Speaking is the fast path to demonstrating your credibility. Speaking is also how you share your expertise – on stages, on podcasts, on videos, and even on TV. Yet, surprisingly, many subject matter experts and entrepreneurs are either uncomfortable or unskilled at presenting in front of the audience. And often the speech gets worse the larger the audience. It’s uncanny how an audience of ten thousand can cause knees to knock and voices to quiver.
The good news is, great speakers are made, not born. Becoming a great speaker takes practice, yes. Yet it is a skill that can be honed over time. And no matter how good you are at it, you should hone it. I myself feel I have a ways to go, even though I’ve given thousands of presentations around the world. I’ve honed my craft over the last two and a half decades, but my biggest breakthrough in speaking came about this year, while attending a course called Heroic Public Speaking grad program. And the instructor? Today’s guest, Michael Port.
Michael earned his MFA in acting from NYU 25 years ago, then began working in TV, film, and theater. Now, he teaches non-actors what actors know on how to give better performances both onstage and off.
Michael is the author of eight books, including Book Yourself Solid and Steal the Show. They’ve been translated into 29 languages and been on the bestseller lists of the NY Times and Wall Street Journal, among others. His clients include Disney, Best Buy, Guardian, Olympians, Navy Seals, FBI agents, Astronauts, and thousands of others who care deeply about making a difference in the world.
This jam-packed conversation not only covers how to have an outstanding stage presence your audience will never forget, but also how you can become a better, more authentic, and present communicator both in business and in life.
On with the show!
Michael, it’s great to have you on the show.
I love doing this with you. It’s just a delight to spend this time with you.
Likewise. I really enjoyed going through the whole Heroic Public Speaking Program undergrad and grad. Before that, of course, HPS Live and having that coaching on stage in front of hundreds of people. I think there were 500 people who saw me getting coached by you which is a little bit intimidating but hugely fun at the same time. It was awesome and that just whetted my appetite for more so I signed up for a month-long program. It’s actually longer than that when you consider it.
Seven. You took the most comprehensive program we offer. It’s interesting that you mentioned the time that you had on stage, the very first time we worked together in front of 500 people. You were willing to put yourself in that position as an experienced speaker. You said, “You know what? No. I’m going to get up there in front of these people. I’m going to do my thing and then I’m taking the direction and I’m going to try new things, make big choices.”
I was really impressed with that and the reason I find it really impressive is that not everybody is willing to rehearse. There’s a number of different reasons that sometimes people resist rehearsing a presentation or some sort of performance that they need to give. But one of the reasons why people who are experienced often resist it is because it takes a lot of humility to be willing to rehearse.
In fact, there is a wonderful Netflix special that focuses on Beyonce and the whole rehearsal process running up to the Coachella event that she did. They show you sections of the two different shows. She did a Coachella and the whole rehearsal process. One of the things she says during that Netflix Special is that, “It takes an enormous amount of humility to rehearse,” because most of the time when you are rehearsing, what you are doing is not working. That’s why you rehearse until you figure out a way to make it work. If you are not willing to rehearse, then it’s unlikely that you are going to get much better and if you already think that you are as good as you can be, then you are probably missing out on opportunities. I was very impressed with you that you are willing to jump out there and do that.
Thank you. It’s funny that you would talk about Coachella and Beyonce because I recently heard the stat that blew my mind. Ariana Grande made $8 million. She negotiated hard but this really underlines the importance of seeing the overall strategy and the end game. Whereas Beyonce, she got paid $4 million but she negotiated the filming rights so she made I think upwards of $60 million instead of the $8 million that she maybe could have gotten if she had gotten Ariana’s approach, which is I think is just really interesting and shows how powerful strategy is over just tactical negotiation. That’s good too, but there’s a place for it and strategy always trumps the tactics.
She believed in her power to drive sales outside of just the Coachella event. She knew that she had that ability and she said, “Well, I’ll take my money on the back-end rather than just on the front-end.”
Right. Somebody who speaks a lot, let’s say at conferences or seminars, they would need speaker training. They would need some sort of rehearsal process. But what about somebody who’s listening, who thinks that, “All right. I’m just a marketer. I’m a marketing consultant to our marketing manager. Maybe at the lower level, I can intern or a search marketing specialist or something like that. Why do I need to learn how to speak better? What would be the answer that you would give to them?If you aren't willing to rehearse, then it's unlikely that you’ll get better. And if you already think that you are as good as you can be, then you are probably missing out on opportunities. Click To Tweet
I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has ever said to me, “Oh gosh. I wish I was less prepared.” I’ve never met someone who said, “Oh gosh, I wish I had less control over the room during that presentation,” “Oh gosh, I wished I had just winged it more.” Never have I ever heard those statements coming from anybody.
We know that in order to move forward, in order to fulfill the dreams that we have, we generally need other people to say yes to us. If we are working on improving our ability to get other people to say yes, so that we have the skills that we need to feel confident, so that we are not nervous and instead we are able to focus on our objective, then we are more likely to get where we want to go.
If you think of performance as only something that is done on the stage by certain kinds of people, then I think you are missing an opportunity because any time you are in front of other people, you have an objective that you want to achieve and you need other people to get on your side, you are performing. You’re playing a role and hopefully, that’s an authentic role, but you are still playing a role nonetheless.
