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Want to know the secrets to getting booked to speak? Listen in as Grant Baldwin and I unite our two podcasts in one to show you how to be a successful speaker.

Grant Baldwin is a motivational speaker. He has given thousands of presentations in conferences, assemblies, conventions and other events all over the country.

Grant will be one of the panel experts on a pre-conference day at the upcoming Heroic Public Speaking Live.

In this episode, we discussed:

  • What Grant finds rewarding about public speaking. (4:26)
  • How Michael transitioned from acting to speaking. (6:13)
  • How confidence plays a key role in the success of your speaking career. (8:00)
  • Why it’s critical for the show to go on when unscripted situations happen during your speech. (9:22)
  • How finding the balance between preparation and improvisation plays a vital role to your success on stage as a speaker. (9:35)
  • Why you want to pay attention to not only the speaking side but also the business side of building your legacy. (11:41)
  • How Grant transitioned to public speaking. (14:43)
  • How to build relationships with decision makers in your target speaking industry. (16:38)
  • How Grant used Google to search for potential clients. (24:18)
  • 3 reasons why knowing your niche is important. (31:04)
  • Why you should not be afraid to use the same speaking material for certain clients. (39:21)
  • Why Michael views speaking as a performance. (41:43)
  • What you need to look out for in your event space, so that your speech is not effected. (56:00)
  • Why rehearsal time is vital before a speaking performance. (57:21)
  • How Michael dealt with a heckler in his audience. (1:03:14)

Find out more about Grant Baldwin and his Speaker Lab Podcast.

0:00:00 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port, this is Michael and…

0:00:05 Grant Baldwin: This is not just Steal the Show, my friend. We’re doing a dual episode today. This is Grant Baldwin, host of the Speaker Lab podcast and I guess we’re gonna hang out together, does that sound good?

0:00:14 Michael Port: Yeah. We were gonna do two hours, you interview me for an hour, then I interview you for an hour, and we thought “That’s just too much work for us, so let’s do it together.

0:00:22 Grant Baldwin: Makes us sound lazy.

0:00:23 Michael Port: We are entirely lazy. Well, the length of time you have to do something is the length of time it takes to do something, so let’s take an hour instead of two.

0:00:31 Grant Baldwin: I like it.

0:00:32 Michael Port: And then we’ll release it at the same time and both our audiences will get great value from it. And the reason that I originally wanted Grant to be on Steal the Show is because Grant is doing a pre-conference day at Heroic Public Speaking Live, which is in February, and this is the first time we’ve offered pre-conference day, but so many of our students are keenly interested in how to get paid and booked to speak.

0:01:01 Michael Port: And, of course, this is something that Grant is an expert in and that he teaches. We address it, certainly, in the conference and we bring in some of the biggest speakers in the business and we put them on panels and they answer questions about the speaking business, but I wanted a protocol that people could use, and I chose Grant because Grant is not a really famous guy with a big best-selling book, yet he’s still getting paid to speak all over the world.

0:01:30 Michael Port: And I thought, well, that makes him very, very relevant to the kind of people, many of the people that will be in attendance at Heroic Public Speaking Live because sometimes, Grant, they look at me or they look at some of the other folks who’ve written so many books and are on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and all these lists and they go, “But I’m not like them, so how am I gonna get big money to speak?”

0:01:49 Grant Baldwin: Right.

0:01:49 Michael Port: And you say, “I think that there’s a way to do it.”

0:01:54 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. I think there’s definitely that misconception there that, “Well, if I’ve got a New York Times best-selling book, well of course I can get booked to speak.” And so, yeah, like you kind of alluded to there. I think that’s why this works well for you and I working together with Heroic Public Speaking and this pre-con day that we’re doing is that you don’t need some massive platform and you don’t need to have some massive blog and you don’t need to have some big name or a bald, shiny head, although those things are helpful. But, in that pre-con day, we’re gonna be talking all about how you can get started, how you can get booked, how you can get paid to speak.

0:02:25 Grant Baldwin: Even if you’re brand new, you’re just getting going, if you can speak intelligently and you’ve done this maybe a few times, maybe some free bats before and you’re ready to figure out how to up your game, then this is definitely for you. We’re gonna have a lot of fun. And I think this is why this works really well is… I know when you and I first started talking that you focus a lot more on the performance side of speaking, on the delivering an amazing presentation, an amazing talk, and the reality is that an amazing talk is one of the best, if not the best, marketing tool that you have. And so, if you’re able to focus more on the art and the presentation side of it and I can talk a little bit on the business side of it, it sounds like just a beautiful match.

0:03:05 Michael Port: It sure does. Now, let me ask you something very, very important to start. I think really the most critical question I could possibly ask you. You have listed on your site that you are always down for Friends trivia.

0:03:21 Grant Baldwin: Oh boy, here we go. It’s been a little bit since the show has been on, but as far as I know, you never made a cameo, did you?

0:03:32 Michael Port: I was never on Friends, no. But I do have a question for you. In the episode, “The One with the Embryos,” what does Rachel say Chandler does for a living?

0:03:48 Grant Baldwin: Chandler does for a living… He’s a… Is that the one where they play the game?

0:03:53 Michael Port: I’m not giving you any hints.

0:03:55 Grant Baldwin: He’s a… If it’s the one where they played the game, she said he was like a transponster, something along those lines.

0:04:05 Michael Port: Yes, a transponster! That’s exactly right. You nailed it. I don’t know how you did it.

0:04:11 Grant Baldwin: That was pretty good.

0:04:12 Michael Port: That actually was really good. [chuckle]

0:04:15 Grant Baldwin: You’re impressed with that.

0:04:15 Michael Port: Kind of freaky, actually. Alright, so listen, Grant, how do you see your role as a professional speaker? What do you find rewarding about the role? What do you find most frustrating?

0:04:26 Grant Baldwin: Albeit, as you well know, one of the most rewarding things about being a speaker it’s just that 30, 45, 60 minutes where you’re on stage, you’re in front of an audience, and you know that you have them, that they’re with you that you’re the proverbial eating out of the palm of your hand and you’re taking them on a journey, really. And so, you’re able to make them laugh, you’re able to make them cry, you’re able to make them think, and you’re able to, hopefully, the ultimate point of being a speaker, I think, is to cause people to take action, to do something different with their life or with their business, or create some type of change in some way.

0:04:58 Grant Baldwin: And so, just to know that you are in that moment, there is nothing at all that compares to that. And so I think that’s the reason why. I think, so many of us get into this and are interested in this is we want that moment, the opportunity to make some type of difference, to make some type of impact. And maybe for us, it maybe was a speaker that we saw years and years ago that we were like, “Ah, that’s it. That’s the thing that I want to do.” And so it’s just… I don’t know.

0:05:25 Grant Baldwin: It’s just such a rewarding, rewarding thing to just to know that you’re watching people and they’re getting it and they’re nodding their head and they’re with you and then, hopefully, ultimately they’re making some type of… You’re making some type of difference, you’re making some type of impact with your words there. So, I’m curious for you. We’ve been talking a little bit about me on the business side of it, but I’m curious how you really got into this. And so I had you on our past podcast, “How Did You Get Into That?” And so we can link up to that in the show notes there for people that really want the full story, but speaking was one of those things. But prior to this, you were an actor, not just doing a random commercial here or there, you were on some legit shows. So, how did you kind of make that transition from acting into Speaking?

0:06:13 Michael Port: Yeah. So, it wasn’t a direct transition. I left acting and I went into the fitness industry on the business side. And I worked there for about five years and then I went back into entertainment on the production side for about a year. And I realized I do much better running my own organization. I don’t have to fly under the radar and ask for permission. I just do what I wanna do. So, I started my own consultancy, but I focused first on helping people in the fitness industry, who were independent contractors, get booked solid. That’s where I started. I didn’t really intend to be a speaker. In fact, at the time, I had no idea that there was a speaking industry.

0:06:57 Michael Port: I really had never been to conferences like that. In the entertainment… In acting, your company doesn’t send you to events, and you don’t have your big annual conference. So, I wasn’t really familiar with that. And then, as I started to market the business, I realized, well you can speak free at a lot of different places, and can pick up business from it. And that’s what I did at the beginning. I really had no intention of becoming a professional speaker. But the first time I saw somebody speak on a big stage, I sat back and I went, “Oh, I could do that. I think I can do that right now.” But I don’t even think I would need to think twice about it. I could go up there and I could do that.

