Finding Your Speaking Groove with Chris Ducker

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Chris Ducker: It’s been a blistering start of 2016 and I always go hard for a couple of weeks. … I’m not one of those people who can ease back into things. I have to work hard to get kind of back into the groove. But it’s been a great beginning of the new year; great things happened towards the end of last year, which are continuing to roll forward. I’m a very happy camper right now.

Grant Baldwin: It’s always a good sign when you’ve been off a couple weeks or you wind down a year, but then you just can’t wait to get back to it, and you’re looking forward to your work. You enjoy what you do. Speaking is one of those things that, there’s definitely a work element to it, but you and I enjoy it because speaking is really fun.

There’s nothing that really compares to being on a stage in front of an audience and you feel like you’ve got them; You have this punchline coming up, or this story you’re getting ready to tell.

Chris: I still get just as pumped up and nervous before every single gig I do. The nerves don’t get to me anymore. It’s a good thing that I get a little nervous because it shows that I care about what I’m doing and who I’m doing it for, but I don’t let them get to me anymore.

Whereas before, seven or eight years ago, when I started my speaking career. I did get nervous and looking back on the old gigs and some old video footage, the first four or five minutes of a lot of my gigs sucked awfully because of the fact that I was genuinely nervous. I have to work on that. It comes with experience and confidence. But nowadays I’m ready to go.

Grant: That’s a question I get from a lot of people, “Do you still get nervous?” Talk a little bit more about that. You said you used to get really nervous and it would jack up the first few minutes of your presentation and now, you still get nervous, but it doesn’t affect you. How has that evolved over time?

Chris: I became acutely aware that I was very nervous before I went on stage. My palms would get really sweaty, my mouth would dry up on me, and I got the stomach churns. And then it’s time to go on stage and I have to get started, I have to get going. I could practice an intro 50 times and I’d screw it up because of nerves. I can’t remember exactly who gave me this tip, but somebody said before you go on just listen to some music.

I got up my iPod and I remember flipping through to the Rocky IV soundtrack. I just selected any song I could get my hands on, It was Burning Heart. The moment I took my headset off, it was 60 seconds before I was being introduced. I hit the stage and I didn’t feel overly nervous. I think it was because I took my mind off of it and I just got into things. Ever since, before I get on stage I listen to that one song. That’s my pre gig song.

Grant: There’s so many speakers I’ve talked to who have their one song and that’s the song they use to get them pumped up. I used to do a lot of high school assemblies and I would listen to Eminem’s Lose Yourself in my car in the parking lot of a high school or a college.

But you said it eloquently there, nerves remind you that what you’re doing matters and that you care. If you didn’t get nervous, then you would think, “I don’t really care how it goes.” But when you know it matters and what you’re getting ready to do and say can really make a difference and can make an impact in the lives of people, it causes us [to be nervous]. That’s a good thing that you’re still feeling that.

I’m curious about how you got into speaking, how you got started. Give us your story and journey into speaking and how you’ve built that side of your business.

Chris: Many years ago, when I was still living in the UK, I was publishing a fanzine for Hong Kong movie enthusiasts in the UK. I took a trip over to Hong Kong and I just started knocking on doors and I met these Hong Kong film stars. Most people wouldn’t have even heard of them. It took two or three trips to Hong Kong before I started to get the opportunity to hang out with guys like Jet Lee, Jackie Chan, people like that.

I worked hard, then I had this crazy idea; I thought “I’m gonna bring a Hong Kong film star to England and do an event.” They got their flights mixed up and they arrived eight or nine hours later than they should have. The event was already going on. There were 250 people there in Chinatown in London and they were all waiting for this guy to come on stage– his English name is Anthony Wong; Chinese name is Wong Cung. He’s very famous, like the Dennis Hopper of Hong Kong, this guy– I’m thinking, “What am I going to do?”

And I get up on stage and for an hour and a half, I talk about Hong Kong cinema and why I became a fan, what it means to the Western world, and how it influences Hollywood productions, just to keep them there and keep them happy. That was the first time I ever spoke for longer than a minute or two in front of a crowd. I absolutely ate it up. Then I started doing a certain amount of seminars.