We do this all day long. We play different roles at home with our kids than we do at the office. We play another role when we are at the basketball court with some of our friends versus the role we play with our parents. If we get very good at identifying what role we need to play in any given situation, then if we have the tools that we need to identify how we go about performing that role in service of the objective that we have, then we are generally going to come out ahead rather than just hoping that maybe things will fall in place.
Look, there’s an expression that the military often used. They say, “You will not rise to the occasion. You will fall back on your training.” So when the stakes are high and the pressure is on, it’s unlikely that we rise to the occasion instead we fall back on what we already know. If we are not well prepared and we don’t have a tool kit that we can call on, then we are just going to fall back on some skills that may not be enough to win the day.
Or they might not be skills, just nervous ticks or habits like for example, running your hands on your pants and wiping the sweat off of your palms are something that conveys nervousness and lack of confidence. Don’t do that. If you are pacing back-and-forth on the stage, you think that maybe that’s not a bad thing but it’s distracting. It also conveys nervousness. Whereas if you stand and land as you call it, then you move only deliberately in concert with certain points you are trying to make in your speech like for example, you talk about the past then you move to “past” the side of the stage, what would be…
Stage right or the left side from the audience’s perspective. Then you’re conveying something to their subconscious mind that they pick up, not obviously, but it’s very powerful. I learned this in NLP, actually. When you are talking about the negative stuff or the competitors, you also go to the stage right, the left hand side from the audience’s perspective.
When you talk about the future, you talk about you, and you talk about all this potential for their business, then you are over on the other side of the stage. This is ninja stuff.
I love when I get to do these kind of things with my students because they already know the answers so you could just do it for me. I think I’m going to ask you the questions then because you’ve achieved a certain level of mastery now over the craft or performance.
When I started doing this work with entrepreneurs and with people who use speaking a lot to advance their agenda, their business, their brand, or to book business and then, of course, with professional speakers and people who want to be professional speakers, it was very surprising to me how unusual the work that I was doing with these folks seemed to be to them.
In fact, I was surprised. I would put people on the stage. I give them some direction and often the audience would look flabbergasted. Mouths would hang open and I didn’t really understand why this was such a big deal. To them, it looked like magic. It looked like I was just taking somebody with very little skill and then immediately doing some kind of magic and transforming them into some highly capable skilled performer.
To me, it was the most basic thing in the world because I was a professional actor. I have an MFA from NYU’s Graduate Acting Program. Professional actors who are stage actors, and of course lots of film actors, too, but certain classically-trained actors are used to transforming immediately when they are given direction. You get a direction from a director, you try a different way, you make a different choice, you make another transformation. You make another choice, you make another transformation.
This was perfectly normal, so I remember saying to the folks, “Isn’t this how everybody teaches public speaking?” And they said, “No. It’s not.” I said, “Oh, wow.” For a decade I was focused on the Book Yourself Solid brand that was based on a book that I wrote in 2005 and, every once in awhile, I do a bit of this work with Book Yourself Solid clients. That’s where I thought, maybe I should move into this work because if you can take educational content and you can also leverage theatrical elements, you can create extraordinary experiences for an audience. I want you to imagine that you have a circle, inside that circle it says,”Educational Content” then you have another circle that overlaps. In that circle, it says, “Theatrical elements.”
Where those circles overlap, that intersection is what creates an experience for the audience, and if done well, it becomes a preferable speech. A speech that every time you give, you get more requests to give. You are not going to move the market as a speaker just by marketing yourself better. Maybe a little bit but you’re not going to convince everybody that you are a brilliant speaker just because you’re doing a better job marketing yourself. The only way you are going to convince anybody that you can deliver is by actually delivering because if you get hired and you can’t deliver the expectations that the other people have for you, then you are certainly not going to get the opportunity to do it again with those people who are in that audience.
So if we produce a speech that is in fact best in class, then we get the compound results of the referability of that speech. Every time you give that speech, you get two more speeches. Every time you give those two speeches, now you have four speeches. You give those four speeches, now you get eight speeches. You give those eight, you get 16, 16 produces 32, and on and on. The speech is what does the marketing for you.
Right, but not everybody wants to make a living off of speaking professionally. They’re not necessarily looking to get many more referable speeches so that they can go on this tour of the world keynoting.
Of course. Think about marketers, especially marketers who are trying to educate their ideal audience. We do know that speaking is one of the fastest ways to demonstrate credibility for the work that you do. You may not care two licks about getting paid this way, that may be completely unnecessary for you, but you book a couple of clients at the back-end of the speech, that maybe $250,000 over the next year or more.
We know that many business owners, marketers, creative directors, SEO experts, etc. want to use speaking either on stage, through podcasts, through videos, etc. to demonstrate their expertise and increase their profile and brand identity. If you are doing that, you want that speech to produce more speeches for you.
I speak a lot. I don’t’ get paid for every speech. In fact, most speeches I only get travel covered. That’s okay because, over the last 20-some years, I’ve gotten probably eight figures, maybe multiple figures, probably worth of $20 million in revenue because of all of my speeches, because of the prospects that come out of it. There’s this adage that I’m sure you’ve heard, “Facts tell, story sells.” The better you get it, storytelling and performing, not just speaking, the better the lead flow. The more revenue, the bigger the business you can grow, and the more profit, and all that good stuff.
$20 million is not chicken feed. That’s not a bad return on speaking a number of times a year. Well done.
