Listen Now

Ready to influence your audience with a memorable presentation? Joey Coleman gives tips on how to lay the foundation for an unforgettable speech.

Joey Coleman is an award-winning speaker at national and international conferences. As a speaker, Joey works with businesses and individuals seeking to provide their clients with memorable experiences.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Core elements that should exist in every speech. (10:11) 
  • How to lay the ground work for making your case. (21:08)
  • How to connect with your audience with an element of wonder,both on and off the stage. (42:36)

Find out more about Joey Coleman and his upcoming events.

00:00 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port. This is Michael. When organizations like Hyatt Hotels, NASA, Deloitte, the World Bank, and Zappos need to boost their customers’ experience, they call on Joey for assistance. As a recognized expert in customer experience design and an award-winning speaker at national and international conferences, Joey specializes in creating unique, attention-grabbing customer experiences. Now, Joey developed his narrative skills as a criminal defense trial attorney and honed his communications and messaging skills at the White House, and did things for the US Secret Service and the CIA that he can’t talk about publicly. Not only that, his design and artwork has been displayed in museums, featured in jury shows and graced publications in the US and abroad. Hey, Joey.

00:57 Joey Coleman: Hey Michael.

00:57 Michael Port: How are you?

01:00 Joey Coleman: I’m doing very well. Thanks so much for having me on the podcast today.

01:02 Michael Port: You’re very welcome. I just got off the elliptical machine, so my voice is a little hoarse cause I left the fan on and it was blowing right in my mouth.

01:09 Joey Coleman: So it was kind of like what it would be like if you were here in Colorado running today?

01:14 Michael Port: Pretty much. I gotta learn to close my mouth, I think. My mother used to tell me that, my father used to tell me that, my teachers used to tell me that.

01:22 Joey Coleman: Ironically enough, it’s almost as if we had the same parents and teachers, Michael. That’s crazy how that works.

01:28 Michael Port: I wonder if we should be professional speakers?


01:30 Joey Coleman: I wonder.

01:31 Michael Port: That would work out for us. So listen, I’m a big fan of yours. We met a couple years ago, we’ve become friends overtime, we’ve worked together a little bit. And one of the reasons that I wanted to have you here is because I wanted people to see just how serious you are about learning.

01:52 Joey Coleman: Ah, okay.

01:53 Michael Port: You are a real observer of people and of practices. It’s one of the things you do very well and I wanna go back and start with Cutco. You worked for Cutco for a time, right?

02:10 Joey Coleman: Well I didn’t work for them but I know a number of people who did and I’m very familiar with their approach and their model.

02:17 Michael Port: I don’t know much about their approach but all the people that I’ve met that have come out of Cutco… And for those who don’t know, Cutco is a knife company, maybe they sell other things but I know them for their knives. And John Roman who was in our grad school, our HPS grad school, gave Amy and I a set of knives at the end of grad school as a thank you gift from the class. And these knives are so sharp, they’re scary. You even touch yourself with the end of it you’ll cut yourself. And he’s an extraordinary individual and an extraordinary speaker. And then John Ruhlin also came out of Cutco. And there’s something going on there that seems to be very effective in terms of the way that they’re training people, not just to sell but to see the world. And I was wondering if you have any experience with that.

03:12 Joey Coleman: Well, Mike, I guess… So a couple of things. Number one, while I never personally worked for Cutco, I had an interesting interaction with them when I was in college. There was a class that I was taking my sophomore year, where we had to do a presentation in class, which is obviously pretty relevant to speaking in our conversation. And one of the guys did a demonstration. He was a salesman for Cutco. And he did a demonstration and the thing I’ll never forget is he cut a penny using their scissors. And I was like, “How is that even possible that you would be able to cut through a penny using a pair of scissors?” And I just remember thinking in that moment, first of all, these are pretty cool scissors and pretty cool knives, cause he did a bunch of demonstrations. He basically did a sales pitch for us.

04:05 Joey Coleman: But the other thing I remember thinking in that moment was, “Demonstration is a fantastic way to let your audience experience the point you’re trying to make.” And I actually had the pleasure of growing up the son of a criminal defense attorney. Now, some people that are listening might go, “Jeez, I don’t know that I’d call that a pleasure.” But what was cool about it is I grew up basically helping my dad create dioramas and exhibits for trials. So while other kids were building castles with their LEGOs, I was recreating crime scenes.


04:41 Joey Coleman: Which was a little bizarre but also pretty cool as a kid to be able to help out with my dad and creating large, what we would now call infographics, at the time, we just called them exhibits in the courtroom setting. But the moral of the story being visuals, as you well know, can really help prove the point or help bring someone along on the path. And those visuals whether that’s an actual designed visual or whether that’s something that you do individually as far as a demonstration or a presentation, I think is really powerful. I was listening to a podcast that you were on the other day actually with our good mutual friend Marcus Sheridan and you were talking about the Big Mac oil demonstration.

05:28 Michael Port: Yes.

05:29 Joey Coleman: And just this experience of when you create something for an audience to see, it becomes a very powerful tool.

05:41 Michael Port: Well, when you were young, did you know at that time that you wanted to practice law? Because you went into law, you worked for the Secret Service, you worked for the CIA. Was that a passion of yours when you were younger?