I was doing workshops within the marketing industry back in the UK for the publishing business I was working on. Then I came over to the Philippines in 2000. I did live trainings in front of almost 1,200 people where I taught them how to be a better telesales-person. It began very serendipitously to a certain degree, but it really only took off once I got active online, starting in 2010, once I started blogging and podcasting.

The first real conference in the United States that I spoke at was New Media Europe, which at the time was still called Blog World. It was off to the races from there on. I’ve been very blessed to get some amazingly good gigs at great events, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Grant: I want to talk about that first event that you hosted in London where the Hong Kong film Star had some flight issues and couldn’t make it. You stepped up and spoke for 90 minutes. 90 minutes is a long time to be on stage and to keep an audience. Had you prepared anything at all? You’d never done any public speaking. How did you know what to talk about?

Chris: Bear in mind that at the time I was a massive Hong Kong film fan. I don’t watch so many of them now, but in my teens I discovered Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and fell in love with Kung Fu; I started training and all that sort of stuff.

I was a big fan, so I knew the terminology and I knew what movies to talk about. I even went through Jackie Chan’s worst injuries; I talked about him cracking open his skull. I was making people laugh and throwing in little tidbits of trivia like the fact that Jackie couldn’t get insurance for his movies anymore, so he built his own insurance company. I’ve been blessed to have the gift of the gab and to not worry about being around people that I don’t know very well.

I had been a sales guy since I was 17, so I was used to pitching to people who had never heard from me or didn’t want to buy what I was selling. So it was a relatively easy situation for me. But no, there was nothing prepared. I just kept it going until I got the thumbs up at the back of the auditorium that the guy was actually in the building.

Grant: Part of what makes that a great story and part of what makes a great speaker is that when people talk about things that they’re really passionate about, they’re not regurgitating from a script; you feel like they’re speaking from the heart.

But you have to really be interested, and love the subject that you’re speaking about to be able to do that. When you and I go speak, and we present a workshop or a keynote, we spend a lot of time polishing and refining that, and practicing it and rehearsing it. But if you were to ask us to speak for 30, 45, 60, 90 minutes on something that we’re really passionate about, most people would be surprised if we could do that.

But I could spend a lot of time talking about [my wife and kids] without using notes, without having to prepare, because it’s something that’s embedded within me. If you asked me “Tell me about your kids. Tell me about your wife.” I wouldn’t say, “I’d love to, but I don’t have my slides or I don’t have my notes. So I can’t; I don’t have anything to tell you.” I want what I’m talking about to be something I’m living as well.

Chris: That emotion, that passion, that enthusiasm, that excitement, it all comes through in your presentation. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to do a lot of prep work, as long as you know what you’re talking about 9 times out of 10 nobody in the audience is going to know what you’re going to deliver. Because of that, you can sometimes blag your way through it to a certain degree if that enthusiasm is there and if you get the opportunity to be able to shine a little bit.

Some conferences are a little bit stricter when it comes to things like that and want presentations to be delivered in advance. But I’m a big experimenter when it comes to everything that I do business-wise, including public speaking.

I’ve done everything… “Somebody once told me, “if you wait till the last minute, it only takes a minute.” Worst bit of advice I’ve ever had in my life. I tried that. Horrible. Never do it again. Someone once said to me, “If you’re nervous, Have a couple of shots of whiskey before you get on stage; it’ll loosen you up a little bit.”

So I tried that and then I realized 20 minutes into my presentation that I’m tipsy and my face is red and I’m thinking, “It’s not a good idea to have whiskey at 9:30 in the morning on an empty stomach.” I’ve tried it all.

But I am now into the mindset of “you have to run through your presentation tons of times before you get on stage, because when you speak at the level that you and I now speak at, it’s very rare that you’re doing a breakout or a concurrent session. You’re on the main stage, you’re a keynote speaker, and you can’t suck; you can’t bomb. You’re getting paid; people are expecting you to deliver, and it is what it is.

Grant: I liked one of the points that you made earlier– Most of the audience doesn’t know where you’re going with the talk. Speaking is very different from singing a song. If you’re singing a song that everybody knows the lyrics to, everybody knows if you mess up.

Whereas, when it comes to speaking, if you’ve gone over your outline and you get the points out of order, forget a point, or misread something; nobody knows but you. That’s okay. As a speaker you have to get out of your own head.