Thank you. It’s been by far the biggest revenue generator out of all of my marketing over the last 25 years and it all started as a fluke. I don’t know if I ever told you the story, but I started my business in 1995. My first business was Netconcepts and I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I had no business classes, marketing classes or anything. It was all self-taught.
Two months into the business, I talked my way into this expensive conference called How to Market on the Internet, IQPC conference, and a bunch of big name folks like G.M. O’Connell was there speaking, the founder of GoTo Media. I got in for free as a volunteer so I was a mic runner and I start to chime in because I got the mic and add some value which you are not supposed to do as a mic runner but I was young and cheeky and impetuous.
I started chiming in and upstaging GM and these other folks, so I got a big stack of business cards by the end of the first day, which is awesome, but I also got de-invited from volunteering on day two because apparently I really ticked off some of the speakers. Here’s where it gets really funny.
It’s such a classic use story. This is me.
It’s pretty awesome. I got two big accounts from that. That was worth a million dollars. Each of those two accounts that I landed because of that cheekiness was worth half a million dollars each. I didn’t have to get funding. I didn’t have to leave off Ramen noodles for the next six months or a year as I started the business out.
It certainly paid off but I was not expecting to get de-invited. That was a big hit to my ego. I felt kind of crushed by it but IQPC the organization that runs all these conferences contacted me—a different conference organizer obviously—a few months later and invited me to speak at How to Market Educational Programs at the Internet because I had finished my master’s degree and as part of that I built a website for the Department for Institute of Molecular Virology.
I had this experience with websites and education, so I ended up chairing that conference, doing a post-conference workshop, and doing a general session. It was terrible. It was absolutely shocking at how bad I was but that motivated me. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to nail this. I’m just going to keep speaking until I get it.”
These different conference organizations poached each other’s speakers. They get their brochures and so forth, they call out the speakers, I started getting bombarded with speaking inquiries or opportunities from the competitors of IQPC. I still got other invites from IQPC but I started getting speaking opportunities from IIR, WBR, and all these different ones. I just said yes to everything because I wanted to get good at it and I was atrocious for years. It was not at all predictable when I would nail it and I would be just shockingly bad. I didn’t know how to do it.
One of the keys to success to any kind of performance is reliable delivery so that anybody who sees you gives a presentation feels comfortable referring you because they say, “I know you can do that again.” That clearly was not an accident. Audiences can tell when you are winging it even if it works out okay. They’ll not likely to refer you because even though it worked out okay, they know you were winging it, they can’t be sure that it’s going to work out exactly the same way again. Reliability of delivery is very important.
For McDonald’s, right?
Yeah, I don’t go to McDonald’s but if…
But you know what to expect every single time.
Exactly. If I didn’t need to eat, I know exactly what I’m going to get there. There are two different ways to approach rehearsing. If you are starting a new presentation, then you can start the rehearsal process from scratch and you can use what we call the Seven-Step Rehearsal Process. There was no way you would know this process unless you are a professional performer because you are not taught this anywhere else. Unfortunately, of course, but understandably.
Now, if there’s a speech that you’ve been giving for some time, a presentation that you have been doing, you might not want to go all the way back to scratch and start with the Seven-Step Rehearsal Process. You might feel that the speech is good but you know it needs some improvements. What you do in that case is you work on five minutes at a time.
Every time you give a speech, put a camera, it can be just an iPhone camera, it doesn’t have to be anything special. Just put a camera on you and put a camera on the audience. The easiest thing to do is just have two cheap GoPro cameras on these little short six-inch tripods and then set them up. One of the stages to see the audience and then one that you can actually have on the stage pointing up on you too or you can have it further back if you have a larger tripod. This way, after every single speech, you can watch your performance and you could watch the audience’s response to your performance because that will certainly tell you a lot about how they are experiencing your presentation moment-by-moment.
Then you put the five minutes that you think need the most work and you work on those five minutes until you feel that those five minutes kill. That they are just right, they work every single time, and you know you are good to go. You keep doing this process and then you work on the next five minutes that needs the most attention. You work on that until it’s tight. If you have a current speech that you want to uplevel, then you want to do it through the rehearsal process which is really the only way to do it. Someone give me an example on how you uplevel a performance without rehearsing it. No one has been able to do it yet.To move forward and fulfill the dreams that we have, we need other people to say yes to us. Click To Tweet
You could think about what you want to do in your head. That’s fine, that might help a little bit. You could mumble your words while you’re in the car. That might help a little bit. But if you really want to produce something that makes a difference, that affects how the audience thinks, changes how they feel, and of course propels them or compels them into action so that you change the way they think, you change the way they feel, and you change the way they act, then the rehearsal process actually on your feet working on the material both from a content and the delivery perspective, and need to be done on a regular basis.
If you just do five minutes at a time, you can work on those five minutes for a two or three week period so you are not doing hours a day. You are just giving yourself 25 minutes every other day for two weeks until you feel like these five minutes are really tight then you work in the next five minutes, then the next five minutes. Then after about 10 gigs, you feel like that speech, or the audience will feel like that speech is in another place. It’s at a much higher level and all you’ve done is reorganize, reconfigure, redesigned, and improved what you already had to turn it into something more effective.
