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Joe Battista on ‘Pragmatic Passion,’ Motivational Speaking and Putting His Life on the Page to Help Others

After a legendary tenure as Penn State Icers coach, an instrumental role in bringing varsity hockey and Pegula Ice Arena to the university and time working in the NHL, Joe Battista is now a consultant, professional speaker and success coach who recently published his book, The Power of Pragmatic Passion: 7 Common Sense Principles for Achieving Personal and Professional Success.

Battista, a columnist, sat down with Patti Thor of the local district for Toastmasters International to discuss sharing his message, keys to public speaking and putting his own life stories on the page with the goal of inspiring others.

Patti Thor: Thank you, Joe, for taking the time to meet with me. I know that your schedule is busy with speaking, consulting and promoting your new book. Congratulations on your book, The Power of Pragmatic Passion! How did you feel as you were putting your life on the pages?

Joe Battista: Throughout the writing of the book I wanted the reader to feel like I was right there with them having a conversation. In fact, the best compliment I have gotten about the book came from a former player, Andrew Strasser, who said, “I felt like I was sitting across from you having one of our talks when I was playing.” I wanted everything in the book to be about helping the reader to live a more joyful, meaningful, passionate and purposeful life. Writing the “Real Life 101” stories was very emotional and brought back great memories. The hardest one to write was about our son Ryan and the really hard decision we made to take our son to professionals to see if they could help him when we had exhausted every parenting tool in our toolboxes. It was hard, but it was the best thing we could do for our son at that time. He responded remarkably well and went on to have outstanding grades as well as an improved golf game! The most fun chapter for me was recanting the story of how Terry and Kim Pegula came to donate the largest gift in Penn State history and how we completed Pegula Ice Arena on time and on budget. Every time I drive by the building I smile from ear to ear.

Thor: I know that writing a book takes more time and effort than you ever thought it could. But writing and publishing are just the beginning. Next, you must promote it. What are some of the ways in which you’ve been able to spread the word about your book?

Battista: If I knew then what I know now. I think I could have written the book a lot faster if not for the perfectionist in me. My friend and best-selling author John Bacon once said, “JoeBa quit trying to write THE book and just write A book!” He was right and it felt great to finally hold a printed copy in my hand.  Since I self-published I have relied heavily on social media and my own contacts list of over 6,000 people. I am still trying new ways to get the word out about the book. It is doing its job as the best business card ever and helping me to get speaking and workshop clients. LinkedIn has been invaluable as well. Perhaps the weirdest circumstance was an impromptu book signing at my sister-in-law’s surprise birthday party at a restaurant in Pittsburgh. A cousin asked if she could buy a book and I said I had a box in the car and the next thing you know I am selling to strangers at the bar. Sold all that I had with me!

Thor: Who seemed the most changed by your message?

Battista:  There have been several people who have told me it was exactly what they needed at that particular stage in their life – from high school students to retirees. That has made it so rewarding because I tried to write it to help those in life transitions who were looking for guidance to develop a game plan for growth and moving forward. It seems to have resonated across a broad spectrum of ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds and careers. I spoke to several teams who said the book really helped them with prioritizing their lives by focusing on a purpose and not just a passion. A former player, Geoff Martha, is the executive vice president at Medtronic, one of the largest medical companies in the world and he wrote a testimonial that says it all. “Pragmatic Passion offers a comprehensive roadmap to charting your path forward. Joe inspires you to reflect, provides you the confidence to act, and the tools to succeed. No matter your stage of life or career, anyone can benefit from Pragmatic Passion.  I sent copies to my leadership team at Medtronic…and my teenage kids!”

Thor: How has promoting your book grown your life skills?

Battista: It has really forced me to do a crash course in social media. It also reminded me to always be true to myself and not become what others want or think I should do. The book is about authenticity and I am transparent often baring my soul and becoming vulnerable with the reader. The hope is it will inspire the reader to be sincere in answering the questions that are asked throughout the book. It all culminates with developing a “Success Plan” after finishing the book. I am still learning the right markets to seek out and how best to reach them, so it has been a real learning experience for me.

Thor: Would you have imagined 10 years ago that motivational speaker would be on your resume?

Battista:  Believe it or not I have always dreamed of becoming a professional speaker ever since I heard Dr. David Schwartz speak at a convention when I was a junior in college. His one-hour long presentation had such a profound impact on me that I thought it would be really cool to someday be able to give back in the same way. I tell that story in the book in detail. As a coach you have to have good speaking skills whether it was speaking to the entire team, the media, at a banquet, to students, etc. I honed my skills during my time as a coach and then took it to another level when I was the executive director of the Nittany Lion Club. Getting to lead the “We are” cheer in front of 25,000 people at the 2009 Rose Bowl pep rally is to this day the closest I will ever come to feeling like a rock star.

Thor: How have your communication skills grown from this new adventure?

Battista:  Like any skill, the more you do it the better you become. Writing for has been a real blessing as I am given a platform to write on any topic I wish and that gives me the vehicle to sharpen my writing skills. Every time I step on a stage or lead a workshop for a smaller group, I feel more and more comfortable and confident. I have learned that I have to concentrate on being me, and not trying to become Tony Robbins or Simon Sinek.

Thor: Most people won’t ever speak into a microphone in front of a crowd. But all of us do some form of public speaking when we return an item to the store, when we give our boss a report, when we describe to the sales clerk what we want to buy. What would you recommend for others to prepare themselves for their next speaking opportunity?

Battista: Be relaxed but energized. If you bring poise and confidence into any conversation whether it’s one-on-one or to a large group, just be yourself and remember to breathe. Be clear, concise and collaborative. I learned from my Toastmaster friends to watch my verbal fillers and to not be afraid to embrace a little silence while gathering my thoughts especially in transitions. I also learned to be careful not to get too animated with my gestures and moving around the stage because it can distract the audience. That, as anyone who knows me, has been a challenge! Ha!

Thor: What are some upcoming events at which you will be speaking and where the public can come to see you?

Battista: I will be the featured speaker at the C3 Community Toastmasters on Monday April 1, no foolin’, in the new C3 Sports Indoor Complex from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.

I’ll also be speaking at several events locally including the Pennsylvania State Parks and Recreation Society Conference, the Penn State Finance Club and Women in Business Club, State College High School Athletics Teams, the State College High School Hockey Banquet, the Penn State Career Services Development Conference, and the USA Hockey Level 4 Coaching Symposium in Pittsburgh. I will also speak at the District 13 Toastmasters Conference on April 13.

Thor: What’s one nugget that you will be talking about at the District 13 Toastmasters event that isn’t in your book? 

Battista: The 3 C’s of success: Commitment, Confidence and Courage. Making a commitment to improve a part of your life. Creating confidence in keeping that commitment through education and effort. Developing the courage to act as a result of making a commitment and gaining confidence by putting in the effort to improve. To me leadership can be boiled down to one word:  Courage.

Thor: Congratulations again. Where can we get a copy of your book?

Battista: The Power of Pragmatic Passion is available on my website, locally at Barnes and Noble, McLanahan’s, the Student Bookstore and on Amazon.  For a signed personalized copy, order from my website.

Thor: Thanks again for your time and insights.

There are five Toastmaster programs in the State College area. C3 Community Toastmasters is the newest. They meet at 6:30 p.m. on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Mondays at the C3 Sports Indoor Complex, 200 Ellis Place, State College.

Patti Thor is club growth director for District 13 Toastmasters.