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Mitch Joel is an author, blogger, podcaster, and passionate speaker. He connects with people worldwide by sharing his innovation insights on digital marketing and business transformation. In addition to being the president of Mirum, a digital marketing agency, he is also the host of the podcast, Grove.

In this episode we discussed:

  • The different reasons why people become public speakers. (6:36)
  • Ways to reduce anxiety for speakers. (21:08)
  • Why professional speaking is a performance, not a presentation. (25:07)
  • The importance of adapting your speech to different audiences. (27:14)
  • Should your book topics be the same as your speaking topics? (36:44)

Find out more about Mitch Joel and his upcoming projects.

Mitch’s books, “Six Pixels of Separation” and “Ctrl Alt Delete” are both business best sellers. His next book, “Algorithm,” will creatively examine the future of business by blending data and creativity.

00:00 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port. This is Michael, and I have a guest today named Mitch Joel. Now, he’s a friend and a very clever guy. And I’m gonna read you his long bio. Now, I want you to listen closely, because he’s an unusual person. So when Google wants to explain innovation and marketing to the top brands in the world, they bring Mitch to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. And Marketing Magazine dubbed him the “Rock star of digital marketing”, which is pretty cool. And they called him one of North America’s leading digital visionaries. Now he’s the president of Mirum, a global digital marketing agency, operating in 20 countries, with over 2,500 employees. So he’s not a little mom and pop speaker. He is somebody who runs a significant company, although he prefers the title ‘Media Hacker’. He has been named one of the top 100 online marketers in the world and was awarded the highly prestigious Canada’s Top 40 Under 40. Although, just between you and I, I think he’s over 40 now. We’ll find out.

01:16 Michael Port: He’s frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Strategy, The Globe and Mail, and many other media outlets. He’s a columnist for the Harvard Business Review, Ink Magazine, The Huffington Post, and other magazines and newspapers. Now, his first book, Six Pickles… That’s a really funny title, actually. Six Pickles. Six Pixels of Separation, published by Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Group, was named after his successful blog and podcast, and it’s a business and marketing best seller. Now, his second book, Ctrl Alt Delete, also published by Grand Central Publishing, was named one of the best business books of 2013 by Amazon. And his next book, Algorithm, will look at how the future of business will blend data and creativity. And he’s also the host of Groove, the no-treble podcast, where he is slowly trying to build the largest oral history of electric bass players in the world. And that’s the sentence I wanted to get to, because that’s pretty cool. So he’s a very well-rounded guy, and a really sweet guy. Welcome, Mitch.

02:26 Mitch Joel: Michael, thank you. As you were speaking, and you know how much I love your voice and how your voice sounds, I think I’m gonna… Once this podcast is live, I’m gonna clip that and just tell anybody who needs to intro me live, “Forget it. Just run this tape.” And Six Pickles, by the way, is gonna be the name of my first cooking book. That’s what I’m gonna go with when I… That’s gonna be my first cooking book. And Six Pickles of Separation, that’s what I’m gonna go with.

02:48 Michael Port: Maybe that’s what we’ll call this episode. Six Pickles.

02:51 Mitch Joel: Exactly.

02:52 Michael Port: Actually, it’s funny my voice… I just finished working out with my trainer. I’m on a new routine. I’m one of those people who looks fit but is completely unfit.

03:00 Mitch Joel: Right. I guess I don’t wanna hear it, but keep going on.

03:03 Michael Port: Anyhow, so now I’m trying to get fit, and he just beat the crap out of me, so my voice is a little tight. So, listen. You speak a lot, and you run a company. How do you do both of those things?

03:14 Mitch Joel: Well they’re both intrinsically connected. So I’ll do between 40 to 60 speaking events a year. I’ve got representation in Canada with Speaker Spotlight that I’m actually celebrating my 10th anniversary with, so 10 years with them. In the US, I was being represented by… In the US and abroad by Greater Talent Network, and I recently switched over to Leading Authorities. And I do a lot of direct too because of the nature of the agency business. I’ll have people like the people at Google, or Twitter, or Oracle, or Lego sorta call me, and those are the more direct gigs that I’ll wind up doing. It’s actually part of a greater in-bound marketing strategy that we developed at our agency, which used to be called Twist Image. We changed the name to Mirum about a year ago. Probably back in about 2003 and four. And the truth is, I just didn’t wanna get in my car and drive door to door and be like, “Hey, do you need a website? Do you need online marketing? Do you need to do any of these things?” I thought it would be better to do what I think I do best, which is blog. I love to write, create articles, create content audio stuff, so podcasts… And that really led to people saying, “Hey, you should talk publicly about this.” And I was not a public speaker.

04:20 Mitch Joel: I was the guy that would sit even in small meeting rooms, and they’d say, “Let’s go around the table and introduce each other.” And I could feel my anxiety building as it got closer to me. Then it’d get to me, and I’d do the whole “Mm. Um.” whisper, sort of shy guy. And I just sort of fell into this, and I fell into it because I was attending a lot of events where people were speaking and I sort of fell in love with that. And one of these event organizers said, “Hey, why don’t you come and talk about what you’ve been doing to build your personal brand? I think our audience would love that.” And that first gig was like 6,000 people. It was on the same bill as like Dr. Phil and a whole bunch of other people, and I stressed out about it and practised and worked for months, and months, and months with a whole bunch of different people to be somewhat efficient for that. And it just sort of all flourished from there. And so we look at it like, if you look at Mirum as a master brand, we see Mirum managing three brands. One of them is Mirum, the digital marketing agency. One of them is what we call Six Pixels of Separation, which would be the blog, podcast, book, writing, stuff like that. And the third one would be this Mitch Joel brand, which is the speaking and the social stuff.

05:24 Michael Port: And do you run day-to-day operations for the entire organization?