I found that just by going through your Seven-Step Rehearsal Process not only do those speeches that I used to get marketing better but also every speech I ever do whether I rehearse or not, whether I use all seven steps, or only one, or none, they get better because it’s in my muscle memory to stop pacing. It’s in my muscle memory to be much more deliberate in my use of pauses or in avoiding the filler speak. The ums and uhs or just likes or whatever else. It’s very powerful.
For example, when you are looking at a website, you can very quickly identify what needs to be improved. Somebody may say to you, “Wow. I feel like you just did that intuitively. There was no process that you went through. You just kind of knew it,” and you’ll say, “Yeah, I did. But I don’t need to go through a drawn-out step-by-step process at this point because of the level of mastery that I have around SEO.”
That’s why you are able to come up with the solution so quickly. That’s what intuition is. It’s just your ability to very quickly process information without having to go through a very complex step by step process so the more mastery you have over a particular discipline, the faster you can problem solve. That’s what you are describing here.
Once you have developed the craft, even just a basic understanding of the craft of stagecraft, then all of the performance that you do even if you have to do something that is extemporaneous or you haven’t had time to rehearse it, even those performances get better because your general skill level is higher.
That is what the rehearsal process does for you even if you don’t have time to use that rehearsal process on the new thing. But if you’ve done it in the past and you have experience with it, then it changes the performances that you do extemporaneously.
It’s like you go from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence.
Do you want to quickly run through what the seven steps are in the rehearsal process?
Sure. I’ll go through it quickly. If people want to dive into it deeper, there’s a whole section of it in Steal the Show, a book I wrote on public speaking and performance in all aspects of life, not just on the stage. I wrote that in 2015 and it’s a WallStreet Journal BestSeller, USA Today Bestseller, etc.
The seven-step rehearsal process is best used when you are starting with something that is new and you’ve created a script or a detailed outline. The first thing you do is you sit down and you do table reads. Table reads are not something that most people who have to give a speech do because they don’t think about it. They think, “I should just get up and start working on it on my feet and try to perform it.” But it’s often premature to do that. We need to sit down and do a number of table reads to get familiar with the language to make sure that the language sounds like us when we are speaking rather than us when we’re writing.
Obviously, we want to write the way we speak, but even when we are writing the way we speak, that writing doesn’t work as well when we are speaking. You generally are going to have a slightly different writing style than speaking style. When people hear a speaker, they want the language to be very naturalistic and we don’t often actually speak in sentence form. We certainly don’t always speak in proper grammatical form. Although we should, but it’s actually not absolutely necessary that when you are giving a speech because it’s the experience of the words and the ideas that has the greatest impact.
When I write a speech, I actually don’t always write full sentences. I don’t really care if it’s a colon or a semicolon. I’ll often write with ellipses and dashes. This way, I’m writing the way it should sound rather than just the way it’s appropriate for an academic paper. That’s the first step in the process is table reads, so you can then edit the material to make sure that it sounds like it should be spoken.
The second thing you do is called content mapping. Content mapping gives you the opportunity to identify all of the keywords and key phrases inside a speech. These are called operative words or operative phrases, the words or phrases that the audience must hear in order to understand a concept. Those get underlined so you always make sure to emphasize them.
Secondly, you are looking for things like beats. Beats are small transitions that often include a pause that is designed to help the audience consume what you are sharing because they need that time to both consume and process what you said. Very often, people are told to slow down, “You talk too fast. Stop talking so fast.” This is something that sometimes, speaking coaches will tell people. I understand why they are saying it and yes, there are times when that’s a piece of appropriate advice. However, it’s often advised that is given inappropriately because watch what happens if I slow down.
I, will, now, slow… already, half of your listeners just laugh like, “I can’t take it,” because that is not the speed at which the brain processes information. However, the advice probably should be that you need to pause more because if I’m speaking, I’m going, I’m moving, you are listening, you’re with me, you’re getting it, but if it’s a new concept then I need to pause so you can process it and think about it, and that gives you the opportunity to make them do some work which is important. You got to make them work for their lunch. If you just spoonfeed nonstop an audience, they’ll often let it roll right over their heads. But those little pauses give them the opportunity to think deeply about what you are sharing.
You identify where those beats are, where the transitions are, and you notate those beats and transitions, and operative words as I mentioned earlier in your script. It also gives you an opportunity to work on any words or names that may be difficult because you may be doing case studies, or citing scientific studies, or journal articles and you need to be able to pronounce the names of the people who wrote those studies or the names of the institutions where the studies were done.
You may only have said it once before and if you actually don’t spend some time with it, you might not be able to pronounce it properly or you might stumble and trip over it. It gives you the opportunity to make sure that you are comfortable in that area as well.
The first is table read. Second is content mapping, then the third is blocking and staging. Blocking and staging is where you put it up on its feet and you start to identify all of your stage movement. As you mentioned earlier in our conversation, what most people do when they give a speech is pace back and forth. They feel like they should be moving, they’ve got extra energy, they want to move, but there’s no direction to it. It’s just…
It’s unintentional and it’s not aligned with what you are saying. If it’s not aligned with what you are saying, then often what you are saying doesn’t have an impact. It actually gets diluted because you might be talking about moving forward but you are actually pacing sideways which doesn’t necessarily make sense, or walking backward for some reason. Or you might be stuck on the lip of the stage and then you don’t move anywhere, and the audience are nervous the whole time you are right on the edge of the stage and it feels a little strange.