05:56 Joey Coleman: It was. I think part of that is we know the things that we’re exposed to at a young age. My first time at counsel’s table in a courtroom during a criminal defense trial, I was in the 6th grade. And I’m wearing my little suit and I have my faux briefcase and the whole thing. And I got to watch my dad work, which is really cool cause I think the whole idea of take your kid to work day, I think is a really powerful experience because as children, we know what mommy and daddy do, but getting to see them do it is really, I think, quite powerful. And it certainly was for me and so as the oldest child, I looked at my dad and said, “Wow, I wanna grow up and be like him.” And as my Scottish grandmother said, I had a bit of a gift for the gab and was happy to run my mouth on things. So my view of lawyers was trial work, which ironically enough is less than 1% of the lawyers in the United States…

06:54 Michael Port: Really?

06:54 Joey Coleman: Are trial attorneys. Yeah, it’s a really small percentage. It’s a percentage that everyone’s familiar with because it’s what we see on TV and in movies. ‘Cause it’s not exciting to show what most lawyers do which is sit in their law library and read court cases and write briefs or write contracts. It’s important, don’t get me wrong and I’m not being critical of those folks that practice that type of law. They are very important but the idea of being in front of a jury or being in front of a judge is pretty rare in the practice of law, and yet to me that’s all law was. And so growing up I definitely knew that law school was where I was going. I wasn’t 100% sure that I was always going to practice law but I knew that I wanted to go to law school, get that education and practice for a while, and that’s what I did.

07:38 Michael Port: Well my father is a psychiatrist, so he couldn’t exactly bring me to work.


07:42 Joey Coleman: Fair enough. Fair enough.

07:43 Michael Port: That would have been a little strange. “This is my seven-year-old son and he’s gonna listen to you talk about how… “

07:48 Joey Coleman: “He’s gonna listen in.”


07:49 Michael Port: Yeah. “About how your parents ruined you and are the cause of all of your problems today.” So the reason I mentioned the law of course is because when you are an attorney, a large part of your time is spent making arguments. And I don’t mean arguing with people the way that some people think of arguing as a conflict but you have to demonstrate that what you’re arguing for is valid according to the law. And I wonder how much of your experience as an attorney seeps into your work now as an influencer because that’s what you do as a performer, as a speaker, as a consultant. Your job is to influence people to move in the direction that you and other folks, the senior folks that have brought you in want them to go.

08:52 Joey Coleman: I would say it’s an absolutely huge influence on that work. One of the things that most people who haven’t gone to law school may not be aware of is that law school is really about teaching you a way of thinking and a way of presenting arguments. That’s really, and again with respect to the wonderful professors I had in law school, that’s really the core of what they’re doing. Because as you well know, the challenge with the law is that rarely do you find yourself in a situation as a lawyer where the facts of what happened to your client line up beautifully with the law. And it’s not that your client has broken the law, it’s that the world, while we want it to be black and white, especially in a legal context is very, very gray. And it’s impossible for our legislatures to write laws that address every possible permutation that could come up. And so a significant portion of the time spent as a lawyer is looking at the laws and saying, “How can I make my case? How can I make my case that this law should or shouldn’t apply in this specific scenario?”

10:06 Michael Port: So how does that play into your content creation now when you’re working on material?

10:11 Joey Coleman: Yeah. You mentioned earlier your experience growing up with your father and my experience, similarly, when I wanted to go hang out on a Friday night, I had to make my case to my dad as to why I should be able to go out and stay out late on a Friday night. And it was pre-training me for arguing in front of a judge or a jury. And so the way it shows up in my speeches is, there’s a couple of I think core elements that should exist in every speech. Number one, you should be able to transmit to the audience your credibility; why they should be listening to you. Now I think one of the fundamental mistakes most speakers make is they start with that. They lead in with, “Well, let me begin my speech by telling you about my credentials and where I work and what I’ve done.” I understand what they’re trying to accomplish and that’s very important and very powerful. The problem is when we lead with that it sounds very self-serving.

11:11 Michael Port: That’s right.

11:12 Joey Coleman: So you and I both know cause we’ve talked about this at length, I think that should be in the speech but you shouldn’t lead with it. So there has to be a piece that establishes your credibility. Another piece that I think comes from my time as a lawyer is the best lawyers in the world anticipate the objections that the jury is gonna have and the problems that the jury is gonna have before they get raised. And they address those head-on. So one of the things I do in my speeches is I try to anticipate with this audience I’m presenting before, what are the things I’m gonna talk about that are gonna make them cross their arms and say, “No Joey that doesn’t apply to us,” or, “That wouldn’t apply in our business,” and directly address that as part of my presentation.

11:55 Joey Coleman: And sometimes even going so far as to say, “Now as I imagine some of you… I look around the room, some of you are holding your arms in disagreement, and then there’s those of you that are maybe not letting your body language show as much but I know what you’re thinking. Which is, ‘This guy has no idea what it’s like in our business. And he has no idea how this would apply to our world.’ But actually I’ve given that some thought and here’s how I think it does apply.” And now I’ve disarmed them; they’re like, “Oh wait, he knows what I’m thinking. He anticipates where I’m going.” And then it makes us all friends again, if you will. Because they feel that I am relating to their specific needs or their specific circumstance.

12:37 Michael Port: It’s also demonstrated a certain amount of credibility and confidence. Because, if you’re comfortable with their objections, it demonstrates that you’re comfortable with your argument.

12:54 Joey Coleman: Absolutely.

12:56 Michael Port: If a speaker or anybody that is trying to influence others, even if you’re at say a table trying to sell something to somebody. If you’re trying to avoid the alternative view or you’re trying to avoid the pushback that you get, it looks weak. Because you look afraid, scared.