0:07:42 Grant Baldwin: Let me jump in. Let me interrupt you. What gave you that confidence? ‘Cause I think there’s a lot of people who are in that spot, who saw someone speak and thought, “Oh, that should be me up there. I could totally do that.” So, where does that come? How do you you feel? What makes you feel like that could be you?

0:08:00 Michael Port: A couple of things. Number one, certainly, I had extensive training as a performer. So, the stage was the most natural, most comfortable place for me. In fact, I’m more interesting, I think, on stage, than at a dinner party. So, I’m funnier on stage, when there’s a large audience. My timing is better. I’m often more insightful. I’m able to make a case or make an argument often even better when I’m on stage. And in part because I’ve done a lot of rehearsal, so that I make sure I know how to articulate the point, make the argument, so to speak. But, I also think that it just looked really fun. And sometimes when something looks really fun, it’s because you have a natural affinity for it. Now, of course, what I… Hold on. We’re getting a little feed back here. Hold on a sec. I don’t know why. Do you hear that?

0:09:01 Grant Baldwin: No. I don’t hear anything.

0:09:03 Michael Port: I don’t know what’s up with that. Hold on one sec. Alright. I’m just gonna continue with the Skype recording and drop the other recording. Okay, so back to where we were. I always like to keep these kind of raw. If there’s a little hiccup in the audio, I just… We clean it up a little bit but we leave it in. We don’t try to…

0:09:22 Grant Baldwin: Here’s why that’s relevant. It’s the same thing that’s true with speaking. We’ve both had situations and instances where you’re on stage and a fire alarm goes off.

0:09:31 Michael Port: Oh yeah.

0:09:32 Grant Baldwin: The power starts to flicker. Those things happen. That’s part of it, and the show must go on. So yeah we don’t…

0:09:35 Michael Port: Always. So, preparation plus improvisation is what creates really authentic spontaneity, that’s compelling for an audience. And that’s a big theme of Steal the Show, which is my most recent book, is how to be incredibly authentic, to seem like what you’re doing has never happened before. It’s the absolute first time that this moment exists. And it’s driven through improvisation and preparation. Improvisation without preparation is just winging it. And winging it is very dangerous when you want to be a really high-level professional in this industry. And, of course, absolute rigidity and adherence to what you prepared, without improvisation, when necessary, again, creates a stifled, constrained performance. So, it’s finding the balance between those two things. Then, having enough confidence, being comfortable on stage, so that you can roll with whatever is happening.

0:10:44 Michael Port: But just back to answer your question originally, about sort of getting into it is, once I saw that there was an opportunity to make money as a speaker, I definitely leaned into it. But I didn’t go after it with a really, really strong intention. And I say that because, when I started, I was very keen on building a business. I was concerned about having a practice. To me, a practice was something that required me to show up all the time. And a business was something that could have legs, long term, without me there. Now, of course, this is sometimes tricky when you’re in a business that is personality driven, and is driven by intellectual property that you create. People wanna hear that from you very often. So, it’s finding the balance between those two things.

0:11:41 Michael Port: So, I was just careful not to focus only on being a speaker, but to build a business around my intellectual property, so that I can speak when I wanted to speak, and when the gig was right. But I also had other streams of revenue that would support me, even if I wasn’t out on the road all the time. So, I focused on both of those things. And then, it’s true, when I started writing books and when they became hits, I started getting more and more calls, and I didn’t have to pursue it in the way that I might have had to if those books hadn’t come out.

0:12:15 Grant Baldwin: So, I’m curious, so you kind of touched on it there, where you were, even as a… When you were just getting started as a speaker, you were kind of thinking a couple of steps down the road of… Part of the challenge with speaking is that it is very personality driven, that it is one person on one stage, in front of one audience, in one place, at one time, and so you are already thinking about how do you scale or leverage that beyond just you, which I don’t think a lot of speakers think about. I think it’s… We often times just view it as, “How do I get the next gig? How do I get the next booking? Rather than thinking about, how am I building a business?” So, what were some things that you did, even early on, to build both your speaking business, but also build something that was leverage able and scalable beyond just you as an individual, single person?

0:13:01 Michael Port: Sure. I really did focus on building a platform to sell products and services, rather than just building relationships with the meeting planners and the event coordinators. So, early on, I put together group programs online, and we’re talking 2003. So, there was no social media at that time. We were using conference lines, which were new. And so, I was kind of at the forefront of these online group training programs in our industry, and they were very, very effective and very popular at the beginning. Now, they’re ubiquitous. They’re all over the place, and people don’t make much of their innovativeness, but at the time they were quite innovative, and people were really compelled by them, and people in the event planning industry hadn’t really woken up to them yet. So, we were ahead of the curve, and so that’s what I focused on significantly at that time, and we still do a lot of that. And, of course, as people know, we produce our own events as well as going and speaking at other people’s events around the country.

0:14:14 Michael Port: But what about you? I mean, you came from a little different perspective. You didn’t start out writing books. You started out as a youth pastor, and then you made a transition into public speaking for the youth market. And tell me if I’m correct, but I think you’ve spoken to over 400,000 people, 45 different states. You’ve got a curriculum that’s taught in 400 schools around the country. So, how did you get your start? How did you make the transition?

0:14:43 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. Almost a similar type of thing where, whenever you… Whenever I first got started, I saw a couple of guys that were speaking at some conferences or events, and it just… It’s just one of the things that, like you said, it just seemed fun, like you just kind of had that internal sense of, like I’m… When you’re just getting started, maybe there’s just that level of over-confidence that go on, like I… “Ah, that could totally be me.” But there’s also the…

0:15:05 Michael Port: Yeah. It’s over-confidence from not knowing.

0:15:07 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. Totally. But it’s also, I think…

0:15:08 Michael Port: I mean, that’s… It’s a good thing. Yeah.

0:15:09 Grant Baldwin: The perspective of like, okay, with some work, I could be at that level.

0:15:13 Michael Port: Sure.

0:15:14 Grant Baldwin: And that doesn’t happen overnight, and so… But just knowing that I think I could do that. And so, yeah, you’re correct that I was a youth pastor for a little while, so I was doing a little bit of speaking there. I would speak at some youth services here and there, and I would also speak at “big church” from time to time, on the weekends. And so, I had a… I did some speaking that just felt like this… Every time I did it, this is so much fun. How do I do more of this? And so, yeah, so I met a couple of guys who were speaking more at different types of school assemblies, and conferences, and colleges. And so I just started kind of picking their brain, learning from them, figuring out what was working for them, how they got going. And really, that’s kind of what I paid attention to, was people that were speaking in a similar industry.

0:15:55 Grant Baldwin: And I think that’s… I’ve always believed that that’s a great, great way to get started as a speaker, or in any type of industry or profession, is find someone who’s doing what you want to do, and doing it in a way that you want to do it. ‘Cause, Michael, you and I, we both know speakers who speak 100, 150 dates a year, and it’s just… It’s a lot. And so, for me, I was newly married, I had my first daughter on the way. I’m just going like, “I don’t wanna speak constantly.” Like I still wanna have… It’s still way more important to me to be a husband, to be a father. And so, finding a couple of people who were doing the speaking thing, whatever that meant, doing it in a way that made sense where they were able to also balance being a husband, father, those types of things.

0:16:38 Grant Baldwin: So, that first year, I started just reaching out to potential conferences and events. And I got a website, got a demo video together, which we’ll talk more about, I’m sure. And just got some of those like basic marketing tools in place, sort of reaching out and making connections, building relationships with decision makers and event planners. And slowly but surely, we built the business that way. And so, honestly, what we did was nothing glamorous, there was nothing sexy to it. The… It just [0:17:09] ____. We never… Like you said, we never had the book, we never had some big name, we didn’t have… I never appeared in some movie or anything that gave me any… Made it any easier to get a foot in the door. It was really… It was just a lot of building relationships and building connections with those decision makers. And slowly, over time, we were able to get one booking, and we were able to leverage that into a different booking and able to use that for another booking. And so, it took us about 18 months, a year and a half, to go from literally zero bookings on the calendar, to being able to do this full time. And so, I’ve been doing it full time now for about eight years. Like you mentioned, we’ve spoken at over 450 paid events, spoke to, yeah, close to half a million people at this point now.

