I bombed my first speaking engagement. I’ll never forget it, too. I was nervous. Real nervous. The morning of, I called a friend to practice my intro and they patiently listened to me do it… 47 times.
“How does this sound? Wait! NO! Let me do it—” And my friend interrupted me. “Derek, it’s fine. You’re going to do great.” But I went on, “What if I said it like this…”
I know they rolled their eyes over the phone, but I had to practice it. I had to get it right. I knew first impressions were important so I didn’t want to mess it up. And then, when I finally stepped on stage to introduce myself, I promptly forgot the introduction.
My content was solid, but I was monotonous. Boring even. And I stumbled through my presentation while white-knuckling the podium as if it was a life support machine preventing me from instant death.
Yet, when you fast forward to today, things are MUCH different. You see, while I bombed my first speaking engagement, today, as I get off stage, people always tell me, “WOW! You’re a natural!”
I also charge $20,000 for keynote speeches and I get it. I don’t say this to brag, and to be completely transparent, I often accept $15,000 assuming the conference provides me with full rights of an HD video of my presentation…
…But the bottom line is this: Yes, I bombed my first gig, and now I charge $20,000 for each keynote.
And more importantly, what can you learn about speaking, giving presentations, and becoming a speaker who commands top fees?
How I Became A Better Speaker
A few months after I bombed, I had another speaking engagement. This time around, in preparation for this gig, I read every book I could find about the art and science of giving and creating GREAT presentations. I also watched the most popular talks on TED.
You see, I always believed that talent was overrated. It’s actually one of the driving principles here at Social Triggers… because I knew it was possible for people who were bad at things to become good at things. I saw it in my personal life when I learned how to be confident in social situations… and that’s why I knew it was possible for an amateur presenter to learn how to speak and present well. I just needed to “figure it out.”
So I kept studying. And by the time I gave this speaking engagement, I was MUCH better, but there was a huge problem…
I saw another guy speak at this event and he WOWED the room.
It was an awkward room. It was long, skinny, and there were around 200 people in it. While I paced around the center of the room, this guy paced the FULL LENGTH of the room. Each movement seemed to be perfectly sychronized with every word he said. He’d be on the left, make a point, people would drop their jaw and he’d already be gone. Then he’d be on the right, make another point, people nodded fiercely, and he’d be off to the center where he’d share the MAIN thing and people got up and gave him a standing ovation.
It was amazing. And I wanted to be JUST LIKE HIM…
…and that’s when I got REAL LUCKY!
I met him. He told me his name was Michael Port, and he gave me some feedback on my presentation. “You’re a good speaker, but you’ve been at this for just a couple of years, right?”
I laughed. “No, this was my second time.” And that’s when I got lucky.
“That’s great! How about this? I know you know how to build an audience better than anyone. How about I share what I know about speaking with you and you share what you know about building email lists with me? It could be a trade.”
I almost never do trades with people, but I was just admiring how great this guy was, and here he was wanting to share what he knew about speaking with me.
Needless to say I said “HECK YES!”
And that’s when things came together. I was an okay speaker, but after a few conversations with Michael, I became a great speaker.
What did he share with me? And how did he help shape me into the speaker I am today?
Well Michael Port has a new book that came out that is essentially a “Michael Port” brain dump on how to be a GREAT speaker. And how to create great presentations. I’ll share more about that book in just a second…
…first, here are the three things he shared with me…
Thing #1: Your Speech Is A Performance
In a previous life, Michael Port was an actor. So, he was an expert at taking other peoples words and performing them in front of other people.
And performing is the key word.
As Michael shared with me, when you get on stage in front of hundreds of people, you are giving a PERFORMANCE. It’s not just about your content. It’s about how you perform and deliver that content.
I knew this first hand, too. My first ever speaking engagement, the one I bombed, was me drolling on and on about all the stuff I knew. The content, had it been in a textbook, was amazing. But it was dry. It was boring. I could see people’s eyes glazing over as I shared it with them.
Now I could have said, “Well if they’re not listening it’s their problem. It’s their loss.”
And that would have made me feel better. But remember, I wanted to become a great speaker and presenter. It wasn’t their job to listen. It was MY JOB to MAKE them listen. And that’s why PERFORMANCE was key.
Thing #2: You Must Move With “Intent”
When I got on stage, I’d just randomly pace around the room because I told myself, “standing still makes you look rigid. And Derek, you’re not a rigid person.”
I’d shimmy to the right. Talk a little bit. Muddle to the left. Talk a little bit. I’d occasionally throw a hand gesture in the mix when I was making a point… and sometimes, if I were lucky, I wouldn’t drop the microphone on the floor.
