Some of my fondest memories from high school and college are of being on stage with the jazz band performing.
I love taking an audience for a ride with rhythm, melody, dynamics.
When you get it right, you can feel the energy in the room shift with the music.
Needless to say, performing music in school got me hooked on performing period.
Once my business started humming, I knew that performing–in the form of public speaking–would be a big part of my goal. Over the last few years, I’ve worked hard to become known as a speaker, learn the craft, and hone my skills.
Now, I have the privilege of getting paid well for it and getting to do it often.
Whether speaking on stage is a part of your goal or whether you realize public speaking (webinars, presentations, meetings…) is a key part of any business owner’s success, you’ll want to invest your time and energy in getting it right.
One of the best things I’ve ever invested in when it comes to speaking (other than working with this week’s Profit. Power. Pursuit. guest, Michelle Mazur) has been seeking out pro speakers and finding out about their process.
So I thought I’d take you behind the scenes of my own process, from booking gigs, to negotiating fees, to planning my talks. Ready? Let’s go.
I have a speaking page on my site that highlights that I’m available. There’s a form on that page for meeting or event planners to submit an inquiry.
However, most of my gigs don’t come because of that page, even if they come through that page. Instead, my speaking gigs generally come from personal contacts (even if a few degrees removed) or because an event organizer has seen or heard me speak elsewhere.
When we receive an inquiry, the first thing I do is investigate the event as best I can and start considering the audience. The audience determines pretty much every other step of the process—including negotiating my fee.
Once an inquiry comes in, I normally need to share my speaking fee. While this used to cause me tons of stress, now it’s pretty matter-of-fact. I share my fee and if it’s an audience that I’d really like to get in front of, I might even suggest some alternatives to matching my fee.
The conversation about my fee is often mixed with the conversation about what I’ll present, and I consider this a part of the negotiation too.
It’s in my best interest to both use one of my core presentations and to present a talk that has the most potential for piquing the interest of audience members to purchase from my business. Of course, the event organizer often has something else in mind entirely!
I negotiate the topic balancing what they want with what is in my best interests. Sometimes that might mean designing something new but often it means tweaking what I have to best meet their needs.
I’ve accumulated about 200 hours of potential talks (thanks for 6 classes with CreativeLive and plenty of webinars) over the last 3 years.
Once I’ve spoken with the event organizer and negotiated both my fee and the topic, I’ll do some more research. I try to gauge the tone and format of the event, as well as look for key audience questions or problems.
My goal isn’t to say what I want to say. My goal is to say what I want to say such that it answers a specific question or problem for the audience—just as I would with a product or service package.
I’ll try to find folks who have been to the event before, engage with an event community, or just poke around the website for the event or event founder to see conversations with real people in the audience.
Over the last year, my goal has been to nail the introduction of any talk I give. That means not getting up on stage and introducing myself, telling people what I do, or asking how everyone’s doing.
You can tell a pro from an amateur by the way they start their talk.
I like to get the audience engaged & laughing in the first 2-3 sentences. So I spend a good bit of time finding that one punchy line I can land to set myself up.
For the talk that I’m giving in Denver this week, the second sentence of my talk is, “We were shocked to learn that Sean…[insert dramatic pause] is an extrovert.” Trust me, that’ll get some laughs.
I’ll actually write out the full introduction so that I feel good about the narrative flow, since storytelling is not a strong suit of mine but writing is.
The Slide Deck
Once I’ve outlined the rest of the talk, citing an example and an action item for each point I’m making, I’ll start the slide deck.
I keep my slides simple with lots of big text and interesting images. While bullet points can help a sales page or blog post become more readable, they’re often messy, messy, messy in a slide deck. I avoid them except when I’m actually listing things out.
One of the reasons I never finished my music degree (I’m 1 class and a few private trombone lessons shy) is that I’m terrible at practicing. So, I don’t spend hours in front of the mirror running through my presentation.
I start by running through the presentation once for timing.
Then, I carefully rehearse the introduction. If I nail that, I know the rest will go smoothly.
Then, I focus on rehearsing transitions. Again, if I can nail each transition, I know I can easily get through the minutes in between.
I isolate the 2-3 slides around each place in the presentation where I change points. I’ll run through how to make the pivot from point to point several times.
The conclusion has often been a sticking point for me. Many of my talks in the past have ended with, “Well, that’s it. Thanks!” as I sheepishly walk off stage. Even if I gave an outstanding talk, that ending damages the overall effect.
I’ll practice the last thought of the talk… and practice stopping there even more.
I’m writing to you on the way to my next gig and, already, I’m thinking about my routine for tomorrow morning. I always wake up early and use that quiet time to settle my mind and do a final run through of the introduction, transitions, and conclusions.
Once I’m at the venue, I’ll find the green room as quickly as possible and get settled. I need “introvert time” without surprise interruptions or personal introductions for at least 30 minutes before a talk or I don’t feel ready.
Then I get miked and head to the stage.
Once it’s over, I love talking with people. In fact, it’s one of the easiest times for me to connect with new people because it’s like we’ve been chatting for the last hour (my presentation!). I feel in my element and completely comfortable continuing the conversation.
I’ve honed much of this process thanks to working with Dr. Michelle Mazur, my guest this week on Profit. Power. Pursuit. Her Speak for Impact methodology has made it so much easier to prepare for talks, find stories and examples to use, and feel confident that I’m going to hit a home run every time.
To hear how Michelle uses public speaking in her own business, from negotiation to preparation to getting paid, make sure you listen to our interview:
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Photo above by Jessica Hill Photography
At some point, you have to make the decision to assume the identity of speaker, instead of just playing at it.
— Dr. Michelle Mazur
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Tara: Welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. I’m your host, Tara Gentile, and together with my friends at CreativeLive, we talk to powerhouse small business owners about the nitty gritty details of running their business, making money, and pursuing what’s most important to them. Each week, I deep dive with a thriving entrepreneur on topics like time management, team building, marketing, business models, and mindset. Our goal each week is to expose you to something new that you can immediately apply to growing your own business.
This week, my guest is Dr. Michelle Mazur. Michelle is the founder of Communication Rebel, and a coach for entrepreneurs, speakers, authors, and thought leaders who want to speak with impact. She’s also the author of the bestselling book, Speak for Impact, the creator of the Rebel Speaker Boot Camp, and the host of the Rebel Speaker Podcast, plus I actually worked with Michelle on one of my own signature talks, You Really, Really Must: How to Make Bold Choices in an Overwhelming World.
I wanted to find out how Michelle is using public speaking to grow her own business. We talked about negotiating a new engagement, preparing for a talk, getting paid, and all the ways you can speak without ever stepping on stage.
Dr. Michelle Mazur, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thank you so much for joining me.
Michelle: I’m so excited to be here, Tara.
Tara: All right. So you have just released a book called Speak for Impact, and it catapulted itself to the top of the Amazon rankings right away. I think that is so exciting.
Michelle: It was. It was very exciting.
Tara: Awesome. So just as your book has been a hot topic, I think public speaking in general is a really hot topic for my audience, but instead of kind of asking you for advice, I want to find out more about how you’ve used public speaking in your own business. So this is going to be a little meta, but I think it’s going to be super fun. So first, can you tell us how you got started with coaching and consulting public speakers in the first place?
Michelle: I’ve been coaching or consulting in some form for 25 years.
Michelle: I did the math this morning. I was like, oh, I’m old. And I started on the speech and debate team in college, and so when I went to graduate school, I became the assistant director of the speech and debate team, and I went to Oklahoma and started the Parliamentary Debate Team there, and so I was always coaching and helping people write speeches and get better at it, and then as I evolved through being a professor and then into corporate, what was interesting is I was doing market research in corporate, which was so not my jam, but that’s a story for another day, but the leadership knew I was great at speaking and messaging.
So they would always come to me and be like, “We have this big sales pitch. Can you come and watch it and give us feedback?” So I spent a lot of my time not necessarily doing research, but coaching and consulting on their message and how it was going to be received and how they were presenting themselves. And eventually, I got to this point where I was having a conversation with one of my good friends, and he’s like, “Michelle, you have all of this great knowledge about communication and speaking and you’re so talented at it. Why are you not doing something with it? Like, why are you in market research? I don’t get this.” And he encouraged me to start a blog, and that blog turned into my business. That’s … I’ve been at it now for about four years.