0:17:54 Michael Port: So, well, let’s… Let me… Let’s go into two things. One, you often… You’ve been using the word “we,” do you have a team that’s helping you? Did you have somebody or multiple people help you when you started or was it just you picking up the phone, trying to make stuff happen?

0:18:11 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. Good question. So, today, I’ve got a small team of people that I work with. I have always believed that… I guess, let me back up. Whenever I got started, it was always… It was just me. And so, I was the one that was… I never picked up the phone per se, I was always reaching out, sending emails to people. It was a lot of just gorilla marketing, which again, there’s no… It’s not complicated, it’s not overly difficult, but it’s just a matter of actually doing it. I spend a lot of time on Google, just trying to find existing events that happen to take place with audiences that would be a good fit for me. So, a lot of it in the beginning was just me, and honestly, in terms of the speaker marketing side of the business, a lot of that has continued to be me. ‘Cause I think that a lot of… Especially new speakers who are always looking for that magic bullet of I’m looking for an agent or I’m looking for a bureau or I’m looking for someone who will just book me, and I just… I believe like, “Yes, those things exist, but they don’t exist for brand new speakers who’ve never spoken before.”

0:19:13 Grant Baldwin: And so, if you can’t book yourself, why would someone else be interested in booking you? So, a lot of that, a lot of the sales stuff, the marketing stuff, I did early on, and would still continue to do today, because at the end of the day, as a speaker, you are the product, you are the brand, you are the thing that an event planner is buying. So, as I’ve added people to my team, a lot of what they’re doing is more of the behind-the-scene stuff of helping me with logistics and travel and invoicing and contracts and all of those type of just pieces that I don’t necessarily have to have my hand in. But in terms of the relationship with the client, that’s one of the things that I’ve always been really, really intentional about building.

0:19:54 Grant Baldwin: So, in terms of using that pronoun of “we,” I’ve always just referred to it as we because I try to remind my team that even though I may be the one that’s on stage, and I may be the one that they are specifically hiring, I make it clear to them that I can’t do what I do without them. And so, I try to remind every time I get an email from someone or a message from someone who’s saying, “Hey, I heard you speak and it made this kind of impact in my life.” I always wanna share that with the team to say, “Listen, even though I may be the one that was on stage with the microphone and the light shining in my eyes, it was you that helped get me there or you that helped facilitate that. And so letting them know that we’re all a part of this thing.

0:20:34 Michael Port: Great. So, number two, what about those tactics? Couple of things that you did early on that you found effective for identifying the right kind of places for you to speak and then meeting… Connecting with the decision makers and then getting them to say “yes.” So, can we touch on those three things?

0:20:54 Grant Baldwin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, we’re gonna go really in depth in this and that pre-con day, so it’s definitely something people don’t wanna miss. But the nutshell is I think foundationally, I think people wanna get really, really clear on three key questions. First of all, why do you wanna speak? How is speaking contributing and fitting into your bigger business? And the other two questions would be, “Who do you wanna speak to and what is it that you wanna speak about?” ‘Cause I think this is something that a lot of speakers when they’re just getting going and they just… It’s kind of like what you said and what I said above going, “I saw someone on stage and I thought, ‘that looks fun, I want to do that.'” And that’s typically where as far as our minds go on the business track, we’re going like, “I wanna do that, that looks fun.” But you really got to get clear on who it is that you wanna speak to and what it is that you want to speak about. If you… Say, let’s use an example here of you, Michael. You’ve published several books before and so if you were going to a publisher and you were presenting a book concept and they would ask you, “Hey, who is this book for? What’s this book about?”

0:21:48 Grant Baldwin: And your response is, “Well, the book is for humans, it’s for everybody.” [chuckle] If we’re gonna put this on the shelf on Barnes & Noble, what section is it gonna go on? “Oh, it can go in any section.” No publisher is going to pick that up. So, in the same way, as the speaker, if we’re talking to you and you say, “Who do you speak to? What would you talk about?” And you say, “Well, I can talk to anybody about anything.” Well, the reality is that you can talk to nobody about anything. So, you wanna get super, super clear. And once you’re clear on who you wanna speak to… So, in my case, early on… My speaking business has evolved and changed a little bit, but early on in the beginning, I was speaking a lot to high school students through school assemblies and through student leadership conferences. So, I was really, really clear on who it was that I wanted to speak to. Then, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to market to those people, to find those people, and to look for some of those existing events.

0:22:39 Grant Baldwin: And so, I’ve always found that it’s a lot easier to start with some of those existing conferences and existing events, because a conference is already planning on having a speaker. You’re not trying to convince them to have a speaker. They’re gonna have a speaker either way and so you’re just showing them why you are a good fit for their event or for their audience. So, that’s a lot of what I did in the beginning was getting really clear again on the who, the why, the what, and then trying to find those type of existing conferences and events of where those people gather. So, from there, what I would do… And how I would practically do that, honestly, is a lot of it was just Google. There’s a lot of ways that you can do this, but Google was the simplest thing.

0:23:18 Grant Baldwin: So, let me give you an example, okay? Let’s say that you wanted to… Someone listening to this would say, “I want to talk to cat lovers.” Alright? So, what I would do is I would go on to Google and I’d look up things like cat conference, cat convention, cat events, pet conference. And you’re just like any synonyms, any type of key words of some of those existing events and you’re looking for those events around your subject or topic and then from there, what I would do is I would send a lot of times just a short simple quick email, I’m not picking up the phone and making a cold call, but just some quick simple email where I’m not trying to pitch them or just go right into the sales pitch or this whole big monologue about myself. What I’m trying to do is build a relationship, trying to build a connection ’cause remember, if I’m a cat speaker, all right, I’m not, but if I’m a cat speaker, and I come across a cat conference, they are looking for what I offer. I’m not trying to annoy them with something that they have no interest in.

0:24:18 Grant Baldwin: So, I’m reaching out to them and try to learn more a bit about their conference, learn more about what it is they do, and then be able to often times transition that conversation into, “If you’re looking for a speaker, here’s what I do, and here’s what I speak about, here’s why I think this could be a fit, here’s other cat conferences that I have spoke at before and how this could work with your audience.” And so, it’s a lot of just relationship building. It’s a lot of following up with people. It’s a lot of… In the beginning, again, it’s a lot of gorilla marketing.

0:24:50 Grant Baldwin: Now, again, the longer you do it, the easier it is to get referrals, to get repeat business, to get referrals from existing clients, to get referrals from other speakers which is a huge source of bookings. But, again, a lot of this in the beginning, again, is not glamorous, it’s not sexy. It’s just a matter of building those relationships, finding those existing events, and letting them know who you are and what it is that you do.

0:25:12 Michael Port: Sometimes, our Book Yourself Solid students, they push back a little bit when we encourage them to get very specific with respect to who they serve and what they help them do, the result that they produce. And it’s in part because they’re nervous that they might then miss an opportunity, somebody else outside that market might want them and they feel like if they are too targeted, then that person will pass over them or reject them. Or they’re afraid, “What if I don’t really love being in that market all the time? Am I gonna be stuck for the rest of my life?” Or “There’s a couple different markets or a couple different things that I wanna speak on or I’m interested in and I’m not sure which one I wanna do.” Then often I remind them that after 13 years of doing this, having pushed a lot of people to make a very specific choice with respect to who they serve and what they help them do, nobody’s come back to me a year later and been like, “Michael, you know what? I’m so pissed off at you. I’m booked solid now. I have more business than I could possibly handle and it’s your fault. I hate you.” Nobody’s ever said that.


0:26:19 Michael Port: Because, let’s say you spend a year in a market on a particular topic that you like, and then after about a year or so, you go, “I feel like making a change.” But you’ve killed it. You’re working all the time, you got great clients. If you really wanted to make a change, it’s a lot easier to make a change once you have a level of success than bouncing around from one thing to the next, and not really ever landing on something. Yesterday, I had a conversation with a media company that reached out to me, a big production company that often represents celebrity brands and they said, “Michael, we’re interested in you and your brand and turning you into a household name.” That’s their pitch, and I’m like, “Well, you know, I wouldn’t mind being a household name as long as I don’t really have to leave the house.”


