ep. 107 - Mike Rayburn:

World's Funniest Guitar Virtuoso

mike rayburn


Mike Rayburn’s personal, business and career mission is simple: Transform communities. Whether that community is a business audience, an association, enrollees in his “What If…?” keynote experience, impoverished people worldwide, or the lost in his hometown of Las Vegas, Mike’s daily efforts and life work are dedicated to transforming communities.

Mike does this most often with his “What If…?” keynote presentations and breakouts, where he uses world-class guitar and hilarious comedy to teach the three simple, powerful tools which took him from playing empty bars, to headlining Carnegie Hall (eight times!). They work for anyone. And everyone. Always.


Kyle Davis: Okay, with us on today's episode of GDA podcast, we have Mike Rayburn, and as people know when I do the spot by myself, I typically like to have the guest introduce themselves. With that being said, we have [00:01:00] guitar virtuoso, and I can't even pronounce that word, I guess, and a personal development specialist, Mike Rayburn. How are you man?

Mike Rayburn: Hey there. Thank you so much, man. I'm doing great.

Kyle Davis: Good. To help our listeners our and to provide them more color and context as to who you are, and what you're about, give us a little bit of your background, and everything else.

Mike Rayburn: Sure. The quick summation is that I am a presenter. [00:01:30] I call myself a keynote artist. I teach innovation and performance, possibility thinking for corporations and associations, but I do it using guitar and comedy, rather than Power Point and statistics, so it's a lot more fun. It's usually an opening or closing keynote or a pick-me-up in the middle of the conference, and I've been doing this for about 16 years and it's worked really well. My delivery's a little different, I encourage [00:02:00] people, I say, "You know, if you want your people to be innovative and different, they want to try new things, why use the same old speaker with Power Point formula. Try something a little different. Model what you want to see." That's what I do.

Kyle Davis: That's awesome. How did you, first off, get into the space of innovation, optimization, human performance, and all of that. How did you come in to that field?

Mike Rayburn: Sure. My background [00:02:30] is, I'm from a totally sports family, and I was the black sheep with liking guitar and music and getting it. I still play in all the sports and everything, but I had this side to me, and out of nowhere, when I was in 11th grade, my father gave me, this is so not him, but he gave me a book called Psycho-Cybernetics, by a guy named Maltz. And I read it, and I believed it, and it made sense about the power of the mind, the power of focus, the power [00:03:00] of though.

I always practice these things as I pursue this career in the arts. I was signed to Sony Music Publishing in Nashville, I was touring as a guitarist and comedian, and very creative, all these creative friends, but I had this personal development, innovation, studying creativity side, the side that was ... an entrepreneurial business has been at the center of everything I've done.

I [00:03:30] kept that to myself. Then finally, as we were sharing earlier, I was playing at a comedy club and I had this little motivational, 30-second or 1-minute spiel, I did it even in at comedy clubs. A friend of mine said, "Mike, you're clean, you're funny and you have a message, you're a speaker and you don't even know it." I said, "What's a speaker?" And she explained it, and I said, "Like a motivational speaker?" And she said, "Yes." And I said, "I don't know." [00:04:00] Anyway, that's when the idea occurred to me, and I realize, this is probably the best thing is ... I realized, by combining guitar and comedy, but to deliver this message that I was also demonstrating, as I delivered it, I could do something no one else was doing. For better or for worse, no one else does what I do. That's how I got started. That was back in 2001 when I started that.

Kyle Davis: Coming from this overall performance, whether it be sports or playing [00:04:30] guitar or everything else, what are you seeing are the fundamentals, without obviously giving away the family farm, what are people really lacking or where can they spend more time to focus on? To really improve their overall performance and [inaudible 00:04:48] and different things like that?

Mike Rayburn: There's a lot of areas that I see that people ... it's not just that they're avoiding them, I just don't think they know what they are. One of the things, one [00:05:00] of the most important points is a decision. And this is a culmination of my keynote, I talk about this decision, the decision to become your personal best, I call it, make the choice to become a virtuoso. Most people never make that decision. Most people rise, instead, to a level of acceptable, or what's okay, or what's getting by, or what's making it, rather than their personal best. The way I explain it is, the opposite of becoming [00:05:30] a virtuoso isn't failure, the opposite of virtuoso, is competent. There are plenty of competent people, there are precious few virtuosos, but when we make that choice to say, "okay, I'm going to become my personal best at this and I encourage them to make a list."