Tara: Yeah. And it has grown immensely over that time. All right.
Tara: So speaking of which, what are some of the ways that you’re using public speaking in your own business right now?
Michelle: The first thing is I don’t look at speaking as something that just happens on the stage. As business owners, as creatives, we are always speaking. So I use it, like today, I’m on my way to Portland to speak at an event, but I also use it for webinars and workshops and Facebook Live and podcast interviews like this one, media interviews. I mean, even blog posts, because once you have your message, and you know what you stand for, then you can just use that all over the place, and so I incorporate it into every aspect of my business, and so speaking for me doesn’t happen just on a stage. It happens in so many different venues.
Tara: Yeah. I completely agree with that, and I think it’s one of the reasons that public speaking is a hot topic, and I think it’s also one of the reasons that if you have any kind of resistance to public speaking, it really is time to get over it, right?
Michelle: Yeah, because you’re hiding in your business or your creative work otherwise, because if we can’t know about you, if you can’t articulate what it is that you do in a compelling way that makes people want to listen to you, you’re never going to be found, and you’re just going to die in obscurity, which is really sad.
Tara: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so I want to come back … I want to come back to that, for sure, but I also want to tie how you’re making money, the profit piece of the puzzle …
Michelle: Mmhmm, yeah.
Tara: To the ways that you’re using public speaking right now. So can you just talk about how … how you’re generating revenue in relation to at least a few of the different ways you talked about also using public speaking?
Michelle: Yeah. So in the book – this is a great segue to the book – I talk about two different paths to revenue. So I talk about paid speaking, which is the gold standard, which everybody wants, and then I talk about client-attracting speeches. And so for me, I’m using paid speaking right now mostly in workshops, because I am a natural born teacher, so I love to teach my Speak for Impact process, or I teach the How to Fascinate assessment, and so I get paid that way, but then I also do gigs that either are very low-paying or fee-waived, and I have a whole system around how I give a speech, I make an offer from the stage that’s completely free, and people opt-in, so using some of my email marketing mojo, and then I nurture them into clients and customers. So that’s how I’m using that aspect to really fuel my one-on-one work, my small, you know, my small group work.
Tara: Okay. Let’s talk about exactly how you work that process.
Tara: Because I hosted an event earlier this year where you were a speaker, and you were one of our top speakers at that event. Everyone loves hearing you talk. I love hearing you talk. Anyhow, and I did not pay you for that talk. You know, it was our first event, we didn’t have a big budget. In fact, we were, you know, finished the event in the red, as a lot of event organizers, I’m sure, can … can empathize with that. So how do you make an event like that profitable for you? What does that process, can you walk us through step-by-step?
Michelle: Oh, yeah. Yes. So the first thing you have to ask yourself is, “How do I get paid?” And for me, I run the Rebel Speaker Bootcamp, and I aligned the launch of the Bootcamp with your event, because I know your people are my people. So I gave a speech called Speak for Impact, and within that speech, it led to my free five-day challenge that I was getting ready to run right after the event called Get the Speech, Get the Gig. And so people joined the challenge, and then they took part of it, and there was a Facebook group, and I got to give a lot of feedback, and so they got to know me really well, and then I launched the Bootcamp, and from that, I earned about $4000 of revenue, which was great.
Tara: That is great.
Michelle: It’s awesome.
Tara: And that’s just in that one iteration. We don’t know how much revenue you might earn from that later on because of the beginning ties that you’ve created to potential customers, right?
Michelle: Yeah, because I’ve had speaking gigs pay off two years later.
Michelle: I mean, it’s not an instant, like, make $10,000 in 60 minutes kind of thing, but it is very much, like, okay, if I’m strategic about this and I have a way to nurture people, they will become my clients. And this time, it was like within three weeks they became clients, but sometimes, it’s a month, two months, or even two years.
Tara: Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree. I mean, Pioneer Nation is an event that I’ve done twice and have gotten really great … those same results for. Didn’t get paid, but probably from the first one, made at least $50,000-$60,000 over the course of two years. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and so I think that’s really something to think about when you’re approached with a free speaking gig.
Michelle: Yeah, and I think it’s all about the strategy, because if you don’t have a speech that’s really aligned with your business and leads them to the next natural step, that whole client attraction speech will not work for you.
Tara: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So the other piece of this that I really like, too, is that, you know, I encourage people to create events towards the end of their launches to get people really, or like right before they make their pitch, to get people really on the edge of their seats, ready to buy, and what you’ve done here is not create an event, but leverage an existing event, so you had to do less work to get those customers excited and ready to buy from you, and I think that that’s something, I hope everyone takes that away. Is that something that you’ve done in the past? Was this the first time that you’ve done something like that before?
Michelle: I was never so strategic about it before.
Michelle: Because I was looking, because I knew I had the Quiet Power Strategy Summit coming up, and then I was like, okay, well, when am I going to launch the Bootcamp next? Why don’t I launch it right after that event? It just made a ton of sense to me to do it that way, so I was able to be very, very strategic, but even with this event in Portland, I’m not launching anything after it, but I’m giving a speech called Your Unfair Speaking Advantage. My opt-in is called Your Unfair Speaking Advantage. And then I’m able to nurture people, and have them get to know me, and tell them, like, what I do, and make my offer to them.
Tara: Okay, all right. So let’s talk about that for a little bit, because clearly, consistency is key when it comes to your message. What else are you thinking about when you’re considering what is the message, what’s the takeaway, what’s the big idea that I want to leave with in a particular talk?
Michelle: Yeah. I’m very audience focused and audience-centered. So I like to give the audience a bite-sized result that they can walk away with. So for example, when I’m speaking in Portland, it’s all about how do you stand out, and I really want them to identify an idea that they’re either passionate about or it makes them go on a rant, and they’re like, oh, that makes me so mad and I want to do something different. And for me, that’s a great result, because then they can take that, and whether they’re a speaker or not a speaker, they can write a blog post around it, they can do a Facebook Live, they can incorporate it into their speech, and they get one step clearer to really understanding what makes them different from all the other businesses and all the other speakers. So I love to give them that bite-size result, because I know that audience struggles with what’s my message and how am I different from every other business coach or social media strategist out there.
Tara: Got ya. Okay. And so that brings us to another kind of important takeaway for people, too, which is that your goal when you’re on stage or I’m sure on a webinar or you know, wherever you’re doing speaking, especially when you’re trying to attract and nurture new clients is not how can I be inspiring, or even what can I teach them, it’s what can they do because of this talk, right?
Michelle: Absolutely. I am all about action and change, and I feel like I have done my job if they do something differently after they hear me speak. So I’m not … I always say inspiration is cheap, action is priceless. So if we can get the audience taking action, if you can get them a result in a 20-minute talk, they are going to be like, “I love you so much.”
Michelle: Tell me more. Like, tell me more about what you do. So that’s what I’m always aiming for is that action piece.
Tara: Beautiful. Love it. All right, let’s shift gears a little bit. How do you go about looking for or booking speaking gigs?
Michelle: So for me, a lot of them come through referral at this point in time, and I always tell people your speech is your best marketing tool, because if you can go to a speaking gig and knock it out of the park, other gigs will come from that. So I get a lot of mine from referrals. Yeah, probably the vast majority of even my workshops come through referrals, because somebody talked to somebody else, and I think that’s the best way to get speaking gigs, and I do do some pitching. So if there’s an event that I’m really interested in that I want to be on their stage, I first, I don’t pitch right away. I work on cultivating that relationship, first, and getting to know them, or maybe, I don’t know, going to the event. Hmmm.
Michelle: Because once you have that personal connection, it’s easier to pitch yourself as a speaker, so I’m not one of those people who will be like, you know, cold call ten people today to find your next speaking gig, because yeah, it’s a numbers game, and eventually, you’ll book one or two gigs after you make 100 calls, but ugh, that is not the way I want to run my business or do speaking.