0:27:08 Michael Port: They didn’t find that very funny. But, I said, “This is great. Let’s talk about it.” So, we had a really neat conversation, great people. They asked a lot of good questions, and interestingly enough, one of the things that we talked about was which market and which result that I would be most interested in having them focus on. Because I have a Book Yourself Solid business and I have a Heroic Public Speaking business. So, the Book Yourself Solid side for the first 10 years of my career, it was for service professionals, how to get clients, period. And, of course, in the beginning, I focused on more vertical markets. I started the fitness industry then I moved out into other health and wellness areas, then I moved into financial services and such, and I kept building that over time. But on the public speaking side of the business, it’s a lot of people who want to be public speakers or already are. We also work with A-listers as well, and it’s also people who don’t really wanna be professional speakers, but they wanna speak a lot either because they have a message they wanna share or they wanna book business as a result. And they’re saying, “Well, which would you like to focus on because one may be better to turn you into a household name than the other?”

0:28:27 Michael Port: And so, you see, that’s the problem with having multiple identities. Now, for me, it works fine for our businesses at this stage because the public speaking is a direct extension of the work we’ve been doing for so long and it serves the same market that we’ve been serving for the last 13 years. But from a publicity perspective, sort of a TV media perspective, they want that incredible focus, really specific audience, really specific type of result, and to build an identity, a persona is actually what they said, a personality around that. And so, it’s the same thing that you’re talking about here, is that real specificity and when you’re starting out or even if you’re not starting out but you wanna become a household name, that kind of specificity makes a big difference.

0:29:18 Grant Baldwin: Yeah, and to speak to them, I think a lot of this also comes back to that question of why you wanna speak in the first place because there’s… And kind of also how speaking fits into your business. ‘Cause if you’re someone who wants to speak, let’s just say you have an existing business and you wanna speak five, maybe 10 times a year, and speaking is not necessarily the primary thing you wanna do, it’s just part of it, well that’s gonna change some of the types of events that you may wanna speak at versus let’s say you wanna speak 75, 100 times a year and you wanna do this full time, and you wanna make multiple six figures, that’s also going to dictate and determine a little bit of the types of markets that you wanna speak to. I may be totally wrong on this and someone may email us and correct us, but it may be really, really difficult if you want to speak about… Speak to that cat industry and talk to cat lovers to speak 100 times a year, and to make a really, really good living.

0:30:08 Grant Baldwin: So, again, some of the why question may also determine a little bit of that who and that what. So, I’m curious for you, Michael. When you are getting started, how did you… ’cause I think what you said is totally accurate. I think so many people that are listening to this are people that… I have a bunch of different interests, there are a bunch of different things I could talk about. And I even fell down a little bit early on, and even still today, there’s a bunch of different types of audience. I’ve talked to high school students and junior high students, and college students, and parents, and teachers, and entrepreneurs, and business owners, and corporations and so a wide range today, but when you’re getting started, you can’t. The longer you speak I think the easier it is to spread that net a little bit wider. But, in the beginning, you do wanna be super clear. So, for you, how did you really narrow down like, “Oh, this is the audience that I’m going to serve. This is the audience I’m gonna go after.” How did you come to that conclusion for yourself?

0:31:04 Michael Port: When I started coaching, I really was a generalist ’cause I didn’t really know much about it. I didn’t know much about what worked, what people would buy. And I realized pretty quickly that people don’t buy conversations, they buy very specific results. And in order to produce very specific results for people, they have to have… You have to be addressing very specific problems. And certain groups of people have specific problems. Now, sometimes, it seems like problems are spread across demographics and they often are. So, often, an accountant has very similar problems to a photographer, but there will also be some things that are different. But the accountant or the photographer, when they look at you, they wanna make sure that you know everything about them. So, what I discovered over time is that there are three reasons that the target market is so important. Number one, so you know where to do your marketing, otherwise you’re all over the place. But, if you know where to do your marketing, it’s a lot easier to focus your efforts.

0:32:10 Michael Port: So, you know where they hang out, what publications they read, what conferences they go to, the influencers in that particular market, etc. Number two, when you show up there, they know you’re dedicated to them. And that makes a big difference to them. They go, “Oh, he knows me. She gets me.” But when you are willing to serve anyone that has a pulse and a check book, then they may say, “Oh, does he really know me? Does he really care about me? He hasn’t like dedicated himself to me.” And that’s what people want. And number three, they already have established networks of connection. They’re already talking to other people in that demographic. For example, I was asked to go give a speech in 2005 to a conference for balloonists, not hot air balloonists, but people who twist balloons into funny animals and shapes.

0:33:15 Grant Baldwin: Like people would like… That we see at restaurants.

0:33:16 Michael Port: Yeah, exactly right. I had no idea that there was a conference for people who twisted balloons. But, apparently, there are a few associations in the US, maybe there are others outside the US, but there are about three or so from what I understand in the US. And I said “Here’s what I cost”. At the time, I think I was charging like 10 grand or something like that. And they said, “Okay.” I said, “I’ll be there, no problem.” So, I went and it was wild. There were people who had created balloon costumes from head to toe like transformer balloon… I mean it’s crazy. So, this was one of the wackiest groups that I’d ever spoken for. The only one that was crazier was Athena’s At-Home Novelties, if you know what I mean by at-home novelties. But this one… What was interesting about this and the reason I bring it up is because within a week after that conference I’d already had two other requests for the other two conferences in that industry to go to speak. Now, I decided not to go to speak because I didn’t want to become the balloonists…


0:34:24 Grant Baldwin: That guy.

0:34:25 Michael Port: That guy. Now, there’s nothing wrong with balloonists, but I had a different focus for my particular work. And it was just another recognition of how important it is to be very specific with respect to who you serve, and the choices you make because it tells the world something about you. Everything you do says something about you. That’s why performance is so interesting to me. That’s why the work you do as a speaker is something that must be crafted. Because if you’re not crafting your identity and the character that you bring to the stage, of course it must be based on who you are authentically, not manufactured, crafted and manufactured are two entirely different things from my perspective, because everything you do and say tells the world something about you.

0:35:16 Michael Port: So, back to when I got started. Over time, I was able to extend my reach because once you are known, people have… Or they’ll place more trust in you even without knowing you very well because they see that other people trust you. And as a result, I was able to become more general with respect to the companies that I would go work with, but think about it this way. From a creative perspective, when you’re speaking, it’s a good idea to have core intellectual property and one or two or maybe three speeches that you give over and over and over. Now, you have… Maybe you design them in modules, so that some of the modules change or are reorganized and then customized for a particular audience, but you are not creating entirely new intellectual protocol or a whole new speech just for one particular group. It’s a very, very dangerous way to go about doing your work from my perspective. I have seen many people try and have a hard time because no matter how naturally talented you are, no matter how clever you are, no matter how quick on your feet you are, you will always be better if you are well-prepared.

0:36:44 Grant Baldwin: Right.

0:36:45 Michael Port: And if you have to create a new speech every time you go to give a speech, it’s gonna take an extraordinary amount of time away from other things that you need to be doing. And, of course, you may not perform quite as well when you do it. Another conversation I had yesterday was with a charity that my mother is very involved in and it’s called “Woman to Woman.” And it serves women who have or have had ovarian cancer. My mother had ovarian cancer. And my mom told them I’d come and give a speech at their conference this year. And she said, “That’s okay, right?” I said, “Yeah, that’s fine, Mom. No problem.” And then, I talked to them about it, and they were so lovely, and they had researched me extensively online. And they really knew my material. They knew my material better than any organizer ever has when first approaching me about speaking, and I was really impressed by that. So, they had really thought about what they wanted me to do. After I got off the call with them, I said to my wife, Amy, I said, “Oh my God, this is gonna take so much work.” I said, “I really wanna go, and be of service to them, but this is gonna be a huge, huge effort. And, of course, I am going for free because it’s my mom’s charity.”

0:38:00 Grant Baldwin: Right, right, right.

0:38:02 Michael Port: It will take more work for me to prepare for that because it’s a different target audience, the topics are sort of reconfiguration of things that I often do, not even normally, but often. And they’re looking for a different kind of result, but they want me to do it, and they think I can do it, and they’d love me to do it. Great. But that will take a lot more work than a conference where they’re paying me $30,000 to go. And so, that’s the thing that we have to be careful about, and I will say yes to that ’cause it’s my mom’s, but I would not say yes to that if I didn’t have a personal connection to it where I felt that I was compelled to go and do it.