We’ve talked about how being fully present and in the moment helps you to realize that it’s okay if you say something wrong, mess up, get those points out of order, or skip a step; you continue to provide a top-notch presentation.

You mentioned that experience in London when you filled 90 minutes. You also said you started doing some more workshops and sales training. What were you doing there and how did you get those events and bookings?

Chris: When I first started it was at community college. I did a gig at the local library which was really well attended. … I also got booked because the publishing company that I worked at in London was a group of offices around the UK. I was a good sales guy for them; I would bring in a good display advertising commission for myself and sell a load of AD for them.

So, I would regularly travel from London up to other areas in the UK, like Birmingham or Manchester, and I would train the other offices within the group of companies how to open a sales call properly, or how to handle objections, or how to button up a sale properly after the close. It was very much how to, how to, how to, in my first days as a speaker.

There was a time where I did very little speaking at all, but once I started talking about things like virtual assistance, productivity, being a virtual CEO, lifestyle design, and personal branding; that’s really where the real fun, public speaking has come my way.

Grant: How did everything change when you started getting online, and why do you think it changed so much?

Chris: I never got paid for any of those bookings up to that point. It was always just part of the job, or it was me wanting to do it for experience. Even when I got active online I wasn’t out to become a speaker or to get speaking gigs.

It just happened as a direct result of providing value on a consistent basis to my blog or my podcast listeners. It was as simple as that. I remember my first ever speaking gig; I had Darren Rouse from Pro Blogger on one side … then on the other side there’s Leah Baba from ZenApp. This is my first gig in this world.

And then right in the middle at the back of the room with our camera, was my gorgeous wife. I had probably a hundred people in that room for my first gig in the online business space. And I honestly stared at her almost the entire time because I was so freaked out about the whole situation.

What it has enabled me to do is find a voice. Through blogging and podcasting, you find the voice, you find your groove, and then when people see that groove, they want a piece.

Grant: You mentioned a bunch of different topics there; hiring virtual staff, productivity, blogging, and all these various types of topics. A challenge for a lot of speakers in the beginning is how to narrow down what they want to speak on. There’s 19 different things that I’d like to talk about on which I’m at least somewhat knowledgeable.

How did you narrow down what you wanted to speak on?

Chris: The first couple of years it was about delivering what people expected to get from me, which was productivity surrounding virtual staffing. Once Virtual Freedom came out in early 2014, I made a pretty solid decision that I was gonna start moving away from that being my sole focus in terms of content. I Felt like I wrote a book that answers all the questions. Quite frankly, there wasn’t anything else left in me.

That’s one of the reasons why the book has done so well is because it really has answered all the questions that people have when it comes to finding, hiring, training, and working with virtual teams to build their business. Plain, simple mission accomplished. Since that time, going forward, I’ve really zoomed in.

My focus has been to help people that want to build businesses based around their personal brand, their expertise, their vibe, what they stand for, and who they’re serving to go ahead and build those businesses in a smart fashion, a productive fashion, but also one with long-term in mind and a profitability factor built in from day one. That’s what I want to do.

That was the onus behind Youpreneur when we launched it. I feel a renewed vigor for not just speaking, but for content creation in general because of the fact that I’m really truly focusing on the type of content that I feel I deliver in an extremely digestible, highly actionable way that I know people will appreciate.

Every single day I get a tweet or an email or a Snapchat message from someone telling me that I’m genuinely helping them do exactly what I’m going out to attempt to do. That’s all the pat on the back you need.

Grant: There are two things that you said that I really liked. One is that, [it takes time] to narrow down and figure out your topic and your subject and what it is that you want to speak about. It’s not like you come out your first talk and you just nail it and that’s the thing that you’re going to be speaking about forever and ever and ever.

It’s this evolving process. The other thing that you said there is that you may establish what it is that you want to speak about and hone that in, but it’s also okay, over time, to pivot that.

For a while you were doing the bulk of your speaking on virtual staff finding, hiring assistants, and that type of world. You have the book come out; you speak about that. Then you make the conscious decision that you don’t necessarily want to continue speaking about that, and that’s okay. You can dictate and determine that. Now you would like to shift a little bit and pivot this direction and speak more on the Youpreneur subject and the personal branding subject.