Tara: Yeah, I’m really glad that you pointed out actually going to events before you try pitching an event organization or pitching, you know, an event committee, because one misstep I think I see people make is for those people who want to get into public speaking, they will only go to conferences, you know, that they have successfully pitched, or they will only go to a conference when they’ve pitched it, and it’s like, well, but you’re missing out on all of those relationships that you could be building with people who could be booking you, and so your impact, even though, sure, okay, great, now, you’re getting to speak, your impact is so much smaller than if you just make that kind of short-term investment in actually going to an event and making those relationships happen.
Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s the key thing. Like get out of your house and go to the event where you most want to be speaking at, and meet people and be insanely helpful to them.
Michelle: And that’s the way you’re going to develop a relationship with them, and that makes booking speaking gigs so much easier.
Tara: Yeah, okay, so this makes me think about, sort of like how public speaking is a long game.
Tara: Can you talk about that a little bit? I don’t know that I have a fully-formed question, but I feel like you probably have some really good inside on playing that long game of public speaking.
Michelle: Yes, it is a long game, and I hate all of the marketing that’s like, “Make 6 figures from speaking in 6 weeks,” or, “I made a million dollars and so can you,” because I think that gives the wrong idea about what speaking is about, because the first step of it is you have to have something to say. You have to have a speech that you can market and sell into an organization, and then once you have something that’s good and remarkable and people really want. Then it’s about okay, how can I book this? How can I sell this into different organizations? And who do I know? And going to those events. And I think about one of my clients, and she and I have been working on and off for like two years, and she’s finally getting a ton of momentum. Like, she spoke at Google a couple of weeks ago, and she, every time she goes out and speaks, she’s booking more gigs, but it’s been two years in order for that to happen. So if you need to make money fast in your business, speaking is not the way to go. But if it is a way that you know you want to get your message out there, start with writing that speech and giving it to anyone who listens at first, and then really focus on the selling and the marketing of that.
Tara: Yeah. It’s just like so many things in business. If you know you want to do it eventually, like, start now, because it’s going to take time.
Michelle: I know. Every once in a while, somebody will say, “Well, you know, public, I’m going to hit it out of the park next year with my speaking.”
I’m like, “Great, so how’s your speech?”
“Oh, well, I’ll do that next year.”
And I’m like, “No.”
Michelle: I’m so sorry, it’s not going to work for you like that.
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Tara: All right, let’s go back to booking gigs. So what’s the first thing that you do or the first thing you think about when you get an inquiry for a speaking gig?
Michelle: Yeah, the first thing that I do, especially if I don’t know the person or the organization, is I Google them. I find out who their audience is. I find out all about their event. I find out if they’re charging for their event, how much they’re charging for their event, because then I kind of get an idea of like do they have a budget or is this something that I’m going to have to negotiate, like, will you buy my books in order for me to speak. So it just gives me a good idea about what they’re about. I also look at like … like their Board of Directors and see if I know anyone or someone I know knows them. So I just really do my research before I respond back, because it also tells me if these people are the people that I want to be talking to. Especially if they can’t pay me, I need to be in front of my ideal audience for my speech to work. So research is always first.
Tara: Totally agree with that. I’m so glad you brought up research. Because yeah, I will still speak for free, too, if I’m talking to exactly the right people. If I’m not talking to exactly the right people, I need to get paid, because I’m not going to make that money on the backend, right? And that is so important. It’s so important to know that and think about that, because when that email comes into your inbox, and you’re like, “Can you come speak in,” I don’t know, a great city, “San Diego?” Yes, I would love to speak in San Diego. What do you want me to talk about? Science fiction? Sure. You know, whatever it might be, but you know, as exciting as a new inquiry can be, I totally agree that research has to be the first step.
So what does that response then kind of look like from you? Because I think immediately you get into that negotiation piece, where it feels like both parties are kind of a little, like, I don’t want to give you too much information. I don’t want to give you too much information. How do you handle that? What does that first email back look like if you’re wanting to move forward?
Michelle: I try to get them on the phone.
Michelle: Because it’s so much easier to talk about the money thing. I honestly feel like negotiating your speaking fee is like negotiating for a used car. Because yeah, you’re right, nobody wants to give too much information. Like, they won’t tell you your fee, they won’t tell you the budget. It’s like trying to buy a car, and you’re like how much is that car? They’re like, “I don’t know. How much do you think it’s worth?”
Tara: That is exactly what negotiating speaking fees feels like.
Michelle: And it causes a lot of stress, and I just did a workshop for my tribe around I don’t care if you’re speaking for free or not, you have to have a price in your head. So whether they have the budget or not, you can decide whether to work with them, but if you don’t have a price, and you’re like, “Oh, yay, someone wants to pay me to speak, but I don’t know how much I charge,” that’s kind of a problem. So having that price in your head is key, but I much would rather hop on the phone with someone for 15 minutes, and say, “Hey, yeah, so what is your budget? And what are you looking for? And what are you able to pay?” And just have more of a dialog, because then it’s just, it’s easier that way.
Tara: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about how you personally determine your speaking fee?
Michelle: Yes. So what … so in this webinar that I just did, I talked about coming up with like an hourly rate that represents your value, at least. Because there’s a lot of intangible value in your speaking fee. Because it’s not the hour you’re on stage. It is your years of experience, your education, everything you’ve done to become the speaker you are today, and that needs to be considered. And then there are other things that you can actually measure. Like how long is it going to take me to prep and practice? How long will it take me to travel? How long am I on stage? How much recovery time do I need? So I consider all of those things for each, well, and I have a pretty standard fee right now, which I’ll just say it’s $4000. It’s like …
Tara: Thank you for sharing that.
Michelle: I’ve done … I’ve done the math, it’s $4000, and that covers my costs, it covers my time away from business to do the speaking, it covers my practice time, and I feel like it represents my value really well.
Tara: And just to stop you right there for a second, you’re expecting the organization to cover travel and other expenses on top of that?
Tara: That’s not included in the $4000.
Michelle: Yes. And I know there’s other models where people do say okay, I charge $10,000, but it’s all included. Like travel is included, and my hotel, you don’t have to worry about any of that.
Tara: Yeah, I need to switch to that model, because I’m very picky. Just so we’re all clear on that, I’m a little bit of a diva when it comes to travel. Okay, I feel like I have … oh, I know what my follow-up question to that was. You mentioned earlier kind of negotiating fees maybe around something like are they going to also buy your books. Can you talk about maybe some of the creative negotiations that you’ve done over the years? You don’t need to need names.
Tara: Just, I think people don’t think about all of the options that they have for getting compensated for a speaking engagement that is not financial.
Michelle: Yes. So sometimes, they don’t have a budget for speakers, but they have a budget for swag. So they’ll say, “Okay, well, can you buy a book for every single person who comes to this event,” and if they have 200 people and you charge $20 per book, that is a pretty great fee for you. So thinking about your books and having them buy those and give them out as swag. Thinking about sponsorships. Like either having someone sponsor you to speak at the event, or negotiating with one of the event sponsors to speak at the event. There’s also things like video, which is so valuable for speaking, and photos. So if they have a professional videographer and a photographer, you can use that for all your speaker marketing materials, and that has value, because that means you’re not paying, you know, two grand out of your own pocket to get video of you on stage in your element.
Tara: Yes, amen. I’ve also negotiated around promotional consideration before, too. So like are you willing to feature me in your newsletter a couple of times? Can I do a webinar with your audience outside of the … like with your whole audience, instead of just the conference attendees.
Tara: And doing things like that can be really beneficial to me.
Tara: But it goes the other way, too, where you may want to negotiate a higher fee based on how much promotional consideration they’re looking for from you.
Tara: Yes. So good. So good. So good. Okay. So how do you go about preparing for a talk once you’ve booked the gig.
Michelle: Yes. So at this point, I have two signature talks that I give all the time.
Michelle: Which is great. So that means I don’t have to write it. But if I ever do have to write a new talk, I use my Speak for Impact methodology, because it’s a great way, it’s the way I use with my clients to write a speech that gets results for the audience. So I use that method, and then as I prepare, I kind of revisit the method, and I decide things like which stories should I tell for the audience. At this point in time, I have like three openers for my speech, and I have one that’s a Rocky Horror Picture Show opening, and for edgy audiences, that’s awesome. Like, they love it, they eat it up. For more conservative audiences, it’s like, no, I’m going to do like the what do you want to be when you grow up, or the visualization one. So I have these three openers that work really well, they’re tested, so I kind of figure out which one is best, and then I go through. And my main content never really changes. It’s typically the stories and the examples that will change based on the audience and what they need.