0:38:44 Grant Baldwin: Yeah, I mean, the longer you speak and if someone… Yeah, I think, for both of us a lot of times, at this point in our careers, a lot of the business come from someone who, they were in the audience at some point. Maybe they saw us or maybe they were our friends with that decision maker or event planner, who booked us at one point, and so we are referred to them. And so whenever a client is hiring you to bring you in, they are not hiring you to come bring your JV material. They don’t want you to come just wing it and try some stuff. They are hiring you ’cause they saw you and it’s basically like, “Can you… That thing that you did there, can you come do it here for us?”

0:39:19 Michael Port: That’s right. That’s right.

0:39:21 Grant Baldwin: And so they don’t want you to do… They want you to be writing a brand new… “That story that you told over there that just killed and the audience loved and it made the point perfectly… My company, my business, my association, they… My people, they need to hear that same story, so I want you to come, do it exactly what you did there. Come do it for our audience.” So, yeah, I think that’s totally true.

0:39:40 Michael Port: Sometimes, our students make that mistake of thinking that they shouldn’t do what they have done before because then it suggests that they are not making an effort. And then they go and they do their speech, and the decision maker comes up to them and goes, ” What happened to the thing where you were skiing and you fell down and hit your head on the tree? What happened to that? I loved that story.”

0:40:01 Grant Baldwin: Right, right.

0:40:02 Michael Port: “Oh, I didn’t think you wanted me to tell it because I’ve already told that one before.” But not to these people though.

0:40:09 Grant Baldwin: Right, not exactly. And also keep in mind too that there is always going to be situations where maybe there is going to be a little bit of overlap, where an audience, a couple of audience members, saw you a year ago or something. Okay, but think about it, like the best possible speaker that you could ever even imagine that you saw speak a year ago, you are going to remember very, very little, unfortunately, of what they said.

0:40:32 Michael Port: Yeah, maybe just a couple of things.

0:40:33 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. So, if you come back in and you do that same talk or even mostly the same talk, you’re going to be okay with that. And so, kind of like you just said there, Michael, of stories that you and I have both told that we’ve told 100s and 100s of times, maybe we have heard them 100s of times because we’ve deliver them, but for that audience and that setting it’s the first time that they’ve heard it. And so that story at that point is very, very polished. You know where you’re taking the people, you know that punchline, you know the setup, you know exactly the point you’re going to make, you know the pauses, you know all of it because it’s really, really refined. And so, that’s one thing I’m kind of curious on is we’ve talked a little bit about the marketing side of speaking and how we both got going, but one of the things that we kind of touched on earlier is that one of your best marketing tools is just showing up and just crushing it, really as you said stealing the show. So, you’ve always viewed speaking as a performance. Why is that? I think a lot of people don’t think of speaking as a performance. I am a hired gun to go up, I do my thing, I collect my check, and I go home. But for you, it seems like it’s much more than that from a performance standpoint. So, talk a little bit about that.

0:41:43 Michael Port: It is. And performance is sometimes a word that makes some people uncomfortable because they think that performance suggests that it’s fake or phony, but really nothing could be farther from the truth. To me, good performance is not about fake behavior. Good performance is authentic behavior in a manufactured environment. And it extends far beyond just the stage. Our life is made up of lots of high-stakes situations, a job interview, a negotiation, a sales pitch, even meeting your future in-laws for the first time is a high stake situation, and those high stake situations require that you perform at a high level. And the level at which you perform often determines the quality of your life. So, if you fall flat during those high stake situations, then not a lot happens.

0:42:50 Grant Baldwin: Right.

0:42:50 Michael Port: But if you can shine when the spotlight’s on you, well then you can play a pretty big game, and you get to choose the roles that you’re playing. You don’t let anybody cast you in a role of their choosing. You get to choose. So, my background as an actor influenced all aspects of my life, not just my ability to perform on the stage, but how you handle yourself physically, how you control your breathing, how you interact with other people physically in order to get them to feel the way that you want them to feel. If you think about our job, our job as speakers is to get people to think differently, or feel differently, or act differently, but we are also trying to do that on a daily basis, aren’t we?

0:43:48 Michael Port: In business, we’re trying to get people to take action that is in our best interest and hopefully their best interest as well. When we’re in relationships, we want people to do things that are in our best interest and their best interest as well, hopefully. So, you see, these skills can be used for good or they can be used for evil. In that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having an agenda. We all have agendas whether or not we align that agenda with the needs and best interests of the other person is always the big question. And if we can align our needs with the needs of other people, then we’ve got, a really, really beautiful symbiotic relationship. And I think that’s in part what we’re doing as speakers. We get really, really clear on our objectives for that audience, and we go after those objectives relentlessly.

0:44:56 Michael Port: And when you go after those objectives relentlessly, you try lots of different tactics. And the more tactics you try, often the more compelling your presentation is. And so, if you look at your speaking the way that an actor looks at creating a character for a play or a film that they’re in, what you’re doing is you’re first identifying your objectives. You’re not just trying to figure out how to go out and tell a story, ’cause telling a story doesn’t mean anything unless it serves the objective. Being funny doesn’t mean anything unless it serves the objective. So, for example, one of my friends once got a comment card that said, “If I had wanted to laugh, I would have gone to a comedy show.” Meaning, the speaker was very funny, but she didn’t get what she came there to get, which was advice on marketing.

0:45:52 Grant Baldwin: Right, right.

0:45:57 Michael Port: So, if your kid is in third grade and the kid loves the teacher because the teacher is incredibly funny but is supposed to be teaching the math and the kid doesn’t learn math, well it’s not a great math teacher.

0:46:08 Grant Baldwin: Right.

0:46:09 Michael Port: If you go to a comedy club and the person on stage is not funny but teaches you a lot of math, you left there learning math, but not laughing, that’s not a great comedian. So, we have to know what our role is in relation to the objective which is the promise we make to an audience. And I think often people skip this part. They just think about “How do I perform so that people like me?” And the last thing we want to do as performers is work for approval, that is very dangerous, but it is a natural inclination for a lot of people who want to speak because often if you wanna speak, you also want approval. You want people to clap for you. You want people to laugh at your jokes. You want people to go, “Oh my God, they’re so smart.” You want people to like you.

0:47:04 Michael Port: All those things are wonderful. I love those things too. I don’t like when anybody says, “I hate Michael Port, he’s a dick.” That’s not what I want. That’s not what I’m going for. I’m going for service. I wanna be in service of the people that I’m meant to serve. But if you go for approval, then you generally are producing something that is about you rather than about them. And it’s never about us, it’s always about them. If we are using stories of experiences that we’ve had or we’re using ourselves in some way to demonstrate a point, that’s still in service of them. So, of course, we use our own life experiences in our work, but we do it for them and that’s a critical, critical component. One of my clients once called me up, frantic, because she got an interview on a morning broadcast network TV show, and it was for a book that she had. It was this thing she’d been trying to get forever, and she’s working so hard to get it. And she finally got it, and now she’s freaking out. “Michael, what do I do? I wanna be good.” I said, “You cannot be good.” I think she might have fallen off her chair.


0:48:18 Grant Baldwin: You’d given her no hope.

0:48:19 Michael Port: Yeah. I said, “No.” It’s not that you’re not good, but you can’t try to go into a performance situation to be good. You can only go in there to be helpful if you are a speaker, to make change, to affect them in some way. And if you affect them, then they will perceive you as [0:48:37] ____ as a speaker, where you’ve gotta provoke. That might be your job. And when they leave there, they might not be saying, “My God, I love Grant. Grant’s the greatest guy in the world.” They might be going, “God, that guy really kind of pissed me off a little bit.”

0:48:55 Grant Baldwin: Right.

0:48:55 Michael Port: But, they’re not angry at you for it. They’ve got something going on with themselves because of something that you said or did or button that you pushed. Two weeks later, they go, “That guy, Grant, he changed my life. Because he said something that pushed my buttons, and I wasn’t happy about it. Didn’t like hearing it. But, now, you know what? Now, it’s a good thing that I heard it because I made a change.” So, everything is about them. And I think it takes a fair amount of work to craft a performance that produces a result, is entertaining, compelling and keeps people on the edge of their seat. There was a video that was being passed around of Aretha Franklin. Did you see this online?

0:49:43 Grant Baldwin: I saw a little bit of it where she just sang for the President.

0:49:46 Michael Port: Yeah. She sang at the Kennedy Center Awards, and she sang a Carole King song, and she killed it.

0:49:56 Grant Baldwin: Yeah.