13:19 Michael Port: But if you embrace it, if you walk right into it and say, “I get that. Totally get that. Makes sense. And here’s how I see it. Here’s another way of looking at the world.” Then people usually go, “Cool. He recognized me. That’s really nice.” So…

13:36 Joey Coleman: Absolutely. And one brief comment on that, Michael. When I was a lawyer, what’s interesting is… So I was a criminal defense lawyer. What a lot of people may or may not know, cause TV sometimes shows this but sometimes doesn’t. In a criminal defense setting, the prosecutor gets to go first and make their case about why you’re guilty. And then, the defense gets to try to make the case of why they’re not guilty. And then you go to closing arguments and the prosecutor comes in again and then the defense goes in. And you would think that the trial would end then, right? It was they get to go, I get to go, they get to go, I get to go and then it should end. ‘Cause we’ve each gotten to address the jury the same amount of time, right?

14:19 Michael Port: Sure.

14:20 Joey Coleman: The fact of the matter is, in criminal defense cases here in the Unites States, after closing arguments, after the prosecution goes and after the defense goes, the prosecution gets to go again.

14:31 Michael Port: Really?

14:31 Joey Coleman: And then it ends.

14:33 Michael Port: What?

14:33 Joey Coleman: Yeah.

14:33 Michael Port: I’ve never seen that in a film.

14:35 Joey Coleman: Most people don’t realize cause they never show that part on TV, but that’s what happens. And so the crazy thing about that is, you know from your work, there’s this fascinating theory in brain science around primacy and latency theory, right? We remember the first thing we heard and we remember the last thing we heard. So, that’s glorious for the prosecution. ‘Cause they got to go first and they got to go last. Part of the reason I got so good at addressing objections and trying to anticipate, not only where the jury was at or the judge was at but also where the prosecutor was going is, I wasn’t gonna get the chance to get the last word. And so, I had to anticipate what they were gonna say and at times would even say, “Now at the very end they’re gonna come back and tell you this, this and this. And I want you to pretend that I’m standing right next to you whispering in your ear, ‘But Joey said this. But Joey said that.'” And I would watch prosecutors just turn red in the face cause they’re like, “Oh wait, you’re stealing one of our best tools.” And I was like, “Yeah but guess what? The deck doesn’t need to be stacked against me, it’s already stacked against me. You already have my client sitting here with all the power of the government and the resources of the government saying that he or she is guilty. I gotta do everything I can to try to make sure that their voice is heard as well.”

15:51 Michael Port: Wow. You mentioned your… One of the first elements that transmit your credibility. If you don’t do it at the beginning and… Your bio should start that process but people listen to maybe a little bit of the bio, they’re half paying attention. How do you do that and where do you do that in your speech? Say for example, your First 100 Days speech.

16:18 Joey Coleman: Sure. What I try to do in the First 100 Days speech is I begin by, for lack of a better way of putting it, making my case. I start with a story that hopefully is interesting and intriguing and gets people thinking and maybe laughing, as well. And then, I go in and I make my case. And I make my case using statistics and examples. Not only from the industry of the people I’m talking to but from other industries that they’re familiar with. So that they see that this issue of customers leaving your business is pervasive across all industries. And it has to do with the fact that we serve human beings. Nothing else. And so, now that I’ve laid the foundation for why they should care about my speech, I then start to give them examples. And this is where I try to bring the credibility in because the examples I give are companies that they’re familiar with, many of whom have been clients of mine. And I say that in a 2016 transparency way. Now in the interest of full disclosure, this next case study of Zappos is going to explain how this works. I wanna be clear, Zappos is and has been a client of mine but this example I think is still very relevant.

17:31 Joey Coleman: What that does to the audience is they go, “Oh wait, he works with big companies like Zappos. And if they like him and like his work I should probably like his work too.” And so what I do is I seed case studies of my actual clients with other… Not all of them. Not every example is one of my clients. But I seed those throughout the conversation. The other thing I’ll do is in my messaging I’ll say things like, “Well having had the pleasure of working with clients in your industry all over the world, here’s what I’ve observed.” Or I’ll even be more specific. I recently gave a speech to financial advisors and I said, “I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to or leading workshops for over 4,000 financial advisors in the last two and a half years and what I found is blah, blah, blah.” In that way, it doesn’t sound self-aggrandizing or, “Look at me how cool I am, how many people I’ve worked with,” but what it lets them know is, “Well surely he can’t have worked and spoken to all these people without having some understanding of our business and our industry.” And suddenly I have the credibility.

18:37 Michael Port: And you’re leveraging Robert Cialdini’s principle of social proof.

18:43 Joey Coleman: Absolutely.

18:44 Michael Port: And you do that interesting because very often someone will use a client as an example and it does come off as self-aggrandizing or self-centered but the way that you just did it, it was a slight shift in the way that I heard it because you said, “In interest of full disclosure.” Which suggested that, “I have to tell you this because otherwise it would be a conflict of interest. You need to know that there’s a conflict of interest here.” Which is very different than, “Now my client, Zappos, blah, blah, blah.”

19:19 Joey Coleman: Right.

19:20 Michael Port: It’s so interesting; it’s such a slight change in the frame just by using a few different words that it really comes across differently to the audience.