Tara: Ah, I love that. So it’s almost like building with different puzzle pieces, or from building blocks, or like Breanne would say, Lego.
Michelle: Yeah, it’s exactly like that, and once you get to the point, it’s like, okay, this is my core message, now, I can just plug and play different stories that I know that work, different introductions, different conclusions, and customize it for that audience.
Tara: Nice. Okay, so you mentioned you have two core talks that you give. And I know how this goes. I mean, like, I have two or three core ones that I give as well, but an event organizer comes to you and they say, “We’d really like you to talk about X,” and X is not actually one of your core talks. What do you do then?
Michelle: I try to negotiate.
Michelle: Because I feel it’s very important, in order for you to get known as a speaker, you have to have a consistent message.
Michelle: You know, I think about like Sally Hogshead or Brene Brown, they’re not going to be talking about topics outside of their area because an organizer wants them to. And sometimes, I think you get to a point, and you’re like, nope, sorry, I don’t talk on that, I just can’t, it’s not my area of expertise, I’m not comfortable, I can talk to you on this, but you know, trying to negotiate and I’m always super creative. Like I am good at making the link between whatever they want to talk about and whatever I want to talk about.
Tara: Yeah, I’m really glad you brought that up, because I think there’s … there’s sort of an objection to that, or an immediate objection to that, which is, well, but I want to book the gig, so I want to do what they want me to do, right?
Tara: But I think there’s a way to balance that against what you also need to be talking about that’s best for your own personal business strategy.
Michelle: Yes. Like, for example, I was working with a client, and she wanted to pitch this CEO group, and she talks about people problems, and how to solve people problems through leadership, and she’s like, “Oh, but they want strategy and technology,” and I was like, “Weren’t you just telling me the other day that in order to have successful strategy, that you have to have your team on board before you do the strategy? And that’s the people part?” I was like, “So actually, your talk fits into the strategy pocket,” and she’s like, “You’re brilliant. Thank you.” But for me, it was just like, oh, well, there’s a very clear connection between what you talk about and what they need.
Tara: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. So that’s brilliant. Just what is … what’s the thread that ties these things together so that you can stay on message, but also give the event what they need as well. Perfect. Okay, so what do you do after a gig is over?
Michelle: I rest.
Tara: And what do you, Dr. Michelle Mazur, do to rest after a gig?
Michelle: Mostly, it’s Netflix, going out to breweries, and going out to dinner with the hubby, because I am spent. Now, I’m an ambivert, but I even hear from my extroverted clients that they need that recovery time, and I remember once I did three speaking gigs in one day, and literally, my friend watched my brain shut down. So I spend some time recovering, and then after I’ve had my recovery day, I will definitely follow up with the organizer, I will follow up with people who chatted with me at the event, and start building those relationships.
Michelle: So, but that recovery is so important. You just can’t go right back into business right after speaking.
Tara: No. You can’t. And just to kind of remind everybody that you mentioned that when you were talking about your speaking fee, too, because it’s not … it’s not just something that you have to … to block off in your calendar, and you do absolutely need to block it off in your calendar when you’re putting that speaking gig on, you know, in your schedule, but you also have to include that time in your fee, as well.
Tara: Very, very important. All right. Can you tell us more about the book?
Michelle: Sure. Well, I’ll give a shout out to CreativeLive, because I did your publishing course on CreativeLive.
Tara: How to Write and Publish an EBook.
Michelle: In five days, or I did mine in a month, and it was so incredibly easy. Like, it was actually a very joyful process for me, because I took an existing blog post that I had that was all about writing your speech as your next bestselling product, because I believe that your speech is a product that you’re going to sell in your business.
Tara: Which we also talked about in a CreativeLive class.
Michelle: Yes, which we also talked about in a CreativeLive class. And so I wrote this, like, 4000-word blog post around that topic, and I was like, oh my gosh, this is awesome. I have this blog post, and then I just wrote some bridge content. I pulled in some other blog posts, because I felt like there were some missing links, and sent it off for copy editing. I got it out within four weeks, and I had a fabulous launch. Like, I was able … it was kind of insane. I decided to put a street team together, and I emailed my list, and I was like, “Hey guys, I’m releasing this book, if you want a free copy, I would love to have you on the launch team. Here’s what’s involved with that,” and I walked away from my computer to work with a client, and an hour later, I had 40 applications, and had to shut the launch team down.
Michelle: Because I’m like too much, too much, okay. And I think the launch team made it a success. I also reached out to influencers. I was telling you about the book. People like Tonya Geissler, and just letting everyone know, and people really rallied around it, and that’s what I felt, like, the book is definitely what I want to be known for. Like, building your speech as a product and here’s a strategy to do it, and I felt the positioning was good, because all public speaking is about skills, and this is like, okay, let’s think about this strategically, people, and then the marketing was just so easy. It was so much fun and effortless and it was just a joy to do.
Tara: That’s awesome. And tell us how well it sold.
Michelle: Oh, yeah, like it climbed to number one in all of its categories within hours after it launched.
Michelle: And it’s staying in the top ten. Like, I’m like three weeks out from launch, and every once in a while, I’ll log into Amazon to like spy on the book, and I’m like, “Oh, look, it’s number one again.”
Michelle: And there’s … and I know Amazon’s been promoting it, so I’ll see like a spike in sales.
Michelle: But it’s doing really well. I’m curious to see what’s going to become of it in like six months, because it’s just kind of that little engine that could, and the feedback I’ve gotten from people, they’re like, “I love this book.” They’re like, “It’s so strategic.” And they’re like, “Yet, you write in such a way that’s approachable, and it’s not stuffy at all, it’s really fun.” So it’s been such a great experience.
Tara: That’s awesome. And just to kind of bring it full circle then, is the book one of … is the topic of the book one of the core topics that you speak on then?
Michelle: Yes, that is my other signature talk is Speak for Impact, and talking about how to build your speech like a product, how to make money from speaking, and how to really get known for your idea. So that is in a speech of itself, so the book lines super well with my speaking, it aligns well with my one-on-one service, and I just feel like … in some ways, it was like marking my territory on this idea, writing that book, because no one else is talking about it this way, and I felt like okay, it is my time to mark my territory, and now, I … this is my viewpoint, and if people want to know how I’m different from other speaking coaches and consultants, they can read that book and figure it out in an hour.
Tara: Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. Okay, two more questions. The first one, for people who have been speaking kind of casually, maybe they get those inquiries about a free gig here or there, or they’ve been doing webinars and they really want to get on stage, what would be one or two things that they should do next to really start accelerating their speaking career?
Michelle: I think the first thing is really deciding on what your signature talk is going to be and building that and writing that, and I have to say, I know for some people, that’s like the struggle part. It’s much more fun to get a gig, and then write a speech, but it’s so necessary for you to be known for what you want to do. So if you’re doing it casually, and especially if you’re reinventing the wheel every single time you’re speaking, you’re wasting your time and you’re blowing any momentum you’re getting from that speaking gig. So having that one, like, one or two go-to talks, and just knocking it out of the park would be the first step, and then I think at some point in time, you’ve got to get serious, and make the business decisions. How am I going to get paid? Like how am I going to make money from this? Am I okay? Like, and how many times do I want to speak a year? Like, for me, I have … I want to speak six to eight times a year, because in a past life, I was on the road a lot speaking, and I’m over it.
Michelle: Like I want to be at home with my cats and my husband, and making some of those business decisions, like how am I going to make money, how often do I want to be speaking? What kinds of events do I want to be speaking at? Because at some point, you have to make the decision to assume the identity of speaker, instead of just playing at it.
Tara: Oh, brilliant. Okay, last question. What’s next for you and your business?