What does that mean? You and I have talked about that. What does that actually mean? What's that going to look like? When I do, I read more, I get coaching, I would talk to people, I would practice. I would, literally, rehearse, [00:06:00] even sales, even IT, there's a way to rehearse. And when they make that list and they start acting on it, everything changes. One of the points I make, is that I discovered this because when someone asked me that same question, I realized that because things were working, I was coasting. And most adults are coasting. And here's the problem with coasting. It only happens downhill. When you make this decision, [00:06:30] you're no longer coasting, you're no longer doing just what your boss or your company or just what you learned in the past defines, you have raised to bar. You've made the choice that I'm going to become my personal best at this.

Most people never make this decision, that's where I start. Then, of course, we can flesh out what that means as far as rehearsal and how people practice and that sort of thing. But that's where it starts.

Kyle Davis: I'm glad that you made this [00:07:00] about whether you're coasting or not. I think a lot of people forget the old adage of you should never rest on your laurels, but so many people do, and creeping complacency, it happens. What are some things that you think people can do to help identify whether their coasting or not, or is it really just as simple as making this decision that, hey, I'm always going to choose growth and keep going in that direction no matter what.

Mike Rayburn: Sure. First of all, have your results leveled off before it started to go down. Second of [00:07:30] all, has your passion or enjoyment of what you do leveled off or started to go down? Those are the first two that come right to mind because usually, we don't ... in fact, I was just talking to a friend who's a speaker right now, where we're talking about this work, when the levels, we don't notice something is the way it is until we see the results change. When the results start to level off where they're not as good, then the alarm [00:08:00] starts to go off. And what I encourage people to do, is to make this decision pro-actively. Don't wait for the alarm. Don't wait for results or, my gosh, your passion to wear out. If you're no longer passionate about what you do, up your game. Make the choice to become great at it. Make the choice to pursue it and, obviously you can get mentors. I listed some of those things you can do. But that's the first thing I would say. Your results, and your passion.

Kyle Davis: [00:08:30] I think if you're waiting for the results, and you're not introspective enough to key in on whether you're still passionate or not, then, you're almost waiting for something and you're getting the results just too late, sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Mike Rayburn: Yup. And that's one of the indicators. And you can also see, how are the people around you reacting to things? Has the morale gone down? Have they started to treat you differently. And then, again, if you're pursuing this on a regular [00:09:00] basis, one of the other things that opens, and this is actually the beginning of my keynote, is that it opens the idea of re-invention. We've always needed to re-invent everything; everything on the planet needs to re-invent on a regular basis. But the only thing is, what's changed of late, is the speed with which we need to do it, or the frequency with which we need to do it, because things are changing. Because technology is doubling its [00:09:30] capacity so quickly. We need to re-invent. People have shorter attention spans and you need to give people a reason to look again. A reason to re-consider. The reason that you stayed front and center in their minds. I give the tools for re-invention, but that's a major part of this.

Kyle Davis: I can go into the depths, and anybody who's listened to the podcast [00:10:00] before knows that I can to into the depths of personal performance and always choosing growth. I'm hyper aware of all this stuff and this is my wheelhouse, so to speak. We could definitely keep going into this direction and [inaudible 00:10:15], but I'm curious to ... when you start adding this comedy element, and I've had this conversation about other speakers who just to other stuff differently, that it's kind of a shock to the system. It really helps people who are used to receiving it in one way, once [00:10:30] they receive it in a way that's delivered in a new way, the uptake is much higher. I'm wondering if you have anything that shows, obviously it's hard to have the analytics on it, but how receptive are people? How's that working out for you?

Mike Rayburn: It works great.

Kyle Davis: Obviously.

