Full Interview with Dana LaMon

Dana LaMon is an international speaker, author, former Californian judge, father, and blind.

Dana LaMon interviewed on Skype with Melanie Suzanne Wilson, Toastmasters D70 Social Media Officer, in the lead up to his Australian visit.

Dana will give the keynote speech and educational sessions at the 2015 Toastmasters District 70 (NSW & ACT) Annual Conference.

He will then speak on ‘Packing Power into your Presentations’ at 99 on York, in Sydney’s CBD.

Dana is technologically traditional. He uses a 1970 phone. It has no caller id. The loud ringing resonates. He loves it. 

A nearby iPad belongs to Erica, Dana’s assistant.

Despite Dana’s aversion to technology, he still uses an iPhone. The voice over with Siri proves to be useful.

For someone less fond of technology, Dana is doing alright. He authored a blog since 2011. 

Why did Dana originally choose to create a blog?

“The blog provided ways to get message out, besides being on platform on stage.”

He coined the concept of a meaningful moment. Dana forced himself to keep writing and developing the idea. Writing is secondary to Dana’s primary medium of speaking. Dana considers himself a speaker who transfers his message to the written form. Books were inspired by the blog.

“In the early part of the century, I wrote about making the moment meaningful.”

What made Dana write on this topic?

“Over time, I’ve talked pieces about it here and there.
Found that my speeches were covering various topics, but there was no central focus.
And one day, I was flying from California to the East Coast. 
A lady asked, ‘On what do you speak?’ 
I was disappointed that I couldn’t give her a concise answer.
In my workshops about presentation skills, I encourage people to first develop a one sentence statement that would be a summation of what your entire presentation will be about.
I was disappointed with myself that I couldn’t do such a thing.
So I came up with the idea of the principles of a meaningful life.
Google search came up with a church located in Minnesota.

Making the moment meaningful had only 4 hits.”

There, Dana found demand and a gap in the market. He would fill the gap that was the topic of meaning in the moment.  

What advice do you have for people who are looking for their key message?

“I encourage people to condense their message into one sentence.
Even when you’re preparing a presentation, if you can’t give it to me in one sentence, I suspect you’re going to ramble.
I believe in being very goal oriented.

Know what reaction you want from the audience. 
A lawyer knows what he or she wants to offer to the client. 

I always had to be working toward something because otherwise my time would be wasted.
At 8 years old, I decided I was going to college and was going to major in math.

My idea initially was quite restrained or quite limited. 
I was going to go to college in Los Angeles.
I ended up going to Yale.”

Yale changed Dana’s perspective on the world as a whole.  

“I began to view the world differently because I started meeting different people. 

It got me interested in expanding my understanding of cultures and people and experiences

Someone said… you will get a greater education, by interacting with you fellow students, who come from varied backgrounds, than you will get in the classroom.”

Dana was initially a number theorist. Then he went to law school. He says it was a simple decision.

“Most of my class mates – they were going to medical school or they were going to law school.

I didn’t like the idea of arguing. I didn’t like conflict.  I see myself as the judge making the decision. I got to resolve conflict.

When I speak, because I call myself a motivational speaker, my goal is to help people resolve their inner conflicts.”

Dana’s philosophy, on meaningful moments, continued to develop.

“When I talked about making the moment meaningful, and when I wrote about it, my objective was to give some guidelines to help people.

Ask yourself these questions – 4 pillars of meaningfulness:
1. Will I grow from it?
2. Will it establish or nurture beneficial relationships?
3. Does it fulfil my purpose?
4. Does it define me as I want to be defined?  

The more Dana reminisces on his early life, the more his philosophy appears to have been always present. It was a consistent theme. 

“In the early days before Toastmasters, growing up in church, I was often asked to speak. I would even leave my own church and visit other churches. They would ask me to speak to the youth.

Back in the mid 70s, I was recording whenever I spoke. It’s the chance to go back and listen to the recordings. I was saying the same things. I was talking about purpose, growing, relationships.

I do believe and talk about the fact that everyone has a purpose, a contribution to make to the universe.

And my purpose is to help people to discover that and to find that fulfilment.

When writing the book and web site, I heard people say, ‘I am searching for meaning in my life’.

I wonder where’s you’re searching, where you’re looking.
Where was I searching, and was I searching?”

Dana LaMon finds meaning in the current situation he has, not just the one he wants.

“I am making my life meaningful, whatever I am doing, I am seeking to make it meaningful.

I talk about 3 dimensions to purpose.

There is a universal purpose, which is common to all. That is we are to give and to serve.

Individual purpose is that: we are all given specific talents, by which to give and to serve.

Sometimes we get distracted because we get envious of what we see someone else do.

If that’s not what your strength is, you should develop what your strength is.

My strength was not for arguing one side or another.”