Michelle: Yeah, right now, I am working on getting my Speak for Impact process out as like a DIY just in time learning course, because it’s a great way to write a speech, and I know most people don’t know how to write a speech and they waste a lot of time and put a lot of effort into something that audiences don’t want. And then the other thing that I’m thinking late 2017, early 2018 is I want to do my own live event that’s an alternative to TED.
Michelle: Which … so this is new.
Tara: No kidding.
Michelle: I mean, this is like breaking news.
Tara: You heard it here first, folks.
Michelle: I know. Because I love TED, I love what they do. The, you know, Ideas Worth Spreading, but I also think ideas aren’t enough, it’s change and action are where it’s at. So I want to have speakers who are more for social justice, more for change, sustainability, having some of those conversations. So I’m really scared telling you this, but I’m really … I know that that’s the next step for me.
Tara: That is so awesome. I’m so excited for you. Well, Dr. Michelle Mazur, thank you so much for joining me.
Michelle: Thank you, Tara, I’m so pleased to be here.
Tara: Find Dr. Michelle Mazur online at DrMichelleMazur.com or at The Rebel Speaker Podcast on iTunes.
Next week, I talk with Debbie Millman, host of the first and longest running podcast about design, Design Matters. Debbie and I talk about the 10 to 12 hours she puts into interview prep, how she started with just a phone line back in 2005, and the opportunities that have come her way thanks to the podcast.
CreativeLive is highly-curated classes from the world’s top experts. Watch free, live video classes every day from acclaimed instructors in photography, design, audio, craft, business, and personal development. Stream it now at CreativeLive.com.
This has been Tara Gentile. Discover how to accelerate your earning as a small business owner with my free class, Revenue Catalyst, at QuietPowerStrategy.com/PPP.
That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., a CreativeLive podcast. Download more episodes of this podcast and subscribe on iTunes. If you appreciate this kind of in-depth content, please leave us a review or share this podcast with a friend. It means the world to us.
Our theme song was written by Daniel Peterson, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Kellen Shimizu. This episode was produced by Michael Karsh. We add a new episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you love to listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.
“In the realm of business speaking, in the realm of conference speaking, the standard is so low, it’s ridiculous. So if you just literally have a couple of funny images, two memes, and a video, and one funny story, you’re already going to crush it compared to 80% of the speakers out there.” — David Nihill
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Tara: Welcome to Profit, Power, Pursuit. I’m your host, Tara Gentile, and together with my friends at CreativeLive, we talk to powerhouse small business owners about the nitty-gritty details of running their businesses, making money, and pursuing what’s most important to them. Each week, I deep dive with a thriving entrepreneur on topics like time management, team-building, marketing, business models, and mindset. Our goal each week is to expose you to something new that you can immediately apply to growing your own business.
My guest this week is David Nihill. David is the founder of Funny Bizz, a community, writer platform, and conference series helping content creators access top comedic writing talent. He’s performed stand-up comedy at California’s leading clubs, including Cobs, the Comedy Store, the Improv, and the Punch Line, even though he strongly denies being a comedian, and is well aware most people don’t understand his accent. He’s also the author of Do You Talk Funny, a book about incorporating humor into public speaking. I wanted to find out more about how David turned a popular class on Udemy into a book. We talk about why he started experimenting with comedy in the first place, the impact of student feedback on the development of his idea, and his favorite techniques for incorporating humor into any kind of business content.
David Nihill, welcome to Profit. Power. Pursuit. Thank you so much for joining me today.
David: Thank you.
Tara: Absolutely. So let’s start off by talking about your book, Do You Talk Funny, and its unusual starting point as a video course. I love that you pointed this out to me, because I love the unusual genesis of products, services, and in this case, books. So where did the idea for the video course come from initially?
David: Yeah, it was funny, and I should probably warn your listeners out there, this is an Irish accent, it’s not some lunatic dialing in from a pub here sounding a bit confused and joining you happy people, but it was a little bit of an unusual idea. One, to be honest, I really struggled with creating a product and then me trying to sell it and publicize it and reaching out to my friends and going, “Hey, I created a thing, and it sounds a bit nutty, it’s like around humor and business, and kind of public speaking,” and they’d be like, “Yeah, go back to getting your real job, would you, you lunatic, why did you leave in the first place?” So I created … I put everything I’d learned over a year’s experiments, which involved me pretending to be a standup comedian to get over a fear of public speaking, which in itself, I know, does not sound like a good plan whatsoever, and it wasn’t, so obviously, I didn’t want to tell friends and family about that one.
But I basically put everything I’d learned in a PowerPoint presentation, which became a Prezi presentation using their software, and I posted it on Udemy, and that way, at the time, Udemy were driving all traffic to people’s products on their behalf, so I didn’t have to tell anyone I even put it together. I didn’t tell anyone I had it there. I gave it away for free, initially, to get some good people on board and get some reaction to it, and then basically, I started selling it and getting feedback from the people who took it, and ultimately, that allowed me to test the concepts I had for a book on an audience that were actually paying to use it and interact with it and seemed to be benefiting from it, and I was kind of consciously able to iterate all the time, and get something where I’m like, okay, I like it, and people using it seem to like it, they’re willing to pay for it, and least out, when I was actually putting the book together, I kind had all the content laid out and tested already. I mean, because originally, I hadn’t any background as a writer. I don’t have much in the way of skills as a writer, and to add to that, I was dyslexic, which is not a winning combination for writing a book, and Dragon Dictate, my idea to dictate the book, didn’t seem to like Irish accents. So it was me, at home, screaming at the computer, going, “Goddamn, Dragon Dictate, I didn’t say that, what are you typing?” So kind of the workaround I had to do was to put it together as a course, and then have someone actually transcribe the whole thing, and then that way, rather than starting looking at a blank page for a book, I was starting looking at a big pile of content, and it just made the whole process mentally a little bit easier. Plus, it gave me a lot to show when I went to a publisher or I went to somebody with the idea. I’m like here you go, I already have 7000 people enrolled in this, they seem to like it, maybe there’s a market for this.
Tara: Brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing that. That’s awesome. So you really started the video course with the book in mind, then?
David: Yeah, 100%. I never wanted to put together a video course. I am totally scared of being on camera in any way, which is pretty ironic, seeing CreativeLive twisted my arm, being like come into the studio, and I think nearly one of the only reasons of doing that is because of the version I made of myself with the video course is so cringeworthy, it’s only one step up from me at home in my underpants just screaming at people on the internet. There’s some good content in there, but the delivery leaves a lot to be questioned, because I really hate being on camera. Actually, it used to be me not on camera whatsoever. It was just my voice over slides, and that was the original version of it, but yeah, at one stage, the other platform got onto me, and they’re like, “This looks like a homeless person made it. You’re going to need to upgrade it a little bit if we’re going to keep selling it.” So I kind of got used to the interaction with people, got used to the audience, got used to be able to get active feedback, because it’s quite a tough process when you write a book, because realistically, you’re not getting feedback from a large audience on the content you have in there and to see if it resonates with people, so yeah, I got used to using it, but the idea to do it only ever was to create a book.
Tara: Got ya. Okay, awesome. So let’s back up, then, to you mentioned that you were pretending to be a standup comic to get over your fear of public speaking. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how you started experimenting with comedy and kind of including that in your career as a whole?
David: Yeah. Definitely. It does not sound like the best plan. It was definitely not the best plan. It was rather painful in moments, and with that, I’d always been afraid of public speaking, and unfortunately, a friend of mine suffered a severe spinal cord injury, and that kind of became the catalyst for all this, because I had suggested by way of a fundraiser, because his insurance had cut him off, to do a comedy show, because I just happened to know a comedian that was a touring headline comedian. He’d agreed to do it, and all my American friends didn’t know what my friends back in Ireland knew very well, that I was absolutely scared the life out of me anything got to do with public speaking. I’m terrible at it, and my nickname was actually Shaking Stevens, in university in Ireland, because when I’m handed a bit of paper, I just started shaking, and I couldn’t stop it, and some way, it translated to my hips, and then my hips would start shaking as well. I looked like I was busting out some 80s dance moves involuntarily. So as I tell, it’s something my American friends didn’t know, but to be honest, compared to what my friend was going through after his spinal cord injury, it was something like, well, I can’t describe this fear I have as crippling anymore, which I would have. That does not seem appropriate in anyway, so I better just get over it, and I was a big fan of a lot of the great instructors that CreativeLive have on the platform, the likes of Tim Ferris, which are looking at breaking things down using an 80/20 principle to identify the things that kind of give you the most return on your time invested in learning it, and I figured, well, surely comedians are the true masters of public speaking, if we go by Malclom Gladwell’s, like, 10,000 hours to make a master rule, like, they seem to be on stage in the most frequently, more frequently than anybody else, and in the most challenging conditions. So it was like, all right, I’m going to try and replicate some of this to get through this charity event, and because obviously, it’s meant to be a funny charity event, there’s some pressure, to some extent, to be funny hosting it, and I did. It went really well, and I was like you know what, I’m going to keep this going for a whole year.