And this was a disaster.
Again, even though I bombed my first speaking gig and did very well at my second gig – a NYT best-selling keynote speaker actually complimented me on Twitter about my second gig, as did the owner of one of the larger industry conferences – I knew I needed to become better.
And to become better I knew I needed to move with intent. Just like Michael had told me.
If you remember when I saw him speak I commented on how he COMMANDED the room. Even though the room contained a few hundred people, it was as if he was talking directly to each person. And moving with intent through the length of the room is partly how he did it.
Thing #3: You Must Rehearse Your Presentation
Oh boy. This was a killer for me. Seriously. I’ve always been a fan of preparing my content, and then just getting on stage and “winging it.”
But Michael said this was a huge mistake. If you want to give a performance, and you want to move with intent, you MUST REHEARSE your presentation.
Now for some reason I was very AGAINST rehearsing. I’d say things like, “Well, I just want people to get the real me.”
I’d also say, “I don’t want to sound scripted or rigid.”
And when I shared this Michael I vaguely remember him laughing about it. Why? Because he said I didn’t practice enough. Funnily enough, another keynote speaker, my friend Sally Hogshead, had actually told me something similar a few months after I spoke to Michael.
Well, I just called Michael on the phone and he provided some clarity on this exact issue. Here’s what he said:
“People get worried about rehearsing. Why? Because they tried rehearsing ‘a little bit.’ And that’s a problem. When do a little bit of rehearsal, you get on stage and try to recall what you rehearsed. You’re not in the moment. However when you are fully rehearsed, so much that you know your material cold, you can stay in the moment and have your presentation come to your organically. And you can later improv in the moment.”
And he’s so right.
Now when I give presentations, I’m fully rehearsed. Actually, just a few weeks ago I keynoted my friend JOnathan Field’s conference. I got on stage, and I crushed it. I’d crack jokes and everyone would laugh. I’d deliver content and I’d know exactly what people were going to ask me before they asked me it. It was as if I was on stage, performing my presentation, and had a secret data dump of what everyone was going to do inside my brain.
And it’s because I did.
I had practiced that presentation a hundred times. The jokes that made people laugh? 95% of them were scripted.
The best part?
No one would have known the wiser… until I told them so. That’s the power of a “full rehearsal.”
Now How Can You Take This To Next Step?
These are the three things that helped me become the speaker I am today. It’s also why I’m able to command top speaking fees.
You see, people think “getting paid the big bucks” to speak is hard. And you know what? It is.
But if you want to be the type of person who gets paid thousands of dollars for a keynote presentation, you’re going to need to master the three things I put forth in this article today.
And you should also buy Michael Port’s new book “Steal the Show.”
(Yes, that’s an affiliate link. And when you get the book, I get a very small affiliate commission. But don’t worry. It doesn’t come out of your pocket. It comes out of Amazon’s. But I could care less about the commission. I’m using an affiliate link for one reason… people always ask me for book recommendations and I never post them because I think people will never listen to them. I’m using this link to see if people actually want book recommendations or if they just say that because it sounds good).
You see, I was lucky enough to get some one on one time with Michael early in my speaking career. But, truthfully, I always liked reading books and this is the exact book I would have wanted to read back when I was working on becoming a better speaker.
As a matter of fact, it’s book I just recently went through and I believe this book is perfect for people like me too. People who are already good at speaking… but they want to become the BEST.
You see, in this article today I focused on the “performance” associated with speaking. But in Michael’s book, he goes so much further. As an example, here’s what you will learn:
* How to Craft Capitivating Pitches, Speeches, and Stories
* How to Researse and Stage World-Class Performances
* How to Produce Powerful Openings, Commanding Closings, and Amazing Audience Interaction
* And more.
Look. It’s a book. It’s less than twenty bucks. If you want to become a better speaker, I highly suggest you get the book.
People always ask me for what books I’m currently reading. Well, this is a book I just read. So, get the book ;-).
Once you get the speech down, the rest is about getting your name out there. And as a speaker, that’s not as hard as you’d think. Here’s why:
Almost every speaking engagement I landed came from the fact that I CRUSHED another speaking engagement.
One of the things you should know is this: when you perform a great presentation at a conference, chances are there is someone in the room who knows someone who books speakers at another conference…
…and if you’re the BEST speaker at the event, trust me. They’ll talk. That’s how I got almost every single speaking gig.
