I’ve been reflecting on my journey as a speaker and I wanted to share my very first professional speaking gig with you. Now pay attention! Not only is this a story that speaks to your journey of a speaker, but it is also a living example of story telling - a skill that every great speaker must master!
My philosophy as a professional speaker who coaches others on their public speaking on stage and camera is that we can all learn from everyone’s experiences: good and bad.
This one was quite a ride for me!
I met a guy named Napolean through a real estate friend who lived in NJ, not too far from me. He was a speaker who was starting to put together workshops locally and he liked my energy. So he invited me to speak at an upcoming event that he was producing.
Napolean was charismatic and enrolling and I thought he was cool so I said sure. I did not ask a lot of questions because I was just thrilled to have the opportunity to speak!
I assumed he’d done producing before and so I committed to the date, took off from work, and I declined another gig because I’d already given him my word.
He and I spoke briefly as the date approached and I practiced what I was going to do. It was the first time I’d be telling my addiction stories out in public. I planned to weave in my jokes too, but this was a big step for me. I was excited but also terrified.
I arrived at the hotel and I was surprised at how big the ballroom was. The round tables were spread out, which is just death to comedy. Comedy works best in crowded, close seating, and in the dark so people feel comfortable laughing. The lights were blaring and there was no stage, just a few squares of wood to symbolize the speaking area.
Napolean greeted me but I could tell he was really stressed out. There were a lot of empty seats and I’m sure he’d had to pay a lot to get this room on a Saturday night.
I sat to the side and reviewed my notes. As people trickled in, I could hear their conversations and I realized that many of these people were friends of his from church! Church!
I had not thought to ask about language! I was used to comedy clubs, where most things can just “fly.”
I started to panic. My heart was racing. I wanted to bolt. Why did I say yes? I should have asked a lot more questions. What was I thinking? I wanted to just disappear.
Then I remembered one piece of my mentor’s advice: stage time, stage time, stage time. And that stage time is never wasted. You can learn from every single moment up there.
So I took a deep belly breath, and I resolved to just suck it up. I imagined I would not get many laughs and I was mentally cutting some of my jokes.
I was apprehensive too about sharing my addictions story, but I decided I’d committed and I’d do my best and learn.
Napolean introduced me, my palms were sweaty and my heart was racing, but I strode up to the wooden “stage” and took the mic.
I was in a humble, vulnerable place with no expectations. I started off with a few jokes and surprisingly, I got some laughs. These church people were cool and not too uptight.
I did some hooking questions and interacted with a few people in the crowd and continued. I eased in with a lighter story talking about my kooky family growing up in Texas.
Then it was time to go deeper. Ok, deep breath. I went into the heavy part and took them through food, drugs and alcohol. It was the first time I’d told all three in a public forum like this.
I just tried to speak from my heart and stay out of my head. I really had no expectations of the audience. Which is actually pretty freeing. It’s awesome when a speaker doesn’t “need” the audience.
People were crying and leaning in. They were moved. We all breathed together for a moment. Then I told a few more jokes to bring them back up. And I shared my vision for more education and support around addictions in our communities and schools.
I had no idea of the time. I don’t even remember all of what I said. But I knew that I’d created connection with the audience and that they, in turn, felt connected with me.
As I wrapped up and thanked them for listening, people started standing up. Then others joined them. They were giving me a standing ovation. I was in shock. Happy, but in disbelief.
It was not the most polished or entertaining speech. But what worked was me being humble, vulnerable and totally real. I came across NOT cocky and not exactly confident. And it worked.
Now here’s the thing, if telling a story from a vulnerable and real place where you connect with your audience is something that you want to do, I have a great tool to help you get started - my gift to you! Click here to grab your copy of How to Connect With Any Audience Fast.
Stay tuned for posts where I’ll be talking more about public speaking, authenticity, and connecting with your audiences!