115 Amy Port on Writing and Performing a Killer Keynote (Part 1 of 2)

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“If you’re having to decide whether you should do A or B with your time—you should just wake up earlier.” – Amy Port

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We’ve all been to the convention, where we spend our days sitting in lectures back-to-back, listening to speakers read from their slides. It’s undeniably forgettable, yet we find most abiding by this template when they’re on stage.

So the question becomes: how do you abandon this formula to make a memorable speech.  

On today’s episode of Steal the Show, Co-Founder & President of Heroic Public Speaking, Amy Port joins the show to deconstruct the keynote we delivered at the National Speakers Association Influence 2018 conference. By exposing the process, we reveal the approach necessary to build a killer keynote speech from the ground up. Or in this case, from the diner table up.  

Listen to this episode to learn how to apply these principles to your next speaking gig, no matter how big or small.

“Every choice we make—right down to what we wear—tells the audience how we want to be seen.” – Amy Port

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Steal The Points

  • People lash out in when they feel that their status is questioned.
  • Every artistic process has somebody at the helm.
  • Write scenes that use contrast and high-stakes to fill the room with energy.
  • Stay inside the lane of your strengths when collaborating.
  • Find creative challenges to demonstrate to yourself what you’re capable of.

00:00 Amy Port: If there are pieces that you keep getting caught on in the learning of it, it may be that the subconscious flow of thought is not well structured in the language.

00:19 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal The Show, with Michael Port. This is Michael. Today I have a very special guest and I think we’ve only done one episode together?

00:29 Amy Port: I think that’s right.

00:30 Michael Port: That’s my wife, and my co-founding partner of Heroic Public Speaking Worldwide. And we’re here today, to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the keynote that we recently did for NSA.

So, NSA is the National Speakers Association, not to be confused with the National Security Agency, and it is the organisation that is designed to support professional speakers around the country and around the world. And so, they very graciously asked us to come and deliver a keynote.

And so, that was just this past weekend in Dallas, and we would be doing this podcast whether or not it was a hit, even if it bombed, we would do the same podcast and we would break it down, we’d give you the whole spiel on how the process unfolded and the fact that it bombed, and why we thought it bombed.

Fortunately it didn’t! It seemed to be a really big hit. So that makes it more fun to do a post mortem on, because you’re not too depressed about the fact that it bombed, you feel pretty good about it.

So that’s what we’re here to do today, and we’re going to have a conversation and we’re not going to hold anything back, we’ll give you the good, the bad and the ugly. Although, from my vantage point here, there’s nothing ugly sitting across from me at this table.

I have the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the kindest, strongest wife in the world, so I feel very grateful for that.

02:05 Amy Port: I feel like we should put a disclaimer on this episode, like, “Warning, there may be flirting.”

02:10 Michael Port: Ah, yes! So, I don’t know, yet, if this will be suitable for work or not suitable for work. It’s likely it will be quite suitable for work, because, we work together every day.

02:21 Amy Port: It’s suitable for our work!

02:22 Michael Port: Yes, exactly, and quite professionally, I might add, we work. But we do like to tease each other a little bit. I was going to say, fool around, but I don’t want them to misconstrue what I meant by fool around.

02:33 Amy Port: Yes. Well done.

02:43 Michael Port: Thank you, very much. So, how the opportunity happened, like, how did we get this opportunity, is the first thing we wanted to address. We have a whole list of bullets here that we’re going to go through.

So, how it happened: Jill and Corey, who are two professional speakers who were organising the event this year – it’s about 2,500 people, I think?

02:55 Amy Port: I believe so.

02:56 Michael Port: We knew them through the business, through a community that we’re a part of, but we weren’t close. We had never met each other in person, and we certainly weren’t friends with them, but we were acquaintances, I would say, and the first time we met them was at an event that we hosted.

Not a paid event, an event that we hosted for a networking group, or a community of professional speakers that a friend of ours started and runs, and we had said, “Listen, we’ll host a meet-up for the group,” and I think the first time we did it it was about sixty people, maybe a hundred people the second time we did it.

And it was only for members of the group, nobody paid, and we hosted it, and that was the first time we met them. And at that event, we did an hour of Master Class, where we put some speakers, professional speakers on the stage, in front of all their colleagues and we did some coaching and the next week, they called us up and said, “Hey! We’re organising NSA Influence this year, would you guys do a keynote?” And we said, “Okay.”