19:34 Joey Coleman: That’s definitely my goal. Yeah. And that’s been the experience because then the audience feels like, “Oh, he told us this,” and it’s not bragging and when I do longer workshops, I’ll even point out the things that I did with them versus things they did on their own. And I’ll say, “Now this next example is something they figured out before I even started working with them and look how awesome this is and amazing this is.” And then lots of times I’ll bring it back and I’ll say… And it’s not really in a key note but more in a workshop setting I’ll say, “Look, right now you’re probably feeling anxious because you realize after having spent the day together, that the experience your clients’ is having, that the experience they’re having is not of the caliber you want it to be. So you might be feeling bad but here’s why I want you to feel good about that, two reasons. Number one, you’re aware and that is hugely a very powerful state to be in, being aware that there’s a problem. And number two, even companies like Zappos that are consistently rated the top customer service organization on the planet work at this on a daily basis. So guess what? You’re okay.”


20:49 Joey Coleman: “You don’t have to feel bad.” Now, that time you notice when I mentioned, I don’t mention my client Zappos because I already told them. And I don’t have to tell them multiple times and when I say that, it reinforces, “Oh, yeah, the type of company Joey worked with.”

21:05 Michael Port: Right. Now you mentioned transmitting credibility, you mentioned heading off or dealing with the objections that you might get directly. Are there any other elements that you make sure that you are incorporating into the speech when you’re doing the development of the speech?

21:28 Joey Coleman: Absolutely. One of the things I work to do is include very relevant to them statistics. And what I mean by that is wherever possible, I try to incorporate research that’s been done in their industry to prove my point. And that establishes my credibility by saying, look I know who the top thinkers and researchers are in your world and this is what they’re saying. What that does is two things, it continues to address the objection they might have of, well this is an interesting concept Joey, but how does it apply to me? And it also lets them know, oh, wait a second, this is a guy who took the time to do his homework and took the time to respect me as an audience member; that makes me like him more, that makes me think he’s smarter or he’s willing to put in the work.

22:24 Joey Coleman: At the end of the day, the piece of feedback I love hearing the most from… ‘Cause as speakers as you well know, we thrive on the audience reaction. Whether that’s the standing ovation or the people coming up afterwards and saying how much they loved the speech or them actually taking these principles and putting them in their practice, which is the piece I really like. But one of the ways that we can get some initial feedback on that is I love it when an audience member comes up and says, “You prepared this speech just for us, right? Everything, all these examples were targeted to me and to my business. And I can apply every single one you gave.” That’s when I know I’ve succeeded. Because while there is similarity between the different key notes I give, I always want the audience to feel like the speech was crafted just for them.

23:17 Michael Port: So do you do this research yourself? Or do you have an assistant do it, compile it for you?

23:23 Joey Coleman: I should have my assistant do more of it. I just got my first assistant who’s amazing and I love earlier this year, so probably about four months ago, five months ago now. But for the most part, I do it myself and that goes back to one of the things you mentioned earlier; I’m addicted to learning, Michael.


23:42 Joey Coleman: I’m just addicted to it. I’m a veracious reader. I’m proud of that fact, I’m excited about that fact. I try to have as many inputs as possible when it comes to my knowledge, so I go to a lot of events to speak. I also then stay on at the events and learn.

24:03 Michael Port: Yeah, you’re one of the few people who does that consistently.

24:06 Joey Coleman: Yeah. It’s an interesting distinguisher in our world of speakers because there’s a lot… And I don’t begrudge them. At points I’ve had to do this as well but usually when I agree to give a keynote at an event, one of the things I work out with the organizers is that I will stay as an audience member for the rest of the event. And I pitch it as two things. I pitch it to them as, “And this will be great because your audience members will be able to see me in break out sessions and lunches and dinners. And they can come up and ask me questions and I’m happy to talk to them.”

24:38 Joey Coleman: There’s two selfish reasons why I wanna stay. One, it’s frankly really good for business because all those interactions are with prospects that could either hire me to speak for their company or hire me to consult with their company. But the real reason I do it is I just love learning, I always have. And most of these events that I speak at, and that you do as well, people are paying thousands of dollars for a ticket to attend and I get to attend and learn for free? It’s the most fascinating ongoing grad school that cuts across every discipline you could imagine. That is just an aspect of the joy of what I get to do for a living.

25:20 Michael Port: And we’re really lucky cause you are gonna be presenting at Heroic Public Speaking LIVE in three weeks.

25:26 Joey Coleman: Indeed. And I am beyond excited. Having had the pleasure of working with you and Amy as a student earlier this summer and being big fans of both of you and your work, I am beyond thrilled to get the chance to present to your audience. And then also, as you know, stay around and hang out. One of the things I was really excited about was when you were like, “Yeah and if you wanna stay for the rest of the days, you’re welcome to.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh. Absolutely, of course. Because it allows me to keep learning. That sounds fantastic.”

25:58 Michael Port: It’s interesting, people often ask me how I can get so quickly to who a student is when they’re on the stage, as a person. And that’s one of the things that we need to do when we’re working with folks is to understand who they are, to help them express what is unique about them. And I often say that it’s not just when they get on the stage do I see it, I watch them in the audience first. Because I can learn, sometimes even more about a person, by how they participate as an audience member.

26:44 Joey Coleman: Sure.

26:46 Michael Port: And you, when you came and did this A-lister master class with us, you were such an amazing participant.

26:55 Joey Coleman: Oh, thank you.

