Mike Greenly is a fascinating person. A former Vice President of Avon Products, Greenly is an incredible journalist, a lyricist writing songs for artists such as Kim Davis, and an incredibly talented speech writer/ speech coach.
Greenly has so many relevant accomplishments that it would be nearly impossible to list them all. He was also such an interesting speaker that I became mesmerized with his words and lost inside my own interview. In certain instances, as in this, I believe it more advantageous to dispense with a lengthy introduction, and just get on with the bulk of the interview….
Mike, since I’m basically a music and entertainment journalist, I thought it might be best to start with the fact that you’re an award winning lyricist, and see where we go from there. I’d love to know how you became a lyricist and what motivated you.
My passion, my personal passion is writing song lyrics, but really larger than that my passion is being a writer. My day job so to speak, I haven’t made a lot of money on songwriting yet, my day job as a former corporate executive, is that I am an executive speech writer, a corporate video script writer, and an executive speech coach. I transformed myself from being scared to death on stage to now being able to give speeches to 5000 people comfortably if I need to. It’s a major transformation. That’s why I am an effective speech coach now because I know what it’s like to be terrified. To answer your question now about how I got to be a songwriter, it actually does start with corporate life. I came to New York City from Buford, South Carolina and at that time wanted to be a playwright. They weren’t hiring any playwrights so I had to get into business so I could make money to afford a theater ticket. Eventually I came to be the youngest VP in history of Avon Products, and at that time I had already been thinking about quitting corporate life, becoming a full-time psychotherapist. I was receiving training and supervision as a therapist when they made me a VP. I had worked too hard and I couldn’t back down from it so I forgot about being a psychotherapist.
Just to clarify, Avon Products, is the world famous make-up company?
Yes, the world’s largest direct selling company. That was part of the thing, here the world’s largest, at that time, direct selling company was making me the youngest VP in their history, and I was thinking of quitting corporate life and not experiencing that? No, I hadn’t planned on that but once they offered me that, I had to stay. So I did. Along the way I was in charge of many different things. Part of the thing that was valuable for me was that they moved people around. They moved me around. I started out in product marketing, I moved into sales promotion, I did field communications, at one point I was developing 300 new products ayear. I was also in charge of business meetings to launch these products to the field manager. In most business meetings, and it is still true today, most business meetings have a theme. I would write the opening video and announce the theme at the meeting. Then in writing the speeches, my job would be not only to write a speech for the executives, but to make sure that it’s all connected to the theme. I became a speech coach too. So, along the way in many meetings we used theme songs. I found out because I was an insider at Avon and I knew the culture better than anyone, and I didn’t realize it at the time that my calling was being a writer, I found that I could do a better job for Avon then the outside agencies were doing. I would improve the lyrics, and improve the video scripts. What I found was I loved working on the song lyrics. I really frankly enjoyed working on all the speeches because I now look back and realize I was meant to be a writer. So, I found in working on theme songs and speeches that I really just loved it. The bravest thing I ever did was to leave corporate life and become a freelance speech writer and speech coach. I started working with composers for other companies business meetings. Using the skills I learned when it was my own meetings at Avon but now for Johnson and Johnson, IBM or any big company. I found that it was joyful to work with the composers on writing a theme song for these other companies. Along the way, I said we are writing all of the songs that only employees ever get to hear, why don’t we see if we can’t write for the public. They loved the idea. So that’s how I discovered it was my passion, but because I’m a freelancer I needed to make money. Truthfully, they were very few freelance speech writers, I’ve never met one, that are fortune 500 officers.
How do you convince people to get over their fear of public speaking?
I was asked to write this up for what I’m told is the most successful self-improvement book series in the world right now. The series is called “The Change”. The chapter I was asked to write was about presentation skills. It’s amazing how many people share what used to be my terror, meaning a real fear of getting on stage in front of people. There are many people who would rather be under a dentist drill than to stand up on stage. What happened to me is essentially as a personality I’m an introvert, but you can’t become a leader in a corporation unless you learn how to present effectively. There was this guy who is kind of a bully, a fellow officer. He was very dynamic on stage. He happened to be very tall also so he was overwhelming. So, I was terrified because now that I was in charge of business meetings I had to give a speech. I was thinking that I was not going to be able to be like him, that I was going to fail. Then I had this amazing insight that was, “no, you’re not going to be him, you’re going to be you Mike Greenly, except you’re going to be bigger and better”. The trick is to be yourself but bigger so that it’s authentic and at the same time remember that it’s a performance. The principles apply to any business or topic. It’s about learning how to be this on stage persona which is still true to you. Audiences don’t want to relate to a phony. If it’s you just reading they’d rather read it themselves. So you have to mean what you’re saying when you say it. But you have to realize that I’m not just talking to you authentically the way I would if we were sitting next to each other just having coffee. I have to be bigger and more energetic in order to communicate and make sure that I get my ideas from my head into yours. So when I had this insight not to be this other guy but rather to be myself, my friends call me the most earnest person on the eastern seaboard. This is after years of therapy, I used to be terrified to be myself. Frankly, part of it was about coming to terms with being gay, which decades before was much harder than before “Will and Grace”. My first week at Avon they sent me out to Iowa. The way they structured the program was, the first day you go out and you try to sell Avon products on your own. The second day you go out with a representative who is really effective at it. For me as a shy introvert just the idea of ringing a door bell was out of the question, but I had to do it. The next day I went out with this representative and she was amazing. She said that Avon and her manager changed her life. She said that becoming a successful representative changed everything. Her husband had a different kind of respect for her because she was bringing in as much money as he was. Her kids now looked up to her. Avon was helping her be powerful. The most important thing was the respect she had for herself. This really touched me. It made me proud to work for a company that could empower women. I allowed myself to get in touch with my real feelings so that my voice got a little thick when I experienced the emotion. I heard sniffles around the room as I was telling that story to the managers and the difference they could make not just selling cosmetics, but empowering people because of their inspiration. People told me afterwards that it was the best speech they had ever heard. It’s transformative when you achieve something like that you’ve been terrified of. So, I like passing it on now.
That is an awesome story.
I’ve also done training programs for sales people. People can’t read your mind. So it doesn’t matter if you’re scared or shy inside, what matters is being yourself only better. Part of the learning is to realize they don’t know you’re scared. Don’t let them. There are some tricks to giving a speech. It’s very important to have a strong opening and a strong closing. When you’re giving a speech at the beginning of the speech you need to take over the room with positive energy. It’s a performance even though you’re still being you. So at the end, the audience doesn’t want to clap prematurely, which is why it is very important at the end of your talk to give a big conclusive thank you. Then the audience knows they can applaud.
So, what and who have you written lyrics for?
I wrote a song called, ” We Can Plant A Forrest”, which won an ecological award. It contributed to causing 5000 seedlings to be planted in underdeveloped countries. I was honored to be asked to write a song that is in honor of the memory of the kids and grownups who lost their lives at Sandy Hook elementary school. That song is called, “Always My Angel”. When I think of that song I think of my mother because she’s the reason primarily why I’m a writer. She inspired me. I also happened to be the author of the official traditional state song of Virginia. I’ve had six songs that charted on Billboard but two of them made it to number one. So I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. My first number one was last year and was called. “Say Yes”, and the next one was fairly recent. It’s called, “My Fire”. Nile Rodgers play guitar on my song. The artist Kimberly Davis is a powerhouse. I’m going to keep going.