Speaking can be a shortcut to success because it gives you the visibility and the platform for people to hear your message and recognize you as a brand. The spectacular Mitzi Perdue may be born from and married to family business empires, but speaking is where she has absolutely made a name for herself. And she excels at what she does! Mitzi represents more than three centuries of family business. As a speaker, she inspires women to achieve success in business and in life. She now joins Elizabeth Bachman to share her experience and a ton of great information.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Speaking: A Shortcut To Success With Mitzi Perdue
Before we begin, I want to remind you that if you’re curious about your presentation skills and how you’re doing, you can take our free four-minute assessment at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. You can see where you are strong in your presentation skills and where you might like a little bit of support. I am honored to have the amazing, wonderful, spectacular Mitzi Perdue. Welcome. Thank you for being here.
What a complete joy to be here because I’m a supporter and an advocate of what you do more than you might ever guess. I feel that most of the good things that have happened to me in life have come through speaking.
You are a very experienced public speaker. I’m going to be asking you about that for sure. Let me read your bio, which is incredibly impressive so people have an idea why I’m interviewing you. Mitzi Perdue is an author, speaker, and businesswoman who holds a BA with honors from Harvard and an MPA from George Washington University. She’s a past president of the 40,000-member American agri-women. She’s also a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard and her column, The Environmental and You, was the most widely syndicated environmental column in the country.
Her television series, Country Magazine, was syndicated to 76 stations. She’s the Founder of CERES Farms the second-generation family-owned commercial and agricultural real estate investment company that has owned rice fields, commercial and residential real estate. The family vineyards sell wine grapes to wineries such as Mondavi, Bogle, Folie à Deux, and Toasted Head. Mitzi combines the experiences of three long-time family businesses. Her father, Ernest Henderson, co-founded the Sheraton Hotel chain, and her late husband, Frank Perdue, was the second generation in the poultry company that operates in more than 50 countries.
She founded CERES Farms in 1974. She also loves to point out that the Henderson family business began in 1840 with the Henderson Estate Company and they’ve been having yearly family reunions since 1890. If you’ve combined the 180 years since it began, the 100 years that Perdue Farms has been in business, and the 46 years in the founding of CERES Farms, she represents more than three centuries of family business history. She authored How to Make Your Family Business Last: Techniques, Advice, Checklists, and Resources for Keeping the Family Businesses in the Family. She has also authored a book with Mark Victor Hansen on How to be UP in Down Times. Mitzi, we spent all our time reading your bio. It’s impressive. I’m honored to have you here. Thank you.
I’m honored to be here. I love your premise and I’m getting to love you.
Thank you. Before we get into all the amazing information that you have shared with us, I ask all my guests about a dream interview. If you could interview somebody from history or someone who’s no longer around let’s say, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?
I would immediately answer Mother Teresa because she’s a woman with a vow of poverty and humility, she owned three saris and the sandals on her feet. That was the beginning and end of her worldly possessions yet, she did so much to change the world. I’d love to ask her what gave her the energy. What do you think every day? How did you do it? As for who she’d listen, slightly towards women but I’d love if men listened in.One of the secrets to success is overcoming the fear of failure. Click To Tweet
We do a lot in this show about helping women navigate our world. I often think about Mother Teresa and the courage it must’ve taken because she came from a background of women should not speak up and she did so good for her.
I don’t know if it’s widely known but this woman who influenced the whole world had such an interesting story. Although she came from a middle-class background with her vow of poverty, she was eating the bread of the poor and had almost no possessions, but she wanted to help the lepers in Calcutta. At that time, with this vow of obedience, she was assigned to a convent where her whole job was teaching the children of the wealthy. She wants to do more than that. She spent years trying to persuade the higher-ups in her order, “Please, let me do this.” They all told her, “There are hundreds of thousands of lepers who are dying and you can’t make a difference.” Her answer was something that guides my life. It was, “It’s immoral to be discouraged by the size of a problem. The good that we can do, we must do.”
Thank you for reminding me of that. I read that years ago and I had forgotten it until now. When I look at the problems facing us nowadays, that’s a good thing to be reminded of.