With the blocking and staging, you are looking at this. Where am I going, when am I going there, and why am I going there? You never move on stage unless you know why you are moving, when you are moving, and where you are moving. So that you can align all of your movement on stage with what’s coming out of your mouth.
This way, now your stories get so much more interesting because the audience can see the stories rather than just hear the story. As you know, when we take people into our training programs, we do very extensive surveys that are self-assessment, so people will tell me where they think they are in various aspects of development in their stagecraft.
The area that people generally react the highest is in Q&A. On a scale of one to ten, how good are you on Q&A’s? I’m a 10 because they are subject matter experts and they can answer all the questions that are asked.
When we say, where are you on your movement on stage? Usually they’ll say one, two, maybe three. These are even people making $40,000 a speech professionals. They don’t know where they’re going to be any moment on stage and that is pretty dangerous.
This gives us an opportunity to identify where we are going, when we are going, and why we are going at any given moment throughout the speech. The other thing it does for you which is a really wonderful side benefit is that it helps you memorize your material. If you connect movement to your ideas, then it’s a lot easier to memorize then.
If you just try to memorize what you wrote, you are going to have a hard time and then what will happen is you’ll memorize what you want to say in a particular way and you’ll always say it that way but it may not actually be the right way or the best way to say it. You usually get stuck in a loop and that’s not particularly effective.
You want to know your material so well that you can forget it completely and allow it to come to you in a moment, so it sounds completely organic as if it’s the first time you ever said it. In fact, you may even want to build intentional mistakes. If you are getting the same speech all of the time and you are someone who is speaking a lot, then eventually you’ll get to know it so well that you can do it the same way every time but you wanted to feel organic as if it’s happening for the very first time.
If you are staged, then it makes it a lot easier to remember your ideas, what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it because it’s now connected to your physical location on the stage and your physical movement on the stage. It just makes it so much easier. It really makes a significant difference.
Do you know what the secret is for that? Why that works in terms of how our brain is wired?
It has something to do with two areas of your brain that are the most powerful at memory. One is the location and the other is the visual cortex. If you tie in both, which is what you are doing by properly blocking, staging, and coordinating that with speech, you’re utilizing those two powerful parts of your brain. In fact, this concept of memory palaces which I learned from studying from memory experts like Jonathan Levi, for example, a friend of mine who is also one of the top memory experts—he was a past guest—he explains it really well, how to use memory palaces.
Basically, you are imagining these different fanciful, really vivid items. Maybe they are strange-looking animals doing interesting things that are triggers for you, and you put them in different parts of your house. Let’s say you put one of these strange images into a corner of your bedroom and that’s to remember a number or a particular tool, a resource that you are going to give on your speech, or you’re just trying to memorize a long string of numbers. You can use memory palaces. That applies or just dovetails really nicely to what you are describing using blocking and staging as a way to better remember what you are going to talk about.
I’m familiar with that technique. I think it can be very effective in a number of different scenarios. One thing I would just caution against is there’s some danger, I’ve seen this with students where they try to use that memory palace technique for a speech, but they end up spending time thinking about these different images and places of their house when they are on stage which actually takes them out of the moment of being on stage. Sometimes they are not recalling quite as quickly as they would need to for the immediacy of presentation.
They are not getting on this unconscious competence, they are still conscious competence and it gets stilted.
Correct. I think it could certainly work for some people. You know that our philosophy at Heroic Public Speaking is there isn’t one way to do this work because it is a creative art. Our goal and job as educators are to give people ways in and then they can use the protocols that we designed to create their own protocols so that they have their own process for doing this work.The only way you are going to convince anybody that you can deliver is by actually delivering. If you get hired and you can't fulfill the expectations that people have for you, then you are certainly not going to get the opportunity to… Click To Tweet
Our process gives them the way in, if they want to use every single element of our process, they will. If they want to adapt it or adjust it, they will. But it is like I remember Seth Godin was asked about his writing process in an interview and he said, “I’m not telling.” I think the host was a little taken aback at first. It’s not that I am trying to protect it. I’ll share everything that I do, that’s not a big deal. It’s just that I think everybody is going to find their own process.
You can’t just copy my process and think that’s going to work for you as a writer. You got to write until you figure out your process. Mentors and teachers can give you ways in, but ultimately, if you are serious about mastering something then you are always going to adapt the processes that you’ve learned and make them your own based on the way you like to work.
The risk that I see that is often significant and is apparent with a lot of people when they are new to the creative process is that they say a lot of, “I don’t really need that part of the process. I don’t like that. I don’t do it that way.” But they actually haven’t tried it.
That’s a little bit risky. To make the assumption that you already know how to do something that you actually haven’t ever done before. Five-year-olds do that all the time. I remember when Jake was five, he was like, “Oh, no. I know how to do that.” We are talking about cooking eggs.
It’s like, “Jake, how do you know how to do that?” “Well, I’ve seen you do it.” Okay, maybe that’s not quite enough. You’ve got to do it a few times yourself before you actually feel like you really know how to do it. The theory of the Memory Palace is very interesting. I think it’s very appropriate for certain kinds of situations. May hold you up a little bit on the stage, but if it does work for you, go for it.
The technique though is just a technique. But blocking and staging which is part of the rehearsal process, that’s a staple of being a great speaker, a great performer, and that leverages the same parts of the brain. The memory palace technique uses.
