With 500+ keynotes in 33+ countries, two best-selling books, and 4 world records, Ryan Avery is THE keynote speaker. He’s an expert on communication skills and shows leader and their teams how to accelerate their achievement, maximize their potential, and, as his trademark teaching states, go from A to THE in their industry.
In this episode, Ryan talks with Jon about making your perfect day a reality, how communication will never change, and the trends he sees in THE leaders of today.
Ryan became the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in history at just 25 years old. Soon afterward he quit his job with the Special Olympics, moved back in with his parents (with his wife, Chelsea), and pursued his dream of public speaking for a living. Now Ryan Avery is one of the Millenial generation’s most profound speakers on strategic communication, negotiation, and leadership. Avery is also an Emmy-winning journalist, two-time best-selling author, and world record holder.
Mentioned in this episode:
Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday (find it here)
Ryan Avery (00:00):
So it was the simple mental shift that I discovered- and that is literally what I’ve dedicated my life to now- is figuring out and finding ways that differentiate a versus the, and providing the strategies to people to say, here’s how we can be the, in our own industry,
Welcome to Learning Life, where top experts share their business knowledge and personal journeys each week. “And the thing that I realized from the CEO to the NFL football player, to the janitor – we’re our toughest critics, and we’re hardest on ourselves.” – James Lawrence And wanted to bring education to the market. I wake up in the morning and I am constantly learning.” “The only way to grab somebody’s attention is with a story” – Cal Fussman. Happy learning! And now your host, Jon Tota,
Jon Tota (00:45):
Welcome to another episode of Learning Life with Jon Tota. My guest today is Ryan Avery. So Ryan is an old friend and one of the very best keynote speakers I’ve had the opportunity to work with. He’s delivered more than 500 keynotes in over 30 different countries. And I know from my time working with Ryan at Entrepreneurs Organization, he’s easily one of the highest-rated speakers out there. He’s also written two best-selling books that have been translated into six languages and, probably coolest of all, Ryan holds four world records and is the youngest world champion of public speaking in history. Ryan is the expert on communication skills and shows leaders and their teams how to accelerate their achievements, maximize their potential, and as his trademark teaching states go from A to THE, in their industry. I’m really, really happy to have Ryan with us today. So let’s get started, Ryan Avery, welcome to Learning Life.
Ryan Avery (01:33):
Thanks man. I’m pumped. I’m glad that I’m one of the ones who gets to do it after the first 100. That’s awesome.
Jon Tota (01:38):
Thank you for being here. I mean you and I go way back. I think it was probably four or five years ago when I first saw you speaking to our group at Entrepreneurs Organization in New York City. And I just know everyone went crazy over your talk. And I also always said to like every learning chair after that, you were probably the best prepared speaker that I think I ever had. All your materials were so top-notch and the promotion materials that you gave us. It was great working with you.
Ryan Avery (02:06):
Thank you. I appreciate that very much.
Jon Tota (02:08):
Tell our audience a little bit about your journey because obviously as anyone who’s seen you speak knows a lot of it began with winning the world championship of public speaking. So maybe go all the way back and tell our audience about that and this commitment to achieving these additional world records.
Ryan Avery (02:25):
Yeah. I feel like most people who are listening to this where they’re at right now, they all have some type of story. They all have something where they go, I can’t believe I’m right here. This wasn’t what I expected. Right? So that’s what happened to me. Eight years ago, my best friend, he takes me out to lunch because he quit his job to pursue his dream of filmmaking and to pursue it, he wanted to make this film and he’s sitting there and he’s like, Ryan, don’t do it, man. They tell you to follow your dreams, but don’t do it. It’s horrible. It’s so bad. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, this is like a not encouraging one. She’s telling me not to follow my dreams, but he’s like, it’s so tough. What’s the hardest thing? What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do, Ryan?
