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.