4:10 Amy Port: Interestingly, it was right around that time, too, that they saw our TED Ex Cambridge. So that, to my understanding, was another one of the pieces, because when they came to us originally, they said, “Would you do that?”

04:24 Michael Port: Correct, that’s right.

04:25 Amy Port: “We want you to do that.”

04:26 Michael Port: Ah! So, this proves that you were in the conversation! You were there! Yes!

04:30 Amy Port: We had this debate the other day.

04:32 Michael Port: Yes, we did! I knew it!

04:33 Amy Port: We had a debate the other day, because I went to Michael and I said, “So, Michael, we were asked to do TED Ex Cambridge, and you said yes. And then we were asked to do the NSA keynote, and you said yes. And next year, if there’s another big opportunity to take a main stage, I want you to ask me first.”

And he said, “You were there! You were there!”

04:51 Michael Port: You were in the conversation with me. And now I can prove it.

04:54 Amy Port: I actually don’t remember the conversation, but I remember that being a piece of it, that what they originally asked us to do – I don’t remember being asked – but what they asked us to do was that piece.

And so we looked at that piece, that TEDx Cambridge that we did, and went, “Okay, is that appropriate for this audience?” Because that’s one of the things you always want to look at, is the material, is the content, relative to your audience? Because, if it is not, then it could be the most beautifully sculpted piece in the world and not matter to the people that you’re up in front of, so therefore not very effective.

So, that was something that we looked at, and, as a result, we created an entirely new piece, from scratch, for the NSA keynote.

05:43 Michael Port: That we will likely do only once, for an audience that isn’t made up of our students. We are considering reprising the performance for Heroic Public Speaking Live, which is October 1, 2 and 3, this year, 2018, and we’re thinking about doing it for everyone there, because we like to do some kind of performance.

But the thing that makes it special is that we have, I suppose, officially retired from traditional keynoting. Not because we’re that old, and not because we don’t have to work any more. We are working harder than we’ve ever worked, because we care so deeply about this work and we want to build something that literally can change the lives of millions of people around the world.

And so, we’re fully dedicated to doing the work and we believe that if we’re going to ask our students to take risks, then we need to demonstrate that we’re willing to take even bigger risks and put ourselves on the line.

And it’s meaningful to them, it’s important to them. So, that’s why we did TEDx Cambridge last year. It was about 2,500 people in that audience, same thing here at the NSA, there were about 2,500 people in that audience. And it gave us an opportunity, neither of them are paid gigs, mind you.

You know there’s all this, “Do you ever do free things when you’re a big shot?” Of course you do, because there’s different reasons that you say yes. I mean, not everybody does, but we do, and there’s lots of different reasons that we would do something without being compensated for actually being on the stage.

07:22 Amy Port: And reasons beyond other business purposes.

07:24 Michael Port: Correct.

07:24 Amy Port: Reasons beyond marketing. There are a lot of potential reasons and benefits, personally, as well as professionally.

07:32 Michael Port: I mean, for us, it gives us an opportunity to work together in that capacity, because even though we are on stage a lot together when we’re teaching, performing together in scenes the way we did when we were actors, is not something we got to do when we were actors together, because we didn’t know each other then, and it’s not something we do professionally any more, but it gives us an opportunity to do that with each other, which has great meaning for us.

07:56 Amy Port: That’s right.

07:57 Michael Port: It also pushes us and challenges us, because we don’t do what we know we can do, we do what we think we can do. And that’s often provoking, it’s challenging. So, there was a lot about this particular process that was provoking, and we’re going to get into that because I think you’ll appreciate hearing it and you may even be surprised by some of the things that were difficult, or provocative.

So, when TEDx Cambridge asked us – and now you may know our organisation, our coaches, are all the TEDx speakers – we did it last year, and then this year they asked us if we would take over the coaching process, and our response was, “We would love to, we are so grateful for the invitation.” The one caveat, I would say, is that we need to be able to do whatever we want to do, period. That’s the only way we’ll do it.

And, fortunately we had a wonderful producer and executive director at TEDx Cambridge who said yes, and then, the same thing here with NSA. We said, “Listen, we’re not going to do the same thing we did for TEDx, but we understand that you like the style of it, the performance aspect of it, et cetera.” They said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”

“So, we’re going to do something different, but we have to do anything we want.” And they said, “Yes, yes, yes, whatever you want.”