So the pretending to be a comedian part very much came when these comedy shows started tagging me on Facebook, and they’re like, “Come see David Nihill do comedy in a coffee shop for two people.” I’m like, oh my God, my family’s going to see this and wonder why I’m not in my corporate job anymore. Not quite ready, so, and honestly, if you don’t have much of a track record in comedy, it’s kind of difficult to get booked, so I created a whole stage name, which I didn’t think was very original, but American people seemed to like it. Irish Dave. I have no idea why Irish Dave would be touring doing comedy in Ireland, because it wouldn’t be the most popular name with people over there by any means, but so he had his fake Twitter followers and his fake Facebook page and profile, and I basically used that to try and get booked as many places as I could, and I kept that going for a whole year, and the course basically became kind of everything I learned along the way that I think applied to the world of business. I think for the most part, because if you look at all the leading TED talks at the moment, every single one of them are funny, and there seems to be a pressure there for modern-day speakers to be entertainers, and they seem to be very visibly using the techniques comedians were using, even though a lot of them didn’t seem to know it. And I guess my argument was that knowing it can save you a lot of time and give you some results pretty quickly.
Tara: Wow. Wow. Can you describe one of the techniques that you learned or that you used in those early days pretending to be a standup comic that then has kind of stuck with you and gotten you results, maybe even through today?
David: Yeah, sure. And you know, the thing I think I had most success with was avoiding that moment, say when you’re in work, and your boss calls you into the office, and they’re like, “Hey, come in here, I’ve got a joke for you,” and your brain is like oh my God, this is going to be terrible, I need to get away from this person. Like they’ve kind of telegraphed their intention to try and be funny, and I think when you do that as a comedian or even in a business presentation in any way, when people can really sense it’s a joke, the anticipation and the flip of expectations, the surprise, all those elements, you’re greatly reducing the chances of success, and I think one of the key things I used was basically just to take all my own stories, and I began to catalog them. So it’s kind of … comedians have one big advantage over the rest of the world on being funny. Kind of like where we used to keep diaries as kids, maybe some of us did, or you keep a journal, and you go back and you look at the journal a few years later, and it’s like, “Oh, on Tuesday, I was emotionally distraught. I had ice cream, and I don’t like myself.” Okay, this isn’t very exciting or compelling reading, and you kind of stop doing it.
What comedians will do is nearly keep a happy journal. Essentially, a list of funny stories or observations they have about in the world, and they continuously will go back to that. So what I did, essentially, was I listed out all the things I’d found funny, went my own exist, and to start, like all the stories I had from my life, experiences, and as a start, I didn’t have much, but as I actively kept doing this on a smartphone, and logging it every time I heard a funny story that I could relate to, every time I thought of something embarrassing that was happening, happened to me in my life. Tragically, if something embarrassing happened … if something embarrassing happened to you, that’s funny to other people literally all the time, as painful as it might be for you. So there’s always kind of humor in those moments. Learning something new, learning a new language. And I began to log all those stories, and I just identified the funny part of those stories. So where do my friends and family normally laugh, and then I try to cut out as many words from the story as possible. So I only basically kept in what was necessary, and then that basically became what I used in standup comedy, and what I’ve used to this very day, not only in comedy, but also in business presentation. So short-form stories, true to my own experience, and going out of my way to make sure to keep the funny bit til as late in the story as humanly possible, and then that way, the nice thing is nobody knows you’re trying to be funny, you’re just telling a story, and if they don’t laugh at that story, well, your story’s still a lot better than the pie chart or the presentation that somebody else had them looking at. And I think that’s something from the world of comedy that really resonates with people, because again, it relies on story, and that’s something we’re naturally receptive to listening to.
Tara: Yeah, wow. That was like two minutes of pure gold as far as I’m concerned. That was so helpful. I mean, I do a lot of public speaking as well, and I’m always at a loss when it comes to stories, and the idea of keeping a happy journal, and the idea of, you know, not telegraphing when you’re trying to be funny. Like, all of that, to me, is just pure gold, so thank you for that.
David: But even, the same applies with a story. There’s not … like when you get up and you go, “You know what, I’m going to start with a story. Here’s a story.” Well, then you’ve basically said I’m going to tell you something that may or may not be relevant for three or four minutes, and if you switch off, maybe you won’t miss a whole lot, but it’s not central, and what you really want to do is get people on board with the story without them knowing they’re being drawn into the story, and again, the exact same thing works with telling a story in your presentation. Don’t telegraph that you’re about to tell a story, just tell the story, and it tends to make a big difference.
Tara: Wow. And I’m assuming that that goes for any type of content that you’re creating online, too. So blogs, podcasts, even Facebook updates.
David: Honestly, anything, and when you sound it like a happy journal, it sounds like some hippie exercise that I just followed up with doing a load of stretching, yoga, and locking myself in a hot room in Lulu Lemon pants. Not quite what I’m … I guess I have it called funny story file, and to me, it doesn’t sound strange that way, and every time I literally see something or think of something, I go in and add to it, and I do use that for anything I ever create content-wise. So even when I finished the book and I took all this time to lay down everything I knew, then I was like, all right, I need to go in and put some elements of story in this, what bits are funny, what bits might resonate, what bits do my friends like, and the source I was going to was that funny story file, and it’s the same thing if I’m doing an interview, it’s the same thing if I’m giving a talk, it’s the same thing if I’m writing a blog post, it’s the same thing if I’m looking for something quirky in social media, so it’s … it’s just content that means something to us, because we already found it entertaining, and just finding a way to share that with people in the shortest, most effective form.
Tara: Oh, you make it sound so easy. Can we talk more about the book and about how you adapted the video course? Can you describe the approach that you use for actually taking the video course and turning it from something that was multimedia into something that was written? What did that process look like for you?
David: Yeah, I mean, it was probably six months of tinkering back and forward and messing around with it and getting feedback from students who were taking the course and just to say hey, what resonated, what didn’t, and the nice thing was with the course I could actually see where the drop off points were. Like, what was too long, what was too much, what was the most popular areas that I should expand on a bit, and then to be honest, the process of translating that to written form was quite straightforward, because I paid somebody to do it, and I think it only cost me $60 or $70 to have it transcribed, so now I was looking at a couple of hundred pages of content, and it was just a way of introducing each chapter with some form of story that was relevant to what I was talking about, and that … and that took a bit of time, but not as much. The really core part of the work was in crafting content I felt that would resonate with people, and stupidly, actually …
So the book I’ve put out, I put out one self-published, and then I went back and I worked with a publisher the second time around, and the self-published one, believe it or not, on a book about humorous storytelling, I didn’t even put my own story in there. So I never put anything about pretending to be a boy called Irish Dave, I didn’t really describe any of the nights I was involved or the things that happened because of it. I just simply did it as a how to, and even though it was popular, it wasn’t as popular when I consciously went back in with the editor and we said, all right, how do I wrap this information within a story, how do I use some of the things I’m actually telling people to do, and how do I really put my thinking hat on and say all right, well, this needs to be funnier, it needs to have story on it, it needs to be more engaging, and it needs to be not just giving people straight up how-to content. And I think that’s the mistake a lot of people make these days when they’re crafting content in general, that they pretty much just get everything, all right, it’s a brain dump, conscious brain dump, and then they shape it into a readable format, and they don’t really go back and take another look at it to say, okay, how can I make this more engaging or put some of my own personality into it or put some level of emotion into it that shows people what I was going through at that point, and so I made that mistake myself, and to be honest, it took me more than a year to correct that, waiting to get the published version out. And it was something I had listened to John Acuff say consciously, it was a really … probably one of the funniest business speakers I’ve ever seen. A really top author and writer as well, and one I’m sure your community is familiar with, but he’d always say when he writes, he consciously goes back in at stage three or four and tries to make it a bit more engaging or entertaining, and that probably took me more time on this than anything else, but it was certainly also one of the more painful mistakes I made on the project, and quite an ironic one seeing the book was about humor and story. It was like oh no, a humor storybook with funny on the cover, and I didn’t even take the time to make it funny. Worst plan ever. So I went back and fixed that, thankfully.