Dana explains strengths are not always immediately evident. Or strengths surprise people early on.

“My third child is a ballet dancer. On his third birthday, we asked him, ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ He said, ‘I want to dance.’ He’s performing on Broadway. He discovered that at age 3.”

This father allows his children to discover themselves.  

Dana’s wife Jacqueline, on the other hand, went to college and majored in sociology.

“She got a job in the reporting industry.
She went to law school thinking she wanted to be in the entertainment law
Then at age 46, decided she wanted to do creative writing.
She now teaches poetry in a university in new york.”

How does Dana prepare his award winning speeches?

“I do not write speeches. I develop a speech in my thoughts. I start with that one sentence, the presentation proposition. The audience will remember it and want to use it .”

What does Dana want to do, that he hasn’t tried already?

“Learn to play the piano
Never played before
When I listen to the piano, I think that’s fascinating.”

Dana has two pianos in his house, which his wife Jacqueline owns. She wrote songs too. The couple have one child that likes to play the guitar, and ne that likes to play the drums.

The son, Dana Jr, works at a bar at Waikiki.

Dana says, “He likes interacting with people. He likes to talk, he wants to read. I don’t think he wants to be on the stage”

The fourth child now teaches math in high school in New York.
She is also the drummer. Her masters thesis was on rhythm and math

All Dana’s kids are doing what they like.

“That’s what I taught them to do. When they were making their decisions about going to college, I encouraged them to do what they enjoy doing.”

Dana advised his children when they went to college:

“Go far, far away from home. Their enjoyment of life would depend on how they viewed the world. I wanted them to view the world from as broad a view as possible. The world is considerably varied. You can better make decisions to make your life meaningful. One of the most fascinating things about speaking and Toastmasters is the opportunity to travel.”

What does Dana want to do, when visiting Australia?

“I’m interested in the people. I don’t want to be a tourist. I don’t really care about museums. Show me the people.  I go where the invitations carry me.”

If you could meet anyone in Australia who would it be?

Dana’s experience when meeting District leaders, is there is always a head table at events. As much as he enjoys meeting leaders, Dana also wants to meet people from all walks of life.

“I don’t want to sit at the head table. I want to sit with the people. “

In Malaysia, I wanted to sit with the everyday people. The conference organizer got flak.”

The head table was almost compulsory in Malaysia. Dana respects traditions.

“I will comply with customs.”

However, Dana impacts everyday audience members’ lives, by chatting with them.

“In Malaysia, there was a lady that sat at the table. She was considering dropping out of toastmasters. Her schedule was getting busy”

He talked this member into staying in the organisation.

What’s Dana’s advice to people who crave greater dramatic experiences and projects?

“It’s ok to look for something different or better because that’s growth. To excel is to do better today than you did yesterday. There is a sense of dissatisfaction or unhappiness.

I would take them back to the pillars of meaningfulness.
If they are looking for something different or better because they want to grow, I think that’s fine – as long as they complete what they’re doing.

I do believe in searching for new things, not quitting something.

I was perfectly content to retire and conclude life with, ‘Yes I was a judge.’
Once I joined Toastmasters, I saw this other avenue - another method to reach people.”

This world-renowned leader is always trying something new. What else would Dana do, which he has not tried already?  

“I want to learn Spanish.”

Dana was a guest on Spanish broadcast.

“I’d like to study psychology, to understand human behaviour.”              

He looks to reach new members, new audiences.  

“We’ve got Toastmasters in Mexico.”
There’s no stopping Dana. He has plenty of time to try new projects.

“I plan to live 100.” 

What message does Dana have for the next generation?

“Don’t wait until what my generation did, until you’re retired, to talk about how to I make life meaningful.

Do what you enjoy now, not later.

Money distracts us from our purpose

Would mother Theresa have done what she did if she was worried about money?”

Some Gen Y people are told to plan their futures instantly. What advice does Dana have for the next generation?

“We push them to know.
You don’t have to know.
The possibilities are unlimited.”

Dana refers to a book, Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson. Steven’s theory is ‘adjacent possibilities.’

These are, “Things we can see as possibilities, and things beyond that.
I did not see professional speaking until I joined Toastmasters.
At the world championship, when I got there, I saw professional speaking as a possibility.”
Experiences are, “going to put you in a new position to see the adjacent.”

Dana embraces new opportunities. But he also plans carefully.  

“I’m a planner. When I wake up in the morning, I say, “What will I accomplish today? You don’t shut out the new experience.”
Dana really does everything. He proves anything is possible.

Dana LaMon will be seen for the keynote speech and educational sessions at the Toastmasters District 70 Annual Conference. 

He will then speak at 99 on York, on 18th May at 7pm.

The Toastmasters District 70 Social Media Officer thanks Dana for taking the time to interview.   


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