09:12 Amy Port: So, I want to speak to that for a moment, because there is a reason worth mentioning why, in both of these circumstances we said, “Here’s the deal: we have to be able to do whatever we want.”

And it’s not about ego, it’s not about control, it is because we’ve been doing this work long enough that we know what will serve the audience best. We know what pieces need to be in place, and that’s part of our long history and background as performers and as people who have guided other performers.

And so, that’s where that piece comes from.

9:52 Michael Port: Yeah, so it’s not just a little bit about control, it is about control, I think. I would say, we want to make sure that we have control over the process, not because we want to control other people and always think we know better, nothing to do with that.

But what we don’t want is, we don’t want to be in a process where we’re constrained and required to do things the way everybody else does them, just because that’s the way they think it should be done, or the way it’s [been] done in the past.

And part of our work is about breaking the rules to create something that has never been done before. Not just to break the rules, we have no desire to be disrupters or to be provocative, but the work that we find interesting , sometimes happens to be provocative. And what we’ve been finding, over the years, is that it is very disruptive in the speaking industry.

We have no intention of being disruptive and, in fact, we don’t think there is any one way to do this work. The only reason it’s a little bit disruptive is because people are now seeing a way of working that they didn’t know existed before, and they’re seeing opportunities for themselves that they didn’t know existed before.

And as a result, it’s disrupting, I think, the way that some people have been thinking about speaking, as a profession, or just speaking in general, and I think that’s exciting! Certainly we would never get in an argument with somebody about the right way to do it, because sometimes when you are slightly disruptive, then people push back.

They’re like, “Wow! That’s blah, blah, blah,” because, people like to maintain the status quo or at least, if one’s way or working or one’s way of being seems threatened, we sometimes lash out and try to put down the other one. But we would never engage in that kind of conversation, because we don’t care. It’s not important to us that way anybody else does anything and we’ll support the way other people do their work, as long as they’re not misleading anyone or making promises that they can’t fulfil.

So that was a little bit of a soap box, but I just wanted to clarify, that, yeah, I think that we want the control to make sure that we can do it the way we believe will work for that audience.

12:02 Amy Port: Is to fair to say it wasn’t about controlling for the sake of power or having the control, but control because we are invested in the result?

12:11 Michael Port: Correct. Correct.

12:13 Amy Port: And understand the process.

12:14 Michael Port: Yeah, look, every great artistic process has somebody who is at the helm. Even in ensembles that are collaborative troupes, people will take turns playing either lead roles or they’ll move through different directors, so it’s important to have a strong leadership when you have an artistic vision.

And we include their collaboration, and if we find that their collaboration is adding value, then we’ll absolutely utilise it and incorporate it, but if we don’t, then we are not in a position where we are in any kind of conflicts or hangups, it just takes that away.

And fortunately nobody’s ever said to us, “No, you can’t have that control,” because, fortunately, generally, when people are hiring us, they trust us to come in and deliver what’s needed. That’s why they’re hiring us, because that’s what we do.

And so, for you as a  professional speaker, when someone’s hiring you who is not a professional speaker, please, stick to your guns. If you’ve really worked on something and you know it’s going to work the way you’ve been working on it, and someone else wants you to do something different, because they saw some speaker do it four years ago, differently, you stick to your guns.

You say, “I’m a professional, and this is what I do, and I’ve rehearsed it this way, and I’ve performed it this way because of X and this is how it works and affects the audience,” et cetera. You know, you talk through it, but nonetheless, know that you’ve got the goods. You agree?

13:48 Amy Port: I do agree.

13:49 Michael Port: So, back to the free thing, we didn’t get paid for NSA, we didn’t get paid for TEDx Cambridge, but that’s another reason that we can go in and say, “Listen, we’re just going to do whatever we want.” It’s part of the trade-off. It is, it’s part of the trade-off.

We work with, obviously, very big companies. We work with Guardian, and Disney, and QVC, and Best Buy, et cetera, and when we work with Best Buy, or not just Best Buy, but any of these companies, we’ll sometimes have to say to them, “Listen, we’re going to create the agenda. We’re going to make sure it fits with all of the situational issues that you may have around personnel,” et cetera.