05:29 Mitch Joel: So the structure is very much what we call a village model here. We took about nine different agencies and brought them together a year ago, they’re all geographically different, and called them all Mirum. And so myself and my three business partners primarily lead the Montreal/Toronto offices, but we are all working together. So we work on global accounts, we work on North American accounts, we work on national accounts. Day to day I am. I’m sitting here in my office now, our team is out there, I see them all running around, but it’s not really the work that I do. My other partners and the other leadership, the global leadership really handle the day-to-day. My responsibilities are primarily what people see which is the blogging, the speaking, the running around, the writing the books. Internally I handle a lot of the, once I’m doing the rain making, what are those relationships like, the pitching components of it, I do a lot of the, “Okay we have this plan, we’re working with them.” Senior relationships, speaking to them about what’s coming, what’s new, areas we think are important. So I do a lot of day-to-day, in fact, that is my day-to-day mostly.

06:36 Michael Port: So speakers speak for different reasons. Some people just have a message they wanna share that they feel will move people forward in some way, and they have no desire whatsoever or need to be compensated for it. Other people speak and that’s their entire living. They get paid to speak, that’s what they do and they don’t have a business around it, on the back end of it in any way. And then there are other people like you who get paid to speak very well, but also in part you’re out there because you’re the figure head of this larger organization. So, do you ever speak for free because you know that it’s an environment you wanna be in, and you think it’s good for the business and the brand? Or you always out there speaking for a fee?

07:28 Mitch Joel: When you say, “Do you speak for a fee?” I’m reminded of somebody who you should have a guest on the show, his name is Mike Lipkin, really great public speaker. And his line he uses it on stage, he goes, “I would do this for free, but I’m gonna make you pay for it so you really appreciate it”.


07:43 Mitch Joel: And I love that line, I think that’s great.

07:44 Michael Port: So true.

07:45 Mitch Joel: And he says it in this beautiful, fantastic, South African accent that is just completely alluring. He’s a great guy. So the answer to the question is primarily those gigs are paid gigs. I look at it as, I have three lines of speaking. One is it’s paid, it’s a big client, they have revenue, there’s no reason not to pay for this type of work. One of them is what I call Network Work, which is we have partners in our agency, it could be brands like Sales Force or Adobe that we just sort of, partnerships we work with. And by the way, I do get paid from some of those organizations, but sometimes I will do events for them if I feel like it’s good for the partnership of the business. I think there’s an opportunity for us to grow our business, grow our partnership, grow relationships. And then there are definitely what I call Business Development Moments, where I’m looking to grow the agency and I think going in and giving their team a little lunch pep talk and showing them the world, is a great catalyst for pushing the conversation forward.

08:48 Mitch Joel: In the network thing I’ll also include in there, sometimes I’ll do an event either for expenses or for just a minimal fee, because there’s just a lot of people at the event that I wanna hang out with and it’s a good event, it’s relevant to my industry and I’d probably attend it if they weren’t paying me to speak, so I’ll sort of cut some slack there. But in general… And then also non-profit and charitable things I think all of us do just because we wanna help, whether it’s speaking to students and stuff like that. But in general, primarily it’s very rare that I’m not being paid to speak.

09:18 Michael Port: So then how do you see your role as a speaker?

09:24 Mitch Joel: You know, it’s funny. I had a lot of issues with anxiety and nerves and stage fright and getting up there and feeling comfortable and imposter syndrome and everything that all of us probably talk about a lot, especially in the early phases of our speaking careers. And I would often think to myself, “The way I’m gonna overcome the anxiety of this is to pretend like it’s not about me, it’s about the content, and I’m there as a conduit to help the people and the audience really make their lives better.” And it’s not in an inspirational motivational way, my content is very much driven by what are consumers doing in the marketplace? How can your business and brand better connect to them? What are great brands doing to do that? How do you do that better? And so, I think I almost used that as a crutch for many, many years to help tame the fright and the stress and the anxiety of doing what we do, because it is a very stressful and anxious thing. I think that it’s normal. But the joke is, one of my coaches used to say, “You’d be dead from the shoulders up if you didn’t get nervous speaking in front of a large audience.” I thought that that was a great line. And so…

10:32 Michael Port: I still get nervous myself, and when you said that… When you mentioned… Gave that example of getting nervous when the introductions are going around the table and you get more nervous as it gets closer to you, I still get nervous during those kind of things. But there’s something about that in particular that’s very anxiety provoking. It’s the, “Okay, it’s coming soon, it’s getting closer.”


10:50 Mitch Joel: I’ll tell you a great story about that. So this first event that I did, literally was 6,000 people, it’s seven speakers, a whole day leadership thing, a huge thing in a big arena. Dr Phil was the closer, I mean it was really filled, Loretta Laroche was there, it was a full on like one of those days. And I was going after Chuck Martin. A lot of people know Chuck ’cause he’s very involved in the digital space now internet and things, but he was working a couple of his books at the time. And I remember distinctly my first one, I’m panicking, I’m sweating, I am so nervous, and it’s like okay, finally it’s the speaker before me, and they had those digital clocks that are doing the countdown. And I remember so well, the clock was at 3:02, like 3 minutes and 2 seconds left. And I was looking at the clock, and then looking at the exit sign on the door. Looking at the clock looking… And thinking I could just run out and just hit that exit sign and just leave and just stop all this right now. So when you talk about going from a high level of stress to where I’m at now, I reflect on that moment a lot. But I do think that being anxious is a very human thing, I do believe in that analogy that you’d be dead from the shoulders up if you weren’t because people are there, there’s expectations, there’s an audience, they wanna be entertained, informed educated. It’s a responsibility.

12:01 Mitch Joel: I think as the years progress and you get more comfortable in your own skin and more importantly with your own content, that’s when the paradigm shift for me moved away from your original question, which was, “Am I there to just be the conduit for teaching?” And I think that I’ve elevated that now. Or I think, yes, that’s still an important part, but the other part is that there is a personality. I have a personality. You have a personality. And if I can show that personality, in my heart, and who I am, I think that they’re gonna do all of those other things about learning about being educated about, really being inspired by it in an easier way because they’ll be able to relate to me more as a human being. And that work is a lot of hard, hard work that a lot of, I think, a lot of people wanna speak or who do speak, don’t even know that they have to do.