0:49:56 Michael Port: It went viral immediately. She crushed it. And, when I saw that, the first thing that came to mind… Well, the first thing that came to mind was just how extraordinary she is. The second thing that came to mind was, “Wow!” I want every speaker to see this because if we get any idea… Or if we start to build up our ego, and start to think that we’re these incredible performers, and we’re the best in the world at what we do, and etcetera, etcetera, I think we gotta watch Aretha Franklin sing, sitting at a piano, in front of 3,000, 4,000 people. Because, to me, that is the highest level of performance, and I think that’s what we should be aspiring to, even though we’re not singing and playing the piano.

0:50:50 Michael Port: But, I think our bar is set too low. I think that in the speaking industry, the bar is way too low. And I see this with the professionals when they come to work with us in our A-lister programs. The high-level professionals, who are already out there and making 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 50 thousand dollars. When they start working with us, they often think, “Oh, I’ll just get a couple tips here and there.” And by the second day, they’re wondering if they have any talent, whatsoever.


0:51:24 Grant Baldwin: Crush ’em down to build ’em up.

0:51:25 Michael Port: Yeah. Not because we’re putting them down, but because we’re showing them how much better they can be. And they’re seeing a side of themselves that they’ve never seen before because they’ve never worked on their performances the way that an actor would work on developing a character. By the third day, they feel more capable than they’ve ever felt before because now they know what is actually possible. And that’s what we’re trying to go for with everyone. You’ve gotta take a lot of risk to be a performer. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there. And Rosalind Russell once said that, “Acting is like standing in front of an audience, naked, and turning around very slowly.”


0:52:15 Michael Port: And I think the greatest public speakers should think about their work in the same way, ’cause that’s your job. Your job is to reveal yourself in such a way that you can change the world, one speech at a time.

0:52:33 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. Well, to jump in, too. One of the things that you… I think this ties in really well with what you were talking about earlier with your mother, and speaking at her charity, is that here’s an event that you’re gonna do because it’s your mom, and you wanna support her and help her, and all that. But, it’s not the typical audience that you might speak to, and so you could take all of your existing material and you could just go do that. And it’s not a perfect fit, and it may be just close enough. And that would be so much simpler for you as the speaker, performer, from the preparation standpoint, to do material that you already know.

0:53:09 Grant Baldwin: But, as you spoke to, it’s going to be such a difficult event to prepare for because you want to make sure that everything that you’re saying aligns with that audience. Your mother’s charity is going to be a very, very different type of audience than some major corporation versus a group of balloonists versus a group of college kids. They’re all going to have their different nuances. So, yeah, your job as the speaker, as the performer, is to make sure that what it is that you are communicating is tweaked, and right, and specific for that audience, where they do feel that sense of… It’s like this was for me. This is what this audience, this group, needed to hear in this moment.

0:53:47 Michael Port: Well, that’s the goal. That sure is the goal. And I know I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen, but there’s no guarantees. And I bombed a speech once. I mean, I’ve given speeches that weren’t brilliant, but when I say I bombed when I bombed one once, it’s like people were walking out of the room bombed and that was, I don’t know, maybe ’08, ’09 or something. And man, it almost made me wanna quit. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. This is too hard. I can’t… This is… I can’t watch… I can’t have that experience ever again.” Then, I realized like, “Wait a minute, I’m thinking about myself. It’s not about myself. It’s about them. So, let me get myself out of this picture. Let me just focus on, “Well, what can I do next time that would actually keep them in their seats? What mistakes did I make instead of obsessing on how I felt about it?” Let me focus on what I could do next time to be in service of them.

[background conversation]

0:55:38 Grant Baldwin: So, we’re talking about the… There are some environments where… I don’t know. You and I, we’ve both been in a bunch of different types of settings where sometimes the audience it’s just right there, it’s the perfect setup, it’s the perfect room. How much do you feel the event space, the conference itself plays a part into your performance and how a talk actually goes?

0:56:00 Michael Port: Yeah, I think it does. I think that there are only certain elements that we really can control. And since it’s a theatrical experience, there are components that are important to consider that if we were designing it ourselves, we’d have control over but we don’t always so we wanna do our best to manage those types of situations. So, the type of space… Sometimes, you get into a space where, gosh, it’s 200 feet wide and 30 feet deep and you’re on either the long side or the short side and you either have to run back and forth 200 feet or you have to try to reach them 200 feet back when it’s only 30 feet wide. But if you have skill, then you know how to handle those situations. And that’s why training is so important to me. I know sometimes I feel like a nagging mother, not that mothers nag. Fathers nag, too. I nag my son all the time, but a nagging parent because I harp on this so much. But I don’t know how one knows how to handle different sized stages unless they’ve trained and understand it technically.

0:57:21 Michael Port: And often what people do in the speaking business is they just figure out over time. They screwed up a few times and then maybe a year later they start to figure it out. But I would rather my students not have to make the mistakes in live performances. I’d rather them learn those skills in rehearsal. So, one of the things that we do in our graduate level program, we don’t announce… We don’t promote this publicly, but people who come to our live events and some of the people who have worked with our coaches they are invited to participate in the graduate program, which is something that we do for four months where the students come for four or five days every month to work with my wife, Amy, and I. And we do that because if you really are gonna get great at something and certainly if you’re gonna prepare a speech that’s gonna steal the show, you need time to rehearse it. It’s not something you put together in a week or two. I saw someone promoting a book-writing program and they’re like, “Come up with a whole killer book title in 30 minutes.” I don’t know. I’ve written six, I’ve never come up with a book title in 30 minutes. So, sometimes, these things take some time.

0:58:36 Michael Port: And the reason I mention it is because one of the things we do towards the end of that training is we put our students in really difficult situations. So, for example, Jordan Harbinger was in the last year’s program and Jordan is the host of Art of Charm, which gets over two million downloads a month, one of the biggest podcasts in the world, and he came because he wanted to work on his performances on stage. He knew how to host a podcast and he’s brilliant at it, but he’s like, “I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m on stage. I’m behind a desk in the podcast. I know how to speak into the mic, but when I’m on stage I don’t know what to do.” And he really became a wonderful speaker and we put him and the others in this situation where we’d have them speak, but before they spoke they would be out of the room and I would give specific instructions to the audience so that they put that speaker in a really difficult, uncomfortable place, and sometimes even acted as hostile audiences.

0:59:38 Grant Baldwin: Like what? What would you have them do?

0:59:40 Michael Port: For example, With Jordan, Jordan is very funny and he can usually get people laughing right away and people respond to him and he feels very good when they do. So, I said, “Here’s the thing, when Jordan starts speaking, no response whatsoever. Zero. Nothing. Not a smile, not a laugh, not an acknowledgement. Nothing.”

1:00:00 Grant Baldwin: That’s brutal, man.

1:00:01 Michael Port: Brutal. And then what I want you to do is, as he is speaking, I want you one by one, slowly, to just get up and leave. Walk out. Now, here’s what’s interesting. These people were his friends. They’ve been working together for months. They were close. And, in fact, I would say a lot of these folks really loved each other. They created an ensemble together. They supported each other. They cared for each other. Even though he had that kind of relationship with the people in the room, he still completely freaked out. His face was red. He started sweating. He got angrier as each person left the room, and it showed. And he said after that, he goes, “Nothing will phase me because it will never be that bad.” Then with another one of the people in the program, I had an attorney who was a criminal attorney, who was one of the students also, and I had that criminal attorney grill this speaker because the speaker had a business and this is what he spoke on was how to reduce taxes. But, he’s not an accountant and he’s not an attorney. He’s a financial advisor. And so, sometimes people question whether or not he has the qualifications to deliver on this. And this criminal defense attorney grilled him.

1:01:34 Grant Baldwin: That’s brutal.

1:01:34 Michael Port: When I say grilled, it was brutal. And John got more and more defensive and more and more defensive. But, when we had him do it again the next time after I helped him learn how to respond to that kind of pushback, all of a sudden he did it with grace and really, really, easy and he won over the whole room. So, you’re gonna be in situations where you don’t have control and you’re gonna need to learn how to manage those types of situations.

1:02:05 Grant Baldwin: I’m curious, for you, one of the things that we do on the Speaker Lab show is the… When we’re talking with other speakers, we all have those horror stories. So, tell me a story of something that happened to you one time of, “It can’t be worse than this.” What’s the time where it just went… We all love the standing ovations, the applause, but you’re right, you kind of touched on here, that that’s not always the case. Thankfully, the longer you do it, the more the good stuff happens than the bad stuff, but we also have those bad days where just, you go back to your room and you’re just borderline in tears where you’re like, “It’s supposed to be a 45-minute talk, but I wanna cut it down to 10 and just get the heck out of here.” So, tell us about a time when it can’t be worse than this.