“But we know that starting with this is what works,” and they usually say, “Oh, well then you should do that.” And every once in a while, somebody will say, “We think you should do this.” And we say, “Yeah, we could, but it’s not going to deliver the kind of work that we know we can deliver, and from an ethical perspective, we won’t come in and do work that is not our best work.”

So we will not actually come in if we have to do it that way, because we know it’s not as good as it can be and we are not comfortable delivering something that is not as good as it can be. But the fact that these were free, gives us an opportunity to play.

15:03 Amy Port: And play we did!

15:04 Michael Port: And play we did. So, then, of course, we had a problem, once we said yes. We had to come up with an idea, because we had no idea what we were going to do when we were on the phone with them and we were very clear with them.

We said, “I don’t know what it’s going to be, but it’s not going to be TEDx. But we’ll figure it out.” And they were, like, “Great! Thanks, cool!” And then we got off the phone and we looked at each other and we kind of shrugged our shoulders and we said, “Alright, let’s start thinking about it.”

And that was, when?

15:37 Amy Port: Well, knowing that we were actively working on it for five and a half months prior, it was…

15:44 Michael Port: Well, I would say, let’s see, no, it was, when was the last time we did Live?

15:49 Amy Port: End of last September.

15:51 Michael Port: So they probably called in October.

15:54 Amy Port: So, TEDx was two weeks after that, TEDx was in October.

15:57 Michael Port: Okay, so they called then, in November, December. So I think, in all, we started working on it earnestly in January. So, January, February, March, April, May, June. It’s about seven months. And then we performed it in July. So probably end of January.

And sometimes, what’s helpful for me, when I start working on a script, is to collaborate with someone at the beginning to brainstorm ideas. And both Amy and I are very busy, obviously, and we try to distribute the workload according to our different strengths and interests, and just workload at that time.

And so, I took on the role of, I guess, lead writer. And what I did is, I brought in one of our writers, Christina Pater, and I said, “Listen, I want to brainstorm a concept with you. I’ve got this crazy idea, and you’re a film writer,” – she’s trained as a scriptwriter – “And I’m calling you because I want to take movie scenes, and I want to rewrite them so that they are about the issues that we want to bring to this particular audience, rather than what the actual movie was about. But I want to use these movie scenes, because they’re such famous scenes, and it gives Amy and I the opportunity to play different characters and leverage our ability to perform.”

17:22 Amy Port: And, they’re still recognisable to the audience, so it isn’t, while, the issues and the conversations may have some different content, they will still recognise – knowing what we knew about this audience – thought they would still recognise the scenes. And they did.

17:39 Michael Port: They absolutely did. But, you know, there’s a lot of movies, with a lot of movie scenes. So, where do you even start with this? Well, I had to start to think about, “What are the key points? What’s the big idea? What’s the promise? How’s the way they would look to the audience? What are the rewards of adopting the big idea, and achieving the promise? And what are the consequences of not adopting the idea and achieving the reward?”

So, we did all of the work that we ask you to do in that capacity, and we started to think about what movie scenes might work well with this. So we had this crazy idea. I don’t remember if this was my idea or KP’s idea, but to use all Tom Cruise movies. Just because Tom Cruise is such a character.

18:24 Amy Port: He’s extreme!

18:25 Michael Port: He’s really extreme! And we wanted to find scenes that were extreme, which, the way I would translate that into the language of HPS, or Heroic Public Speaking, is contrast. So it would provide a lot of contrast.

When you see the video from this, from the event, you’ll see the amount of contrast is pretty extraordinary, for the length of time.

18:50 Amy Port: And the stakes are high in these scenes!

18:52 Michael Port: Yes, correct.

18:53 Amy Port: Another thing that using these scenes gave us, by looking at Tom Cruise films, was the ability to have scenes that could be played big enough that they would work on a stage.

19:04 Michael Port: As big as the stage was at NSA, because, you know, 2,500 people in one of those massive hotel conference centres on a stage that is almost 200ft wide and only 16ft deep, is a very cavernous environment. And on both sides of the stage, there are movie theatre sized screens, and they’re projecting our images onto those screens, while we’re playing it on the stage.

And we’re just little dots in there, so they have to be big enough to create a larger than life experience for the audience, with very, very high stakes, to be able to fill that room.

19:39 Amy Port: That’s right.

