How I Prepared For My First Public Speaking Gig
Last week, I got an opportunity to speak at (my mentor) Kevin Rogers’ event: Copy Chief Live in St. Pete, FL.
It’s an incredible event where the best direct response copywriters, marketers, publishers and entrepreneurs meet to exchange their best practices… and to discuss “what’s working now” in the world of direct response marketing and advertising.
It was my first time ever on stage. And I’m not going to lie… I was pretty nervous about the whole thing.
Per Jerry Seinfeld: most people — if they were at a funeral — would rather be the one in the casket than the one giving the eulogy.
And I can kind of understand why.
You have to prepare.
Then, you have to actually give the speech.
You have to stand there, on stage… in front of a group of people who probably don’t know anything about you.
And then you have to move your mouth and make words come out.
And you have to also move your body a little bit so you don’t come across as a psychopath.
And then at the end of this whole experience, you have to decipher the noise the crowd makes with their mouths and their hands to determine whether or not they judged your talk to be of value to them.
That’s pretty much the whole thing.
I survived this ordeal.
And it actually turned out to be a lot of fun.
So if you’ve ever considered stepping on stage at any point, I figured I’d share with you a few things that helped me prepare… so hopefully they can help you nail your first public speaking gig, too.
Let’s get into it…
How I Crafted My Speech
I had cart blanche to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about.
Which, for me, was the last fucking thing I wanted to hear.
A little part of me would have liked to had a topic assigned to me. Because then I wouldn’t have to put on my big boy pants and be an adult about this whole thing.
So I thought about what I could talk about. I had a LOT of topics in mind.
The interesting thing was…. this talk was only 10 minutes long.
Which seems easy.
“Hey, it’s 10 minutes! You get up there, you talk for a bit, and then hop off stage. Easy… right?”
I chose a topic that I thought would not only be useful… but would also fit into this 10-minute time slot.
After my first run through all my material it was about 25 minutes long.
So I started trimming the fat and eventually got it down to 12.5 minutes.
Which still was no good.
I figured I had to come in during my at-home rehearsal at around 8.5 minutes… so I had the chance to riff a little bit on stage… or to crack a joke or two… or to bask in the thunderous applause as I rained knowledge down from the heavens on my audience who would hang on my every word.
So, after I realized my first topic wasn’t going to fit into this tiny slot, I had to go completely back to the drawing board.
How I Found The Right Topic
The right topic was actually something I had written an article about before.
I knew taking a “second pass” at this idea would really help me flesh out the topic.
Quick sidebar: After the talk, someone in the audience came up and asked me “HOW” I became an ‘expert’ on my topic. So I replied… I put 11 slides on a power point and then talked about it on stage. They probed further and asked where this idea came from. So I told them it came from an article I wrote. The thing is… if you want to become an expert in anything, you don’t wait until you ARE an expert to start publishing. Publishing turns you into an expert. You write an article on something, people view you as an authority on that topic. Same thing with speaking. So don’t wait.
So once I took that second pass, I realized I was able to expand upon the idea… and even show some visuals that really drove the idea home that I hadn’t included in the original article.
That was a win.
Once I had my topic, I really didn’t know exactly WHAT to say.
Sure, I knew the big idea.
But should I write a word-for-word script?
Thank god… I was smart enough to NOT do that.
That could have been a recipe for disaster. Imagine being on stage on forgetting line 17 from your script in front of 80 or so people. Would have been a fucking nightmare.
Instead, what I did was I created the slides FIRST.
What this did was help me clarify my big talking points. It provided the backbone of the talk. It made everything flow.
I knew that I didn’t have to memorize shit.
I could just look at the slide and speak about it.
The process of going through creating the slides, putting them in the right order, and then thinking long and hard about if at all made sense really helped me crystalize the big idea I was trying to convey.
Sequencing Is Important
One thing I did too was play around with the sequence of each one of the talking points.
My first few runs through my talk were a bit of an absolute clusterfuck.
I didn’t get down on myself.
Remember… I was wearing my big boy pants.
So I tried to be as objective as I could. I tried to remember at all times that the first few versions of this talk weren’t an extension of me. They were just something I created. And sometimes we create stuff that sucks. And most of the time, we have an opportunity to make it better.
I knew it wouldn’t move me closer to my goals if I wallowed in self pity because versions 1, 2, 3 and possibly 4 weren’t exceptional. So… I just decided not to do that.
I tested out a few different sequences with the slides until I found out what made sense.
The general sequence of my talk went something like this:
- Title Slide
- Story that leads into The Big Problem/Question
- What I discovered
- Let me break that down for you
- Here’s the how to
- Here’s an example of how this works in real life
- Recap & CTA to get on my wait list if you want me to help you do this thing that I just talked about
I didn’t know this before I started. I learned this by actually getting my hands dirty and playing around until I found something I thought made a lot of sense.
And that’s what you’re going to have to do, too.
It’s not going to be perfect… but you just gotta get it started and THROUGH THE PROCESS of messing around with your speech, you will most likely figure it out.
Just like in writing copy… your first draft is probably shit. Your second draft may or may not be shit. And it might not be until draft number 3 or 4 where you’re actually somewhat OK with what you’ve produced.
Trust the process.