Tara: Yeah, I’m really glad that you’ve pointed out, too, that the making it funny seems to come later in the process for you. Steps three or four, or you know, after you’ve kind of outlined and laid out what the content is really going to be, because I think that’s another kind of unnecessary pressure people put on themselves is oh, okay, I’m going to do a talk, I better make it funny, or you know, what you said about stories, too. I’m doing a talk; I guess I gotta figure out what story I’m going to lead with. Does it always come later in the process for you?
David: For writing, it very much can do. I guess you have … say if you’re a comedian, or say if you’re a full-time professional comedic copywriter, and you’re starting something from scratch, you basically say, well, what do I want to say that’s your core starting point, what’s the opinion I want to get across, and then you basically try and find funny ways to say that, but you’re always starting with that core belief, that core point, or that core item you want to communicate, and then expanding on that and working with it to consciously make it funny. Now, if you’re lucky enough, when you’re doing the talk and you have a couple of good stories already, I would just start with the good stories, and shape the talk around the stories, no matter what the story is. If you’re like this story does not seem relevant or related to it, find a way to make that relevant or related. Just tell the story, if you like telling it and it resonates with people, and then literally say, “I told you that story because … ” and just fill in the blank, and just find a way to transition that, because at the end of the day, if there’s no element in the story and the information you’re trying to communicate, it’s very hard for people to remember it, and that means it’s very hard for them to repeat it.
In comedic terms, it’s nearly like going to see a really funny comedian for an hour, and then you’re dying to share it with your friends the next day, you’re like, oh man, this guy said, it was like a cat and a donkey and a grandmother and oh, you had to be there. And like your explanation of their jokes makes no sense, because they didn’t give it in a structure, a story structure that your mind could actually remember it and process it, and that way, you’re not able to spread their message for them, which is, you know, if you’ve had a good, impactful talk, and you’ve delivered it, ideally, you want that talk to go far beyond just the people in the room in that moment, and the easiest way of doing that is forever basing it on a story. So to answer your question, it can be both ways if you have stuff that’s already funny and great already, you can certainly start and build around that, and if you don’t, just get the core points you have across that you want to teach or communicate or you want to get out to your community, and then go back and take a bit of time and say, oh, how do I make this funny. Like chat to your friends about it. Just say, see if you have any stories. Hopefully, you’ve started some form of funny story file, so you’re like, oh, I have a little great example here from this, I saw this article that I love. So the funny story file doesn’t just have to be your own experiences. It can be a book that you read that had something funny or quirky, or it can be a story somebody shared with you. I mean, even the highest, best-selling books in the world, a lot of them will only sell around 15,000 copies on average to become a bestseller, so most people still haven’t even heard the coolest stories in the highest-selling books, so I mean, that’s all fair game as content for you to build in to try and enliven things a bit.
Tara: Wow. You are making this sound much easier than I expected it to be, so that’s pretty exciting.
David: Thanks very much. Well, it wasn’t easy, I tell you.
David: I was learning the hard way. Learn in another way that doesn’t involve doing standup comedy. Take the principles and don’t get up there with the drunk people. I don’t want to make it sound too easy. But to be honest, if a couple of quick improvements and a couple of quick things you do that comedians do very naturally apply to any form of content creation does, does make a big difference, and all of a sudden, especially, I mean, in the realm of business speaking, in the realm of conference speaking, the standard is so low, it’s ridiculous. So if you just literally have a couple of funny images, two memes, and a video, and one funny story, you’re already going to crush it compared to 80% of the speakers out there.
Tara: I might be a professional educator and expert, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning. When I’m ready to learn a new skill, the first place I go is CreativeLive. Check out this great class.
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Tara: So you’ve mentioned student feedback on that course a couple of times, and I want to come back to that, because I think this is something that’s … that’s really important in terms of developing a product, any kind of product, really. Can you give an example of one piece of student feedback or something that you noticed in the way students were consuming the course that led to a specific change or a specific improvement of the book form of your message?
David: Yeah. So there was one thing in there that I described as briefly as I could, and I didn’t realize it took a little bit more explaining, and it was the one thing over everything that probably made the single biggest difference to me in the realm of public speaking, and it was learning a memorization technique that allowed me to turn basically my whole presentation into a bunch of small stories that I then placed in locations in a house, which sounds kind of crazy, but you basically, your mind works second best in stories and it works best in remembering geographic locations, so if you combine the two, you have something really powerful that allows you to take away the fear of going blank on stage, and that was something that I didn’t elaborate on enough, and with the feedback I was getting, most people were like this one thing is really cool. I never heard of it, I know there’s books on it out there and stuff, but personally, I never use it, I never saw anybody use it, so when I was giving presentations, I was literally creating a mad, mildly fictional story with as much hilarity and nudity and celebrity presence as possible to help me remember it, because that’s the way the mind works, and I was literally, when I’m on stage giving a presentation, in my mind, I’m walking through my house, and I’m encountering a bunch of stories and characters that I’ve kind of fictionally placed there, and that way, if any moment, I’m trying to think back and go what’s the word here, what am I meant to say, I’m never asking myself that. I’m asking myself where in the house am I? Oh, I’m in the kitchen, and in the kitchen is Elvis, Tim Ferris, and Brittany Spears, they’re mildly naked, but they’re talking about celebrities and economic progression and any other topic that I might want them to be talking about in my mind, but it just reminds me to hit the key points, and that allowed me to free up my time a lot, and that level of interest came to me, or the level of need to explain that more, and it’s a big topic, so I could give you a lot more on it, obviously, but short form, that was the single biggest thing that made the biggest difference to me and seemed to make the biggest difference to the students, and I wouldn’t have been aware of that without the student feedback.
Now, equally, some of the student feedback needs to be taken with a little pinch of salt, because somebody said, “Oh my God, I’m so disappointed with this course, I would have loved it only for it’s on public speaking.” At this point, I had called it a public speaking course, the word public speaking was absolutely everywhere, and there was no way, or I don’t know what they … they might have been high as a kite when they were taking it, but I think 90% of the feedback that came in was really, really good and really, really constructive, and really, really helpful. Even the negative feedback. So if someone says something negative that at least has a level of logic to it somewhere, they’re probably correct in there in some form, and even though you might not like to read it, there’s probably something in there that allows you to improve the product you’re creating.
Tara: Awesome. Awesome. So you also have a community and a conference that works to incorporate comedy into business as usual, which is called Funny Bizz. Can you tell us a little bit about Funny Bizz?
David: Yeah, sure. Worst name ever, but I kind of like it, so I stuck with it. But basically, as I was going around doing all the comedy experiments and shows, I was meeting all these comedians that had one thing in common. Not all of them were getting famous for being funny, but they were all getting funnier along the way, and they were doing so primarily by improving one skill, and that was writing, and a lot of them had become really, really good copywriters, but they just didn’t know a way to get in touch with businesses that were looking for somebody to occasional enlighten or add some humor or up the engagement with the content they were creating. So Funny Biz originally was very much a way to try and bring these people together and get them together with the business community that needed their skills, but also allow them to keep working on their passion, which was doing full-time comedy, and then out of that, we grew a conference, and we basically were trying to showcase everybody creating marketing content or promoting marketing content or advertising content that was humorous, and basically, how did you do it, how did you get approval to do such lunacy, because a lot of people say, oh, well, humor is risky, and then it was very much to say, well, how can the people in the room do it, too. So yeah, the conference we had was very much to bring all those kind of changemakers together that very much believe that content could be funnier and more engaging.