12:49 Michael Port: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about it not being about you, so you’re less self-directed, and you’re not worrying about how you look, do these pants look good? It becomes less about getting approval and more about helping the people in the room, and you know your job is to deliver on a promise to them. And it takes the pressure off of you. And I think for many people that’s very, very good advice. It’s very helpful.

13:22 Mitch Joel: Well, the other part of that is the self, and this idea of what the self is. People know that when I meet someone who’s very, very high on themselves, my favorite line is, I’ll say something like, “Wow, nobody is more happier than the way this person turned out than themselves.”


13:37 Mitch Joel: And it’s like a sort of joke that I have with my friends where if a person’s like that, I’ll turn to my friends and I’ll say, “Nobody’s that happy.” And they sort of know where the sentence is going. And I tell you that story because, part of what I do too, there’s probably two events a year that I attend, where I go there to either up my game, build a network, grow personally. One of them is the TED conference that I’ve been going to since the last one in Monterey, which was probably like seven or eight years ago. And every year without fail, there’s one or two people who really bomb in the room. Those videos don’t get posted, you don’t really hear much about them, and this year there was a bomb. I mean this person just could not get it going, they stopped, they wanted to restart it. And it was a small one, it was like a two or three minute, almost like interim speech.

14:21 Michael Port: Oh, wow.

14:22 Mitch Joel: And I was sitting really close to where this person was coming out, and I was just sitting there watching them, I didn’t know what they were gonna do or who they were. And I could see that they were sort of looking at the audience and sort of like trying to pump themselves up, and then I watched them eagerly get up onto stage, and then, I mean a real sort of nightmarish train wreck. That sort of like worst case scenario for a speaker could happen, happens. Literally basically said, “I think I’m gonna come back next year and do a TED Talk on how badly I destroyed my career.” Like that bad. Literally that bad and he left. Yeah, nightmare scenario. And in my brain I said, “You know what’s interesting here? I didn’t know who the person was before they walked on-stage. And actually right at this moment, I still don’t even remember their name. I couldn’t even tell you what they looked like.”

15:05 Michael Port: Wow.

15:05 Mitch Joel: And there’s a message in that, which is sort of where you were going, Michael, which is that a lot of people think it’s like “All eyes on me, and everyone’s gonna remember this.” The only disaster that this was for or about was this person. I actually, literally don’t know their name or I couldn’t tell what they were gonna talk about. And that’s the ego thing too, where you have to recognise that if, God forbid, you and I got sick and couldn’t go to our next event, not even a year later nobody would say, “Whatever happened to Mitch that they replaced with that other person Michael?” Or whatever. Like they don’t know, people also don’t know. And we get so caught up in our own lives, we think everybody is watching, this is the most important thing to me. And it simply isn’t. It’s just a little moment in time. And the only thing separating all of us is a little bit of time in space and that’s it. It’s simple, and we’re here just for a blip.

15:49 Mitch Joel: So part of it was that, I don’t know if it’s more philosophical or more esoteric, but elevating your thinking out of like, “Wow, there’s a room full of 200 people here waiting for me.” To, “If God forbid, something happened to me and I couldn’t show up, and nobody would even care.” And there’s a happy place in between that that you wanna take on as a responsible professional, but I do think that part of the nerves can be relieved by understanding that it’s not just about you. [chuckle]

16:17 Michael Port: You know, it is philosophical, and I think it’s critical. It’s this… Our life is often filled with lots of contradictions. That’s sort of nature of humanity. And I think that you said that… What you were saying is really, you know, you’re not that important.


16:38 Michael Port: I mean, not you Mitch…

16:38 Mitch Joel: No, it’s true. I’m not. [chuckle]

16:41 Michael Port: We’re not that important. And on one hand, you can use that and it can be very powerful for you. So just don’t make it into such a big deal. Just go, do your job and get off stage. Or, you can let it destroy you, because you start thinking, “I don’t matter. I don’t have anything to say. Who’s gonna listen to me?” That’s the flip side of it. So you really touched on this idea that it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s taking it very seriously, doing everything in your power to deliver on your promises, but recognise that you’re not really that big a deal.

17:16 Mitch Joel: Yeah, we all have those general, what’s the biggest fear? I’m gonna throw up in the stage, I’m gonna make in my pants, I’m gonna pass out. All of the catastrophic visions of what it is. And we’ll even go through that having done this 60 times a year for 10 years straight, and you realize again at the end of it, life goes on. People have seen millions of speakers at any given day in this world. Right now just in North America. Do you know how many gigs are happening right now in Las Vegas, in New York, in Chicago, in San Francisco, in Montreal, in Toronto, Vancouver? And, you know, Michael and I aren’t speaking at them. [chuckle] We’re here doing this.


17:49 Michael Port: What? There’s something happening that we’re not at?

17:53 Mitch Joel: It’s not fair. And on top of that, we don’t even know who the people are who are speaking at these things. It’s a big world, and again we live in our own world and it’s important to be there, but you have to be able to elevate and I think when you can, it improves everything, it improves your ability to create content, to deliver the content, to truly inspire and it makes you better grounded. It just makes you better grounded as a person and people can feel it. There’s a lot of physical cues that I give when I speak that I watch other people not do, and I don’t think they realize how closed it makes them emotionally to an audience.

18:27 Michael Port: Well, tell us about that.

18:29 Mitch Joel: Well, simple one is, I have a friend who is just an astonishing speaker. I love the person. I think they’re absolutely amazing. And they’re so comfortable on stage that they would do things like they would lean on the lectern, or they’d put their hands in both of their pockets, or fold their arms. And they were doing in a really natural way that they would, if you were just speaking to them in a boardroom. But as I sat in the audience watching them and because they’re a close friend, and we’d like to rely on each other for upping each other’s games, I felt sitting in the audience like, it was almost like, not that they didn’t care, but there was a certain nonchalance to it that made me not wanna pay that much attention to them. And because their content was so good, I felt it was getting muted by these very strange, subliminal, body language motions.