Correct. The location and virtual cortex. So you’ve got table reads, content mapping, blocking and staging, and then the next step of the process, number four is improv and rewrite. This is the part where you start to use improvisation and the script that you have because when you marry up preparation which is the script that you produced, the outline of the script, plus improvisation, that’s when you can produce spontaneity, but without the preparation part, the improvisation is just winging it.
That’s why it cost thousands of dollars to go see Hamilton, but only $40 to see an improv show. Because when you go to Hamilton on Broadway, it works every single night. It works every night and day. It always works. But if you go to see an improv show, you are actually not always sure who the improv performers are going to be because it’s a troop. There’s an ensemble and some folks work one night and some work another night.
Then some nights, the sketchers work some really well, other nights, not as well. On a given night, some sketches might work where other sketches don’t work as well. If it doesn’t work out that way, you say, “Well, it’s only $40, but we had a couple of drinks and a great time. It was worth the expense.” But you are not going to pay $5000 to see an improv show that might not work unless it’s Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, all the greats. That’s different because you are paying for the celebrities but if it’s just a regular improv show versus Hamilton and frankly, most of the performers in Hamilton are not marquee-name performers or at least they might be now, but I don’t think most people can name whose in Hamilton beside Lin Manuel who is the creator. Outside of that, they’re all performers who got these roles and developed themselves into an extraordinary cast that produces one of the most important and best shows of all time. That’s why you are paying so much money for it because it always works.
You do use the improv here to do a rewrite at the stages of the script to make sure that your content is dialed in before you go to the next step of the process which is called an invited rehearsal. This is where you bring in a few guests and you run through the whole presentation in front of them, but you do not just say, “Okay, what do you think?” Instead what you do is you ask very specific questions because you’re guiding the feedback.
The people you bring in are not professionals, and even if they are professionals, they may have a slightly different agenda. They may or may not understand what you are trying to accomplish, so if you just let them give you the feedback, they could give feedback that is all over the map that may or may not actually be helpful. But if you drive the feedback in a question and answer format so that you’re asking questions and getting the answers you want, like you say, “What is the biggest idea of the speech?” If they can’t articulate it, you know you have a problem.
You don’t say to them, “My big idea was this. Did you get it?” because when they hear you say it, they’ll go, “Oh yeah. That was probably. That was right, we got that.” But if you don’t tell them what it was supposed to be and they can’t articulate it after they’ve seen it, then you haven’t nailed it yet. You might ask them what is the promise of this speech? If they can’t articulate that, then you can go back and work on it.
You might say, “Listen, during the speech, I articulated the way the world looks to the audience, to the people that are in the room. Can you rearticulate that for me?” They can’t do it? You know you have to articulate that. You might say, “At a number of different points, I articulated the consequences of not adopting the big idea and achieving the promise. What were they?” They can’t do that? You got to go back and work on it. You will say, “Okay. I articulated a number of different times the rewards of adopting this big idea and achieving the promise. What were they?”
Then you may ask things like, “What was your favorite story and why?” because that will help tell you what your signature story is. If everybody starts remembering the same one, you go, “Okay. That’s my signature story. Let me lean into that, let me expand that, and turn that into my signature bit that people remember and talk about.” There are hundreds of different questions you can ask, but the point is that you’re leading the Q&A here and you tell them, “I don’t want you to go off-track. I only want you to answer the questions that I’m going to ask you.”
And then the sixth step is called open rehearsal and this is where you invite in a larger group, hopefully with some people that you don’t know or don’t know well, and then you do a similar Q&A with them. But part of the reason for doing this is less for the feedback and more because you need to work this material out in front of larger audiences before you bring it to an audience where it matters.
Think about this. If the first time you bring a presentation to an audience is the first time you’ve brought it to an audience. That seems like a high-risk maneuver.
It’s like if you were a race car driver, the first time you ever raced around a track should not be with other race cars. It just would be crazy. The first time on your race around a track is actually in a competitive professional race, you will die. Most likely, you will die.
What do you do? You spend a long time running a race car around a track where there are no other cars that you can hit, until you feel comfortable running the car at those speeds on a track that has hairpin turns and all those crazy things, because then you feel like, “Okay, now I can handle myself in a pack of cars.” Well, you might not start racing against 20 cars. You probably go and have one other car that you race against, then two, and then three, et cetera. You build up to it. So, the open rehearsal gives you an opportunity to work this material in front of people for whom if it doesn’t go perfectly, it’s not the end of the world and the stakes are relatively low.
The seventh step in the process is called dressing tech, where you were working on what you’re wearing. This is an incredibly important part of the process. The shoes that you wear will influence how you move and then, of course, the technology. If you’re giving a presentation that as high stakes, that technology needs to run perfectly. If you got to look at a slide every time to know what side you’re on, or your slides are confusing, or there are too many of them, it’s getting interfere with the presentation. The matter for rehearsal you give to any presentation should probably be proportionate to the stakes of the presentation.