How I Prepared For Actually Stepping Onto Stage And Delivering The Talk
“I’ll go last.”
As soon as the words left my lips, Kevin scribbled my name down on a piece of paper in the #7 spot.
“Nice going, Chris, you dumbass.” said my inner monologue to itself.
A big part of me wanted to go first.
Get it over with.
I was speaking on day 3 of the three day event. And I was slated to go last.
For most of the event, I wanted to just get it over with. I mean, I wasn’t shitting my pants whenever I thought about it.
But you know… I’d never done it before. So I had a little urgency.
I had a little “let’s-get-to-it-already-so-I-can-relax-and-get-off-stage-and-do-hood-rat-shit-with-my-friends-edness.”
As much as I wanted to go first, I knew that going last would be the best move for me.
I’d never done this before. And a few people were doing the same thing I was doing, before me.
So going last would give me an opportunity to see what they did… and TO LEARN.
Listen — I know some things. I do.
But there is a SHIT TON that I do not know — like public speaking. I recognize this and am never too afraid to admit this obvious fact.
I knew that if I could go last, I could watch six of my colleagues go before me and I could pick up on the stuff they were doing.
So I watched Irene Scott, Nicole Piper, April Dykman, Brian McCarthy, Allison Carpio, Rachel Mazza absolutely rock the stage. And I picked up little things they did. Things that I might be able to use. (Abbey Woodcock’s speech was awesome the day before, too.)
As soon as I got on stage, I really can’t be sure I consciously remembered all my the little takeaways I picked up from them.
But I didn’t get boo’d off stage… and I didn’t piss my pants. So I think all the stuff I learned from watching their awesome talks seeped into my subconscious and kind of instructed my brain’s “autopilot.” And for that, I am thankful to all of them.
The Room, The Stage, The Earth, And The Energy
Ok here’s where shit can REALLY get woo woo.
And I don’t care what your opinion is of all that kind of stuff, but you better listen up.
Because this stuff helped me out so much.
My mentor Kevin Rogers gave me the suggestion of touching each wall in the room. He told me to physically walk around the room and get comfortable with the space.
And holy shart, I am glad I did this.
I walked around. I touched every wall. I touched every table. Every chair.
I walked each row.
I took some time to “be present” in that environment. I wasn’t nose deep in my phone, waiting for the session to start.
Instead, I tried to notice all of the things that lived in that room. All of the inanimate objects.
I spent about a half hour doing this.
Feeling the energy of the room
I know, I know. Sounds woo-woo AF.
But let me tell ya…
My coach Melanie Warren (who is absolutely phenomenal at what she does… and I HIGHLY recommend hiring her if you’re a copywriter) told me another exercise.
She told me to basically get grounded.
To try and breathe and feel the earth beneath my feet.
Like, literally try to concentrate and feel the dirt beneath the floor with your feet. (It’s not easy, but this exercise works.)
The reason why it makes sense to do this is because when you’re up on stage, you’re on a platform. The platform doesn’t feel connected to the ground. So you have to consciously take some time to make that connection.
I will do this EVERY DAMN TIME I ever get up on stage in the future. It’s kind of a visualization/energy thing. But it does help you stay grounded, stay connected to your domain… and it helps you — again — feel more present and in touch with your surroundings.
What Happens Once You’re On Stage
Once you’ve done all this prep work, it comes time for you to make your appearance and rock the fucking house.
During the talk right before me, I made my way to the back of the room to get mic’d up.
Now, at this point… there’s no turning back.
Come hell or high water you are getting your ass on that fucking stage.
Once the mic was on, I went into a “warm up” routine.
I was a wrestler in my past life. From 5th grade through college. So I’ve probably warmed up for at least 1,000 matches.
After the “warm up” most of the time I would just pace back and forth and breathe and visualize.
Mostly a lot of pacing and breathing though.
I did this for a few minutes and then waited for my intro.
It was on!
My name was announced.
The AV guys dropped some GANGSTA rap song (which I can’t for the life of me remember) but it helped me get even more pumped.
And I walked on stage and grabbed the clicker.
Then… I just gave my talk.
At this point, all the work had been done. What else was I supposed to do?
It was time to just deliver my talk and speak.
And you know what?
I didn’t die.
I went about 10.5 minutes, which was no big deal.
People even laughed at a few times.
(This was the thing I was most worried about. All of the other speakers were very funny. And I was like oh great… my talk is gonna be serious and it’s gonna suck. At the same time… I was thinking “please don’t force any jokes, because if they backfire, you will look like a jackass and it will be incredibly cringeworthy.” But I heard a few laughs when I was up there, so I guess it worked out OK.)
I made sure to walk the stage a little bit.
I riffed in some places.
I tried to have some inflection in my voice.
I’ll admit — I have NOT seen the tape yet, so I’m just going off memory.
But overall, I chalked it up to be a good experience.
Public Speaking Can Be Fun
It doesn’t have to be a nightmare.
It can actually be an enjoyable experience that’s a bit of a rush.
The first time will always be the hardest. But that’s kind of true for anything… right?
So if you wanna get on stage and speak for the first time… just do it.
You’re not going to be perfect.
You WILL be nervous.
You may or may not sweat through your shirt.
But in the end, I think you’ll look back on it as a positive experience that could do a lot of for your career.
I know it did for me.
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