You get to decide a bit of that and determine a bit of that rather than feeling like you wrote the book about hiring virtual staff, therefore you have to speak about that forever. I like how you arrived at that and how you’ve pivoted on that in your speaking journey.

Chris: I’m a happier speaker because of it. I get the opportunity to speak at the right kind of events with the right kind of crowds now.

Grant: Let’s shift gears for a second; one of the unique perspectives you bring to the table is not only are you a speaker, but you also are an event planner. Therefore you’re a decision maker who hires speakers. In the spring [you host] the Tropical Think Tank, an event out in the Philippines, which I’ve heard is an amazing top-notch event. Give us the 30 second overview of the event, then let’s talk about the speaking side of it.

Chris: It’s a five day event, so it’s not your typical two day type conference. We set it at a five star resort on the beautiful island of Mactan here in Sabu. It’s got some of the most beautiful corals in the world. The hospitality of the Filipinos is known worldwide anyway, but when you put that together with gorgeous ocean, amazing cocktails, and the five star environment, you are already setting yourself up for a very good time.

We do three conference days in the middle of two relaxation, chill out days. So we start with relaxing, work hard for three days, and chill and relax and wrap up with an amazing ‘white party’ where everybody dresses in white.

The three [conference] days [consist of] three keynote sessions each day in the morning. Then we do a panel with the speakers from that day. We break for lunch, and then do a mastermind session in the afternoon where everybody breaks off into groups and work on building each other’s businesses. It is about as highpower a mastermind that I’ve ever been involved with.

Number one, I will say. This doesn’t sound cheap because it’s not cheap. It’s a premium ticket. There’s only 50 slots available, so it goes very quickly. Because of that, the caliber of people that we get to come along as attendees is very high. I counted out of the 50 people that we had last year, we had nine millionaires that are making a million dollars plus each year in their businesses online. It’s a very high caliber group of people.

It’s easily the best thing, most fun thing, most rewarding thing that I do every single year. We’re blessed now to have that reputation that you speak of where when I reach out to speakers for one reason or another, nine times out of 10, I get a yes. That’s very rewarding in itself.

Grant: Let’s talk about that first year as you’ve got just an idea for an event and you’re beginning to look for speakers. What’s that process like for you as you look to hire a speaker for that event?

What are you looking for? What are the make or break things that you want a speaker to have or not have. Walk us through that process. What would someone need to do to just even get on the radar there?

Chris: The first year was funny because the entire concept came about while I was in the United States on one of my many trips over there each year. I was sitting around a table having cocktails with Caleb Waddick, Amy Porterfield, Pat Flinn, John Lee Dumas, Greg Hickman, and a couple of other people as well. I turn around and say, “you guys need to come out to the Philippines. I come to the US to visit you guys and I hang out all the time.

You guys gotta do the 19 hour flight.” And Amy Porterfield said, “I’ll come to the Philippines.” Now, warranted, there was a little bit of alcohol involved in that evening, but the next day I followed up and they all said, “dude, if you put something on, we’ll come over.” So, I didn’t wait around very long at all. It took me two or three weeks after I’d been back home from that trip until I’d announced it. They were up on the landing page and we sold the tickets out in 27 hours. It was incredible. We had all these big players coming over.

Nowadays though, things are different. Based on surveys that we do with our attendees, we know what they want, what they don’t want, what’s going to work, what’s not going to work. The first thing that I look at when I’m looking to book a speaker for Tropical Think Tank is the relationship that I have with them. That, for me, is the single most important thing. I know if I have the right kind of relationship with them, they will not let me down.

They are going to bring the goods and they’re going to drop value bonds all over my attendees, not only when they’re on stage, but also when they’re off stage. Because this is a very small, intimate group of people that are fundamentally hanging out with each other for an entire week in the tropical islands of the Philippines. It’s a very unique situation.

It doesn’t happen anywhere else, and because of that, I need to bring people who not only can do well on stage and know what they’re talking about and provide a great presentation when they’re on the stage, but I also need them to shine in the mastermind sessions with our attendees. I also need them to shine at dinner, when we’re hanging out on the beach, having cocktails at happy hour, and all those other things as well. So there’s quite a few elements that go into it, but number one, without a shadow of a doubt, is the relationship that I have with that speaker.