Plus, now that I got real good at speaking, I’m also great on camera. And publishing videos of me speaking on the web has actually helped me get asked to speak MORE at MORE places.
Earlier this year I spoke to a Fortune 500 companies sales team. Why? Because they liked the vibe I had in a video I had published on my YouTube channel.
Of course there’s more to do on the marketing front, but for now, I suggest you focus on creating a great presentation. So, follow what I shared in this blog post and get Michael’s book this week.
And then, what I want you to do is this:
Are you currently a speaker? Or are you working on becoming a better speaker? I’d love to hear your about your first experience with speaking.
I told I had bombed my gig. And maybe one day I’ll share the video. But for now, I’d like to hear about your experience. Share it in the comments.
Also, if you’re going to grab the book, just let me know you did it in the comments. I’d love to see who’s actually serious about becoming a better speaker.
Working on becoming a better speaker. I have purchased the book and this blog post was just want I need to keep working on my craft. I just finished reading Brian Tracy’s book 6 Figure Presenter and Grant Cardone’s If You’re Not First You’re Last. Booking as much time on the stage as possible … Your book recommendation is exactly the book I need to read to push through this learning and hack presenting. I thought EXACTLY like you (right up until I read this post) about practicing. I’ve done various television appearances and many speaking engagements and even Toastmasters and yes, I do value practice. But not full on rehearsal. I will take that tip and let you know how it turns out. Nothing but better is the result nevertheless! great post !
I know for a fact that “nothing beats stage time”. I’m already in 3 toastmasters organizations and I’m the leader of a few clubs. But this simply isn’t enough speaking exposure. I NEED more practice. I want to be immersed in it. HOW can I get more public speaking experience? (without paying a fortune for it). I need to get in front of audiences as much as possible for as long as possible and the more pressure the better.
What are some venues/opportunities for public speaking I can utilize?
I recently started doing speaking engagements again and one of the things that I always look forward to is the feedback so I can iterate and make the next one better. I think a performance is always being tweaked and calibrated. Thanks for the book suggestion – I think it’s awesome.
Since Derek was willing to share his story about the time he bombed a speech, I thought I’d share mine as well. You’ll find it here (episode 046): http://www.stealtheshow.com/podcast/itunes. Enjoy.
– Michael Port
author of Steal the Show (a WSJ bestseller)
Yes, Derek, I plan on getting the book. 🙂
I am really glad to hear that you have improved your speaking performances. I never got the chance to work on it since I haven’t got to the point where I need to speak in front of the larger group of people but I believe I would be terrified!
Thank you, Michael! It is such an honor to work with you. Thanks for everything.
You were a joy to coach on stage. Your ability to take direction and say, “Yes!” throughout the process was what allowed for such a quick and lasting transformation. And you were an already strong performer.
You have such great talent and potential. For you, the sky’s the limit.
– Michael Port
author, STEAL THE SHOW
Love this article! Thank you for sharing your story. I believe in the power of repetition too, and that even the most “talented” people have often practiced their craft thousands of times.
I also had the pleasure of getting coached by Michael P. on my signature talk last weekend at a book-release event he was having in L.A. I have been doing promotional (free) talks around the country, and like you, most of the opportunity comes from doing well at the previous gig, however, it was a thrill to witness the meticulousness of Michael’s artistry as he turned my presentation into a full-blown show (Blocking, prop ideas, and really highlighting the contrast- people were laughing one second and choked up the next. It was amazing!)
I didn’t bomb my first speaking presentation and I wouldn’t say I’ve bombed any, BUT I have a decade of previous experience as an actress before speaking. What I will say about THAT is, the first time I dared get on stage, my left leg wouldn’t stop shaking! The more I thought about it, the more it shook! Over time, this completely went away, and now the stage feels like a second home.
Thank you for this post, Derek! I look forward to sharing it with my friends and clients.
Hey Derek! LOVED this post. I snapped up the book at your recommendation (affiliate links rule- glad to support you!). I have a performance in a couple of weeks hosting a conference as the “emcee”. My dream is to travel around speaking, right now I am writing a book that will be the foundation of that. I also got Michael’s “Book Yourself Solid” because I’m looking to start a coaching business right now. At the end of this year I’m going to post all the books I read this year and what they inspired me to do.