Tara: Nice. Nice. And kind of alongside that, you have a goal of abolishing boring content, which I love, because there’s so …
David: Just a bit ambitious.
Tara: Yeah, but there’s so much. I mean, you could put a serious chink in that, I think.
David: I could, but I’d probably have to delete a lot of my own stuff as well. Goddammit, mine’s boring, too, I tried not to make it that way, but I failed miserably. But it’s just, it’s trying to give people the tools to look at content they’re creating and just kind of encourage them to put the … another side of their … another hat on, and too upright another part of the brain, and to just take that extra effort to go back and go all right, how do I enlighten this up a bit. Like, where can I get some funny images, where can I work a couple of gifts into this, where can I do something that shows my personality and put a little funny story in there? But just any way that enlightens it up, and I think to be honest, anybody who’s advertising on mediums like Facebook or Snapchat or using Twitter, they’re in all these places where people are going to consume entertainment, then there’s a level of pressure you feel to become the entertainment, and a lot of people just didn’t know how. They wanted it, but they just didn’t know how, so we’ve been trying to give them the access to people that could at least say hey, here’s how I do it, here’s how I do it consistently, here’s the techniques you can use, and off you go.
Tara: Yeah. And you know, you said something about the conference and the boring content piece makes me think about it, too, which is that comedy, I think, for a lot of people can feel risky, especially if you’re a business owner and you know, maybe you’re afraid of offending someone. Maybe you’re afraid of just even turning people off who maybe don’t have the same sense of humor as you, or who don’t see the same connections as you. Is there any like advice that you can give us or tips that you personally use to make your content funny but not risky, or maybe it’s to get over the idea of risk in the first place when you’re making something more humorous?
David: Yes, I think it’s the latter you said there. You will see somebody using humor at the moment in America who you would say his position is probably the most serious maybe in the whole world as a leader. He has more risk for using humor if it goes wrong than anybody else, and he has one of the highest pressure jobs in the world, and he is funny, and he is called President Obama, and everything he does is funny, and there’s no risk involved when he uses humor, because he’s working with people who know what they’re doing or he understands the techniques behind it or his speechwriters know that. So if someone at the highest, highest levels in the world at the moment showing everybody that hey, humor is a medium that I need to use to reach people, and guess what, it hasn’t been risky when I’ve been using it, it’s been well-received and well thought out. And I think if you focus on not trying to be the kind of making a joke with a target and a witty observation and you focus on the storytelling side that it translates. It transcends cultures. The storytelling aspect of it makes it unrisky. So I think … I was telling a friend, actually, yesterday that I was fundraising for this charity event, which we continued to raise money for people with spinal cord injuries, and I’m dyslexic, so I was sending out emails forever asking people to donate and buy a ticket, and of course, as you do in business, you end these emails in any way, kind regards. Well, of course, being dyslexic, I was mixing up the g and the t, and every one of my emails that went out ended with kind retards.
Tara: Oh, no.
David: Which oh, I nearly died when I saw that, and to make it worse, I was spelling my own name wrong half the time, so I was calling myself Davdi, and my Indian friends are like, “Goddammit, your name is now Davdi. You will be Davdi to me forever.” I was like no, no, it’s just a mistake, and it even got worse when I tried to be like office cool, and I dropped the kind part, and I was just basically writing retards at the end of all these emails. So I was mortified. Funny, because it’s a story at my expense, it’s personal to me, and it doesn’t carry that weight with it that oh, humor might go wrong, and I think if you stick to stories rather than opinions, you can recreate that safely in any form of content you like.
Tara: Wow. I have to say, Michael and I were just laughing our heads off at that story, too.
David: Yeah, thanks very much. Painful for me, funny for you.
Tara: And that should be a takeaway for everyone here, too. That’s awesome. So you have a CreativeLive class coming up. Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect to learn there?
David: I do, yeah. I’m laying an egg about that one, because as I said, I don’t like to be on video, but at least I know this stuff sideways from teaching it to other people. So part of me’s looking forward to it, and part of me probably won’t sleep between now and then, but I think it’s going to be on September 15th, and we’re going to be in studio, and I do have one really cool special guest with me, and we’re going to be tackling how to make things funny, how to add humor to all your public speaking, we’re going to be looking at a bunch of the world’s leading talks and breaking them down and teaching people comedic techniques and just train you how to boring things funnier, things that you didn’t think could be funny, to make them a bit more entertaining. But yeah, should be fun.
Tara: Awesome. That sounds really, really great. So what’s next for you and for your business?
David: I’m going to try and … well, I’ve basically been testing behind the scenes on Funny Bizz to turn it into an actual marketplace where we’re not an agency type, so at the moment, I’m kind of the block on what’s funny and not, as we have someone sitting in the middle, and I’d really like just to put comedic copywriters in touch with businesses who need their skills. So we’ve been working on growing that out, and we’ve done the conference now four times, so we’ll continue to do that. It’s been super popular. Next one’s in San Francisco next year, so I keep going with that and see how we go. I won’t be using Dragon Dictate anymore to try and write books, I’ll tell you that for free, but yeah. So I’ll be keeping busy.
Tara: Awesome. Well, that’s a great place to leave it. David Nihill, thank you so much for joining me. This has been a real pleasure and incredibly enlightening.
David: Thank you very much.
Tara: Find out more about David Nihill at 7ComedyHabits.com or FunnyBiz.co. You can also find David’s class on CreativeLive at CreativeLive.com.
Next week, my guest is Melanie Duncan, a serial entrepreneur in a variety of industries from apparel to home goods to information marketing. Melanie and I talk about the role of digital marketing in product-based businesses, how she manages working with her spouse, and the importance of company culture, whether your company is large or small.
CreativeLive is highly curated classes from the world’s top experts. Watch free, live video classes every day from acclaimed instructors in photography, design, audio, craft, business, and personal development. Stream it now at CreativeLive.com.
This has been Tara Gentile. Discover how to accelerate your earning as a small business owner with my free class, Revenue Catalyst, at QuietPowerStrategy.com/PPP.
That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., A CreativeLive podcast. Download more episodes of this podcast and subscribe on iTunes. If you appreciate this kind of in-depth content, please leave us a review or share this podcast with a friend. It means the world to us.
Our theme song was written by Daniel Petersen, who also edited this episode. Our audio engineer was Kellen Shimizu. This episode was produced by Michael Karsh. We add a new episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you love to listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.
Whether public speaking is a key goal for you, or whether you’d just like to feel more confident every time you make a sales call, presentation is a huge part of being in business. That’s why I was excited to go behind-the-scenes with Michael Port for the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast.
Michael’s recently released his latest book, Steal the Show, and he’s been teaching and talking about presentation and public speaking all over the country.
Public speaking is a huge part of my business and life. I love stepping on stage, sharing my ideas, and wowing an audience. It’s also one of my best sources for new clients. So this opportunity to pick Michael’s brain was especially enticing.
Here are 3 key insights I took away from our conversation:
1) People who really care get nervous.
I asked Michael about impostor complex and he replied that people who really care about their ideas, their audiences, and the quality of the work they do get nervous. If you don’t care, you’ll find a way to be completely confident. But, if you are invested in what you’re doing, you’ll always try to make it better and reach deeper.
Always trying to be better and connect more deeply makes you nervous. Don’t be afraid of it, embrace it and work through it.
2) Good performance is about authentic behavior in a manufactured environment.
You practice public speaking and polish your presentation so that you can be more of yourself in a strange situation. When you know your lines, gestures, and stage positions, you have more flexibility–not less.
Similarly, you don’t practice to become something you’re not. Your practice to prepare for the environment. You’re not becoming a character, you’re becoming more of yourself.
3) Our ideas are only as good as our audience’s ability to consume them.
I had to repeat this one when Michael said it. It’s what I work on with clients all the time.
If people can’t connect with what you’re sharing, if they can’t integrate the knowledge you’re offering with their own experience, you might as well not be sharing it in the first place!
To get the full story on these insights and so much more, listen to Michael Port’s episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit. Click here to listen on iTunes.
Please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes! Those simple actions help us reach more people with behind-the-scenes information for creative and idea-driven businesses.
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