July 1, 2011

What can a speaker learn from a tattoo artist?

Tattoo artists must be some of the most confident professionals out there, along with firefighters and astronauts. Imagine how confident you must be in your abilities to touch a needle to someone's skin and leave a permanent mark!

Here are a few lessons a speaker can learn from a tattoo artist.

A tattoo artist must...

1. ... merge the client's wishes with what the artist knows will actually be a good tattoo

My Celtic knot wrist tattoo
When I got my second tattoo, I brought a tiny Celtic border design that I had put together from a couple of online sources. It was red with a black outline. The tattoo artist looked at it and said, "It's too small." He explained that, in this intricate design, the colors would bleed together over time if the lines were not spaced farther apart. He also suggested a color change, adding a yellow highlight to make the design look more 3-D.

He knew exactly what would look right and what would last, and even though I thought I knew what I wanted, he persuaded me that his idea was better. And he was right!

As a speaker, you're the expert. You've been invited to speak because you have knowledge, skills or perspective that your audience can learn from. You must be persuasive and convincing in your arguments while also listening to and respecting the audience's point of view. It's not always easy, especially when speaking on controversial or difficult subject matter. But if you don't stick to your guns and stay confident in your message, you will not succeed as a speaker.

2. ... continually keep practicing, learning and growing in order to build skills and confidence

Imagine a tattoo artist saying, "I'm scared to make a mistake, so I'm going to avoid tattooing as much as possible." It's ridiculous, right? But inexperienced speakers frequently avoid speaking out of fear of the unknown.

A tattoo artist knows that the way to overcome weaknesses and build on strengths is to get lots of practice. Get lots of experience. Try lots of styles and techniques and tattoo lots of different body parts. How else will she learn to work her way around the curves and angles of shoulders, ankles and ribs? How else will she learn how colors work together, how to make lines thick or thin, and how to shade and highlight a design? And ultimately, how will she know how to advise a client who is not entirely clear on what they want?

And once you learn how to do something -- as a tattoo artist or as a speaker -- you don't stop doing it. You keep doing it so you can stay fresh and up-to-date when you're asked to do it again.

3. ... understand the technology, tools, and equipment associated with tattooing

Tattoo artists are responsible for knowing how their machine, their needles and their inks work. They are responsible for understanding hygienic practices, sterilization, and proper disposal of hazardous waste, and for keeping on hand the equipment and supplies necessary to achieve a safe and clean environment. They need to know how to create and apply stencils from designs, and how to make those stencils fit the body parts they're meant for. And they need to have a system for setting up their station so they're always ready for the next appointment. A tattoo artist will use all the tools at his disposal to do the best work possible.

A speaker also has tools of the trade, whether it's PowerPoint and a projector, or her own method of using notes and a timer. A speaker may use a microphone, a prop, some toys, a video camera, a presentation remote or a noisemaker. The best speakers know how to incorporate the right tools at the right time to make their presentations most effective for the audience. And the best speakers will be open minded and won't shun any tool if it can make their presentation better for a particular audience.

4. ... have faith in her abilities and not let fear hold her back

Ultimately, a tattoo artist is going to embed a design in someone's skin, creating a permanent work of body art. There is no going back once the tattoo has begun, although a client can end a tattoo if they're not happy with it. But whatever has been drawn is there forever. Talk about pressure!

A tattoo artist must trust in her gut that she knows what she's doing, that she's well-prepared, and that she's offering the client a piece of art that's memorable and special -- even though she causes pain in giving it! The tattoo artist must embrace her strengths and abilities, knowing that she's providing the client with exactly what he needs and wants -- and sometimes even an improvement over what the client originally asked for.

I'll leave you with this quote from tattoo artist Justin Holcombe, his answer to the question, "What essential skills are required?"

"The No. 1 thing in tattooing is confidence, because it's permanent. Most people say that would be intimidating to know that that's going to be on someone forever and I don't want to mess it up. That's why you try to get your friends to get tattoos so you can use them as pincushions or guinea pigs and you try to expand your horizons as an artist. Confidence and knowing that if you apply the proper techniques, and this is where the apprenticeship comes in...you should feel confident that it's gonna come out OK."

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