Mike Rayburn: You particularly mentioned humor. Humor ... When I say humor I don't mean humor on [00:11:00] the ... doing hack jokes that people, half the audience already knows the punch line to. There's a number of speakers who do that, and I applaud them for adding any humor at all. But my background as a comedian for many years, and studying comedy on a regular basis ... I study each of the aspects of my program on a regular basis. I have a program I follow in improving. What happens with humor, the greatest thing about humor is it's disarming. As soon as people [00:11:30] laugh, they're at ease. They laugh, and like, "Oh, OK. I can get this. Oh, OK, this is different."

Also, if it's humor that's on a level that makes a mistake ... Some people can look at the things I do and go ... I don't know what their reactions are, but I like to think that a lot of it makes you think, that a lot of it is something they were not expecting. I don't know anyone who's ever thought to do an imitation of Led Zeppelin singing Dr. Seuss. It works [00:12:00] perfectly and people go, "Oh my gosh!" Well when they laugh at that and then I follow it with, hey, the best way to influence anyone is to jump into their world, to relate to them on their level. They're already at ease and they're ready to hear that message and to take it in. That's one of the reactions, or one of the results I have found in every keynote. They'll all talk about, "Thank you. I needed to laugh and I just enjoyed the message so much more because of it." That kind of reaction.

Kyle Davis: [00:12:30] Do you think ... I have a few friends that are comedians and some of the big personal development people that I like listening to are also comedians. Do you think having to constantly change and vary your work over time ... When I was living in New York City, I'd go to comedy shows, and I can't tell you how many times I saw the same performer, but it was never the same set. And we're talking weeks apart. Do you think having the ability to constantly [inaudible 00:13:01] [00:13:00] up new stuff and new material and really push the envelope every bit of the way helps you have a better understanding of how to keep choosing this growth. That's just something that popped into my head.

Mike Rayburn: Yes. You actually nailed it. And you nailed this is what I want to show people. By writing new material, by showing how I write new material, I am practicing and showing on stage exactly the behavior I'm trying [00:13:30] to inspire. They get to see the results of it. When I say ... I talk about change a lot. My philosophy is like Peter Drucker, where I say managing change ... everyone tells me they're trying to manage change. Every group, every pre-event call, "We're trying to manage change." And I say managing change is not only stupid, it's dangerous. The only way to manage change is to create change, right. And so I'm giving them the tools. And so I'll talk about ... one of the things I'll talk about with change is that we usually imagine something that didn't exist, someone has [00:14:00] an idea, they create it, it exists. And sometimes that's the case.

But most often it's something that already existed, and someone's willing to look at it a little different, or use a little differently, or disparate items that had never been put together the same way. For instance, the Dollar Shave Club ... that guy just sold that company for a billion dollars. Dollar Shave Club is razors and the postal service. They had never been put together before. [00:14:30] This guy put 'em together, and he created huge value that's overtaken on-line markets. He owned everything compared to Gillette or Schick. I'm talking about that kind of ... the tools that cause you to do that.

The other point I'll make is that in putting things together that hadn't been put together before, I use the example of Apple's iPod, which when it came out it changed not just the entire consumer electronics industry, it [00:15:00] changed the entire entertainment industry. We buy and sell music on iTunes, single-handedly because of the iPod. So people think, well that was something brand new. No, actually it's not. The day the iPod came out it was nothing more, and you know this better than I do, it was MP3 technology, which had existed for ten years beforehand. The difference is ... Every company, Toshiba, Nakamichi, Yamaha, Samsung, they all had it. The difference is Apple was willing to say, "What if?" That's what I teach, "What if?" What if we take it, we make it a little [00:15:30] smaller, give it this cool housing, ear buds that don't fit.

Kyle Davis: They fit better now.

Mike Rayburn: When they did, it changed everything. The point I make, the way I pull this in, is I'll say, I am here because I believe those opportunities are sitting in front of you right now, you just need to find the tools to unearth them. And "What if", my program, is one great way to do that. I will then illustrate [00:16:00] that by putting things together that had never been put together before, like Led Zeppelin singing Dr. Seuss, like Bob Marley singing One Direction. I'll do current ones, I'll do old ones, Bruce Springsteen singing Green Acres, or [inaudible 00:16:18] with Ed Sheerin, and Taylor Swift. I'm actually demonstrating my version ... the way I use this tool [00:16:30] as an example for how you can use this tool.