26:56 Michael Port: Because it’s not easy for folks who are professionals often, to not give each other advice. It’s very difficult. Some groups, depending on the dynamic, are better than others in terms of not doing it too much. But you were so thoughtful about when you offered a thought here or there or a suggestion. You really understood the timing, when the right time was to present your thought or your idea. You were 100% supportive of everybody. You were present. I felt, anytime I saw you in the audience while you were watching your colleagues… And, what do we do in A-lister master class? It’s just about 10 people there. It’s a private invite only experience. And you… Not everybody was in the room together all the time because sometimes we’d be working with a student and then the other folks would be out in the rehearsal rooms working on a piece that they just had been in the room with us and they go work on it and they bring it back. But you spent a lot of your time in the room supporting the person who’s on stage. And I imagine, because a lot of the learning happens by watching other people, certainly.

28:13 Joey Coleman: Absolutely.

28:15 Michael Port: But I just mention this because the way that we… You know that old expression, “The way that we are anywhere is the way that we are everywhere.”

28:26 Joey Coleman: Sure.

28:27 Michael Port: And I find that I can learn so much about a person by how they behave as an audience member.

28:34 Joey Coleman: I totally agree, I totally agree. And it’s one of the things that is… First of all, thank you for those complements, I really appreciate it. You’re right. My thought was, through that entire process, I’m gonna do my rehearsal at night while the rest of you are all sleeping because I don’t wanna… And the funny thing about it Michael is I look, that goes back to high school. When I was in high school, I had the most… I have the most incredible and supportive and loving parents and I just feel so fortunate to have grown up in the family that I did. But I would get home from school, usually around 11:00 PM because I was involved in so many clubs and sports and activities and teams and different things. I would go from after school all the way through and I would get home somewhere between 9:00 and 11:00 PM. And my mom was very sweet, she would always have what everybody else had had for dinner would be there for me and I’d have dinner. And then I’d go do homework starting at about 11:00 at night, 12:00 at night. And I’d do homework till maybe 2:00 in the morning, go to sleep, and then I’d wake up the next morning to be at school at 7:30.

29:46 Joey Coleman: So, thankfully I didn’t need a lot of sleep but I never wanted… It was a little bit of FOMO; I never wanted to miss out on the opportunity to experience or participate or learn. And I would save the homework and the practice and all the things till everyone else was asleep because I figured, “Well, if everyone else is sleeping, I’m not missing out on anything. I can do my work then.” And that definitely applied to me and I’m sitting here and I’m like, “I get the chance to watch you and Amy work. I get the chance to watch… ” When you think about an A-lister event, the people who were on stage are people who I admire as speakers, who I’d look to learn from and the chance to see them on stage, I was like, “I don’t wanna miss any small nuance that might be there.” There’s an interesting little experience I had with Tony Robbins years ago. I was attending a Tony Robbins event and a speaker got up on stage and for an hour sold from the stage.

30:44 Joey Coleman: And Michael, it was painful. We’ve all been in the audience where the speaker’s going on and has no awareness of the audience or their state and they’re going on and on and this guy was doing a hard sell and it wasn’t working. And people were getting up and they were leaving the room. They were walking out of the room. They didn’t wanna participate and the room went from hundreds and hundreds of people down to just maybe 15 people left in the room. And what happened next is the moderator came out and he said, “Look. Never miss the message because you don’t like the speaker.” And I think there’s such power in that that there’s the opportunity to learn from every presentation you’ll ever witness.

31:33 Michael Port: That is beautiful. Not the selling from the stage for an hour…

32:32 Michael Port: So it’s clear to me, Joey, that you are an underachiever.

32:37 Joey Coleman: I strive to be.

32:38 Michael Port: Yes. You’re an underachiever and you never really worked hard. Do you think that you work harder than most people, average or do less work than most people in pursuit of your goals?

32:57 Joey Coleman: It’s an interesting question. I think it’s very, very rare that any of us fully comprehends how hard or not hard someone works. I think it’s pretty difficult to look at someone and say, “Well, I bet they work really hard,” or, “I bet they don’t work that hard,” because we’re not with them 24/7, 365. When it comes to the work I put in, I never want to be in a situation where I say to myself, that didn’t go as well as I wanted it to and I know it would have gone better if I would have worked harder. I never want to have that self-assessment. And so what that probably results in is me putting in even more time than is necessary and I don’t say that from a place of ego. If anything, being married has been a glorious feedback loop for me in that sense because my wife will regularly remind me, “You’ve done the work. You can go to bed now.”

34:12 Michael Port: I actually see it… I don’t think it demonstrates ego. I think it actually demonstrates humility because what I think demonstrates ego is a lack of regard for the people that you’re performing for.

34:28 Joey Coleman: Fair enough.

34:29 Michael Port: So if you go, “I don’t need to work on this. Let’s go in and do my thing because I’m so great.” Well, that could be a demonstration of ego but if you’re the one, if you’re working to make sure that you’re going in there to deliver on your promises, to me, I think that shows humility and I think it’s really quite appealing. How long have you been speaking? When did you start? What was your transition from practicing as an attorney? Was the CIA your last position as an attorney?

35:02 Joey Coleman: No, that was actually one my first ones. The 30 second arc of Joey’s career. I went straight from college to law school. While in law school, I had stints with the White House, the Secret Service and the CIA, both during the school year and in the summers and a little beyond. After that, I went back and practiced law for a hot minute. Then I went and did business consulting with Fortune 500 Companies, then I went back and practiced law again in Iowa doing criminal defense for about five years. Then I went and taught at a place in Western Massachusetts, a college doing basically post-grad executive education courses. Then I ran a division of a promotional products company. Then I ran my own marketing and branding firm for over a decade. And then about two years ago, started speaking full time.