It’s too easy to throw your hands up in the air and say, “I give up.” How about tomorrow? The good that we can do, we must do.
I want to ask you about ways that women can move forward and cannot be daunted by the size of the problem. To start out, I want to hear a little bit more about you being a pioneer as a woman in the workforce in the early ‘60s. You were part of the family business of Sheraton and married into a family business of Perdue. Tell us a little bit more about what you did and what your part was. You were the only woman.
I was a little bit of a pioneer because I deliberately chose fields that weren’t popular with women. As an example in college, I take Economics classes and there would be 200 men and me. I felt a certain responsibility. My whole career, I wanted to do such a good job and be such a team member that wants the next woman. In other parts of my career, I became a management intern in Washington. It’s a two-year program. There were 21 guys and me, and again, I had the same attitude that I wanted to make life easier for the woman who came after me. One of the ways of doing that was making men want to value what women can contribute. It was satisfying. Another job that I had was as a rice farmer. Every time I say it, people don’t hear me right. It is rice, as you’d eat with chopsticks if you were in Asia.
It’s because my father died at age 70 unexpectedly, at that time, I was 27 years old. Since he hadn’t expected to die at 70, we thought he’d live another twenty years, I suddenly came into a huge inheritance. He owned 400 hotels in addition to other business ventures. We had been brought up that we’re stewards. In our family, it was very much looked down on if you were to spend it on yachts and racehorses. My job was to hand it on to those who came after me in as good as shape or better as I inherited it. I was living in California at that time. It occurred to me that investing in agricultural land would be a way of practicing stewardship. There are many things you can do if you’re environmentally-minded to make your land available, say for research at the local University of California. Davis specializes in agriculture. I spent four years taking courses in agronomy, rural appraisal, agricultural accounting, and international agricultural economics.
I spent a lot of time studying rural appraisal. By the time I bought the first property, I had four years of study under my belt plus four years of socializing with every farmer who would allow me to get near him or her. When I got into rice farming, there were 5,000 rice farmers in California. There were roughly three of which I was one who was actively involved in managing a rice farm. That was 5,000 to 3. I can call myself a pioneer in that. I loved talking about it. I got a job as a farm broadcaster at the local CBS affiliate. There were 750 farm broadcasters nationally in the Farm Broadcasters Association. I’ve lost track of the numbers. There were five females but I loved it. I felt that there are obvious disadvantages to being a woman in a non-traditional field. The other thing is there was a heck of a lot of visibility. If I did anything good if that noticed.
What if you did something that was not so good?
Embarrassment, misery, shame, crawl under the pillow, and never take it off my head. It’s not a bed of roses but on balance, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How did you pick yourself back up then? There’s one of the things that I find nowadays with all the work that we’ve done about gender parity, the consequences of failure seemed to be much direr for women than they are for men. I don’t know if that’s an internal or social perception but you can’t have a woman doing that. One woman made a mistake so no women can do it.
Gender parity is a passionate interest of mine, but how did I pick myself back up? Let’s do with an internal image I have of myself and I’ll confess it. I’m not sure I’ve ever said this publicly. My image of myself is I’m a steam roller. There’s an obstacle. Imagine asphalt, a great big steamroller, and a mosquito stuck in the asphalt. I’m a steamroller and I’m going to overcome it. There are people that I get fired for the job and there are 1,000 nasty things that can happen, but if you’re a steamroller, you keep going. It surprises people because I don’t go out of my way to let people know that I’m a steamroller. It’s disarming but nevertheless.
You were sweet and friendly steamroller. That’s funny about that.
I had something that I wrestled with ever since it happened. I was on the board of KVIE, the local Sacramento public television station. I’ve lost track of numbers, but let’s say, 3 women and 12 guys. At the end of a board meeting, a guy came up to me and he said, “Mitzi, you’re the most aggressive person I’ve ever met.” I’m shocked because I try to hide my aggressiveness. I said, “What do you mean?” I’m acting all innocent and unsteamrollership. He said, “A good bit of the time, people don’t know what you’re doing but you get your way.”
What advice do you have about women who are working towards visibility and leadership in nowadays world? I’m not the only one anymore but there are a lot of hoops to jump through.