19:15 Mitch Joel: And sort of the little correction on that, talked about that and the person actually came and said months later that their scores were definitely improving and that they themselves found themselves working the stage a little bit better. For me, it’s about my heart being very much directed at the audience. The basic one that I always try and do even if… I will tend to slip a hand in a pocket just for effect, but as long as my heart is pointing to the audience, then I can feel that my chest is out and my heart is pointed to them, I feel when heart’s connected to a heart, you will connect to people. So those sort of little nuances things I think are really important. And I think there’s vocal ones. I consider vocal a bit physical as well where I spent a lot of time interviewing rock stars in the early stage of my career mostly like this, through audio. And I’d have to transcribe these 25, 40 minute interviews after, they’re a big pain in the butt to do, and I’d go back and all I would hear is me going, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah, um, mm-hmm, tell me about mm-hmm, uh-huh”. And I was like this… I couldn’t, I couldn’t do the transcriptions. It was making me crazy.

20:18 Mitch Joel: It was so annoying. And what I did is I trained myself from these early days in the mid 80s for four or five years when I was doing this, for 10 years actually, to just be quiet when the other person is talking. And in doing so, it helped fix the whole um, uh-huh, nm-hmm, that stuff, and I do a little bit of it, it’s normal to do. But that also… We don’t realize how grading on an audience after 45 minutes or an hour the um, you know, like, like all these things that we think are normal in our day-to-day communications don’t play out well on a stage. So there just, to me there’s like those little nuances. They’re not master class level stuff that you probably deliver and teach and that I could probably learn from. But the heart to the heart and just listen to your own voice and trying to catch yourselves with this and the stammers, I think is critical.

21:08 Michael Port: You work hard, it’s clear. You prepare I think at length for high-stakes performances. You gave an example the first gig you got, 6,000 people and you worked and you studied so that you’d be capable and of course, best way to reduce anxiety is to actually feel like you know what you’re doing. It helps. If you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing or what you’re gonna do, or supposed to do, it increases anxiety. I wanna touch on your work ethic and your process, how you prepare content, rehearse, et cetera. But first, I wanna touch on something you said when you were referencing your friend. Often people get the advice to just be themselves. Just be yourself when you’re speaking. And I really understand it and I think that there’s a lot of value in there. And at the same time, there are lots of ourself, parts of ourself, that we really shouldn’t bring to the stage. There are habits that we have that we probably shouldn’t bring to the stage.

22:23 Michael Port: That’s why when we are working on developing ourselves as performers, we’re identifying the habits that we have that actually get in the way of our ability to communicate with an audience. That’s where the performance comes in. So your friend, he was being so “himself” that because he was in a manufactured environment that required a different level of connection and theatricality. And I don’t mean theatricality song and dance, jazz hands kind of thing, but the way that the audience observes a speaker and interacts with a speaker and is effected by a speaker, is slightly different than the way that one is effected by a person that they’re sitting at a table with in a small room that’s private.

23:16 Mitch Joel: Yeah and, so look it’s funny cause you’ve done so much work in the space, I feel like I wanna ask you the questions, and I’ll just lie down on the couch and you be the therapist. [chuckle] It’s a weird thing when you’re asking me the questions, and we’re going back and forth ’cause I have such a high level of respect for what you bring to this, this industry and what we’re trying to build here. When you say people are told to be themselves, I think, well, look what happens in our minds, we reflect back to when we’re told that. So I kept hearing that, be yourself. My first gig, which again was 10, and it was literally 10 years ago, 2006. And I worked with… Just to give you an understanding of what I did for that first gig. I get told I’m gonna do this event 6,000 people, Dr. Phil, all of these other, Loretta Laroche, all these other amazing NSA Speaker Association, gold level, best of the best.

24:04 Mitch Joel: And most people… Here’s what most executives would’ve done. They would’ve said,”Okay, great, I’m just gonna go speak, and the night before, I’m gonna put together my standard deck and maybe look it over and go, and then the first time I get up on stage will be the first time I ever do this, and also this way it’s a good buffer for me to be anxious and to be stressed out.” I could just procrastinate and think it’s no big deal and then you panic the night before. That’s not what I did. I worked with one presentation coach. I worked with one performance coach. I worked with a stand-up comedian, and then I actually went to the local toastmaster’s and did the presentation a couple times asking for feedback from the local group, and I probably did a couple of other things. So you’re right. I brought a very hardcore work ethic to it, because one, I didn’t wanna mess it up, and two, I couldn’t handle the alternative, which is what I see every day in corporate life. The first time we’re gonna do this presentation really is live in front of an audience. I think that’s just career suicide. It would be like going to see U2 and them not playing Sunday Bloody Sunday, but them saying “Hey, we’re just gonna try out a new song we’ve never really practised before for you here.”

25:07 Mitch Joel: As much as you like U2, it would probably not be the best thing you had ever heard. And so one of these people who I didn’t really work with said the whole “Be yourself” thing. And I went to the next coach, and I was really stressed, and I said, “People keep telling me ‘be yourself, but I don’t know what that is even at this point.” And the person said to me, “Yes, be yourself, but 20% amped up more.” [chuckle] And I thought it was a great line. And it really was a great first step to understand what I consider the stuff you’re teaching and talking about was almost like the black belt level stuff once you got your stuff. Because I had no infrastructure around anything, I didn’t know even what a stage looked like really, that idea of be yourself, but 20% amped up, it’s something that I’m bringing right now to the show. I’m probably 20% more amped up than I would be if you and I were just sitting and having a coffee, and it’s part of that beautiful word you used called performance. And that’s the thing that I think everybody who says they wanna be a professional speaker or people starting off doing it don’t get. It is a performance. It is not a presentation. It is not a keynote address. It is not a public speech. If you don’t have the performance component core to what you’re gonna be doing, ain’t nothing gonna happen on that stage.

26:21 Michael Port: Amen. And you’re playing a role. That’s what you’re doing. And we play roles all the time. We play different roles in different situations. That’s part of being a human. We are very adaptable creatures, most of us, and the more adaptable you are, the more environments you get invited to. If you’re not adaptable, if you’re very rigid in your behavior, then you don’t fit that well into lots of different environments, different situations with different people. And so it seems to me what you’re doing is, you’re identifying the parts of your personality that are most appropriate for the work you’re doing on stage, and you’re amplifying those parts of your personality, because there are some parts of our personalities that are just not helpful to an audience.