35:54 Joey Coleman: Now throughout each of those career iterations, speaking and presenting was part of my job. I know you talk about this in ‘Steal the Show’, your fantastic book which by the way is probably one of the books I gift the most because I think it’s so invaluable even for folks who aren’t professional speakers. Because we live in a world where you are asked to make your case or to present your position to your co-workers, to your boss, to your employees, to your customers every single day. And if you start thinking about that as a performance and how to engage and attract your audience, it’s a game changer. So to answer the question, when did I start speaking? I was speaking at all of those things, but I’ve been full time my main focus as a professional speaker for about two years now.

36:46 Michael Port: Wow. You have had then one of I think the fastest trajectories onto the professional circuit that I’ve seen in a long time. People come onto the professional circuit after they win a gold medal at the Olympics or they sell their company for $4 billion. That’s a little bit different. That’s a little bit different unless you sold a company for $4 billion that I’m just not aware of.

37:11 Joey Coleman: No, no I have not.

37:12 Michael Port: But yeah, so that’s really amazing. And also, the number of people that you know in this industry is significant given that you’ve only been for a few years “in the industry.”

37:31 Joey Coleman: And that actually, interestingly enough, that ties back to growing up as well. Because one of the most… My dad in particular had a lot of sayings growing up and things that he… I’m one of seven kids, so he I think basically looked at it as, “I’ve got these young people that… Children that are growing up into young people and will be adults out in the world. What can I do to teach them? What can I do to educate them?” And was a big believer that your books should never get in the way of your education. Now, my parents were very big on school. The expectation for my siblings and I was a 4.0 report card. That was the expectation. And anything below that resulted in more study hall at home which we had study hall at home every day. Speaking of, as we’re talking about this learning thing, I’m realizing there were all these influential moments growing up.

38:25 Michael Port: Interesting.

38:25 Joey Coleman: But one of the things my dad always used to say is, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And was all about showing to us kids, the reason I’m able to accomplish this is because I became friends with the concierge or the manager of the hotel. Or the reason we’re able to accomplish this for this client is because I know the prosecutor and I know the sheriff and I know the judge. When I started to move into the world of speaking, I realized that, not only could I learn a lot from all these people that have been speaking professionally much longer than I have but that they would have great stories to tell, they’re fun people as you and I both know; professional speakers are an interesting group. It’s a quirky group. There is some fascinating psychology which we could talk about it at length but somebody who is willing to get up on a stage and bare their soul or put themselves out in front of an audience is probably gonna be an interesting person to talk to off stage. And so I just feel so fortunate that over the years, I’ve had the chance to get to know many of these people personally and then you go to events and you’re hanging out with your friends which is a fantastic antidote if you will to the sometimes loneliness that can come up being a professional speaker and travelling all the time.

39:46 Michael Port: Yeah, it’s true. You were very fortunate to have an academically oriented family. A family who obviously went after and achieved many of their goals and a lot of folks didn’t have that kind of upbringing and they may not have necessarily the same kind of say, study habits that you do now because you grew up with them. I do wanna say though, if you’re listening and you’re feeling like, “Well maybe I’m a little different than Joey, could I develop myself that fast the way that he does?” I think yes you can because it’s not just that Joey came from that environment but what I hear in the way Joey expresses himself and the way that he looks at the world is, I think he has a lot of wonder for the world.

40:47 Joey Coleman: Absolutely.

40:48 Michael Port: And that’s what I think is the driving factor for most learners, is they are just interested in how things work.

41:00 Joey Coleman: Absolutely, interested and curious and willing to ask questions. I have no problem… I did an event about two weeks ago with 25 functional medicine doctors. Okay, so imagine people that are working in the area of genomics and epigenetics and all these concepts of frankly where science is gonna be in about 20 to 30 years from now will be the norm. These are the folks that are on the cutting edge of that. And I’ll be honest, walking into it, there was this part of me that was like, “This is a smart, smart room. Like a really, really smart room.” There’s two ways to respond to that. One way is to say, “I’m not as smart as these people, I better just sit back.” I come at it as, “Wow, I’m not as smart as these people, how much can I learn from them in as short amount of time as possible?” So on every break at every meal, I’m like, “Tell me about your work, tell me about what you’re doing. How does that show up? Why do you think it is this way? Why do you think drug companies work this way? Why do you think insurance companies work this way? How does it all tie together?” Because the thing that has always fascinated me is, what are all the connections and how does it work together? Because it’s my personal belief that we live in a world that is increasingly connected. It’s always been connected but it’s increasingly connected and I love to be able to see the connections and identify the patterns.

42:29 Michael Port: Ah, you like to connect the dots, yeah.

42:30 Joey Coleman: Yeah. And I’m constantly trying to connect the dots in everything I do.