I never exactly bombed a speech yet (have been public speaking & performing since I was a kid) but once in high school English class, I delivered what I thought was a stellar presentation on the life and works of Sylvia Plath, highlighting all the hope and strength in her poetry. As soon as I finished, in front of the whole class my teacher said, “You know she stuck her head in an oven, right?” I actually hadn’t known that. This was before the Internet. I had gotten so caught up in the beauty of Plath’s writing I hadn’t learned much about her dark side. I just stood there, flustered, not knowing what to say. Awwwk-ward…
This wasn’t my first, but it was my first important one. A first year PhD student and I had to give a presentation to my peers as well as some professors in the department. My heart was beating do fast and my mouth dried up totally while I was talking. I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt so dizzy I thought I was going to fall over. I managed to forget half the stuff I needed to say and when I came to use the pointer nobody could see what it was I was pointing at because my hands were shaking too much. Needless to say, what was supposed to be a 15 min presentation turned into only 10 mins.
I’ve done two more since then and the nerves are settling a little, but I have another in two weeks and the panic has already started, so, even though it’s a scientific presentation and humour wouldn’t go down too well, a lot of the actual techniques in presenting will work wonders I think. This is a very timely post. Thank you.
Food poisoning+too much coffee+choked on some water=crapped my pants. For real.
Yup, I’m pretty sure you win.
Vividly remember my first speaking experience – I was in 11th grade, unsure, uncertain, and about to deliver a 3-minute book report to my English class. I knew my stuff, and when the presentation started, things seemed to be going well, barring a few early tremors in my voice. Then things started to go REALLY well, because people started laughing! Yesss, everyone loves getting laughs right?
Except, I wasn’t making any jokes. Looking around the room, I noticed everyone seemed to sporting wide smiles, or were barely containing their laughter. In fact, one girl in front of me had buried her hand in her heads and was shaking violently. At this point, I had to know what was going on, so the moment I finished I asked everyone “What is so funny and why is everyone laughing?”. The girl in front managed to stop shaking, looked up and said “You’ve been bobbing your head from side to side through your entire presentation”, causing the class to explode into peals of laughter.
This is what I looked like – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobblehead
It took one more similar experience for me to get rid of this tic, but thankfully, i’ve been able to move past it, and am way more comfortable and in control on stage.
Great post Derek and really resonated!
Timely post! 2 weeks ago I gave my first speech to first year university music students on making a success of their studies and have been invited back to speak to third years, this time for 2 hours. The first one went ok but looking forward to using this book to take it to the next level, improve the first one and build a repertoire of speeches that I can deliver to multiple universities and build my brand.
Thanks Derek, your input is always valued!
Whelp, duh! Of course you would know Michael. All the smart peeps do and I love reading your smart blog. He’s by far the best speaking coach around. I’ve adored working with him and this book is absolute required reading for anyone who presents to all sizes of groups. Heck if you want to present to a clerk to get a refund over the phone , or present to an in influencer via email this book is gonna help you with that too. Awesome post Derek! You always bring it. I love that.
I have bombed a speaking engagement in the past. And, if I was to be totally honest with myself, I would have to say it was because I did not rehearse enough and was not 100% prepared. It makes a huge difference, not only in your presentation, but in you. Your confidence level, your demeanour and how present you are for your audience. I AM going to pick up this book from Michael Port and have every intention of implementing all of his advice and techniques to take my speaking…my service to the world to a whole new level! Thank you so much for this!! Keep an eye out for this Canadian speaker…I’m coming! 🙂
The first time I did a public speech it was in front of a small group of about 50 people. Everyone was watching me intently as I talked. I was really getting into it and about half way thru when suddenly a person in the front row suddenly got up and brushed something off my shoulder. After I was finished someone told me what happened. I was wearing a navy blue shirt and a large spider was crawling on my shoulder and headed for my chest.
Getting the book! Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve been presenting for about 5 years. Mostly skills-based training that can be dry, and I know the content in my sleep, but would love to learn how to steal the show.
I’m the Michael Port Derek references in the post.
I bombed a speech also.
I think there are three types of speakers:
1. Those that have bombed.
2. Those that haven’t bombed but will.
3 Those that have bombed but lie about it.
All creative acts require taking risks. When you take risks you raise the stakes and that’s what produces big results. And, you may falter. That’s what’s exciting. The audience wants to see you walk the tightrope because it’s thrilling but they truly want to see you get to the other side.
Keep thinking big about who you are and what you offer the world. Focus on those you’re meant to serve. It’s never about us. It’s always about our audience.
– Michael Port
author of Steal the Show
Great book Michael, I finished it yesterday and I’m currently taking a ten minute break as I go from brain dumping to compartmentalizing my ideas for an upcoming performance I have.
I look forward to seeing it come together with your steal the show framework.
I’ll be sure to share my story with you via email as you suggested in the book.