Ryan Avery (03:01):
And I’m like, I don’t know. And this was, I’m 24 at the time. And I, I feel really crappy about myself that I hadn’t done something so intense, so tough that I could name something like that. I remember going back home and anytime I don’t get depressed or anxious or anything like that, I was losing myself in YouTube videos. I’m watching a bunch of YouTube videos and I come across this person who’s going for the world championship of public speaking. And I remember someone telling me that that was the toughest thing or the hardest people were more afraid of public speaking than anything else. And so I remember saying, all right, fine, I’ll win that contest. I’ll win that this year. And I mean, there is a longer story to it, but eight months later I win.
Ryan Avery (03:40):
Then what happens is I’m working at Special Olympics at the time and I love my job. I love what I’m doing, but what I’m doing is I’m working Monday through Friday, like 60, 70 hour weeks. And then I fly out Friday. I go and keynote on Saturday. I come home on Sunday and I’m getting super burnt out. And my wife is unemployed at a time. Throughout the couple of months, I hear about public speaking and I hear about people doing this professionally. I know nothing about the business world of public speaking at all. I did not win that contest to be a professional public speaker. And I started realizing I could do it, but I didn’t have the time. So I remember I’m in Canada, Chelsea and I got done doing a keynote and we’re out to dinner. And I said, look, I really feel like I can do this. I feel like I can make this a business that I need to stop working at Special Olympics in order to do it, which would mean we wouldn’t have an income.
Ryan Avery (04:28):
We wouldn’t have health insurance. We’d have to move back in with my parents. You know, we’d have to leave Oregon to go to Texas. And what do you say? She leaned over, shook my hand. She said, let’s do it. And two weeks later we quit our job. Well, I quit my job and we sold everything we had. We packed one car, moved back into Texas with my parents- which was a really fun feeling by the way, moving your wife in with your parents. About six or eight months later, we had a full schedule and we’ve been doing it now for seven years full-time.
Jon Tota (05:00):
It’s such a great story. I know you work that into your talks too so I’ve heard it before. I think the thing that always stands out to me is that it’s so much a relationship story too, because you couldn’t have done it without your wife, Chelsea and the way you guys work together. How has that been? Have you guys really grown the business together? And what’s the relationship side of the business been like?
Ryan Avery (05:25):
Whew, it has been a roller coaster. One of my mentors, he tells me “no one rides a rollercoaster to get to the end; Enjoy the ride.” So, yeah, especially this year, it’s been a roller coaster as well. Um, so yeah, it’s been a lot of learning. I mean, the day after I won the world championship, I woke up to 269 emails asking me to speak and coach people. And I didn’t know the business and she didn’t know what was going on. And so we threw a lot of roles and responsibilities at each other and we didn’t know business. And then we started joining organizations and we started being part of a really developed group, and we invested in ourselves and we got mentors and coaches. And then we realized what her roles are and what my roles are. And even to this day, it has evolved.
Ryan Avery (06:11):
One of the best activities though we’ve ever done together that’s really transformed our business is we wrote down- we heard this from… I’m sorry, I can’t give credit to this person. It was a conversation that I had, and I don’t remember their name- but they said, write down your perfect day with detail, right? So what time do you wake up? What do you eat? I mean, like write down your very perfect day. And so I write mine down and she write hers down and we share it. And what was so interesting about that was she didn’t have work on her perfect day and I did have work on my perfect day. My perfect day does include my work. I love what I do. And what that told us was she wasn’t loving what she was doing. And so we had to re-invent and we had to reassess what her role was, what it looked like and realized, well, she doesn’t want to be part of what I’m doing anymore and not in a negative way.
Ryan Avery (07:02):
She’s grown, she’s developed. She wants to help more people like me. And so she created her own business. She’s done this. And we even redid the perfect day this year because of what happened with 2020 and work was on hers, then work was on mine; and we were realizing, wow, we’re getting about four or five perfect days in our week. And that’s ultimately what we want. And so we’re always constantly revisiting, looking at what her roles and what my roles are and those very, very firm boundaries of what our professional life looks like. And then what our personal and romantic life looks like, because those are two very different worlds, but they can be hard to define when you’re working together.