19:40 Michael Port: So, we started looking at the Tom Cruise movies, and we selected two scenes from Tom Cruise movies. We selected a Jerry McGuire scene, between Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jnr, and we selected a scene from A Few Good Men, with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson’s character. And Amy plays Tom Cruise in both of these scenes.

She does it brilliantly! And I play Cuba Gooding Jnr’s character, and I play the Jack Nicholson character. But we weren’t finding the scenes in other movies of his that we really wanted.

20:14 Amy Port: It’s not a classic Mission Impossible scene.

20:19 Michael Port: Exactly, it needs a classic scene.

20:20 Amy Port: Unless we have a motorcycle that we can ride through, but still – dialogue.

20:22 Michael Port: Correct! And in the creative process, often, you don’t remember how the ideas come to you, but we came up with the idea of using a Harry Met Sally scene, the diner scene. And that’s a little provocative, because the diner scene is a scene where she fakes an orgasm. And neither Amy or I were really comfortable about Amy faking an orgasm on stage.

In large part, now, first of all, because we’re not actors any more, so our professional identities are something that we consider seriously. I think you should, too. And we didn’t want Amy’s reputation, in the whole professional speaking community, to be based on this incredible faked orgasm on stage.It just was not what our work is about, ultimately, and it wasn’t necessarily that effective.

So, what we were able to do, is re-conceive that scene. So, instead of faking an orgasm, she fakes a standing ovation, because, instead of the scene being about whether or not all women have faked an orgasm, and whether or not men can tell, it becomes about whether or not audiences fake standing ovations, meaning they sort of do it because someone else stood, or because it’s obligatory, or, “Yeah!” but they’re not standing like they’ll be standing at Hamilton.

And so, you feel like you’re killing it every time, because they’re giving you a standing ovation, but we’re putting too much emphasis on this, A, desire for a standing ovation, and, B, what it actually means. It doesn’t mean that that speech is going to stay with them forever. I doesn’t mean  that it changed their lives and got them to think differently or feel differently or act differently.

So, we were playing around with that idea, and let me tell you something, this scene killed! We also know that a lot of people are inappropriate, that’s just the fact of the matter. And men, especially. I don’t understand most men, frankly, guys like, seriously, get it together, because even after NSA, there were people who would come up to us or to Amy, and fake the standing O, but in a way that was more sexualised, and you go, “Really?” You know, like, “Really? You’re a sixty-year-old man and that’s what you’re doing?”

So, we didn’t want that to be what was typical, and fortunately it wasn’t the majority of people, it was just a few individuals.

22:46 Amy Port: It was not. And, even one of those individuals came up the next day and said, “I’m sorry. I owe you an apology.”

22:52 Michael Port: Yeah, I thought that was really very gracious. I thought that was classy of him. So, all of these things are just different things that one needs to consider as they’re making their choices. Because the sum of a performer is the choices they make. A performer is the sum of their choices.

So, what we’re doing on stage, or what we’re doing when we’re creating content, is making choices. I’m choosing to put this in, I’m choosing not to put this in. I’m choosing to make this, play this action, I’m choosing not to play this action.

23:25 Amy Port: And every choice we make, right down to what we wear, tells the audience how we want to be seen.

23:32 Michael Port: Correct.

23:33 Amy Port: And it’s all of the conscious choices that went into the cultivation of this piece. The choices we made on stage affect how people see us, but once you are a performer in that way, then it’s everything you do in a venue, everything you do at a conference. It’s all demonstrating, to the people around you, how you want to be seen.

23:54 Michael Port: Correct, and we had some additional considerations, because we were playing these characters in movie scenes as spoofs.

24:04 Amy Port: As spoofs, like a Saturday Night Live spoof.

24:06 Michael Port: Exactly, and so, we feel that we want to be a little less, how should I say this, available, than we would if we were still actors. Meaning, if I was still an actor, and I had to do a nude scene in a film, it wouldn’t bother me.

And if I thought it really was important for the scene, it wouldn’t really bother me, I’d have a hard time with it.  I don’t think you would do it, because it’s not something you are comfortable with, but for me it wouldn’t really be that big of a deal. But I wouldn’t do that now, even if I was doing a keynote, because I don’t think that that’s appropriate, even if, artistically, there’s some really incredible moment that’s made, or point made, I wouldn’t do it.