42:36 Michael Port: Well you know, this concept of wonder is interesting. I don’t know if you heard me talk about it when we were at… When we did the master class. I don’t know if I mentioned it during that period of time to anybody but one of the things that you see in wonderful speakers and actors and musicians, if you look for it, you’ll recognize it, it’s a sense of wonder. So sometimes say a speaker will be working on a story and it’s a little flat and they can’t figure out why. I’ll often suggest that they play with it with a sense of wonder because if we’re telling a story that doesn’t have an element of wonder, then it’s often very flat. Why do we care? But if you’re going through the whole story with a sense of wonder… Oh and then this happened and oh my God, you wouldn’t believe what happened next, that’s a sense of wonder which is very different than, so this happened and then this happened after that. And then this… It’s pedantic or it’s pedestrian rather. And I think that sense of wonder is very important, and not only does it help us learn off the stage but it also helps us connect on the stage.

44:00 Joey Coleman: Absolutely. I totally agree. And one of the things you had mentioned that… The environment you grow up in and how that can contribute to who you are. I think when it comes to wonder, that’s a choice. You can choose to show up in life with a sense of wonder and you can make that commitment, not only every day you wake up but in every moment. And the way that has just been ramrodded home in the last few years for me, is I have two little kids. I have a three-year old and a 10-month old and watching them become fixated with something and watching them explore and watching my three-year old… Lots of times with my three-year old, we’ll walk into a place and he’ll be looking to see what’s under the tables. How often do you walk into a restaurant and think, I wonder what’s on the bottom of this table? But he’ll get under the table and be looking around and see what’s there or be walking in doors.

45:01 Joey Coleman: We’ll go to a restaurant sometimes and he’s very shy, ha-ha and he’ll have no problem just trying to walk back into the kitchen to see what’s going on cause he hears sound back there and he knows things are happening and he’s like, “What’s in there?” We were at a restaurant recently where they had a brick pizza oven where they were firing, they had fire in the pizza. And he was like, “Daddy, what is that?” And I was like, “Oh, they’re cooking the pizza.” He’s like, “They’re cooking it with fire?” And I was like, “Yes, they’re cooking it with… ” And he’s three. He doesn’t understand the concept of cooking but he knows enough to see, there’s a flame flickering there and there’s a pizza next to it, what’s happening?

45:40 Joey Coleman: And it’s just such a great reminder, if you wanna increase your ability to have wonder in your life, find some under five-year old child. I’d say, ideally, probably between a year and five years old and just go spend the day with them. And spend the day observing not, “Hey, we’re gonna go do this. We’re gonna do this activity.” It doesn’t matter where you are, what they’re doing. Just observe how they approach everything, how they get fascinated and fixated. How they pick toys up and they turn them around and look at every single angle of the toy. When’s the last time someone listening picked up a pen and looked at every single angle of the pen? Why is it shaped this way? Why does it work this way?

46:21 Michael Port: And as a content creator, you, not you Joey, but our listeners, if you have a sense of wonder, you will start to find so many stories that you can use in your presentations. Sometimes people feel like, “I can’t access the stories. What stories are good stories? Where are they? What should I tell?” But if you take that approach where you look at almost everything as new, you’ll start to see so much more and be interested in so much more. You’ll start to see so many more opportunities for teaching moments, stories that you can use to educate or to influence or to open somebody’s eyes. And so, to that end… I’m gonna put you on the spot. Would you be willing to tell us about the roller coaster?


47:21 Joey Coleman: Sure. Sure.

47:24 Michael Port: Okay, good.

47:24 Joey Coleman: I’d be happy to.

47:25 Michael Port: Thank you.

47:27 Joey Coleman: So, I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was nine years old and I was standing outside, on a bright, sunny, beautiful California morning and I was beyond thrilled. Because you see, over the course of the last year, I had grown and I now met the requirements of the sign that said, “You must be this tall to ride this ride.” Now, I was stoked because I had been thinking about this ride for years because this sign was in front of the roller coaster at Marriott’s Great America, the Demon. At the time the Demon was billed as the world’s most death defying, terrifying, roller coaster and while some people were terrified to get on it, I was excited that I was finally going to be able to have this experience. And so, I slid into the car, I pulled the harness down around my neck until it clicked and I settled in for what would turn out to be the ride of a lifetime.

48:34 Joey Coleman: As the train lurched out of the station and began its slow steady climb, click, click, click, thoughts of fear and doubt and uncertainty started to come into my mind. “Wait a second, this actually goes pretty high. Oh wow! We’re going higher and higher, is this really safe? I’m not sure this was actually a good idea. I know I have this safety harness down around my neck but what if it didn’t latch? I heard it latch but what if it didn’t really latch? And what if it comes undone? What if… I’m kind of a skinny little kid, what if I slide past the latch even though the bar stays down? What if I fall out of the roller coaster? What if I fall out while we’re going through one of those loops? What if I fall out at one of the tops of one of those loops and I fall down and as I’m falling I get hit by the roller coaster coming through? This would be a terrible way to go. I’m nine years old, I’ve never even kissed a girl.”

49:32 Joey Coleman: As the roller coaster crested the top of the first hill and began to plunge story after story after story, my stomach, which had been located where a stomach normally goes, rocketed into my throat and back down again as we did loop after loop after loop. And we got going so fast as we moved into a corkscrew that water started to stream from the sides of my eyes. And to this day, I refuse to acknowledge whether that was because of the speed of the roller coaster or whether those were tears of fear. And while I don’t have a photo of myself on that fateful day, you can imagine what I looked like, with hair blown back in the wind, eyes as big as saucers, my mouth opened wide enough that the roller coaster could have gone through it and every muscle in my arms tensed, as I held onto the bar for dear life.