Jon Tota (07:38):
Yeah, I know. And I, and I think a lot of people struggle with that and even more so now, because I think there’s people out there who are listening to you and saying, Hey, I’d like to be an expert. I’d like to go out there and, you know, take that risk potentially like you did way back when and build the business. And in some cases, particularly when we’re isolated at home, in a lot of cases, you end up partnering with your better half or, or your spouse in that case. So any lessons learned? Anything that you would, if someone’s listening and they’re an expert, or they want to become one taking that risk like you did because right now it seems like a good opportunity to pivot. What would be a lesson learned? Something that you would leave with our audience.
Ryan Avery (08:21):
So one of the things that differentiates a leader versus the leader is in times of change or chaos or uncertainty, AKA 2020: a leader will imitate, the leader will innovate. And those are two very different things. What I see a lot of people doing is they’ll say, Oh, that’s what everyone’s doing. So I’m going to go do that. Well then they’re part of the noise. They’re part of what everybody else is doing, and so they’re never going to get noticed, or they’re never going to define who they are. What this time is… And by definition, innovation means change. So here we are placed with this opportunity to change and of this things that have changed within our life. We have an opportunity to innovate. We have an opportunity to do something different.
Ryan Avery (09:02):
So one of the best books that I read this year was by Ryan Holiday and it’s Ego Is the Enemy. And I highly recommend that because here’s my recommendation and it’s not mine it’s Ryan’s, but it really helped me when it came to understanding what risks I wanted to take. Most of us who are high-achievers, most of us who want to accomplish a lot, what we start saying is what do we want to do? What do we want to do? We want to do this. We want to do this, but what Ryan says, and instead of asking, what do you want to do? Ask who do you want to be? And when you ask who you want to be, you want, you might want to be a father. You might want to be a mother. You might want to be a spouse. You might want to be a scuba diver. You might want to be whatever, who is it that you want to be. It ultimately leads to understanding what you need to do or should do in order to help you get there. So for me, this very clear distinction of stop asking myself, what do I want to do? And ask myself who I want to be has helped me understand what risks I’m willing to take and what risks I’m not willing to take, because it doesn’t align with who I want to be.
Jon Tota (10:02):
I love that. I think it’s a great way to look at it too. And, and it’s one of those things too, that it makes such logical sense, but until you hear it and start to actively think about it and you just, you don’t know it. And for our audience, because you always talk about is it is like your trademark line, like ‘a to the,’ just kind of summarize that. Tell us what that means.
Ryan Avery (10:23):
Yeah. So I was so curious after I won this world championship because I’m very… I knew nothing about public speaking. I knew nothing about that world at all. And so what I wanted to see was because people were asking me, how did I do it? And all I wanted to do is dissect, okay, how did I do it? And what I realized is there is a very big difference between being a speaker and the speaker, or being a leader and being the leader, a musician in versus the musician. And so I started interviewing, I started researching, I started asking, I started talking to people who were the in their industry to get from them, what they have done or what they do in order to position themselves as the, and everything that I was learning was, Oh yeah, these are all learnable skills. This isn’t something that this person is born with or handed to, or given.
Ryan Avery (11:11):
Yes, 1000% people have advantages. Certain people have more advantages than others without a doubt. But when we come down to it, it was this mental shift of them seeing themselves as a versus them seeing themselves as the, and those who identify or want to be, or feel like they can be the, are the ones who have more get more, make more, help more, all of the above. So it was the simple mental shift that I discovered and that is literally what I’ve dedicated my life to now is figuring out and finding ways that differentiate a versus the, and providing the strategies to people to say, here’s how we can be the in our own industry. You might not want to be a speaker, the speaker; you might not want to be the podcaster, but you might want to be the dad. You might want to be the mom. You might want to be the teacher. And those are all great things once you accept that you can be the at what it is that you do.
