to be near Jack.” Here he is. Stand up and give him a standing ovation, so they did.
If you could have dinner with anyone again who would that be?
He was an attorney from the South, and ended up moving to Arizona. He was in sales, and decided to ask for his friends to meet at the Camelback Inn in Arizona and start a group, and that’s how, The National Speakers Association began, Who knew that six or seven men would turn out to be what, 2,500 people, and this association would become. The fact that you or I could like this speaking stuff and have it as an occupation, a vocation, is a gift.
After all these years, what do you think needs to change?
Comprehension of others to know it would be great to encourage presenters to use emotion and not just share the facts, and you did that in corporate America. I worked for General Mills. That’s the home of Betty Crocker. They chose Betty for her warm and friendly sound, and Crocker was the name of one of the first CEOs. Betty was a name during the war. Betty was making things from scratch. That’s what it was about, warming the visitors, warming the customers to purchase something that would be good for their family. Nothing says loving like something from the oven. But in business it seems boredom, facts and slides are the given and accepted. Oh YAWN!
I love that.
I think that I’ve been extremely blessed to meet you, because it awakened me to all this great stuff that occurred in my life, and I’m selfish enough that I want some more stuff.
I don’t see you as selfish.
Oh, I am. I just stagger around and think, “Okay, how can I use this now? How do you learn to do this speaking thing?”
After all these years, all the things that you’ve done, what has surprised you the most?
The surprise was being pulled out of the speaking and having to deal with my mother and father, and being in the Christmas trees, desperately searching for something to write to all of these companies that hired me, and to write them that little story about the Christmas tree on one page. I just did that because I had to send them something. I was pulled out of my work, out of marketing, and out of the speaking world. At that very time, the one page story was sent to Vicky Lansky, a publisher, and she saw that, and said, “I think we should do that. I think we should publish,” and I was so naïve. I never saw myself as any kind of a real author. I was just writing to people because I was marketing, and I cared about them. The fact that that happened, that was a surprise.
What was it like having that published?
The truth was I really didn’t know anything about publishing. Looking back, I think, “Oh, my. The publisher really did a lot of work,” Then it happened a second time with a piece of music that I wrote for it, and then I did it a third time with the stories of Annessa, the little girl at the zoo, and some babies in their incubators. A lot of mileage came out of that, and a play, we wrote a play that could be done in schools and churches, where they acted it out. It was pretty much of a miracle.
What advice do you have for other people out there who are on this path, and just getting out there?
I don’t think you can go wrong joining the National Speakers Association. As you book places to speak, one place will recommend the other place, and that’s where the best stuff comes from. Not from your website, or your ad, or your book. Somebody knows somebody, so what happens is that the meeting planner is sitting there with the committee. “Who are we going to get? Oh, did you see the video? Yes, I did. I saw the video.” Then, somebody walks in the door, and they say, “I just saw the greatest speaker,” and they all go, “Well, who was it? Can we get her?”
How does somebody who is speaking for free, move into being a paid speaker?
I don’t think I ever spoke for free unless it was for a donation situation.
Start by looking at some places that you’ve felt comfortable approaching in the past, whether it was a long-term care center, a church, etc. Work with people you know. Mary Smith? She’s in charge of the women’s program. “Mary, this is Janie Jasin. I’m working on a wonderful talk about saints and sinners.” Just making this up, “and I understand you have a women’s group.” Mary says, “Yes, we do.” Then she says, “Is there a fee?” I would say, ” I do have a fee of $1,500.” She says, “Oh, we’d have to pay that much?” “However, I could do an honorarium for $500, and I would be glad to throw in the travel costs. It’s reframing. You start with the number, and then you back off to an honorarium number, but you never say, “I go for free.”
Some people work speaking for free in a different way to get value out of it. Many places allow you to either give out a free gift and collect people’s information. You can mention something about your program, and end up getting leads or referrals. I have been to some women’s networking groups like that. There is also Rotary and Chamber of Commerce too.
Books and Products.
And there are ways to have books set up at the outset. My thoughts of how people buy popcorn before the movie tells me books need to be seen in the scene just as the popcorn is seen before the movie. I have coaching available on that subject and it is powerful as a tool for all who wrote and those who don’t want to see their book stored forever in the garage. Many of my colleagues presell and sign their books to the attendees before the conference,
How did you start to raise your prices?
By 1983, somebody said, “You know, Janie’s pretty good. She might be good for the NSA noon luncheon in Las Vegas.” When I came out of the talk, a meeting planner was standing there, and he said, “How much do you charge?” I said, “Well, like $500.” He said, “You better quadruple your fee.” Later, a team of people was planning the National Speakers Association summer convention in Washington, D.C., and somebody said, “We should have Janie as the luncheon speaker.” Man, I cranked it out there. And and after that it was $2,500, $3,000, $3,500, $5,000. $7000.00 and $10,000 Bam, bam, bam. That’s when it took off. It was a miracle.
That’s awesome. How did you become comfortable with that over time?
The wonderful NSA pioneers, including Cavett, and Og Mandino, Patricia Fripp and a lot of these people said, “You’re really good.” It was a combination of using business savvy, feelings, silliness and humor and praise for other people. With pride and love about how our country was put together and the freedom in life. My programs ended with American flag an audience was singing, “ oh, beautiful for spacious skies. “They were all standing. This was the kickoff for my 1985 speech launching into miracles.
Looking back, if you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?
I would’ve relaxed and realized that I was given amazing talent, and that God was working with me.
This has been amazing talking with you, Janie. I’m sure people are getting a tremendous amount of value out of this, so thank you so much for your time today.
You are so welcome. It was a blessing for me to recollect and be grateful for all these exquisite experiences that I’ve had, and to connect with the next generation that can pass it on. I send my prayers, my love, and my encouragement. People need to hear you, learn from you and what your journey is about. It will help them on their journey. Thank you. God bless you.
- Listen to people, that’s where the miracles are.
- Join the National Speakers Association.
- If you have the nerve and love of speaking, then the sky’s the limit to awaken people around you.
- Use emotion and don’t just share the facts.
- People need to hear your journey, because it will help them on their journey.