I just spent about an hour-and-a-half yesterday with my brother-in-law because he’s got a presentation that he is making to a restaurant in New York to be their art curator. It’s a pretty big project and pretty high stakes for him. He’s spending a lot of time working on this presentation, which will be relatively brief. Most people would just go into it, “Well, I’m going to have a conversation. I’ll just tell them about my idea and we’ll talk about it. It’s such a great idea, they’ll love it and they’ll want to buy it.” But rarely does that work.Speaking is one of the fastest ways to demonstrate credibility for the work that you do. The speech is what does the marketing for you. Click To Tweet
He’s got a really clear pitch dialed in, that he knows that he can do, no matter how loud it is, no matter whether it’s dark or light in there, and he knows that he can make it crystal clear. He can demonstrate that the thing will be successful, he can demonstrate that it’s worth it for them to do, he can demonstrate that he’s the one who’s able to champion this thing, and then he’s also able to have a conversation around it and all the other particulars that may come up. He’s prepared for it because it’s high stakes. If you’re going to go give a talk to your kids, second grade class for five minutes about what you do, the stakes are not too high. You may not give that a seven-step personal process.
That’s the thing that we should take into account. It’s just how high the stakes. If it’s not a big deal, you don’t give them much rehearsal to it. If it’s a really big deal, you probably going to want to work on it more than you have in the past.
Right and you need to calibrate, too, if the situation warrants you doing more tech rehearsal or tech preparation than normal, then do it. I was speaking at VidSummit a week ago. My session went off without a hitch. I nailed it and I heard from other speakers that they were having trouble with the tech. I came in on two different occasions and made sure to do a run, plugin, make sure that everything was displayed on the screen and so forth because I heard at least three different speakers had to present without any slides.
This a great point. There are a couple different things that we learn from this. Number one, never be the one that doesn’t think they need to do a tech run-through, because a lot of people will come and go, “No, I’m fine. The mic works. I’m good.” If something goes wrong, people may lose their job. The AV crew may get blamed for something going wrong with your deck, even if it’s not their fault. You’re the one who all the audience is going to be watching. No one is going to say, “Oh, the AV team screwed that up.” They’re going to say, “You screwed that up,” so take it seriously the way you did. You have situational awareness, you heard what was happening, so you made sure to have the kind of tech rehearsal that you needed.
Number two, it also demonstrates that if we can’t, in a high stakes situation, give our presentation without the slides, that we might not yet be ready to actually give that presentation. Now, again, it’s a stakes thing. If the stakes aren’t very high, no big deal. You can pull up your own laptop, just look at your slides for your notes, and then carry on. No one else will see the slides, but you’ll have your notes. If it was a high-stakes situation, if you’re doing a TED talk that’s being filmed or an investor day conference where you’re pitching to institutional investors, this is no small thing.
We work with lots of different people on the individual side, on the consumer side. We work with people like you, we work with FBI agents, navy seals, we even have an admiral coming into one of our grad classes coming up, and we work with founders of very large organizations, and we work with people who have small businesses.
On the corporate side, we have some giant clients that need to pitch where the stakes are really high. For example, we have one company that’s probably the biggest entertainment company in the world. They called us up one day and said, “Listen. We’ve heard great things about you. We would love you to come and help us tell better stories.” Amy (my wife) was talking to them and said, “I’m sorry. We’d love to work with you, but I just have to ask, you’re the best storytellers in the world. What do you need our help for?”
They said, “Well, listen. Here’s the thing. Our creative directors and our executive producers came up with the ideas for the movies, the parks and all those things, but they’re not really performers. They come up with great ideas, but what we’re finding happening is that the best pitch is winning. We don’t want the best pitch to win because we’re not competing against another company. We’re competing internally. We want the best ideas to win, so we want you to come and teach all of our folks how to pitch these ideas so that they are actually as good as they’ve written.” And we said, “Oh, okay. Well that we do.”
We do this also for one of the most popular daytime TV shows. They have a big production company and their writers need to pitch to the celebrity, to the marquee name at the top who decides which shows are going to get picked up, which episodes are going to get picked up, etc., and the same thing. Their writers were having trouble getting their ideas across using the spoken word. They did a great job with it on paper, but that’s not how the pitches work.
This is all such great stuff and I know we’re running out of time. Can we switch to a lightning round? I’ll ask you just a couple of more questions but you got to answer them quickly.
Perfect. What about Q&A? Let’s say you’re giving a keynote and there’s supposed to be a Q&A at the end. Then, you end up on some random question as your wrap up and that’s not a powerful ending. What’s the alternative?
There’s a couple of alternatives. Number one, you can see if the organizers will allow you to do your speech, take a quick break, reconvene for a Q&A that’s about 15 minutes, then you’ll have essentially two different sections. Your presentation will stand on its own and then the Q&A will be separate. You can also have a host with you up there who sorts through the questions, serves as the moderator, and then that allows you just answer the questions rather than interacting with the audience if that’s not something you’d like to do if the venue was very big.If you think of performance as only something that is done on the stage by certain kinds of people, you are missing an opportunity. Any time you have an objective that you want to achieve and convince others to get on your side, you are… Click To Tweet
The other thing you can do is you can design your presentation so that you give your presentation, then you allow for about 10 or 15 minutes of questions, and then you do a closing 5–10 minutes, so that you now have control of the room, the messaging, and can end on the note that you want. You don’t want to leave to chance what the ending is going to be like based on the questions that people ask. This way, you have a lot more control with one of those two options.
That’s great. Last question. Why have prepared bits that you’ve rehearsed multiple times, that are not actually part of a particular speech that you’re going to be giving momentarily?