Grant: That’s one of the things we talk a lot about is that people do business with people they know, like, and trust. This is a relationship business. The reality, though, is that relationships take time. All those people that you invited that first year or any subsequent year aren’t people that you just met one time or you exchanged an email with, a lot of times, these are people that you’ve met in person and built some type of rapport or connection with.

I have found that a lot of decision makers, depending on the context and depending on the environment, hire people that they know. Another thing that I like that you said is that it’s more than just what they provide on stage, but just as much who they are and what they provide off stage.

Meaning if you had someone that you were able to bring in and they are a phenomenal speaker, the best speaker that you’ve ever had, but they didn’t interact with your guests, they just spent the entire conference holed up in the room; they weren’t participating in anything else.

That’s not the kind of person that you would want to have. Even though those factors may not have necessarily anything to do with what happens in their presentation on stage, it still affects whether or not you would hire them or whether or not you would bring them.

Chris: We’ve had, unfortunately, one speaker in the past who pretty much did that, and it left a very sour taste in my mouth. I was very surprised and I’m very upset by the whole situation. Hasten to say we’re not very close friends anymore because of it.

Grant: So as you continue to go into future years, beyond the relationship piece, what are other things that you look for when considering hiring a speaker.

Chris: Around 30% of the people will return year in, year out. So people expect the goods when it comes to content. So, we’re not just looking at them providing a good talk and then hanging out and being a nice person. We are looking for real experts in their industries, in their niches nowadays. We survey after the event and find out which speakers they like the most and why, what topics they like the most, or what topics they wish we had covered but didn’t.

We get ideas from our attendees straight after the event in terms of what we could potentially do next year. And obviously I follow the trends of what’s moving and I want to make sure that I keep people up to date with that side of things as well.

So, we’re really looking, now, towards people who are not only good friends, but are genuine experts in their fields. If I want to bring somebody on to teach our attendees how to run incredibly strong Facebook campaigns, for example, I have to call Amy Porter. If I’m looking for somebody who’s going to teach me, or teach my attendees, how to crush marketing, Pat Flynn has got to be called up.

It’s not just a relationship thing, solely, that is the most important part for me as the event organizer for all the reasons I’ve already discussed, but it is about being a genuine expert and somebody who spent a certain amount of time on stage as well. When you’ve only got three speeches a day and only nine over the period of an entire week, you’ve got to bring the goods. You need people who genuinely can present well as well.

Grant: Tell us about a time from a speaker’s perspective when something did not go well. The title we like to call this is, “It couldn’t be worse than this”. Every speaker has those moments where you just get off the stage and you think “Oh, dear God, I cannot believe that that just happened.”

Chris: I was [presenting] at an event in Philadelphia probably about four years ago. It was a relatively small audience for my particular presentation, maybe 150 or so people, and I had forgotten to zip myself up. Luckily, it wasn’t a big stage looking down on everyone. They had an eight inch platform that I was presenting on, and I presented an entire 45 minute presentation with my fly down. That’s just the beginning.

About halfway through the presentation, my mic dies completely, and there’s no PA guy in the room because I’m a nobody speaker. So then I take my mic off and I wrap it around the receiver that’s in my back pocket. Now, not only am I standing there, with my fly open, but I’ve got at least another 20 minutes of my presentation left and I’m having to shout my presentation instead of actually speaking.

I became increasingly uncomfortable. My throat started drying up like mad. I was drinking water, like my life depended on it and it was probably one of the most awkward situations I’ve ever encountered in my life.

It got even more awkward when this older lady came up to me at the end of the presentation and she said to me, “I really enjoyed your jokes and your accent is very, very nice, but just a little bit of advice”. And I said, “All right. What is it?” She goes, “You probably want to avoid going to the toilet right before you get on stage next time”. I looked down and I thought “you’ve gotta be kidding me.” I don’t do the whole toilet before getting on stage thing anymore. You live and learn, don’t you?

Grant: Where can we find out more about you if we want to check out what you’re up to and the Youpreneur stuff?

Chris: That’s my home, my hub, my own little stomping ground on the internet. Everything’s linked up there.

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