27:14 Mitch Joel: Well, I’d also say the content plays a similar role. So, people will say to me… I don’t know about you, but some of the best feedback I ever get, the personal, the stuff that makes me feel good, is when it’s something like, “I saw Mitch Joel speak twice in the past three months, and while the slides were same, the presentations were completely different and amazing.” And you would think as someone who helps train people like me and me hearing that, that’s not good. What does that mean? There’s not a consistency. And no, I think it’s exact sorta complement to what you’re saying, which is that you need to be able to take your content and adapt it for the room as well. And that’s a core performance thing that, again, I don’t see many speakers do. So when I’m doing a big stage, like 6,000 or 10,000 people, and I’m doing what I would call my more generic content, so I’m not sure, or there’s a varied of level, there’s a varied of industry, there’s a varied of B to B to B to C, it’s very different than when I’m in a small room of ten specific clients, in a specific vertical, at a specific company. I can use the same slides, but the generic content coming out of my mouth is gonna be different in the specific room, where I’m gonna use vernacular that’s more inclined to that industry, I’m gonna talk about examples perhaps orally, not against the slides, that might be more relevant to them.

28:27 Mitch Joel: I might change performance and the way I tell maybe a certain joke that works on an audience, I won’t do there in that room ’cause it’s not appropriate, or how I open or how I close. So while the slides are the same, the actual content that I perform does change based off of, is it B to B? Is it B to C? How big is the audience? What type of room is it? Is it gonna be… Am I on a stage, or am I standing at the same level? And all of those things I also think are a huge factor into what makes a great presentation, too. And I’ve seen people who you and I know and love who get paid probably more than both of us combined, who don’t understand that, and it’s literally they walk in with the folder and the content that they have, and that’s what you’re getting. You’re getting what they do everywhere. And I never wanted to be that. I never wanted to be that speaker in terms of what I wanted to do.

29:16 Michael Port: Do you think that’s one of the things that makes you unique? Do you think that’s one of the things that you do best?

29:22 Mitch Joel: I think it was, and that’s the strange part of this industry and how it evolves. I go back to when I first started, and again, you can frame the year, 2006. I looked around, and I’ll tell you the two people who just really made me realize, not only can I do this, but I’ve something different to say. One of them was Seth Godin in my industry, and the other one was Tom Peters. And I would see what they did in terms of the simplicity of their slides. I saw what they did in terms of working the audience. I saw what they did in terms of telling stories. I saw what they did in terms of humor and how to apply it in a natural way. And I thought, “Not only can I do this, but I want to advance it.” So how did I advance it? Well, I looked at their structure and I thought, “Okay, I’ve seen them a couple times and they sort of do the same thing over and over again.” I don’t wanna do that. So what I’m gonna do is, every time I see something that’s interesting, I make a slide for it. Whether it’s just a little piece of text or an image, and I literally have collected over the 10 years 25-30,000 slides.

30:16 Michael Port: What? What? What? What? What? What?

30:18 Mitch Joel: Yeah.

30:19 Michael Port: 30,000?

30:20 Mitch Joel: Yeah, but I’m not using…


30:22 Mitch Joel: It’s not like I sit back, I’ve got a 17-hour presentation for you, like it’s something that comes with like the Bible or something.

30:30 Michael Port: Nonetheless, still that’s a lot of content that you’ve amassed over time.

30:34 Mitch Joel: Well, it’s more a function of if I wanna grab something, I know that I have it and I have a tool kit where I can sort of just… I have thousands of pictures that I have never used. I just think, “That’s a beautiful picture. I would love to one day make a slide with this or do something with this.” So my whole theory was, “What if I could amp things up? What if I could actually put in more content, speak a little bit faster, create more energy in the room? What if I could dynamically as the story unfolds, so this story… ” I used to do the free hugs video. I haven’t done it in probably eight years, but I was known for that. I used to do this whole thing with Bethany Mota who’s a YouTube sensation. Because she actually became super famous, I don’t do it so much anymore, or at all anymore.

31:15 Mitch Joel: And I had these sort of bits of these pieces, these stories that I could build over time and that I could swap them in and out build almost like a Lego-type presentation. And over the past decade, it’s really served me well. One is it’s kept me sharp, it’s kept the content super fresh. It makes sure that if I’m ever invited back six months later, there’s probably three or four things in there you hadn’t seen. And also, I’m able to gauge by the places like Twitter and Facebook when people say things like, “Oh, I can’t wait to see Mitch. Can’t wait for him to do… ” I was one of the first guys who was telling the story about the singer in Journey who was replaced by this guy in the Philippines that they found on YouTube and it’s now a documentary and a famous story, but I was telling this long before then.

31:55 Mitch Joel: So people say, “Oh, I can’t wait to see or hear the Journey story.” I’m like, “Yeah, I haven’t done that in two years.” But I’m able to gauge which parts of those stories resonate. So to me it was that sort of adjusting, taking what these great people had done and changing it. So when you say that to me now, like, “How was the processed changed?” It’s changed a lot ’cause I feel like a lot of people have done what I’m doing. So it’s not a question of me now changing or upping the game, it’s just that the market, there’s more saturation of people doing it that way now.

32:24 Michael Port: When’s the last time that you created an entirely new presentation, or the majority of it was a new presentation? Do they mirror the release of your books?

32:41 Mitch Joel: Yeah, no, in fact my process, and I know that you’re always sort of traipsing back into time. My process is very much like a stand up comedian where, especially Louis CK, I try and change it every year. I wanna know that in a year, it’s 100% different than the last one you saw.

33:00 Michael Port: That’s great.

33:01 Mitch Joel: Process-wise, what I was doing is I would work the content until I felt I had a tight 60, and then it would be like, okay, between the blogging and the articles and the audio work I’m doing, the podcast, and I do a radio hit every Monday, and the speaking, “Oh, I see a book here and I’m gonna sort of run with this book.” With Algorithm, it’s the same thing. I think this new hour, and it’s been… So this new stuff is probably been about four months, it’s completely new. I don’t feel the book yet. I’ve got the name, I’ve got the idea, but I still feel like I’m out on the road working the material, if you know what I mean?

