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Saxton Speaks with... Cam Calkoen

Farah Parkinson
11 Dec 2019

We sat down with the inspiration speaker and all-around legend Cam Calkoen about his experiences in the speaking industry and his perspectives on Mindset and dreaming big.

Q: What is the unique perspective you, and Kiwi’s in general, bring to the US events industry?

Cam: Coming from a country of four and a half million people and a 12-hour flight from the West Coast of America, we’ve adapted to becoming explorers and innovators. When our ambition outshines our home community, we have to take the risk, do what’s different, and celebrate us in markets where no one knows who we are. While this can ultimately be very rewarding, recreating and deciding to start fresh is never easy. While we all speak English…we speak different, we have different faiths, values and upbringings YET the term ‘American dream’ is universal and this is what we all connect on. As outsiders we have the underlining message that ‘if we can make it in a country that’s new to us, what can you create in a country that is you home’? Don’t overlook your opportunities. In New Zealand we grow up with the Maori proverb that when translated becomes ‘what is the most important thing in the world? It is the people…it is the people…it is the people.' When we put people first (before any issue) we all achieve more.


Q: What are the biggest challenges you foresee in Mindset in the next 5 years?

Cam: We live a world with more gyms and recreational activities available than ever before, yet increasing rates of obesity, anxiety and depression. We have people with 2000 friends on Facebook yet struggle to find a job and feel lonely. We have people more interested in a family called ’the Kardashians’ then they are their own, their economies and their politics - and the scary thing is that these people are changing the world. But so can everyone else IF; we stop making assumptions, we stop looking for rhyme and justification for other peoples “success”, we accept getting uncomfortable / taking risks, and we celebrate what makes us, us.

Another big challenge is that people want things now, short, and quickly - they’re becoming too focused on the short-term issues that we have no control over rather than focusing on the long-term results that we have complete control over. With this, speakers are needing to change their models of engagement e.g. from 60 minute keynotes to 20 minute talks. This was a great invention from TED for people who were not speakers - you could tell a story but not run the risk of a ‘boring speaker’ sucking time. As a result this made every speaker, even those speaking for the first time, look good. With a dedicated, committed and professional speaker they could maintain the same levels of energy and engagement for an hour - no worries. With the TED model becoming more and more common professional speakers are needing to find new ways of telling their stories. While this is not a bad thing, it’s a indeed a challenge, and when it then becomes that you have 3 speeches within an hour instead of one…the question becomes why?


Q: What inspires you about the future?

Cam: I’m inspired by the future of the mindset as I see nothing but growth in all ways possible; reach, opportunities, impact, income. As the world becomes more and more connected through technology, humans are feeling more and more disconnected, insular, overwhelmed and dis-trusting of their fellow citizens. With this there is already the coming realisation that we need to reassess what is important and MINDSET is going to remain the constant - it always has, always will. With all the issues in the world, those talking about mindset and using technology appropriately to reach and connect are able to generate a global reach and be as influential (if not more so) than current celebrities and world leaders.


Q: What made you want to become a Speaker and share your story?

Cam: I always wanted to live a life where I could travel - entertain and connect with A LOT of people. In the process of discovery I tried and did well with competitive sport, mentoring, social innovation and coaching. Then I discovered Speaking to be a combination of all of those and more. Since 2014 I've enjoyed life as a full-time professional Speaker where the only thing limiting where I can go is the size of my imagination. I started speaking during the process of building a disability resource centre that required NZ$4 Million to go from a dream on a piece of paper to a reality with open doors. I realised that people paid to get inspired but if we were giving the inspiration for free then maybe they would return the favour in the way of donations. Within 24 months we had the money that we needed to build the centre - a centre that now positively impacts the lives of 1 in 4 people living with some form of disability. Through sharing the story, a well-known New Zealand Speaker by the name of Billy Graham heard me and said to me, “if you can do what you did here, you can do it ANYWHERE”. I choose to put Billy’s inspiration into my backpack of belief and now contribute to a world where everyone is inspired to embrace their opportunity and achieve awesomeness.


Q: What is your most memorable event experience as a Speaker?

Cam: I remember early on as a Speaker my athletics manager invited me to speak at school to which I responded, “you know me I hate public speaking,” he then responded with the words of my favourite song, ‘do one thing every day that scares you’. In the weeks between I practised what I was going to say and how much, as I would for a running race - believing that if I knew that what I was going to do I'd then had one less thing to worry about, and went on to give the speech. Things were going pretty well until about half way through when I felt an almighty sneeze coming on. I was doing all I could to keep speaking and not sneeze which was not pretty and very difficult and then all of a sudden my nose exploded, snot everywhere…my hanky was not in my pocket but underneath a note at home that said “CAM DO NOT FORGET YOUR HANKY.” I was in a moment of dilemma with the teenage students not sure how to react. I then I heard my athletics manager coming up on stage behind me not with a hanky, not with a tissue, but his very own shirt for me to blow my nose on…so I did! People say that support is the foundation to our success and I would say that allowing another person to blow their nose on your shirt is the ultimate in support. What could have been seen as a moment to end… or not even really start my career has become a source of entertainment and inspiration for many. I love it when a young athlete says “Cam I want to represent my country and now I believe I can". For the business owner who tells me their story of hitting rock-bottom, hearing me speak, and a year later smashing targets. The grandmother who walks up to me and says “thanks for reminding me that at 75 years of age I can still dream BIG!”


Q: and a quick bonus question, how do you eat your vegemite?

Cam: Vegemite can be spine tingling and cause the brow to sweat. For this ‘eye shutting’ experience, that would be sure to give you the fastest wake-up ever, spread it in lashings as you would your favourite Jam. But there’s another side of Vegemite- that much like a fine Pinot or Mozart Symphony it’s an acquired taste…this is much like what the top Saxton Speakers have gone through requires patience, risk, knowing what YOU love and going for it.

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