So, in this particular case, I did have my shirt off, in the very opening, because we did the shower scene, Cuba Gooding Jnr, and he’s actually naked in the shower, so we built set pieces. And one of the set pieces that we built was a shower stall, that looks like a real white, tiled shower stall, but it’s made with wood, and then it’s got these tiles on it that make it look like it’s fully tiled. It’s pretty incredible.

And I’m standing behind it at the very opening when the lights come up, and you can see me from the waist up.

25:24 Amy Port: It’s a half wall.

25:25 Michael Port: It’s a half wall, so it looks like I’m naked, but, of course, you can’t see below my waist, and even that’s risky, or risqué, I should say.

25:34 Amy Port: Provocative! It’s provocative.

25:35 Michael Port: It’s provocative. And that’s what we wanted to open with, because we thought, certainly we’ll get people to pay attention, right away.

25:42 Amy Port: And it signals to the audience, “This is going to be something unlike anything you have ever done as a keynote before. And that was part of our intention. To push the envelope on what is considered a standard keynote.

Because, if we invoke our creativity, there is so much we can do, as performers, as speakers, as people who take the stage. And rather than have everything fit into the same mould, the same box, part of our mission at Heroic Public Speaking, is to help individuals become more self expressed. More fully themselves and willing to let themselves be seen for who they are, and to do that skilfully, of course, so that we are as compelling as we can possibly be in our performances.

So, one of the things that we said was, “This isn’t something we’re asking you to do, this style of performance isn’t something that we would suggest that you do, but we are doing it, because there is more that is perhaps possible for us, given our roles in the industry and given that it’s important that we do what we teach, which is, pushing the envelope.

26:56 Michael Port: That’s right, yes. Let’s hop back to the writing process for a second. I mentioned that I conceived of this idea, brought in KP to help me flesh out the first draft, and once the first draft was fleshed out, then I take it and I continue to work it and then bring it to Amy, and then Amy gives feedback, then I work it, then Amy gives feedback, then I work it, then Amy gives feedback.

Then I send it over to Christina for feedback, then I work it, then I send a draft to Ron Tite, and he gave me a couple of really great lines, because he’s much funnier than I am, and I sent it over to Scott Stratten, and he said, “Take out the line about Ron, no one knows who he is,” just FYI, Ron, that’s what Scott said.

Scott and Ron make it into a lot of my podcasts, because Scott is such a good friend and he’s such high status in the industry that I can always poke fun at him, because he can poke fun at me, too. And then, Ron is just, in addition to Scott, one of our favourite people in the world, and is a genius.

So, okay, back to that. So, it’s a long process. In fact, the writing process took longer than the rehearsal process, because, in part, what we were writing, we’d never written before, so it was unusual, so if you write something that’s similar to what you’ve written before, you can usually do it more quickly.

But if it’s new, it often takes longer. Because you don’t have as much information at hand. Like, when I’m writing lines or scenes or conversations I have no perspective on whether it works, because I’ve never done it like that, to know that it works. Whereas, if I’m writing a script that was sort of like my Think Pink Revolution speech, I would know, “Yeah, that worked that way, so I can do that same thing that way,” you just can do it more quickly.

And then we worked through the rehearsal process, just like we teach you to work through the rehearsal process. Now, we can do some of the pieces in a little bit more abbreviated fashion. Or, not abbreviated but maybe more condensed, or faster, like, we can do our content mapping very fast.

That’s something, because we’ve done it for so long it’s very instinctual for us. And would I say we memorise faster than others? I don’t think so. Amy does. Amy can memorise a little faster than I can, but that’s just something that occurs throughout the rehearsal process.

It’s not, like, “Stop, now it’s the memorisation stage,” the memorising of lines happens throughout the rehearsal process. I saw you wanting to say something.

29:30 Amy Port: Well, yes. There are a couple of things. One is that in the writing process, sometimes people ask us about the collaboration, and how the two of us teach together and present together, or work together.

And one of the things that we’ve found that works very well, is knowing what each of our strengths are, and being willing to stay in our lane. Michael is excellent at the initial content creation. He’s written seven books! That’s a skill set that I do not necessarily have.

My strength is more in the editing process, and we find, even when we’re working with clients, often it’s me who’s going, “Well, let’s look at the soundness of ideas and the logical flow. Does that argument play from A, to B and to C?” And that very much was reflected in how this process happened.