I’ve always felt from the beginning of my career so nobody has to do any math calculations. I’ll tell you I’m 79 and I’m proud of it. I suspect, Elizabeth, you are going to love this answer. One of the things that I’ve always felt is speaking is a shortcut to success because it gives you visibility. In the process of preparing for whatever you’re going to talk about, you’re going to know twenty times more than if you didn’t have a speech to give on it. I was terrified of public speaking. For me, public speaking was the equivalent of fear of death, snakes, or spiders. I had a genuine phobia and I can confess that I didn’t get into public speaking because I knew that it would be a shortcut to success, although it proved to be so.
I got into it because I realized that I had such a huge phobia that was disabling my life. I’ll give you an example. I belong to a church in Davis, California. A tiny church, total membership is 60. I knew every one of them well. I knew them socially inside and outside of the church. One day, I was called to give an announcement in the church in which I was to stand up on my own two feet and tell everybody that the energy conservation bus tour leaves from 6NG at 2:00 PM. The whole week before was ruined for me because I was spending every second that I could in front of the mirror reciting that. If I’m driving in the car, I’m reciting it. The day of the church service, I don’t think I heard a single word that the minister said because I was going on, “God, can I do this? Will the words come out?”
After that, I thought, “I’ve got to get over this. How do you go through life if you’re scared to even speak in front of a small group of close friends?” That coincided with a cold call from the Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, that’s what it’s back then. This woman called me up out of the blue, I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me. She started pitching, taking the individual development class of business and professional women and it would involve public speaking. I thought the universe is giving me a message to take this course and I did. The consequences of that are amazing. By that time, the fourteen-week course was over, it’s much shorter now, but I have my own show on the local television channel as a farm broadcaster.In your self-talk, be realistic but be unwilling to be negative. Click To Tweet
One of the things about stage fright is once you’ve done it a few times, most of the time you get over it. You’ll learn and survive. It’s the fear and the anticipation of the first one that will get you. Think also of the amount of time and energy you spent worrying about that.
I don’t anymore. I was giving a speech or a talk in front of an association of family businesses. We were also socially distancing. There were 70 people from a group that’s usually 250 but when I arrived there to check, the lovely lady in the check-in was being sympathetic and kind, she said, “Are you nervous? It will be okay.” I’m thinking, “I’m not nervous. I’m looking forward to this the way I’d look forward to a date with an attractive guy.”
You have to love your listeners in order to do this.
One of the public speaking tips that I’d share with everybody and I bet you’d give it to other people anyway. When you’re speaking, it’s almost not about you, it’s about what you can give to them. To the extent that you can focus on, “I’m giving you useful information that I hope it’s going to make your life better.” That’s your mindset. I almost forget myself. I’m aware but my real focus is, “I love you. I want to help you.”
I always say rule number one is to make it about them.
Can I jump in and make a comment about Eleanor Roosevelt? This has to do with people who are shy. This is something else that guides my life. I feel it’s taken me a long way and I eagerly share it with everybody else. She said, “You can go through life as a host or the guest.” The guest waits for somebody to do something for them, want somebody to look out for them. The host is looking out for the other people. Let’s say at a party, you’re standing there alone and nobody’s talking to you, the host goes up and makes them feel better. Speaking is the same thing as guests and hosts. As a host, you’re there and it’s about them, it’s not about you.
That’s a quotable quote.
When I first read it, I thought, “How about a key to the universe?”
Mitzi, in addition to running the farms and all of this, you do run Perdue Chicken Company.
I’d love to say that I did. There are 22,000 people who work there. I’m a family member and I do get involved because I have the huge and incredible privilege when there are new hires, maybe 250 at a time, I got invited to tell stories about Frank, the history, and the culture of the company. That’s an honor beyond imagination and that wouldn’t have happened to me if I hadn’t had public speaking training.
You’ve taken a lot of risks. Can you talk a little bit about being willing to take risks?