1:02:44 Michael Port: Well, there’s certainly a lot of things that come to mind. One of them I mentioned earlier, where people started walking out of the room and it was in large part because I tried to do something that was risky, but I didn’t prepare enough. So, I wasn’t familiar enough with my material and I was pulling from my notes, which just wasn’t working. It really didn’t work at all. So, that was one, and that felt horrible. And I wanted to… Actually, I probably did crawl up in a ball on the floor in my room and cry myself to sleep.

1:03:14 Michael Port: But, there was another time that actually worked out well. It started off pretty bad, and then it worked out well. I was giving a speech at the Harvard Club to CEOs and Presidents of companies that were 500 million plus, big, big companies. And I was speaking on Book Yourself Solid and I was about three-quarters in. It was going really well, and I was talking about networking. And I was suggesting, “Listen, I know you’re busy, but one of the things you can do that really is very effective, is introduce two people inside your network who don’t know each other, but might find each other relevant. There might be some value in knowing each other. Do it each day. And share some information with another person each day that might be relevant to them, not something you produced, but relevant to them. And then just share some compassion with a few people every day, so you’re staying in touch with people around things that are personal to them rather than just contacting them every time you wanna sell something or need a favor, something like that.” It sounds pretty reasonable, right?

1:04:14 Grant Baldwin: Fair enough.

1:04:15 Michael Port: So, one guy at the back of the room goes, “Yeah, I tried it. It doesn’t work.”


1:04:21 Michael Port: I was like, “Okay.”

1:04:23 Grant Baldwin: You love that guy.

1:04:23 Michael Port: Yeah, I love that guy. Now, I had to process information very quickly because that’s one of the things that you need to get good at as a speaker is to process information quickly and act on it. So, in a way, one of the things that you get good at is being able to observe the room and yourself while you’re performing. It’s a high-level skill, but it is something you can do. I can actually see myself performing and hear myself while I’m performing, so I can be thinking about other things and performing at the same time.

1:04:56 Grant Baldwin: Right.

1:04:57 Michael Port: And, I had to make an evaluation. I had to decide. Is he a member of this group or is he a guest of a member? Because the members bring guests, and I need to handle him differently. If he’s a member, well, that means that the other members know who he is and know his personality. So, is he somebody they like or is he somebody that they don’t really like? And does he have a high standing in the group or not? But if he’s a guest, is he a guest of a very important member or is he not? And if he is a guest, how are the other members gonna feel about him speaking up that way. So, I made a quick determination that he was a guest because I could not imagine a member doing that. I could have been wrong. It turned out I was right. I just made the guess that he was a member. And the fact that he was a… Excuse me, I could have been wrong. But, the fact that he was a guest, it gave me a little bit of freedom. So, what I did, was I decided to let him dig himself a hole. So I said, “Okay, give me an example of when you tried that and it didn’t work.”

1:06:03 Grant Baldwin: Right.

1:06:03 Michael Port: He’s like, “Well, I tried that and I called up this guy. I’ve been trying to do business with him for months. I’ve been calling him for months and months and months. So I said, ‘Well, let me try to see if I can share some information with him.’ So I called him up and he was in his car and I was like, ‘Hey, listen, I’ve got this idea for you that I think it would be really good.’ And the guy said, ‘Well, I’m in my car right now, so I can’t really talk about it. Can you just send me an email?'” He’s like, “See, it didn’t work.” And, of course, the whole room was listening going, “This guy’s an idiot.” Like, obviously, he was stalking this guy and the guy didn’t want to talk to him. And then my next thought was, “Oh, see, I get this person… I get what’s going on here.” Before I had to do anything else, the president of the group, and there were about maybe 150 people in the room, stood up and said, “Shut up!” Not to me, but to him.

1:07:01 Grant Baldwin: Wow.

1:07:02 Michael Port: And the rest of the room applauded, and then I carried on.


1:07:07 Michael Port: Because sometimes the group will come to your aid. Now, if I had started getting defensive with that guy, I would have looked weak. I would have looked insecure and not very confident. But because I said, “Well, tell me about an example when you tried it,” it looked like it didn’t faze me at all. Jerry Seinfeld says that when he gets a heckler, he often says to them, “You seem angry. What’s wrong?”

1:07:31 Grant Baldwin: Let’s talk about it.


1:07:33 Grant Baldwin: And I think that comedian’s doing great, great job of dealing with that. And so even though you may not have the hostility of a heckler and a bar who’s intoxicated, you still have this people that may speak up. And I think that’s a great point too. And you touched on this a little bit on Steal The Show of the book, is that the amount of almost improv that’s involved with speaking is that “Yeah, I’ve got on my mind that kind of set list of where I’m going, but I’m also making a lot of little adjustments on the fly.” That “Okay, I told this joke and if that didn’t work, then that joke I’m gonna tell in 30 minutes is definitely not gonna work. Or if this did work, then I can probably expand on this a little further and keep going there.”

1:08:12 Grant Baldwin: And so, a lot of that, you’re exactly, you’re making those adjustments. You’re reading that on the fly and adjusting to the audience, adjusting to the environment, adjusting to the setting, adjusting to the client. There’s times where you and I have been booked to speak. “Hey, we hired you to come talk for 60 minutes.” And right before you’re about to go, they say, “Hey, we’re running late. We only have 35.” You gotta make that adjustment. You can’t go back to the client and say, “Hey, no, no, no. I’m planning on 60. I need my full… ” No, no, you’re there to serve the client, so you gotta make those adjustments. You gotta kind of jive with it as you go.

1:08:42 Michael Port: And don’t make the assumption that because you’re the first speaker, you’ll have all of your time.

1:08:47 Grant Baldwin: Totally.

1:08:47 Michael Port: Yeah. We usually think, “Well, if I’m the last, it may get pushed back and then I’m in trouble.” But the first speaker… I was the first speaker at an event a couple of months ago and they started 15 minutes late. And then the MC who was supposed to do a five-minute introduction, did a 15-minute introduction. So, I went from 60 minutes to 30 minutes and just had to make an adjustment on the fly and…

1:09:09 Grant Baldwin: That’s part of it.

1:09:10 Michael Port: That’s just your job. So, you get better at these things as you do them. And I think I’ve made more mistakes than even good choices, but you keep working, you keep working and you really just keep trying to get better every single day. And the better prepared you are, the easier it is.

1:09:30 Grant Baldwin: One of the things that we’ve kind of touched on a little bit in terms of just the training and how you actually get better, and in terms of as close to a real environment as possible is Heroic Public Speaking. So, let us talk a little bit about that. I know it’s coming up in just a couple weeks here. Gonna be in Florida, mid-February. So, this is something that… This is the second year of doing it?

1:09:48 Michael Port: Yeah. It’s our second year of doing it. Last year, we had about 200 people. This year, we expect about 250 people. And it’s a three-day event and, of course, before the event is another pre-con day that you’re leading. So, if you come to the pre-con, it’s four days. But the main event is three days. And on the first day of Heroic Public Speaking, we have multiple sessions running at the same time, but everybody goes to all the sessions. So, you cycle through them throughout the day. And what we do is we bring in our teachers from graduate schools. I have an MFA from NYU in acting and my partner who’s also my wife has a master’s in acting as well, an MFA in acting from Yale, the Yale School of Drama. And we know that voice, and speech, and movement, and improvisation are four of the performer’s most important skills. Your body is an instrument, your voice is an instrument and the way you move and the way you speak, the way you breathe and as we’ve been discussing, your ability to improvise will often determine the quality of your work.

1:11:01 Michael Port: So, we bring in a movement teacher from the NYU Graduate Acting Program. We bring in my former improvisation teacher from the Graduate Acting Program at NYU. We bring Amy’s voice teacher from The Yale School of Drama. She’s now the head of the Acting and Voice Programs at UC, San Diego. And you go through all of those sessions on the first day. You work your voice, you work your movement. You learn how to move on stage. You learn improvisation techniques and that’s the first day. It’s so powerful. You’re up on your feet all day long, not just sitting in chairs. You’re up on your feet and you’re working. We also, on that same day, run master classes that Amy and I teach where we put people on stage and we coach them and you get to see what that process is like. And you learn so much about the technique of performance by watching people perform on stage.