30:14 Michael Port: That’s right. So, if I produce the idea, then Amy can look at it and she can help me see whether or not it’s really a sound idea. Whether the big idea is supported by that material, if the through line is clear. And sometimes it’s a little annoying, because it makes me go back and write again.

30:33 Amy Port: It is annoying! I’m like, “Michael, help me with this part. I don’t get how this leads to that part.” He’s like, “Just say the line.”

30:40 Michael Port: “Just say the line! Come on!” But that’s the thing that is exciting about having a collaborative partner, and is also challenging, because you really do challenge each other. And neither of us tell each other something’s okay when it’s not okay.

I wouldn’t want a partner in life, who says, “Yeah, this really doesn’t work, but I’m not going to say anything, because I don’t want to make Michael feel bad, or push him,” or anything like that. I’d want to be pushed, right?

The other morning, what did I say? When you said, “I have to decide between doing this or doing this. I only have a certain amount of time. What should I do? Maybe you need to do…” And what did I say?

31:20 Amy Port: You said, “The way I’d like to respond to that is, if you’re having to decide with your time whether you should do A or B, you should just get up earlier.”

31:27 Michael Port: And then she said, “Well, I already got up at five.” Then I said, “Well, you should have got up at four. I don’t know what to tell you.”

So, we have a fun, playful relationship, like that, but we challenge each other, and I know that, when we’re 95 years old and we look back on our life, we’ll be able to look at the things that we’ve done, and we’ll know that we wouldn’t have done them without the other person challenging us to fulfil our potential.

Because, we know how capable each other are, and if you love someone and you know how capable they are, you want to see them fulfil those capabilities, because it’s beautiful and exciting and enriching, and we can just build really cool stuff together that way.

So, yeah, so there was a section in there, in the third scene, where there was a little bit of an issue, because it’s hard to take a movie scene and rewrite it to make sense to fit your argument, because it wasn’t originally written for that.

So, that can be challenging. And it was easier with the Harry Met Sally scene, than it was with the third scene, the A Few Good Men scene. And, by the way, we’ll link to the video of this in the show notes, when we have the video.

So, there was an issue with the argument, and I felt it was okay, because I was just, like, “It’s not going to matter, because it’s a spoof, so this little thing is a little off, or a little confusing.” And she did not like that.

32:49 Amy Port: No, and interestingly enough, it was where I kept getting stuck in the memorisation. Because the argument didn’t actually flow, and there was a line that had, in my perception, some contradiction, I kept saying to him, “So, explain it to me. Help me see, explain it to me, because I’m not getting the flow of the argument. It doesn’t make logical sense to me, and it seems like I’m contradicting myself.”

And we had a couple of conversations about it.

33:16 Michael Port: Oh, yeah, but eventually we got there.

33:17 Amy Port: But that was an interesting piece, that I really struggled with that line. And it speaks to a piece about memorisation, I think, which is that, sometimes, if there are pieces that you keep getting caught on in the learning of it, it may be that the subconscious flow of thought is not well structured in the language.

So let me unpack that a little bit more. When we’re talking, having a conversation, or when you are explaining something to another human being, the words that come out of your mouth spontaneously, follow the flow that makes sense for your own mind.

And, therefore, it makes it easier if you are documenting that, making it a transcription, and then repeating it, that’s easier. However, sometimes it’s challenging, so I encourage you, if you find that there are places that you’re struggling with memorisation, to look at, “Do I really understand what I’m saying? Am I really saying what I mean to be saying? And is the soundness of ideas there in a logical flow?”

34:24 Michael Port: Because sometimes, when we write content, we know what we’re trying to say, so we write the words, but if the words don’t actually mean what we think they mean, we might not realise that because we’re thinking clearly about the idea, but what’s coming out of our mouth is not actually crystal clear.

We don’t realise it, because we know what the idea is, so it’s clear to us in our heads, and so that’s why it’s very, very important, at a later stage in the rehearsal process, to have other audience members to come in, to see it, to tell you what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense.

35:02 Amy Port: And we have that built into the processes and protocols that we teach, here at HPS, so that very early on, we’re actually saying, speaking our ideas, our content, out loud and asking another human being to repeat back what it is they heard. It often brings about epiphanies for people.