33:39 Mitch Joel: And to me, writing a book, my partners love this. I’ll walk into their office and go, “I’m writing my new book.” And they’re like, “Well, you know, we have a big agency here and is the timing right?” And I’m like, “Guys, the water broke, the baby’s comin’.” Now is not the time to say, “Should we have had sex?” The water broke, we’re nine months past that conversation, and that’s what books are for me personally. It literally is the water breaks and it’s just coming and I can’t stop it, and the proposal comes together and the structure and everything. And then I’ll sort of slow down as the deal happens, and then as we move into the actual writing of the book. But to me, the presentation content it changes over time, all the time, but brand-new, top to bottom, it’s probably a one-year cycle.

34:25 Michael Port: Interesting. A lot of folks who are newer to public speaking and they wanna build a reputation around it, they wanna be come a professional, often they think that they need to create the content first in book form, and then create a speech based on a book. One of the things that you’re demonstrating here and that I think many people don’t realize until they start doing the work, but for people who are speakers, sometimes working that material for a long time as a speaker is what then allows you to very smoothly and easily turn it into book content. It’s not always… It’s interesting.

35:14 Michael Port: You mentioned Seth before. I was listening to Seth in a podcast recently and he said that people often ask him what his writing process is. And he says, “I’ll never answer that question. Not because it’s a secret, I don’t want anyone to know my writing process because it’s some kind of a brilliant process, but my writing process is not gonna help you. You gotta figure out your own writing process.” And I think that it just helps us remember that there really isn’t one way to do any of this kind of work. One of the reasons that I bring my friends here who are very successful professional speakers is because I think the audience hears some similarities, and they hear a lot of differences. And I really encourage folks to work their way into the work that they do, inspired by people but not trying to copy.

36:07 Michael Port: So some say, “I’m gonna do it just like Mitch.” Well, Mitch’s process might be… For Mitch because Mitch is a little crazy.


36:16 Michael Port: Just like have his own way of doing things, ’cause that’s the way his brain works. It doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for everybody and the same thing with me. So, what we’re doing is we’re looking at the individual and we’re trying to figure out what works for that particular individual? So, I say all of that because I think that it’s interesting that you work it like a comedian, that you work it on the road, and then over time, it starts to come together very naturally.

36:44 Mitch Joel: Yeah. And I even pushed back a little and say that there is this sort of strange intrinsic connection between speaking and books. Like, you can’t be a successful speaker unless you have a lot of books, having a lot of books will make you a successful speaker. And I don’t… I would never dismiss that. I think there’s a value in it. I actually think there’s a diminishing value in it. I don’t think books play the same role that they used to in terms of a credible thought leader anymore, and I can speak for hours on being a New York Times best-seller and all that stuff for sure. I would actually push back and say that for me, the process of writing a book and the process of giving a presentation or doing a speaking event are two completely different creative and innovative outputs. And the problem that I have with a lot of speakers who are authors is that they don’t see the difference between the two. They actually look at their presentation as some sort of review of their book or some sort abstract of what the next book will be, and that the book is really where the meat is, and they’re just there to give you some sort of oral highlights. I hate that.

37:48 Mitch Joel: I actually say to people that if you come and see the presentation, it’s currently called Algorithm, or if you can come and see… Actually, forget Algorithm, ’cause there isn’t a book for… Come and see Control Alt Delete, and I would bet that if you read the book, you’d be like, “There’s nothing in that presentation that is anything to do… ” In fact, because a lot of what I’m thinking from the book changed and whatever it might be, but they are completely two different creative outputs. And when I’m building a presentation, I’m never thinking about, “How does this become a book?” And when I’m writing a book I never think about, “Is this gonna be as an anecdote for a presentation or story that I tell?” And I’ll tell you, because I got so annoyed when I see people do that a lot, I’ve even pushed back and pushed further from that, where speaking is its own closed world, and the book is as well. They may share the same title ’cause it’s just a fun title and something an audience can resonate with, but they are two complete separate entities for me.

38:38 Michael Port: I think that is really fascinating. I think that’s fantastic actually, and very cool too. I think it’s a demonstration of the unique way that you go about doing your work, and that you’re not breaking industry standards just to break industry standards, you’re trying to create something better in its place for you, and the way you think, and the people that you serve. And it was one of my questions that I have on my paper here is, “Do you think that being an author is critical for speakers?” Because most people trying to get into the industry see speakers as authors.

39:20 Mitch Joel: I actually think that they are diametrically opposed functions. Writing a book is the most introverted, singular, solo, soul crushing…

39:31 Michael Port: Soul crushing, yes…


39:32 Mitch Joel: Energizing… It depends. I love writing, I love being alone, I love reading, I love being alone for that. When I speak, there’s nothing worse than being alone. I want people to like me, I want people to connect, I wanna shake hands, I wanna talk about what I discussed, and what the person’s challenges are, and it’s a completely extroverted activity. And the fact that we try and link those two, again, it’s crazy, but I do think that there is something there because the people who can… It’s such a crazy thing to talk about. Writing a book is such a unique amazing skill set, and I think we take it for granted that anybody can write a little PDF and put it on Amazon, or publish a book, but I don’t look it that way. I very much respect the publishing process. I’m not the type of guy that uses ghost writers, I don’t really like that. I don’t like people who sort of speak of their book to somebody who then writes it for them, and then this person has a very successful book and says, “I don’t even read books or I don’t like to write books.” I don’t like that because I have so much respect for writing ’cause it’s… Really if you said to me, “Who are you?” Gun in my mouth, I have to call it. I’d say, “I’m a writer.”