Thanks for your contribution and I hope see you along the road some day!
All the best, Boyd.
I’m so glad Steal the Show has been helpful to you. You sound like a real learner and the future belongs to the learner.
If you have a moment, would you be so kind as to leave a review for the book on Amazon, if that’s where you purchased it or, if you picked it up somewhere else, on that platform? It would mean a lot to me and help show others that they too can become better speakers and performers.
author of Steal the Show
Review is all done. Presented this morning and was a triumph! Much more connection with the audience and I was a lot more ‘me’. Looking forward to improving my skills further. Cheers!
When you read the book and say, “I’d like to know even more,” you can take Michael’s Heroic Public Speaking course. And listen to his Steal the Show podcast. Great material that will take your speaking to several levels beyond where you are today.
Last year I wanted to give myself a challenge, so did a Tedx talk. It was an awesome experience but I was not fully rehearsed. I found it seriously affected the delivery…so much so that I didn’t fully convey my message. It’s out there for all to see now and so I am looking forward to publishing new (better) examples of my work. Definitely a learning experience!
You’re right Derek
Public speaking is like acting, actors rehearse so well that when they “act” you feel it’s real and not rehearsed.
That’s what a good speakers do also
Love your book recommendations! Last book I read was Provenance that you recommended a while back, riveting story. Will be purchashing Steal The Show as well.
Awaiting the launch of your book club.
Awesome post! I will take your advice and read the book. But, as much as I love Amazon (and generating you extra affiliate income), I’m going to borrow this one from the library. Cheers!
Like you, Derek, I have learned the value of rehearsing and rehearsing until I got it down cold, then there is no fear in letting your personality take over on stage. Good stuff. Thanks!
Book purchased. Article spoke to me. Literally talked to a college class about my online business an hour before reading your article. Content was good, but my delivery was meh. Looking forward to the read and putting in the work to get that standing O one day. Thanks Derek.
Just so you know, I’m a Michael Port fan and a former drama major. I was debating whether to get this latest book of his and you pushed me over the edge. Ordering from your link now….
Very helpful post Derek.
My worst speaking engagement was when I was invited to speak in front of a convention of small business owners – to share my success story. I struggled with that speech for nearly 2 months and was so nervous the night before that I almost told them I was sick and left town, just to get out of it!
The morning of the speech was exactly what I feared—pretty awful. The audience was given the chance the leave feedback and the organizers sent me that feedback a couple of weeks later. One guy said something I will never forget. He said, “It took 30 minutes to deliver a 5 minute message”. Ouch. Daaang.
That was two years ago and I have turned down every speech invitation since that day.
And…Of course I’m getting the book! NO ONE reading this post needs it worse than I do!
Thx Derek, I just ordered the book through your link. I am looking forward to checking it out.
Hey Derek, I have a potential speaking engagement coming up. I’ve done them before and it’s always gone well, but not spectacularly, so this post spoke to me. I just bought the book.
One of my first times in front of so many people (I was just gonna introduce myself and that`s it) I swear I almost drop the mic haha, I cant avoid laughing at that moment, I wasn`t nervous, I was terrified! but I had to! cuz I wanted to be able to do it. After that time I had many other chances, but there was this one time when my mind went blank, and I said, what the hell, and changed everything I was going to say and just let it come out.
I´m not nearly an expert, still get damn nervous, but I want to be great at it, so here I go!
Thanks Derek! I´ll make sure to get that book!
My only current ambition is to learn to speak in front of a camera.
A dang good article, Derek! I just had my first conference speaking gig two weeks ago. Definitely did not rehearse like I should have. Had a baller deck and that helped save me, but I really should have taken more of this advice. Just picked up the book on your link, too. Looking forward to reading it and getting better!
Derek, you’re starting to grow on me, I’ve come to enjoy and respect your ” in your face” writing style. It’s refreshing and honest.
I used to be terrified of public speaking, until I joined a band and pretty much all my fear had to be squashed forever in order to perform on stage (as the lead singer, too!). After getting used to something as intimate as crooning your own angsty teenage poetry out to a group of 30 peers in a cramped coffee shop, public speaking became a cinch.
That’s not to say I don’t still get nervous, because I do. And I hardly ever rehearse. I can get myself to go over a presentation about twice before I’m like, yeah, that’ll do. And you know what? I get a lot of compliments on my speaking and presentation style.
But I totally agree that if you want to give a strong performance, you have to rehearse. No one’s going to walk on stage at TED and drop a speech bomb after only one rehearsal. I definitely want to get there. Thanks for telling us about this book!