January 04, 2012

(Video) Taking The Stage At FEAT Canada

Back in October Sean Verret asked me if I'd like to join the line up of featured speakers for the first ever Canadian version of a FEAT night (Fascinating Expedition and Adventure Talks). The premise both scared and excited me and I said yes when everything inside of me was screaming no. I only have a handful of previous public speaking experience, and though I know I can banter and joke without question behind a mic, my last presentation left me feeling embarrassed for myself. I say this because at the time (two years ago) I simply did not know what it took to produce an engaging talk. I showed up to that one woefully under prepared, as I had left far too much for the last minute.

Fast forward to November 2011 and having learned from previous mistakes, I finally realized how much time something like this would take in advance of the night to get it right. Add to that the fact that the FEAT nights are very specific and the 'rules of engagement' are that you get 21 slides, that auto-scroll every 20 seconds, for a grand total of seven minutes. Once you start talking your slides start rolling, and the timer starts counting down. There is very little room for error or improv and as such I am not exaggerating when I say I put well over 40-50hrs into this thing before I took the stage on November 15th.

I was exceptionally nervous, even though I was among a group of supportive friends and peers. When I walked out on stage I did exactly as I had practiced. I took a deep breath, smiled, and tried to let it all flow. I had memorized the talk inside out and my plan was to easily reference the first few cue cards before finding my rhythm. I guess I was shaking so much that it was noticeable to most of the audience and all I could figure after the fact is that my shaking hands would not allow me to clearly reference my cue cards. Less than a minute in and I blurted out something like

"WHAT, THEY'RE NOT IN ORDER?" (when in fact they were)

Which was immediately followed by a numbing of my entire body and complete silence, as my world seemed to be shrinking before me. There were numerous umms, and ahhhs as I was completely rattled. The slides were rolling along and I actually turned to the organizers and said,

"Can I get a redo?"

To which the response was,

"Just talk."

Now at this point I was angry. Not at the organizers but at myself. You don't get redos in life, period. I'm thankful they simply told me to talk and left me to fend for myself. I had put so much time and effort into this thing that I doubted many others had prepared so thoroughly. Yet I somehow still found myself standing in front of an audience of 400-500 ppl looking dumbfounded and like I'd taken a wrong turn on my way to the bathroom and somehow ended up on stage.

As I was internally cursing myself all I could focus on was that I knew the damn talk intimately. It was MY TALK, how could I NOT know it. I looked up, the clock ticking away, now multiple slides behind, and just started rambling off all I could remember. I cut out little bits here and there as I knew I had to catch back up to my slides. I spoke like I did when I first left Newfoundland, when no one else could decipher a word I was saying because I can speak so fast. I continued plugging away and at exactly three minutes I finally managed to align my talk back up with my slides. I remember a huge sense of relief as this happened and again I was grateful for all the back end work I had put into the thing. Knowing my presentation so well, was all that salvaged it. This allowed for me to remove small tidbits along the way, to speed up my voice, and to know exactly when I was back on track.

Now for some reason FEAT edited out my 45second debacle, with a cut at 1m25s in. As funny as this is to say I kinda wish it were still in there as it would help explain why I was behind my auto-scrolling slides and speaking rather hurriedly to catch back up. It would also put on full display just how scared I was by the whole evening and how happy I was with myself, after the fact, for pulling it out of the ashes. I was seconds away from simply going down as the one presenter who couldn't handle the pressure. Thankfully I simply went down as the one guy who nearly botched it but somehow managed to pull his head out of his ass just in time to salvage the damn thing.

Have a watch, and feel free to let me know your thoughts. I would like to present again somewhere, sometime, and am wide open for constructive feedback.

And be sure to check out the next edition of FEAT here in North Vancouver on Feb 12th



ken michal said...

Loved it Gary!! I'll take honesty and enthusiasm over a great presenter any day (and you weren't as bad as you think!)!

My advice for next time: Don't try to sync up with the slides so hard next time. Go ahead and let them tell their own story. This will give you one less thing to focus on/worry about! Also, try to shorten your notes as much as possible. You went through a ton of cards. Once again, simple is better. Rehearse in front of a stand up mirror until you feel you don't need the cards. Keep them as a safety net. Rehearsal time will make you more confident. When you do rehearse, do it as you would onstage. Speak out loud and clear. Lastly, if you have the jitters when you walk out on stage, keep your gaze to just over the audience members heads. They will still feel engaged and probably won't even realize that you're not making eye contact. As you warm up, then you can take in the audience.

See you in almost a week!!!!!

All Day!

Anonymous said...

Way to go Gary. I really enjoyed your presentation and was kicking myself that I missed it live..Your message dominated your nerves and made you shine. Well done!


Justin Mock said...

Great stuff, looks like you had an inspiring presentation.

seanverret said...

You did great Gary. I was very impressed.