Jon Tota (12:10):
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Ryan Avery (13:16):
It goes back to the imitate versus innovate, because what happens is when you’re a, you settle. When you’re the you’re committed to having standards. And you can use my research, but instantly when you look at yourself as the, you automatically know what you need to do in order to do that, but with your a, if you’re going to produce a marketing piece, an email, if you’re going to create a video, you’re just going to get it done. But when you say no, no, no. I want to create the video. I want to create the email. I want to create the brand or the product you instantly know inside of you what that looks like and what that means. So that’s what I love it is it instantly gives me standards.
Jon Tota (13:54):
Yeah. I totally get that too. Cause you know, we’re always creating content here. And as I was telling you earlier, we do these scripted fiction shows and it’s so easy to just dial it in and not like put the extra effort into making sure that everything is performed as well as it could be performed. But it is that commitment to say, okay, I’m going to be accountable to this being the best in its category and not accepting less. So I love that. Now I know that while a lot of your training leads towards leadership skills, it essentially is so much about communication skills and just being an effective communicator, being the best you can be as a communicator. How has that changed now or evolved at least as we’ve all gotten so virtual? Are you seeing the same things or different challenges now?
Ryan Avery (14:40):
Yeah. So one of the things I believe is how you communicate is how you operate. I can go into a company and see that if you have poor operations, I automatically know you have poor communication. If you have great operation, it’s because you have great communication. And so that’s what I help a lot of companies do is how they can improve their communication so they can improve their operation. And so what we’ve learned through the virtual world is- and I’ll hear people say this for some reason. And what I started realizing is people, people think communication has changed. They’ll go, Oh, everybody communicates differently. I wish people communicated the way that we used to. Communication has never and will never change. If you break down the word communication and you really study Latin, or you study any of the prefixes or suffixes, you know, con- means with, uni means one, and -ation is a suffix in Latin for action.
Ryan Avery (15:30):
So literally by definition, communication means getting everybody to understand one thing and take action on it. So that’s never going to change. That’s always communication. What’s changing and what will always change is the methods in which we communicate. So we now have more methods than we had 10 years ago, right? We’ve got texting and we’ve got Facebook and we’ve got email and we’ve got over the phone. We’ve got letters. We got all these different ways. Well now also in this virtual world, we have all these different platforms. We’ve got Zoom meetings and we’ve got GoTo meetings and webinars. We’ve got Slack and we’ve got all this different way. And so when you’re producing and communicating in a variety of different ways, things get lost, things get misinterpreted. It’s a huge game of telephone. And so what we want to do is we want to understand within our company, within ourselves, what are the best ways in order for us to be most efficient and effective with our communication? What methods would that come out to be? And making sure we don’t have to do all of them, but here is how I’m going to deliver my communication.
Jon Tota (16:29):
You helping people on their performance, the way they appear on camera, or is it just more the communication style regardless of what the media is that they’re using?
Ryan Avery (16:40):
All of the above, right? So what’ll happen is I typically work with people who already know what they want. So they say, Hey, I want to present myself better on virtual presentations, or I have a keynote coming up, what’s the structure you use for your keynotes? Or my company has grown, bigger than I ever thought it would be. You know, we were at five and now we’re at 150 and how we used to communicate can’t be how we need to communicate. So we need a whole new system of what that looks like. All I do is I show people, I look at their people, their product and their processes. I review it and look at how they can be more efficient and effective from different inefficiencies that they have in the way that they communicate.
Jon Tota (17:19):
Got it. Got it. And are you seeing more challenges today in one format or another, or one style of communication challenges that people are overcoming? What are you seeing out there that are trends that top leaders are dealing with?
Ryan Avery (17:35):
Well, one of the things that in my industry and what I’m doing is what happened in this new world. A lot of leaders were saying, Oh, we need to train our teams how to communicate and how to present themselves in this virtual world, which is great. And I agree them, and we do. We show them the training but what happened and what is happening is the leaders are forgetting to get trained in that as well. And part of the participation in, and get their leadership teams on board and understand what the leadership team can do to motivate their teams and how do they lead in this new virtual world? So it was almost this skipping, a step, right? It’s first leadership, then the team. And I love the forward thinking of all these leaders who were coming to me saying like, I want my team to do this, but then they would come back and say, great, well now my leadership team needs to get on board. So that’s one of the major things that I’ve been seeing in my business.