Kyle Davis: I think there's just something there with comedians, or even just creatives in general who are constantly having to change what it is and re-think things. Some of my friends, that I know, they're not famous stand-up comedians yet, but they're constantly writing and they're constantly going to these improv classes. It's the same exercises. Here's an idea, [00:17:00] act it out. The architecture is the same. How you get there and how you build it is completely different. It's just a ...

Mike Rayburn: A tool. The whole point is the tool that I'm using to come up with something funny having to do with Taylor Swift, or something funny having to do with country music... One of the things I do is country versions of songs that should never be done country. I update that list all the time.

Kyle Davis: [00:17:30] What [inaudible 00:17:31] Arkansas list.

Mike Rayburn: Country version of Flo Rida. You know, (singing) "Apple Bottom jeans and the boots with the fur". That kinda ... That process is the same process that a financial planner can use to come up with a solution for a client. It's the same process that a leader can use to come up with a way to communicate his ideas or her ideas to the team. Name the profession, [00:18:00] I can show you how it applies. And so what I do is I know the tool, I know the creative tools, and then in my pre-event calls, I have a series of questions that I'm going to ask, just so I can figure out how this applies for them. And I will come in there with "What if" questions that specifically apply to their job, their medium, their area of expertise.

Kyle Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- And one of the things that you said, or maybe I just wrote it down because I felt like you were [00:18:30] hinting at it, was sometimes it's about how something is packaged and presented. You were talking about how when Apple came out with iTunes and the iPod, 15 or so years ago, maybe even 20 year ago, gosh, who knows, that it was not new technology, it was just repackaged and presented in a different manner. And you now have some companies that have these outward facing offices that are always looking, whether it be for new technology or for new ways of [00:19:00] structuring teams and different things like that, and they are constantly looking outward to bring that stuff inward. I'm just curious as to what your thoughts are... Obviously, I personally think that people should always be looking outward, and then taking the best of everything, basically. Because if you're not stealing, you're not trying. What's there for people to chew on?

Mike Rayburn: Both are valid. You have to be looking outward. I study ... [00:19:30] One of my favorite things to do, just to keep myself, mindset-wise, ready for clients and for presenting what I already know I'm going to present, is I read futurists, people like Dan Burrus, who's a great friend by the way. Because I want to know what's coming next. I want to know where people are thinking five years from now, ten years from now, what's going on. Everyone knows that Uber is looking at driverless cars. How many people know Uber is actually studying drones? As in flying people [00:20:00] to their locations. They are. I wanna know that kind of thing. Obviously there's an outward focus and I wanna keep that. But, I guess what happens is, I can't tell a financial planner how to come up with a better way to structure a 401K for someone. I can give them the mindset to find it for themselves. What I'm concerned with is the mindset. I'm concerned with, is your mindset one that is [00:20:30] looking for solutions whether they're outward looking.

Kyle Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Mike Rayburn: Or whether it's something that's been sitting here as gem in the rough that we didn't know about. And I think both exist. The key is to change the mindset. If I can change their mindset to one that's curious about the world, to one that's open to ... One of the powers of asking "What if?" is that it doesn't mean you're gonna do this, whatever this new process, [00:21:00] product, concept ... doesn't mean you're gonna do it. And counter-intuitively, that's a huge strength, the lack of commitment, because if there's nothin' on the line, at that moment absolutely anything is possible. And that's where we want to start. The mindset of being willing to set aside the old thinking, to step into the new, say "What if we tried this?" And the thing is, it's a perfect situation because it's safe. The old thinking is still [00:21:30] there. You can pick it up again if you want to, but the key is to not be married to it. The key is to be willing to let it go. That mindset allows us to find something, whether it's outward like a new technology, a new way of doing this.