40:38 Mitch Joel: The other side of it is the speaking side of it, which I don’t want to belittle the craft, the skill, and the amazing things I’ve seen from people like you and others when they take command of a stage, it is a 1% to be able to get up there and really hold an audience, and engage them. Especially, and people forget this, this is business. It’s not like you’re paying to have a couple drinks and sit in the comedy club, which is by the way the hardest thing in the world to do as a performer, stand-up comedy. But at least there’s some sort of liquid lubricant there happening that’s gonna lower some… You’re sitting in a room where people are mostly frustrated that they’re sitting in this air-conditioned carpeted room and outside there’s a glorious scenery with golf and swimming pools, and stuff like that. It’s a very tough gig to do, and I don’t wanna ever diminish that. I wanna work really hard in that room, I wanna make sure that if I’m in it, if someone’s giving me an hour of their time, that I’m giving them four hours back in value. And I really respect each art form for what it is in art form. And I feel this whole like, you gotta write, you gotta speak. I don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of people who can write really well, who are terrible speakers, I’ve seen amazing speakers who couldn’t write a book to save their lives.

41:49 Michael Port: Yeah. So, it’s again another demonstration of it doesn’t have to be one way.

41:55 Mitch Joel: No, it doesn’t.

41:56 Michael Port: We have our own path. Look, you have the kind of personality that carves their own path. And I wonder how that developed for you over the years. So when you were younger, when you’re a teenager, in your 20s, did you behave the same way? Or did you get more comfortable being more individual over time?

42:29 Mitch Joel: I was a train wreck. I was nerdy as a kid, I didn’t speak, I was afraid of everybody, including family members. I remember, I’d go to my aunt’s house, who’s like my second mother, and I would still be intimidated, like, “There’s an adult.” And I was just one of those kids. Now with that, what’s amazing is I’ve only reflected back on this very recently, I was like, “It’s crazy. I remember when I was really young, I used to do magic shows for kids. Where did that come from?”

43:00 Michael Port: Interesting.

43:00 Mitch Joel: And then, believe it or not, in the 80s, which I’m so glad we don’t record our lives the way that we do today, I used to do break-dancing with two other friends.


43:06 Mitch Joel: And we would do birthday parties. And I was like, “Where did that come from?” And trust me, I am not good at that at all, and then, there was…

43:14 Michael Port: Well, at Heroic Public Speaking this year…

43:17 Mitch Joel: We’re doing break-dancing? I saw you that you had the line dance… You had the Rockettes thing going.

43:21 Michael Port: I had to get Scott McKain just to do that. That was the only reason I had that going. And this year, it’ll be break-dancing, so you’re gonna start working on your moves, I’m gonna promote it, so then of course, once it’s promoted out there in the world, now you’re obligated to do it.

43:34 Mitch Joel: Let’s just promise we’ll stick with upper body rocking, then, can we do that? [laughter] I mean, the floor work, we might need to call the cardiologist.

43:41 Michael Port: Hamstrings not involved.

43:42 Mitch Joel: Exactly. Hamstrings and osteopaths not involved. And so there was that sort of reflection back of like, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” And by the way, if you wanna become a better speaker, I know that we talked a little bit about stand-up comedy, put that aside, go and study magicians. Go and study their books, go and study their videos, there are tons of… There’s a book called Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz, you cannot buy it in a book store, you can only order it from Magic Places. That is probably one of the best public speaking books there is, because it’s all about misdirection, engaging the audience, how to connect them so they see what you want them to see. And so it was fascinating to me to make that discovery and be like, “Wow! There’s so many strange connections.”

44:22 Mitch Joel: Then there’s a break in my life. And then, there is the rock and roll guy, where I went into the music industry, and I started interviewing every artist. My first real job was in 1988 or 87 interviewing Tommy Lee from Motley Crue. And I went on to interview all the major rock, pop, and metal, and punk artists of the 80s and 90s for a long period of time. And watching them, watching them go from interview to interview, backstage to the stage, from the stage to after show, and seeing: One, how big of a mess a lot of them are, which is a whole other story, but two, the real pros. And how they managed, and how they kept their game up, physically, mentally, emotionally, and not me saying, “I wanna be a rock star.” Never anything like that, but when I started speaking, I started seeing a lot more alignment going in reverse of looking at my life, and seeing how my life sort of happened, to what I think I’m trying to bring out on stage. And everything… Stage is only 45 minutes or an hour, there’s a whole day of stuff that’s happening pre and post that you have to get to.

45:29 Mitch Joel: You don’t wanna be too tired, you wanna be well rested, you don’t wanna… I’m the type of guy, I don’t know how you are, but… I can’t have coffee before I go on stage, ’cause I’m amping myself up naturally, coffee just pushes it over the edge for me. Now, again, that may be like a little, “So what, who cares?” But there’s a lifestyle that comes with trying to get yourself to be the best for that one hour, and then being valuable after and before, as well. So it’s not like I could look at a point in my life and go, “Oh, yeah, I was not a good public speaker, I did not do well even in a choir.” Yes, I played music, but when I went up on stage, I always needed my notes with me and I was very nervous playing in public, so I knew that that wasn’t for me. But there are little things that I can sort of latch on to now and go, “Oh, I can see a bit of how that needle got threaded over time.”

46:16 Michael Port: I love that you mentioned magic. We do talk about stand-up comedy a lot, especially for storytelling, ’cause they’re the best story tellers around. You listen to Louis CK tell a story, he’ll kill you.

46:28 Mitch Joel: Yeah. Master class.

46:30 Michael Port: It’s a master class. But for holding an audience’s attention, magicians are the best in the world. In fact, they have to redirect you so that you are not paying attention to the thing that they’re doing. That’s how good they are at getting you to pay attention to something. One of the… Of all of the accomplishments and accolades that I got for Steal the Show, the one that made me most proud was I got a glowing review in a Magic Magazine. And I figured if… And for Steal the Show this year, we had a whole slew of magicians as a result. We had a guy there who is a sword-swallower. And he came up, and he did his bit. And he killed.