Jon Tota (18:31):
It makes perfect sense. You’ve got to be a good role model. And I know one of my guests recently talked about that. It’s so important as leaders to be effective role models, that if you want a certain behavior to be exhibited by your team, the best way to start is to represent that behavior to be the best role model. And it starts with you and then it, and then it can trickle down to your team. And it’s kind of the same thing you’ve seen, I think
Ryan Avery (18:54):
100%. Yeah. One of the things that differentiates a leader versus the leader in this new virtual world is a leader is a manager, the leader is the motivator. People don’t want to be managed anymore. You can manage your spreadsheets, you can manage your budgets. You can’t manage your people anymore. People want to feel motivated and they want to know that their leaders are motivating and you know, how we act and how we communicate is going to reflect on if that’s going to be motivating or not. So, absolutely.
Jon Tota (19:19):
Yeah. Yeah. I love that too. And you know, it’s like your job now. People need inspiration from their leaders and it’s hard to do it. And I, and I think you probably see this with the people you work with. You get so much energy by being live in-person with your team, and when you remove that and now it’s done virtually, it’s almost like, ah, man, this is like a bummer. I got to get on Zoom and get everyone inspired to do something.
Ryan Avery (19:44):
Well, you know, one little tip that I’d highly recommend is that my wife caught because at this new virtual world, I was sitting down and I was super tired afterwards and I didn’t feel like my energy. And she goes, do you sit down when you speak? And I was like, no. And she was like, well, then you need to stand up when, when you are on these calls and these keynotes, and I simply rearranged my office. So I have my monitor where I have like a little space where I don’t ever sit. I’m standing and energy has changed. My motivation has changed. It is awesome. So I’d highly recommend if you stand usually to talk to your team, then you should stand on camera as well.
Jon Tota (20:22):
100%, you know, it’s so funny you say it. Literally just last week I moved my standing desk from my office into our studio, because I felt like when I do podcast episodes and I present these virtual keynotes and whatnot, I would prefer, I’d always prefer to present, standing up. You’re a hundred percent, right. It’s like night and day, the energy level.
Ryan Avery (20:43):
Jon Tota (20:44):
So now tell me before we go, I know one of the things you’re really passionate about is recognition for these different world records. And of course, you know, obviously you were the youngest world champion of public speaking, but then on your website, I know you’ve gone further and you started to go for these world records, that in some cases are a little bit more socially motivated and community focused. What are some of the things just to share with our audience? Because I think it’s super cool you’re doing it. What are some of the other world records that you’ve earned?
Ryan Avery (21:10):
We’ve done… So we always will break a world record as long as it affects a local community in a big way, right? That’s our goal is we break world records around big issues affecting local communities. So we’ve done some really fun ones. I mean, shout out to Matt Wise out in, I mean, New York and Florida too. That was one of the ones we’ve done where we tied together the longest chain of red bandanas during 9/11 to commemorate the sacrifice of all the 9/11 heroes during 9/11. We’ve done the largest book pyramid where we put together 144,000 books and we made it into a pyramid. We had 12,000 kids, 12 books, one for every month of the year in Chicago because they’re one of the least literate, major cities in America. And one of the problems was kids didn’t have books to take home. So we got that one with the last one I did, which was brutal. So brutal job. Um, we did, uh, 28 hours. We did the world record for the longest cycling class in history. And we biked all of us for 28 hours to raise money for people for bikes. So we could get bike lanes and bike safety and bike legislation passed. So people could bike to work safely and know that they wouldn’t be hurt or killed. That one was… It was a brutal one, man.