35:21 Michael Port: Indeed. I want to just highlight the fact that this was a very high risk speech for us, not just because of what we did in it, but because we teach public speaking, and we’ve developed, We’ve built, we’ve earned a reputation as being, I think, masters of the craft of performance, and really, really creative teachers who create tremendous transformation within people, within minutes.

And so, we have the privilege, the blessing to have thousands of quotes from people, unsolicited, saying things like, “Michael and Amy are the best speaking coaches in the world. Probably fifty people have said that exact same quote, without [our] ever asking them to say something like that.

And so, when you build up a certain reputation, often people sort of wonder whether or not that’s really possible. “Could they be really that good? Is it just hype?”

There was a woman named Erin who is in this community that we’re in, and she came up to us after we did that foundation event, we also did some fundraising for NSA when we were there. A special event to raise money for members of the community who might be struggling at some point or victims of a hurricane who are part of the organisation.

So, she comes up to us afterwards and goes, “Listen, I have to say, I’ve got to be perfectly honest. I’ve been hearing the hype for years and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m sure they’re good, but could they really be that good? I mean, come on! Really. I’m sure it’s just hype.’ And now I’ve seen it, hashtag, it’s real!”

That’s what he said. I think she’s a social media person. So, that felt, of course, very validating, it feels good. The reason I mention it, though, is because when expectations are that high, you have to meet or exceed those expectations, and if you deliver something ‘good’, it might not be ‘good enough’.

So, often the stakes go up.

Did we have to do this? No. If we didn’t do this, is this thing going to make our year? No. Did we get paid for it? No. There’s all sorts of reasons we could have said no. In fact, one of the simplest ones was just simply we didn’t have the time. We’re running an organisation that is growing rapidly, we have clients all over the world, we’re very fortunate and we’re very busy, and we love it.

But let’s just think about that. Five-plus months. How many hours do you think it was, Amy? A couple of hundred? Three hundred maybe? Four hundred?

37:56 Amy Port: Maybe, maybe, I mean, we were writing or we were rehearsing at least four days a week, I mean, not eight or ten hour days of rehearsal.

38:06 Michael Port: Of course. Like, I’d sneak two hours at four, five o’clock in the morning, or in the afternoon on the boat, when everybody rests, I’ll go and write. So, I’d say, maybe three hundred hours in total, if you add it all up.

38:22 Amy Port: There’s no question that it took a substantial amount of brain space and creativity space.

38:27 Michael Port: Yes, correct and anxiety space. And I want to get into that too, because I think that’s important for us to address. The reason that I mention that we didn’t have to do it, is because we didn’t have to do it. My point is, we chose to do it. And more damage could have been done if we bombed it, than gains we will receive from nailing it.

Let me make that clear, the damage that it could have done to our business, if we bombed is actually greater than the gains if we nailed it. Why? Because once something really negative gets out there, in such an influential community, it’s hard to shake it.

And you’ve got to work really, really hard to come back from that, and then all of a sudden everybody goes, “Oh, I thought they were the big deal. I guess really not.” And there are certain communities that jump on opportunities to tear people down. I’m not saying this community would, but the risk is there.

We think there’ll be a lot of personal and professional gains, long term, from having done it, but we had to do it for ourselves, first and foremost, and for our students, first and foremost. Not for the gain that we’ll get.

When I say, ‘for ourselves’, meaning personally to challenge ourselves creatively and keep demonstrating to ourselves what we’re capable of. So, that had to be a first consideration, and the second was, because of our students.

* * *

40:05 Michael Port: Thank you for listening to Steal The Show with Michael Port. I’m your host, Michael Port.

This podcast was produced by Laura Bernstein, our director of communications, with sound production and marketing by Kast Media. Music is mixed by Shammy Dee, and we recorded today’s episode at Heroic Public Speaking HQ, the most impressive public speaking facility in Lambertville, New Jersey and, perhaps, the world.

Special thanks to our guest, and to you, for listening and learning how to be a performer in your spotlight moments.

Make sure to reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook, @heroicpublicspeaking, and leave us a review on iTunes if you like the show. And rate it. If you like the show.

Oh, and make sure to visit heroicpublicspeaking.com/live to come to the event, October 1, 2, and 3, in Philly. Enter the promo code, stealtheshow, all lower case, all one word, and you will get 10% off your ticket price.

I love you very much, and not in a weird way, but I love you for being the big thinker that you are, and standing in the service of others as you stand in the service of your destiny. Bye for now.

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