My first speaking gig.
It happened a little over seven years ago. It wasn’t really my first speaking gig, so much as my first "real" speaking gig. I was asked to take part in a full-day leadership event that was being headlined by Dr. Phil. There was only a handful of speakers and my role was to talk about personal branding and the power of new media to share who you are with the world. I did not take the invitation lightly. I worked tireless for months on the content, the visuals and the mechanics of the event. I worked with a handful of coaches from professional trainers to a stand-up comedian. I didn’t want to mess it up… but not in the way that you think.
Don’t make a fool of yourself.
I’m guessing that most people placed in that situation would have the generalized anxiety that comes from speaking, only magnified due to the thousands of people and the line-up of world-class bestselling authors and thought leaders. Anybody who isn’t dead from the shoulders up would feel that pressure. What if the audience doesn’t like me? What if the audience doesn’t like my content? What if the audience realizes that I’m not an expert? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I pass out from nerves? What if I make in my pants? These are just some of the common fears that make people more scared of public speaking than they are of dying.
I had a different fear of speaking.
My fear was that I did not want to let down the event promoter who was taking a chance on me and putting me on a stage that I didn’t have any business being on. I didn’t want to let him down or his team. I wasn’t trying to impress myself or the audience… I was just trying to impress him. Things haven’t changed all that much. Now, when I speak, I’m doing my best to always impress the people who represent me as a professional speaker (namely, Speaker’s Spotlight and Greater Talent Network) and the organizations that have invited me to speak. That isn’t entirely true. From a pure performance standpoint, I have one mission when I get to an event: I want to impress the a/v people. These people sit there – day in and day out – and see/hear every kind of speaker ad nauseam. My theory is simple: if I can entertain and inform these people, keep their attention, and keep them off of their smartphones then I’m more than confident that I can do the same for the audience.
Why I am telling you this.
This morning, on my way to the airport, I was listening to Howard Stern interview John Stamos. Howard was asking John about how he managed to play for The Beach Boys (dating back to the eighties). As the story unfolded, Stamos revealed that his first gig was in front of thousands upon thousands of people. Stern probed about just how nervous he must have been, when Stamos shot back: "I just wanted to impress the band."
Impress the band.
Hearing Stamos say that he just wanted to impress the band, reminded me of how my self-talk prior to speaking is all about trying to impress the a/v team or the event coordinators or the talent agents. When I see successful people in action, they’re not trying to please everybody, but are focused – like a laser beam – on trying to make someone who either inspired them or gave them the opportunity to be thrilled and delighted that they did so. They’re trying to impress the people who have literally "been there/done that." Stamos’ one-liner reminded me to always make sure that I’m doing my best to impress "the band" in my life… whoever that "band" may be.
Always impress the band.