1:12:03 Michael Port: The second day. The second day, we have a whole track for on-camera training, rehearsing in front of the camera, performing in front of the camera, doing interviews in front of the camera, improvising in front of the camera, and a lot more. And you can choose to go to those sessions, and/or you can choose to go to the sessions on content development, story development and telling, and more. So, you see on that second day, for people who have done a lot of that content development work with us and the storytelling work with us, they may choose to go into some of the on-camera work. And for people who are newer to this material and they’re newer in the world of speaking, they are better suited, I think, working on the content and the stories. Because if their content is not good, it doesn’t really matter if they can perform on camera yet.

1:12:49 Michael Port: And the third day, I call, “The funny business of speaking.” We do two different business panels with some of the top rated and highest earning speakers in the business as well as meeting planners. And if you go to an agent in the business, if you go to, you’ll see some of these speakers. You’ll see them listed. And they’re gonna be on panels, and you’ll be able to ask questions of them as well. So, that’s a really keen… It’s really interesting to be able to get their keen insight on how they’ve built their businesses. And, of course, also getting keen insight from an agent in the business who’s the one who books the speakers. And so, that’s an important perspective to get. Then, we also do a whole session with Ron Tite, who is a brilliant comedian and one of the best speakers in the business.

1:13:42 Michael Port: He was just voted one of the top 15 speakers of 2015 by the Meeting Planners Association, which is kind of a big deal. And he’s gonna do a session on being funny, on using humor in speaking, which everybody will love. And then another master class, and more. So, it’s a pretty full three days, and I guarantee it will be an event like you’ve never been to before. And I say that without any hyperbole because most people have never done the kind of training that we got to do when we were in master’s programs, in acting, in arguably two of the best schools in the country. And if you’ve never done this kind of skill development, rehearsal development, content development work, it’s an eye-opening, really mind-blowing experience.

[background conversation]

1:14:55 Grant Baldwin: One of the things I like about it though is that it’s more than just someone coming and sitting in a stuffy lecture hall for three days and listening to different people drone on, but you’re talking about people are getting up, they’re moving, they’re actually being part of this. And rather than just talking about some ideas, and concepts, and theories, let’s get up on stage. Let’s get in a room. Let’s work. Let’s workshop this stuff. Let’s actually work this stuff out. And that’s really where you learn. If I’m teaching one of my daughters to ride a bike, it’s one thing to have her read an article about riding a bike or to watch a YouTube video, but it’s another thing to like, “Let’s just get on the freaking bike and actually do this.” Sounds like that’s really some of that hands-on practical training that…

1:15:34 Michael Port: Well, speaking is something you do in person. So, the training for speaking needs to be done in person as well. Very, very important. You can do… We do online courses also, but you gotta get in there, in the room, with the teachers as well. And then the other thing I would say is this. We do the entire event in the Broward County Center for the Performing Arts. So, we’re in rehearsal rooms and theatres, rather than the hotel for the performance side of things. The pre-con we do in the hotel, so you can sit down and do the table work that you need to do for building the marketing plan for your business. And that’s, of course, with Grant. So, tell the audience a little bit about that day.

1:16:21 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. I’m really looking forward to this ’cause we’ve got a lot of people that are already registered for it because the… And I’ve been doing a lot of surveys and just talking with some of the people that have already registered. And we’ve got a big mix of people. We’ve got some people that are brand new, that have spoken some but maybe never been paid. We’ve got other people that have been doing some speaking that have been getting paid that are trying to figure out how they can scale up their business and charge more, speak at more events. We’ve got a wide mix of people here. But again, this is why I think this works really well is you’re able to talk about the art side of it of delivering an amazing, top-notch presentation, which works hand-in-hand with the marketing side of it and the business side of speaking. But we’re able to talk more about how do you… If you’re an amazing speaker but nobody knows you exist, it’s hard to build a business that way. It’s hard to build a living.

1:17:10 Grant Baldwin: So, we’ll talk a lot about establishing your answers to those three foundational questions we talked about earlier, of why you wanna speak, who you wanna speak to, what you wanna talk about. We’re gonna spend a lot of time talking about how do you actually find these events. We kind of touched on some stuff, but we’re gonna talk about how you can find existing events, find some of those existing clients, how you build those relationships with them, how you connect with those decision-makers, how you don’t become that one guy that was in the room. That was like you mentioned at that Harvard event where they’re calling, and calling, and calling, and just becoming that speaker that’s just annoying and harassing people. But how do you view this as building these long-term relationships with people. As a quick example, at the time of this recording, I’m speaking on Thursday at Iowa State University. It’ll be the, I think, the seventh or eighth time that I’ve spoke there, in just the past couple of years. They bring me in multiple times a year, every year.

1:18:01 Grant Baldwin: Because I’ve been really intentional about building relationships with them and not just going for these one-off gigs or this one-night stand. So, we’re gonna talk about that of how you really build the business side of this. And then, one of the other things I’m really looking forward to is we’ve got an afternoon panel, I think right after lunch, where we’re going to be doing some Q&A with you and giving the audience a chance to ask some questions about how you’ve built your business, about how things have developed and grown for you, other things that they can be thinking through. You’re several steps ahead of where we’re at, where the audience is at, so, just being able to pick your brain and learn from you in a casual type of setting, just giving some of that access to you, that we really… A lot of people may not be able to get otherwise and so I think that would be a highlight of the day as well, so I think a lot of fun.

1:18:45 Michael Port: Yeah. And even more specifically, less probably about my journey but what I think specifically they can do, based on who they are and what they’re speaking on. So, that’s something that I don’t think people have a lot of opportunity to do because generally I teach the performance side rather than the business side but in that particular pre-conference session with you I will be answering those kind of questions about their businesses specifically, whereas, in the main event, I don’t teach the business side. Even though we do the business panels, I’m not on those panels.

1:19:21 Grant Baldwin: Right. Right.

1:19:22 Michael Port: And then one last thing I’ll say is please do not register if you are a critic or a cynic. I have a hard and fast rule: If you come to this event, and you put anyone down, if you are critical in a nasty way of anyone, or in unnecessary way, if you do not support people, you’re gone. I just kick you out. [chuckle] That’s just it. Because if you wanna do big things as a speaker, you gotta take risks, and you need people around you who support you. And you need to feel like you’re in a safe space. And this is a safe space. And I’m not a very big guy, but I will stand up for you to anyone, anywhere and protect you. That is I think part of my job as the leader of this community when you are working on your performance. So, please know that you’re in a safe space and nobody will put you down, and if they do they’ll have me to deal with.

1:20:21 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. You’re in an environment there where you… When you’ve created that type of environment, it’s a very supportive safe space. It’s one of those types of events you show up and you feel like, “These are my people.” Like, “Where have these people been?” And so, I’m able to connect with all these other people, they’re just like me, that are at all different stages. So I’m looking forward just to the relationship building, not only what happens in the session but what happens during the meals, and during breaks, and what the conversations that take place in the hall. I’ll be hanging out there the whole time, not only there in the pre-con obviously, but the next three days. I’m looking forward to it myself. I’m looking forward to learning, so it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

1:20:56 Michael Port: Cool. You’re the best man. So, listen, this is both Michael Port and Grant Baldwin signing off for our podcasts. Grant is… Your podcast is called. For anybody that has been listening to my podcast and they also wanna go listen to Grant’s podcast, where can they find your podcast?

1:21:12 Grant Baldwin: Yeah. They can find everything over at, you can find the show notes for this episode, everything that Michael and I have talked about. And, Michael, where can we find out more about you?

1:21:23 Michael Port: is where you can find the podcast. If you wanna find out more about the event, that’s And if you just wanna check out all the different things that we’ve got going on, you can always go, Grant, you’re the man. I know I’ve chosen the right person to lead this pre-con, I thank you for doing it. And I look forward to seeing you.

1:21:47 Grant Baldwin: Looking forward to hanging out in Florida, my friend. This is gonna be a lot of fun, but we’re gonna get some sun on our bald, beautiful heads. It’s just gonna be a great time.


1:21:53 Michael Port: That’s right. I’ll bring the sunscreen.

1:21:55 Grant Baldwin: We’re gonna need it.

1:21:56 Michael Port: Alright. Bye for now.