If you’re Q&A in a presentation, or you’re doing a podcast, or a radio interview, or a TV interview, or a YouTube interview, generally you get the same or similar questions over and over and over again. In fact, sometimes people will ask you questions in Q&A that you already addressed in your speech. And even if you did a very good job, they still going to ask again because either they wish you gave a different answer, or because the answer you gave means, they got to do some work, and you might still have given them the same answer but nonetheless, they want to ask it again. Or they just have anxiety around these particular topics, so they tend to come up a lot. If you have a prepared bit that answers each question, you’re always able to answer in a way that’s really clear, concise, and you’re never wandering or have a lack of answers.
For example, if someone said, “Well, why don’t we really have to have a target market?” You might say, “Oh, well there are three reasons you need a target market. Number one, so you know where to do your marketing; number two, so when you show up there, they know you’re dedicated to them; and number three, they already have established networks with communication, meaning they’re already talking to each other, so they will help spread your messages for you faster. Boom, there’s a target market. That’s why you need a target market.” So, it’s really clear and easy, and everybody gets it. You have a beginning, an end, and you answer the question.
That was solid, by the way. I like it.
Thank you very much.
Okay, so we’re out of time. Where do folks go to take your Heroic Public Speaking materials? Of course, they can get the book, Steal the Show is awesome, but if they wanted to go learn directly from you and Amy, go through an immersive program like Heroic Public Speaking, is that something that you want to send them to a particular website for? How should we give them a short step?
Steal the Show is a great place to start because that’s the book and you can listen to it on audio or you can read it. That’s a great place to start. We also have the podcast called Steal the Show and I’ve got about 100 episodes, I think, that people can listen to there. Additionally, they can go to heroicpublicspeaking.com and there are more free resources on that website.
Look, we have become a referral-only organization at this point. We’ve been very fortunate to have enough demand to do that because our alumni tend to recommend to their colleagues and friends that they come here as well. So, if people are interested in talking to us, just to learn more about HPS, best if they just shoot you an email and just say, “Hey can you introduce me to Michael and Amy?” You’ll to introduce them to Amy and you can sponsor them, essentially.
Now, just so everybody knows, there’s no affiliate commissions or kickbacks. We keep conflict of interest out of the referral process. So, anybody who’s referred by an alumnus or a friend of the business knows that they have been referred solely because the referrer thinks that the person being referred will get great value at being at HPS. Then what we do is for those people who are sponsored a referred, they have the opportunity to come to one two-day event at no charge. Now, they have to put down a small deposit which they get back when they arrive, just to keep accountability high and make sure everybody shows up, but they only can get into that if they’ve been referred by somebody like you who was an alumnus.
And I’ve referred folks to you and to just HPS the organization. The people who go through the program get exposed to your initial two-day event. It’s a game-changer for them. It’s amazing. You, bar none, are the best speaker trainer in the world.
Thank you so much.
And that’s how I position you whenever I talk about you, whenever I talk about my experience going through HPS and what it’s done for my speaking career, my ability to convey ideas and win people over. It’s a game-changer.
Thank you. That means a lot to me because you are no novice. You have been around this industry for a long time. You know the players.
Yes and I’ve taken courses from a number of them. They’re very good, but there’s a difference between being very good and being outstanding.
Thank you so much.
You’re outstanding. Okay, so again, heroicpublicspeaking.com and if you’re interested in going through the program, listener, please contact me. My email is [email protected]. I’ll let you know if you’re a fit, then I’ll introduce you to Amy and Michael, and you’ll be on your way. Again, [email protected] and heroicpublicspeaking.com. We’ll catch you on the next episode. Thank you again, Michael. It was such a pleasure having you on.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.
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Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Rehearse continuously and keep improving the way I talk or speak in front of an audience. How the world communicates is evolving. It will be a huge advantage if I can continually update my skills and knowledge.
Always have an objective in mind when speaking to an audience. Determine what my end goal should be so that I know what type of mindset my audience should have at the end of the presentation.
Be convincing by being wise with the words I use and my body language. Study who my audience is so that I can present in a way that they can understand best.
Incorporate NLP strategies that will help me grab my audience’s attention more easily. Tune in to Mike Mandel’s Get Yourself Optimized episode to learn more.
Apply the art of story-telling in my speech so that I can connect with my audience on a deeper level. Always remember that facts tell and stories sell.
Take improv classes. It will teach me how to become quick-witted in impromptu situations involving different kinds of people. This is something I can utilize when I am speaking or presenting on stage.
Create a unique experience for the audience to make the event memorable. I should be able to leave a mark, remember to follow up, and make sure to deliver what I promised for people to see me as a credible brand.
Write a stellar speech or hire a professional writer to help me curate the best speech possible.
Utilize different kinds of media to share my message. It can be via speaking on stages at events or conferences, TV interviews, podcasts, radio shows, etc.
Grab a copy of Michael Port’s book, Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life.
About Michael Port
25 years ago, Michael Port earned his MFA in acting from NYU before working in TV, film, and theater. Now, at the Heroic Public Speaking Headquarters in NJ and for organizations around the world, he teaches non-actors what actors know about how to give better performances both onstage and off. Michael is the author of eight books including Book Yourself Solid and Steal the Show. They’ve been translated into 29 languages and been on the bestseller lists of the NY Times and Wall Street Journal among others. Clients include Disney, Best Buy, Guardian, Olympians, Navy Seals, FBI agents, Astronauts and thousands of others who care deeply about making a difference in the world.
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