Kyle Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Mike Rayburn: Amazon delivering packages by drone. Or, whether it's something that's sitting there, hey, we've all had this MP3 technology, what if we hook it up to the internet, we make the housing a little smaller, we give it earbuds, make it personal, it holds a thousand songs, what if we saw it that way? And boom, he did and [00:22:00] he stole all record sales from all record companies in one fell swoop. He turned it upside down.

Kyle Davis: Yeah. Well I think also ... when you and I were talking and I was really impressed by the fact that you said that you look at people in other industries, the futurists for instance, to see what it is they're doing and how they're thinking, and where things might be going or where they think things might be going. And I think it's really important, and I'm sure you would agree, that if you're going to be one of these people [00:22:30] who's going out to seek knowledge, to make sure that you're outward looking. Look elsewhere instead of stuff that's going to confirm your own biases. I think too often sometimes people get into this echo chamber, where they're just trying to find something that helps them sleep at night versus opening up their mind to go somewhere else.

Mike Rayburn: I love the phrase "echo chamber". That's a great metaphor for what that is. Yes. Listening to the echoes of themselves, listening to the echoes of the people around them. You're right, [00:23:00] I encourage that. I [inaudible 00:23:03] it.

You look at music. My all-time favorite rock piece is Bohemian Rhapsody, one of the seminal pieces in rock history. It is my favorite rock song, but it's classical. It's got a full rock band and it rocks at the end, you know the part where, in Wayne's World, they're all shaking their heads up and down. When that kicks in, it's a rockin' [inaudible 00:23:29] song. [00:23:30] But when you've got the opera pieces goin', you got the different chords ... he changes keys about five times in that piece. I know this because that's part of my performance. I have performed Bohemian Rhapsody on an acoustic guitar, and there are few guitarists in the world who have ever done that. I've had to study it ... I didn't perform until I'd been studying it for probably six years, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, working on it. But that's the key. He did the [00:24:00] seminal rock piece of all time, in my opinion, has classical influences.

Now someone might say, OK, well I think it's Stairway to Heaven. Well, you want to talk about classical, there's classical all through that. So they've been willing to step beyond, OK just talking about rock stars, they were willing to step beyond guitar, bass, and drums, keyboards, and look at symphony, and look at jazz, and look at reggae, and look at other forms of music and incorporate those.

Kyle Davis: Mm- [00:24:30] hmm (affirmative)-

Mike Rayburn: One of the things that ... For instance, to quote one more example, that I'd never thought about even sharing this before. This just popped to mind as we've been talking. When Clapton had been with the Yardbirds, and he'd been doing his own thing, he'd been with Cream, he'd been doing his thing, and then he went through a very ... he had a drug problem and stuff like that. One of the things that re-invigorated his career was when he did "I Shot the Sheriff". It was a huge hit. That's Bob Marley, that's reggae. He [00:25:00] did a beat that we not heard before, that "Tch-tch-n-tch-n-tch-tch-n-tch-n", that we had not heard before. That's a reggae beat. "I shot the sheriff, and I" and it changed everything because he was willing to look outside of his own medium.

I love it when I get a group ... I present a lot for the financial services world. That is health care. And when they're willing to look outside and say, "Hey, [00:25:30] what if we bring, what if a hospital brings entertainers in to make this a place that people look forward to coming to, rather than a place that they're dreading." I love that.

Kyle Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Yeah, I think that when you start thinking of different structures and everything, it just helps. And introducing new ways for people to consume something is also helpful, whether it be a reggae beat or something else, or classical construction of a rock song. [00:26:00] It helps. Crescendos, man, we haven't talked about crescendos. The one thing I remember from music, huh?

Mike Rayburn: Crescendos? All of my programs, I think in terms of the crescendo. I don't know if you knew that, but ...

Kyle Davis: I didn't.

Mike Rayburn: I think in terms of the crescendo, because the crescendo is, do we wanna end on, "Hey, well, that's my time. Take care." No! You wanna end on a big note. You wanna end on something like the coolest thing, [00:26:30] the funniest thing, the note when everyone's ... and that's the crescendo. We're going [inaudible 00:26:35] up our way up to a big ending.