If you were to ask me, almost the secret of the successes that have come my way, it’s overcoming fear of failure. The number of auditions that didn’t work out, the number of things that I’ve sent in that got rejected innumerable. At this point in my career, I don’t mind when something doesn’t work out because I’m ready to take the long shot. I like to become a television hostess. For somebody who’s scared to use the telephone fourteen weeks before who is taking a course in overcoming shyness to audition for a TV show, it’s risks. I become a syndicated columnist but I got turned down lots of times before. I do think that being willing to go for the long shots. This path is enormous. Almost every career success I’ve had is crawling way out in the limb with 1 in 20 chance. As long as you can get past the fear of failure, there’s a lot of good stuff out there. I do say take the risk but prepare yourself as hard as you can for it.
You’ve talked about visualizing success. Where does that come in?
Allow me to give you something on that subject. Have you heard of Mark Victor Hansen, the co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series?
He’s the co-author of your book.
I want to share something with you about visualizing. This is the book that I wrote for him, How to be UP in Down Times. Mark Victor Hansen is my co-author. That man is so fabulous. You can’t even believe it. He deserves every bit of success. He is in the Guinness Book Of World Records for selling 500 million nonfiction books. The man is a walking miracle. We wrote this for people to help them get through the downtime of the pandemic. We wrote it in about three weeks. It’s 100 pages long, it’s 40 tips, and ask me some of the tips.
I’d love to share them with you but I want to give a tip right off that can help absolutely everybody and it has to do with visualizing. It’s a miracle and it was brand new to me. The book has been out since early March 2020 and its price is low because we didn’t write it to make a profit. It’s at $4.58 which is about the lowest Amazon will allow for a book that size. One day, I got a phone call from Mark. He says, “Mitzi, you’ve told me that you know Photoshop.” I said, “I’m a black belt in it. I’ve been using it for many years.”
He said, “Good because I want you to do the following. I want you to write on the top of the book. I want you to write more than a million copies sold.” Since I do Photoshop and Mark asks for something, I’m going to do it but I said, “Mark, you don’t want to do false advertising. We haven’t sold a million books.” He said, “That’s not the point. You’re not going to show that publicly except in a conversation like we have where you know the story behind it. I want you to print out five copies of it. Put them in your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, office, and stairwell.” Here’s what’s going to happen. He said, “Things are going around us all the time. If you have your mind thinking more than a million copies sold, all opportunities that were out there anywhere but you didn’t notice them, they’re going to occur to you.” I’ll tell you what happened to me as a result but let me explain the principle a little further. These are my words, not his. Have you ever been pregnant?
No. Do you mean pregnant with an idea?
I meant carrying a baby. You might have a relative who was pregnant and you cared about that. All of a sudden, the world is full of pregnant ladies. To take the example of my sister-in-law, she told me when the world was full of pregnant ladies, although she’d never noticed them before, after she gave birth, they disappeared. Two years later, she was pregnant again, but she was leading my little nephew around by the hand. She said, “The world is suddenly full of pregnant ladies with two-year-olds.” The pregnant ladies themselves unless they had a two-year-old, she didn’t notice them.
If your mind is tuned to notice something, it’s there. I don’t want to be superstitious. I view myself as a feet on the ground kind of person. Shortly after I wrote this thing to put up in my office and other places around my apartment, I got this email from somebody I’ve never heard of in Taiwan telling me that she had already bought 200 copies for her friends, but she was wondering if Amazon would give her a discount if she bought 1,000 copies. She wanted to put it in a chain of stores that she has something to do with. Is that total coincidence or was there something that we don’t understand that makes that thing happen?
I’ve ordered my copy and I wanted physical copy so it’s on the way.
Thank you. You’re getting me one book closer to the million copies.
You haven’t hit it yet.
I haven’t checked. Maybe we may have.Success is not measured by what you can get but by what you can give. Click To Tweet
Mitzi Perdue, this has been exciting, wonderful, and amazing to have you on the show. Do you have any particular words of wisdom of what people can do first to realize a goal to step forward to embrace the possibilities for their lives? Where would you start?