Jon Tota (22:26):
Right, right. Like, you know, now you’re getting into the endurance category of world records to. And so I love how you do it really with this focus on, you know, again, this goes with your, your whole M.O. Of being, not a leader, but being the leader in like obtaining world records and choosing something that you have to be accountable to, like these goals, I think is probably so critical and so much who you are. Do you have another world record lined up something coming in the next year?
Ryan Avery (22:56):
We do. We have several. Um, and, and that was, it is I ultimately wanted to do this too because I wanted to see if my research was true. I wanted to see if I could be the. I wanted to see if the world championship was that a fluke or was it something that I could do and then continue to break world records or make money or make the family. And that’s what I ultimately wanted to do with the world records. The one that we have coming up is we have several, but one of the ones I’m very excited for is in February another speaker and I, and John Register, we’ll be breaking the world record for the longest public speaking marathon for a team of two. We will be talking for 36 hours in February, which is Black History Month. I will be talking about how to speak and clarify and communicate your messaging. And he will be talking about how we can talk about diversity and inclusion and why it’s important to talk about race and injustice and things that are going on. Our goal for that one is to show youth how to speak up, stand up, and speak up about issues they care about. And I’m very excited for that one. It’s going to be another endurance one that is going to be very difficult, but I’m really looking forward to it. John’s an amazing man.
Jon Tota (24:03):
Oh, that’s super cool. So, so for all of our listeners who want to follow along with what you’re doing, because obviously staying up to speed with you on these world records is really inspirational and it’s just cool to see what you’re up to. Is it Ryanavery.com? Is that where everyone should be looking.com?
Ryan Avery (24:18):
ryanavery.com Yeah. I don’t have social media. I don’t have Facebook or Instagram or anything like that. So, um, what I do is every week I put out my notes. So when you go to RyanAvery.com, you can sign up for my weekly notes every Sunday. And that’s what I share and where I share everything.
Jon Tota (24:32):
Wow. That’s awesome. So definitely check out Ryan, avery.com. Keep up to, up to date on what he’s got coming. Cause I think it’s really great to see just how you’ve been committed to these world records. And I like the endurance aspect. We just had the iron cowboy, James Lawrence was back on the show again. And he’s another one, a world record one, but he, I don’t think he would try speaking for 36 hours straight. So you got them there.
Ryan Avery (24:55):
Yeah, he’s a beast.
Jon Tota (24:57):
Right? So, Hey man, it’s so great to have you on the show. I just love to hear what you’ve been up to and for our audience to learn about you and anything else, like just with everything people are dealing with today, uh, and some of the challenges for leaders out there, any parting words or some advice for our audience that they can follow?
Ryan Avery (25:13):
Yeah. This has been a really crazy year for me. My aunt got COVID. My sister got COVID. People in my life that I love got COVID. It pretty much evaporated my business in March, but it’s completely changed now. And one of the things that I have learned is you’re allowed to have your best day and your worst day in the same day. So it’s okay to have multiple feelings. It’s okay to feel great and feel bad. It’s okay to feel encouraged and not encouraged at the same time. Those are okay. Feelings. You don’t have to pick one. You can have multiple ones.
Jon Tota (25:49):
Yeah. Those are definitely words to live by. So thank you. Thank you Ryan, for being here. It was just great having you on the show.
Ryan Avery (25:55):
Thanks, Jon, so much. I really appreciate your leadership and your ability to pull all these people together to give this out to the world. Thank you.
Jon Tota (26:02):
I appreciate that. And to all of our listeners, thank you for being here every week. As you know, we have a new episode coming out every Tuesday, so wherever you’re listening, be sure to subscribe, leave us comments. We’d love to hear from you guys and until our next episode, happy learning.
Jon Tota (26:22):
Hey everyone, John tota here. I want to thank you for tuning into the show each week. We love our learning life community and are so grateful for your support. We’d appreciate it. If you would take a minute to rate us and write a review for Learning Life, wherever you’re listening right now. Your ratings and comments help new people find the show so we can keep growing our community and bring great interviews on the topics you care most about.