Kyle Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- It's all about the build and then Boom! you hit em with the crescendo and you just walk out, drop the mike and head on out.

You mentioned this, you talk a lot about the "What if?" and I know that was the title of a book that you wrote a few years back, but it's also the inspiration for a new video series that you [00:27:00] have going on. Could you tell the audience about that, how that works?

Mike Rayburn: Yes, this is so cool. My challenge, and I imagine any meeting professional who is listening to this, anyone who knows anything about conferences will know this. You get everyone all excited at a conference, they go home ready to do all these new things, and then old mindsets and old office politics, and the way things are, and this thing goin' on and that fire comes up [00:27:30] and you gotta put it out, and all of a sudden, the excitement dissipates. I was looking for a way to sustain that, how can I sustain or grow it, and also give it legs, give them some way to apply this, to take this and actually make it make a change. Actually have it ... have people take action on it.

And so I created some ... Like you said, my keynote is called "What if?", the "What if?" keynote experience. I've got 'em asking "What if", they come up with these new ideas, they come [00:28:00] home. The question is "What now?" So I created a program called "What now?", your "What if?" action for the week. And what it is, for past clients, for clients I just finished presenting for, or ones I already have, those who subscribe I create a possibly three minute, maybe a little more ... people don't listen to much more than three minutes ... three minute video every week, that we personally brand. [00:28:30] So in other words, if Nationwide Insurance does it, we put the Nationwide logo on it. If Vision Health Care does it, we put their logo on it, at the beginning and the end, so they know it's for them.

So I create this video, and it's a different tool each week to be able to apply, to act on this, and I'm gonna play guitar a little bit, we're gonna make it fun, so people aren't dreading, "Oh, here's another talking head." And we send that out to everyone, [00:29:00] every week. The cool thing is, subscribers ... I don't care how many people you send it to. So an organization ... we send you a link. It's a protected link on Vimeo, and from there, you send it to a hundred people, or a hundred thousand people, or a million people, I don't care, same price. I don't want to follow people having to go, "How many are you sending ..." It's for everyone.

I am concerned with real change, [00:29:30] I am concerned, with not just making people feel like, "Rah, rah, this is fun!" but how it actually changed my life a year from now. This is my ... planting my flag in the ground. This is where I'm working on it. We've created them and it's just now launched. Of course, as you and I talked about before, I'm honing this and I'm making it better every day. This is my focus, my [00:30:00] 100% focus right now, other than my normal practice and rehearsal schedule for my keynotes and playing.

Kyle Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- I think it's what we've been seeing in the industry too is that to really have a lasting impact, to have a follow-up that is very short and easy to digest, but always brings the attention back to what was the original focus for bringing you in in the first place. That long term [00:30:30] benefit has been mutually beneficial for everybody and it's really helped a lot of companies out.

Mike Rayburn: Yes. The other thing that we do ... I look at it like I want everyone to be on the team. I always think in terms of how can this be win, win, win. So for instance, with the speaker's bureaus, if a company who has brought me in for an event through a speaker's bureau subscribes to this, [00:31:00] I'm gonna give the same commission to the bureau. I want to include everyone so that ... with the idea being, I don't want to be penny wise and pound foolish. I want everybody to participate because ultimately ... Everyone talks about how they have an abundance mindset, but how does that matter in the way you act? How does that matter in the decisions that you make? I believe that this is an abundance play, it's an abundance idea. The more [00:31:30] people I include in it, I believe it's gonna be better in the long run.

Kyle Davis: Yeah. I think that'll be great for everybody. I think that's a good place for us to wrap up. So if you're thinking to yourself, "What now?", I guess you should pick up the phone and call GDA Speakers. The number is 214-420-1999. If you wanna get Mike Rayburn to come out and speak and entertain and play his guitar at your next event. Or you can go gdaspeakers. [00:32:00] com. For the transcript, the book, and anything else, you can go to gdapodcast.com. With that being said, Mike, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mike Rayburn: Thank you. I love working with you guys and I appreciate this podcast opportunity.

Kyle Davis: Thank you.

Mike Rayburn: Right, take care.