50:24 Michael Port: I love that. That is so great. And man it’s so cool when Joey does this story, he does something physically at the end, which is the button, it’s the kaboom and then applause because it’s such a physical, active story. And I just threw it on him to see, well, how would he do it if he can’t do that?


50:43 Michael Port: He doesn’t have…

50:44 Joey Coleman: Which was exciting for me because I’m into the story and I’m thinking, “I don’t know how we’re gonna get to the punchline, but let’s just keep advancing the story.”

50:51 Michael Port: But you did it and it’s such a demonstration of when you know your material that well, you can improv in the moment because you’re able to think about what you will do to solve a problem that’s about to come up, while you’re performing because you know the material so well, you can stay in the moment at the same time. It’s like doing two different things at once and it seems really difficult to people when they’ve never been that prepared on stage because when you’re not prepared, all you can do is just try to fumble around and find the right thing to say in that moment. If you listen to the detail in the story, the specificity in the story, how the dots were connected in the story, he’s not like, “Oh wait, I gotta go back and tell you this other thing.” It doesn’t… It all progresses, cleanly, beautifully and it’s a very theatrical story and of course he tells it on stages to big audiences and I just love it. I’m so happy you did that and you’re just the kind of performer who, “Hey by the way, will you do this?” And you go, “Sure, okay, no problem.”


52:00 Joey Coleman: Why not? Well, let’s have some fun. I appreciate that Michael. Two thoughts on that. One, I really appreciate what is such a fundamental piece of your teaching in your work which is, you gotta prepare, you gotta prepare and I think some of the people listening may… ‘Cause I used to have this concern too. I used to think, “Well if I prepare too much, it’ll sound flat, it’ll sound rehearsed, it’ll sound rote.” We’re recording this at a time about a month before the presidential elections and one of the things that drives me crazy is we see going back and forth between the major candidates a lot of, “Well that’s scripted. What you just said was scripted and it was planned.” And it’s like, well to be frank, I would hope so. [chuckle] You’re running to be President of the United States, I hope you’ve thought through some of these things and know what you want to say about them. To me, that’s kind of the ante-up chips to be able to sit down at the table and say you want this job. So I think it really is important to do that work and what’s great is when you actually put in the time and learn the content, and rehearse the content and feel comfortable with it, you actually get more freedom to be spontaneous.

53:18 Michael Port: That’s right.

53:18 Joey Coleman: And it’s so counter intuitive. I used to experience this in my design business. Some of the designers I worked with… ‘Cause I would serve as a creative director and I had all these graphic designers who worked for me over the years. Some of them, if the client had a style guide, were just devastated, they’re like, “Oh, they’ve already decided what color they want us to use, they’ve already decided what type face they want us to use. This is just crushing my creativity.” The best designers I worked with were like, “There’s a style guide? They’re putting limitations on us? This is fantastic because it’s gonna call me to be even more creative because I have fewer options.”

54:00 Michael Port: Yeah.

54:00 Joey Coleman: And it sounds so crazy if you’ve never been in that position but I promise anyone listening, when you achieve a level of understanding of your work, of your message, of whatever it is that you do that you can do it in your sleep, when you’re called to do it, you can have so much more fun with it. And to your point earlier, Michael, that’s when you actually get to play with it. The thing I love to do the most, I’m like you. I love to watch the audience. And I love to see how things are working and not working. And by the way, if something that is kind of a planned part of the speech isn’t working, I’m ready to shift into something that I think will work. And knowing what those things are and being able to massage the audience, at the risk of sounding “woo woo,” it’s like riding the most energetic wave you could ever imagine. Because you’re constantly feeling the pulse of the room. Okay, that table in the back, I’ve got them but this table in the middle, I’m starting to lose them. I need to focus more on them. I need to bring them back in.

55:09 Joey Coleman: I need to do an exercise to get this “gasp!” I need to address this thing that’s going on in the back of the room that just happened. Somebody dropped a bunch of dishes. I need to address it. Because everybody’s wondering how I’m gonna handle it, so let’s have some fun with it. And it gives you so much more freedom but also power in the moment to really shape an experience, which at the end of the day, I think is what we are called to do, not only as performers but as human beings. Because we live in a world where increasingly, the possessions you have, the things you have, are not nearly as valuable or meaningful as the experiences you’ve had. And if you go into life looking to have experiences but also create experiences, man it becomes such a richer, richer life and richer experience that it’s hard to have a bad day. It really is.

56:06 Michael Port: I’ll tell you, this has been an amazing experience for me and I know it has too for our listeners. Joey, thank you so much. If somebody wants to reach out to you and connect, where can they do that?

56:15 Joey Coleman: The best way to find me is on my website, So it’s J-O-E-Y, probably like some six-year-old you know, Joey. Coleman, like the camping equipment, C-O-L-E-M-A-N, dot com. And there’s all kinds of blog posts there and videos and all kinds of things. And I just again thank you, Michael. I am a big fan of you and your work and I have been for a long time. And it’s an absolute honor to not only be on the podcast but to be with you at Heroic Public Speaking here in a few weeks.

56:47 Michael Port: I am so excited for it. Thank you again, my friend. And everybody, Joey is… He’s somebody who we can all look up to and I highly encourage you to follow him, pay attention to him because he’ll get you where you wanna go, if you ask him for help. So keep thinking big about who you are and what you offer the world. Thank you for the opportunity to be of service. I don’t take it for granted. I know Joey doesn’t take it for granted either. And we’ll see you next time. Bye for now.