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John Izzo

October 29, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight

Spotlight On: Dr. John Izzo, Bestselling Author and Business Visionary

Bestselling author and business visionary Dr. John Izzo helps companies maximize their potential from the ground up. For over 20 years, Izzo has worked with thousands of leaders around the world, on employee-engagement strategies and brand transformations:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

Speaking is often a career that chooses you, rather than the other way around. What I mean is you can’t set out to be a speaker! Rather you have to have something to say first. I wanted to make a difference in the world, I wanted to inspire others to leave a more intentional legacy, and I wanted to find out what made for a great workplace, a great society, and a great life. What I discovered was that I had a talent for communicating to others as a speaker so it seemed a natural for me.  I gave my first talk before an audience when I was sixteen years old. Still, after all these years I find the title “speaker” limiting because what I really am is a writer, a consultant, a researcher and a concerned citizen who happens to communicate through this medium. And of course that is what audiences want, not just someone who has honed the skill of speaking but someone who has a view on the world worth hearing.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

Speaking as a career is not as easy as it seems from the outside and like every business today there is a great deal of competition. My advice is not to get daunted by that because if you have something to say and say it well, there is always room for one more person.  Instead, start by focusing on finding something you are incredibly passionate about because enthusiasm matters A LOT. Speak as much as you can, watch others speak whenever possible, seek feedback and really listen to it, and watch yourself so you keep getting better. Get out of your ego. The stage is not about you, it is about the client, the audience. Focus on what you want to happen for them not what you want to happen for you.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

I like to leave the audience with great stories and practices they can implement right away. We learn from stories and remember the story long after we forget everything else. So I try hard to find real stories about leaders, companies, and people who are making things happen. But it is not enough to be inspired so I like to leave audiences with practices they can do right away. Change the mindset then change the habits, this is what creates change. Most of all I like to leave audiences more hopeful about the world than before I arrived and inspired to step up to make a bigger difference while they are here.

How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?

Even after speaking to one million people, I practice in the shower or while driving before my talks. Speaking is like any art form you have to keep trying things. Right before I go on, I always set an intention for myself, you might call it a prayer:  “Don’t let me forget that today I can make a difference for this audience so don’t waste the opportunity and don’t forget to have fun.”

Do you have an especially memorable event you can tell us about?

To me life is made up of moments, some of them small like your child’s first steps or seeing your first home run at Yankee stadium as a child. But some moments change us and those are of most interest to me. Four years ago I did a month of pro bono work in Uganda for an organization called Bead for Life. Started by three North American women, the organization has helped thousands of women and families get out of poverty. Day after day I sat with people who had found hope because someone believed in them and their capacity to lift themselves up. I went there to help figure out how to make their program better and I got better in the process. It reminded me that ordinary people step up every day and change the world. It made me want to step up even more. Many of my most life shaping moments have been in other cultures and this is something every person should do on a regular basis. If you can do only one place go to Africa and don’t go as a tourist on some high end safari because it is not the animals that will live in your memory.

Any funny or embarrassing situations you found yourself in as a speaker?

Well, over time you get into these situations. Once the clip for the battery pack on the wireless microphone broke and the pack fell down my pant leg plopping down at my right foot. Now I had to walk around trying hard not to step on the microphone transmitter or trip on it. A few people in the front row noticed and started giggling. Finally I said excuse me while I snake this thing back up my leg. Laugh at yourself and others will laugh with you. An embarrassing moment can actually endear you to people.

Is there a charitable cause that you feel passionate about? Why?

I have been involved in charity for most of my life from anti-bullying to work on poverty. My passions are many, but if I had to choose one it would be conservation. Creating a sustainable world for future generations while preserving as much of nature as we are able-if we can’t get sustainability right not many other charities will matter. So far as we know there is only one outpost of intelligent life in the universe, that is pretty special and we need to treat it that way.

If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?

A friend of mine says we all should have become what we wanted to be at eight years old. I wanted to be a sports announcer (and still think that would be fun). But if I had to choose another career other than the one I do and love, I would want to be a cinema director or screenwriter so I could tell inspiring stories that change how we think. I am working on my first screenplay–wish me luck!

Desert island album?

Coldplay’s live album to remind me of all the great moments I have sat and listened to live music including them. Besides, there is something about their music that makes me feel good about the world (and the potential for rescue). Second choice, Bruce Springsteen The Rising. Definitely not the theme from the Titanic.

Best subject in school?

I never had one because I always liked variety, which has played out in my life over and over again. Even now, I read biology, astronomy, fiction, business, inspiration, philosophy, neuroscience, and so on. The most interesting things in the world happen between the disciplines. Besides, I always tried to find the best teachers and take everything they taught which served me well.

Last book you read?

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, which compellingly chronicles the decline in violence and human wrongdoing over the centuries. It reinforced for me that the evening news can blind us to the real progress humanity has made as a species. It mirrors what I have learned in organizations and my work with leaders which is find out what is going well and find a way to grow it.

Last film you saw?

Gravity, which stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, who plays an astronaut who is the sole survivor of an accident in orbit around Earth. I was amazed that with only two actors and one set, you could be on the edge of your seat for the entire film. It is not a film about outer space but the inner space we all must conquer.

Celebrity crush?

I don’t have many crushes on celebrities. They are all human just like us. We live in an age where we are obsessed with fame instead of significance. If I have a celebrity crush it is on those celebrities who use their fame and fortune for something larger than themselves. But I admit being personal friends with Bruce Springsteen would be pretty cool or maybe being a regular dinner companion with Bill Clinton. I have met celebrities and the ones who I admire are not ego driven. Once I stood next to Gwyneth Paltrow at LAX while we both waited for our bags. She was so gracious when three teenage girls asked to take their picture with her. It made their day and Paltrow was very kind not a prima donna. And no I didn’t get my picture taken with her, though if I knew she was going to be named the most beautiful woman in the world I might have.

You teach people to have a Life List, what is still on yours?

If you want to stay young in mind and spirit, always have things you are still yearning to do. I keep a list of about fifty things I want to do before I die. I also keep a list of things I am grateful for, these are the things I have already done that were either on my list or that should have been. Still on my list–write a book that inspires a shift in human consciousness on sustainability, attend an entire NBA finals series, experience true wilderness as far as you can get from the human footprint, be a more generous person, write a screenplay and see the film produced, and the list goes on. If you want to stay alive have three lists: What I want to do before I die; how I want to become a better person before I die; and what you are grateful for about the life you have already lived. You may not get to the entire list but just having it will keep you getting up in the morning.