There’s a Buddhist saying, “Attitude is everything.” I don’t think I’m smarter than everybody else and yet I had all these good things happen in my career. I try to think what helped me and what I come down to is your self-talk. Sometimes people ask me, “What’s the worst thing that happened to you? What bad thing happened did you learn from and so forth?” I almost can’t do it. I flunk it back because over the years, I wired myself to avoid doing what I call wallowing. I’m not going to think about the bad things, why it won’t work, and the negative things that people told me. Do you remember that TV show the final word if it was you off my island?
For my self-talk, I want to be realistic but I’m unwilling to be negative. I’m the steamroller. I’m the one who, “There’s a little obstacle, it’s a mosquito, and I’m going to steamroller over it.” The story is not true but it is the feeling of I swore, I’m powerful, or I can do this. Another one that I say, “If they can do it, I can do it.” That’s frequently referring to men. Back to the Buddhist saying, “Attitude is everything.” My attitude is I can. If you’re trying to tell me I can’t, I’m not going to listen to you. If you’re attacking my self-confidence, I don’t want to be in the same room with you. On the other hand, I want to be with people who encourage each other like what you do. You’re the example of what people should do which is help people be all they can be.
As a trainer, the best part of one’s job is when you see somebody who goes up and says, “I can do it, I’ve got it now.” It’s now easy, something that used to be hard.
By the way, when I’m saying to myself I can, I want to back it up with all the training, courses, books, and YouTube videos that I can. Here’s something that I don’t believe. I’ve said that attitude is everything but you do have to back it up with reality which is giving it your all, taking every course, reading every book, making every contact, and going to every conference. I’m the combination of dream it and then back it up.
I like to think of it as honing your craft where you are free to be a channel for art. It’s the art of speaking, the art of music, or you can be out there and let your message channel through you because we’ve all been inspired by something larger than ourselves. Let yourself be inspired and be a channel for that inspiration but use your craft to hone it into a form that your listeners can take in.
I have a personal motto which is, “Success is not measured by what you can get but by what you can give.” I’m always taking courses. No matter what one a year but frequently 3, 4, or 5 a year. I do it because the more I hone my craft, the more influence I can have. I’m here to serve and I can serve at a higher, better, and more powerful level if I’ve learned communication skills.
That is a great phrase to end on. Mitzi Perdue, thank you. It’s been such an honor to have you on the show. I’m glad to have met you. I’d be happy to follow you and cheer for you. Before I go, I want to remind you that if you’re interested in how you can use your presentation skills, your public speaking, whether it’s within a company or in front of a crowd, if you want to use your presentation skills to move your listeners to take action, and you want to see how you’re doing, then take our free quiz. It takes four minutes at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. I’ll see you on the next one.
- Mitzi Perdue
- CERES Farms
- How to Make Your Family Business Last: Techniques, Advice, Checklists, and Resources for Keeping Family Businesses in the Family
- How to be UP in Down Times
- Perdue Chicken Company
- Chicken Soup for the Soul
About Mitzi Perdue
Author, speaker, and businesswoman Mitzi Perdue holds a BA with honors from Harvard University and an MPA from George Washington University. She is a past president of the 40,000-member American Agri-Women, She’s also a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard, and her column, The Environment, and You, was the most widely-syndicated environmental column in the country. Her television series, Country Magazine, was syndicated to 76 stations. She’s the founder of CERES Farms, the second-generation family-owned commercial and agricultural real estate investment company that has owned rice fields, commercial and residential real estate, and today, the family vineyards sell wine grapes to wineries such as Mondavi, Bogle, Folie a Deux, and Toasted Head.
Mitzi combines the experiences of three long-time family businesses. Her father Ernest Henderson co-founded the Sheraton Hotel Chain and her late husband Frank Perdue was the second generation in the poultry company that today operates in more than 50 countries. She herself founded CERES Farms in 1974.
She loves to point out that the Henderson family business began in 1840 with the Henderson Estate Company and they have been having yearly family reunions since 1890. If you combine the 180 years since it began, and the 100 years that Perdue Farms has been in business, and the 46 years since the founding of Ceres Farms she represents more than three centuries of family business history.
Recently she authored HOW TO MAKE YOUR FAMILY BUSINESS LAST, Techniques, Advice, Checklists, and Resources for Keeping the Family Business in the Family.