47:21 Mitch Joel: I’ll tell you a great little magic story. My first TED… Actually this is a great… Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve ever told this story, and this is a great public speaking story. So, this event that I was doing across Canada, where they do this big, full-day events, thousands of people. I was doing one in Halifax, which, geographically, is east coast as far as you can go before you’re hitting ocean. And it was midwinter, or sort of in the middle, and I had to fly all the way to Monterey for my first TED then. And so I’m doing this event, and this was actually an event with Anthony Robbins, so packed Hawk Arena in Halifax, 8,000 people, and my flight schedule was something like Halifax-Toronto, Toronto-Chicago, Chicago- LA, LA-Monterey, and again, sort of tail end of winter. So four flights in one day. One thing goes awry, you’re done. You’re toast. You’re not gonna make it.

48:08 Mitch Joel: So sure enough, I get on my flight, get to Toronto, all good. I get on a flight Toronto to Chicago, all good. Chicago, snow, I’m stuck. I’m not getting to LA. I’ve gotta sleep in Chicago, go the next morning. Get to the TED Conference. And my first one, I’m super nervous. There’s always people, you sort of have it in your head what TED is, especially back then, the brand was really, really big. And I walk in up the stairs, and who’s standing right there? Tony Robbins, and he turns around. He’s like, “Mitch, yeah, what’s going on?” “Nothing.” “When did you get in?” I go, “I just got in now.” He goes, “Good, ’cause I came in last night after I spoke.” He goes, “Why didn’t you just come with me?”

48:40 Mitch Joel: So one was, I wanted to kill myself because he had his… He’s a pilot. He’s got his private plane. And he could have just hopped me on his plane over. It didn’t even occur to me that he was going. So that was my sort of one, well I guess there are things you can aim for in public speaking, ’cause here’s Tony Robbins who flies his own private jet wherever he wants to go. So that was one story. But then what happens at TED is you wait in this line. Everybody waits in line no matter who you are. You could be Bill Gates or little old me, and you wait in this line, and they usher you, and you watched this seven or eight, nine talks in a session. You take a break, you go back in. So during the break my whole thing was, “I wanna be as close to the front as possible because I wanna learn. I’m here. I’m excited.” And so I’m second, third in line.

49:18 Mitch Joel: I’m standing there, and I looked down. I see that this guy’s doing magic tricks. And I have to tell you because it’s such a high-end event, and in my brain I thought, “Well, this is like sort of like a wedding. They just got like a guy working the crowd with magic.” It’s sort of strange. Person starts coming up and he’s like, “Do you want me to do a magic trick?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” Like, “Sure.” And so he does this trick where it’s like, pick a card, and but the cards are face up. And so he holds the card face up. And he goes, “Is this your card?” And I go, “No, it’s not.” And he just… The card just instantly changes face up to my card. So I was blown away, ’cause I’d never seen close up, magic done that close. Punch line to the story is it was David Blaine. [chuckle]

49:53 Michael Port: Oh my.

49:54 Mitch Joel: Yeah. And so that led to a conversation, ’cause at that time I had already been speaking about my sort of relationship that I have with magic and presentation, and public speaking skills. And I actually wound up having a really interesting conversation with him about similar things. And what I learned was, magicians look to people like you to learn how to get better at working the public also. And there’s this very syncopathic relationship as you were saying, between magicians and public speaking. And again, I find a lot of public speakers don’t ever make that connection. It’s too bad because there’s a wealth of information there.

50:29 Michael Port: This year for the next Heroic Public Speaking Live, that is one of my goals, is to find a magician that can teach what a magician knows about holding an audience’s attention.

50:42 Mitch Joel: We’ll talk off-line. I got ideas. [laughter]

50:44 Michael Port: Good because obviously, it might be fun to learn a magic trick, but that’s not what my students need. And so, there’s a very specific type of person that would have the skill to teach that. And if you’ve got somebody, I need to know. So love the story, and I think it’s a perfect note to end on. What I would love is to point people to a place where they can learn more about you, of course, buy your books, but also maybe see some of your videos, maybe see some of your work.

51:13 Mitch Joel: Sure. So I mean easiest thing is, you can go to That will redirect you to Six Pixels of Separation ’cause we worked with Mirum, and this whole bunch of link stuff, text stuff going on there. But will redirect you to me, which is all my content is there. For video stuff, the easiest thing that I do is I just tell people to go on YouTube, and do a search for Mitch Joel. It is a unique name, thankfully no one else has it. So there’s not this sort of SEO fight that I’m in the middle of. And you’ll see a whole bunch of presentations. The best thing that I do, and I don’t know if you do this or know this trick, but when you do search for someone on YouTube, you can use the filter button, and do the search by the most latest, the upload date. And I do that a ton. And I find that you’re sort of seeing the latest stuff. If you do that, you should see a whole bunch of my stuff up there.

51:54 Michael Port: It’s fantastic. I like you a lot. I just think you’re a really neat guy.

51:58 Mitch Joel: Well, it’s a mutual admiration society, Michael Port.

52:01 Michael Port: Thank you. And I just find people like you who are so interested in the world, and dissect ideas, and how things work just fascinating. So I could listen to you talk all day long.

52:12 Mitch Joel: The only thing I love more than speaking is learning, studying, and thinking about it. Like the process… I actually like the sausage factory of it.

52:20 Michael Port: And that’s what makes you great.

52:21 Mitch Joel: I love it.

52:22 Michael Port: That’s what makes you great, because that is where the work is done. The work is not actually… Look, being in the moment, and performing is really what matters to an audience. They don’t care what happens before or after. The only thing they care about is what happens during the time that they see you. But it’s all… All made in the factory.

52:43 Mitch Joel: But I’ll tell you something, though. That’s my issue when I go to TED. That’s the problem I can’t often overcome, because I’m not just watching it for the content or the speaker. I’m seeing everything behind the scenes unfold live up on that stage. And in most cases actually, it ain’t that good. And that’s the other part of the two, but yeah… And that’s another show.

53:03 Michael Port: That’s a whole other show. Exactly, right. But thank you, my friend. I appreciate you, I appreciate what you do, and I’ll talk to you soon.

53:10 Mitch Joel: My pleasure. Thank you, Michael.

53:12 Michael Port: Okay. Everybody, keep thinking big about who you are, what you offer the world. I really love you very much. And not in a weird way, but I do love you because you’re somebody who stands in the service of others, as you stand in the service of your own destiny. So until next time. Bye for now.