How the National Speakers Association Can Help Your Speaking Career with Brian Walter

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Grant Baldwin: In today’s conversation we are joined by Brian Walter. Here’s why we had Brian on the show. Not only is he a great speaker, but he’s also the incoming president of the NSA, the National Speakers Association.

It’s one of those organizations and associations I get a lot of questions about. People are going, “Should I join? Do I need to join? Should I go to a conference? What about the chapter meetings? Is it worthwhile? Is it beneficial? What do I get out of it?” Brian is going to be the president 2017 of the National Speakers Association. So we talk a little bit about the organization, the association, how people can get involved in it, and how people can dip their toes in the water there.

Also, Brian has a great story as a speaker, and how he got into speaking. A lot of times people think of speaking as the traditional getting up on stage and presenting some type of formal keynote or workshop, but Brian has really built a business doing almost a variety show from the stage. He does a lot of customization with it for the audience that he’s speaking to. I like showing these non-traditional types of speakers. And Brian definitely fits into that category.

Here I’m joined by Brian Walter. He’s going to be the president of the National Speakers Association, the good NSA. There are a lot of people who hear NSA, and they think this is this horrible spy organization. But you’re part of a different NSA.

Brian Walter: We’d like to say we’re the NSA who speaks, not the NSA who listens.

Grant Baldwin: Very nice. Well played. So, Brian, we’re going to talk a little bit about the NSA. That’s a question that I know I get a lot from people wondering about the National Speakers Association.

How Brian Got Started

You’re a couple of years from being the president of the organization, which is really cool. I’m interested, first of all, in your own speaking business, your career, what it looks like, and how you got started. So first of all, tell us a little bit about who you speak to. What do you talk about currently as the business?

Brian Walter: My business is called Extreme Meetings, and we provide customized infotainment to make meetings memorable. Think about a Saturday Night Live show, only about a business. I would say I’m a non-traditional speaker. I’m not a keynoter. I’m not an expert on leadership, communication, customer service, or sales. I am an expert on customization. I like to say I’m the speaker for topics for which there are no speakers.

Grant Baldwin: If you are not a typical keynote speaker, so are you basically like a one-man show or what does that kind of look like? How does that play out?

Brian Walter: The great thing is it’s scalable, so it can be a one-man show where it’s me, or I can augment myself and make it more of an experience.

For example, let’s say I’m doing an event and we want to make it a larger event. It’s a multi-day conference or something. I may be the MC and infotainment person. I might do several short segments throughout, but in addition, I might bring in from my team some actor-singers and will do some parody songs about a product, a service, or a role. We might do a sketch that involves actors and executives.

So depending upon what their need is or what type of experience they want, it can be just me, or it could be me plus one singer. It could be me and a cast of five or six people.
Grant Baldwin: Interesting. So it sounds like each event is fairly customized to the setting and the audience. Is that true?

Brian Walter: Exactly. I might have several game show formats or audience interaction formats that I can use in different combinations, but the content is all 100% customized for the client. If I’m speaking to the American Payroll Association, everything’s going to be about payroll.

If I am speaking to an aluminum manufacturer, the references and the content are going to be different, but many of the formats will be the same.

Grant Baldwin: Gotcha. So the format itself you’re going to repeat, and that’s going to be some foundational pieces, some stuff that you know that works. If you’re doing a 60-minute presentation, how much of that is customized, brand-new stuff versus stuff that you’ve done before?

Brian Walter: Most likely, about two-thirds of the formats will be formatted I’ve done before. A hundred percent of the content, what’s being referenced, is a hundred percent customized for the client. And probably about 25% worth to a third will be some sort of experience or presentation that I crafted exactly for that event that’ll never be repeated again.

Finding Your Magic

Grant Baldwin: Seems like that’s a huge win for the client, but it also seems like that would be a lot of work for you, always having to come up with new stuff.

Brian Walter: Yes, it is. Part of it is how you want to spend your time. I like to say, what is it that’s your magic when you’re a speaker? What is it that’s your magic? When I say magic, I mean that when others see you deliver it or share it they think, “Oh my gosh, that’s magical.”

But to you, it’s really craft. Right now, if I was a leadership communication expert, I would be spending countless hours being up on the latest literature and theories, coming up with new stuff, and writing all of this stuff. I would be spending hours and hours and hours on making sure that I’m current and cutting edge in my particular business.

I don’t do that. Instead, what I’m doing is ” How can I customize content for this particular specific event?” So the net amount of hours is ultimately the same. But I’m preparing a lot more for each individual speaking engagement than the average speaker.

Grant Baldwin: That makes total sense. So I’m curious about how you arrived at this point. Let’s backtrack a little bit. First of all, tell us how you got into speaking in the first place.

Brian Walter: It’s fascinating. I like to say my first connection to speaking was when I was in a fraternity at UCLA. I got elected to the board of my fraternity, probably at 80 guys, and I was the secretary. On the Monday night meetings, it was my job to recap the meeting or the minutes from the previous meeting. Can you imagine anything less desirable for an audience to hear? It’s like the meeting minutes before. Let alone a fraternity. It’s, “We voted to blah, blah…”

They wanted to stab each other with a fork. So instead I created what I called Funny Minutes. I didn’t realize what I was actually practicing for was something I would later get to do professionally. I would come up with funny ways and I would do skits and parody songs and things with sound effects where we’re using like reel to reel or cassettes. And that was something that got me hooked on the idea of customization.

Then I was working in retail, in a training department, and in communications for a department store chain that was headquartered in Seattle. During there, at large meetings, I would do what many young 20-somethings do, which is exceed your job description. ” Oh, we need someone to do this at a meeting.” “I’ll do it!” So I started doing things at meetings. I had no idea that I was actually developing skills that I would later use to be a professional speaker.

Two things happen. One is when I left retail, I joined a small training company. I did sales and marketing and some speaking and training for a company called the Effectiveness Institute. Sounds like a skit at Saturday Night Live.

But you know, we would do people skills training and things like that. So I started realizing that I had what is called platform skills, which means that I was very good in front of an audience. I could be very engaging. I could be funny. It could be interesting. I could tell stories well. I could connect with them. But I had no topic. I like to say, during that time I knew a little bit about everything, but not everything about anything.

Platform Skills: Natural or Practice?

Grant Baldwin: I think there’s a lot of people that are in that spot going, ” I’ve spoken a few times before here and there. It was a lot of fun. I really liked it. I have no idea what I would actually talk about that someone would be interested in, but I want you to talk about that.”

I’m curious as you talked about how you were building your platform skills, do you feel like that was something that you were naturally born with or do you feel like that was something that developed from doing some stuff in your fraternity or speaking at some retail meetings, off the cuff here and there? Do you feel like that’s something that you’re born with or is that something that comes over time with practice?

Brian Walter: It is absolutely, categorically both. I think that there are many of us who are born with the ability to communicate well. That doesn’t mean we’re great. It means that we’ve got a jumpstart. There are those whose skill has to develop intentionally. There are some people who should not speak.

What it comes down to is, can you be interesting live in front of others? That’s what people want more than anything else. However, there has to be a reason for you to be there. I’ve listened to people who have given fascinating presentations. What did they talk about? I have no idea. So they can dazzle us. They’re all frosting and have no kick.

Sometimes Our Topic Finds Us

Grant Baldwin: Makes sense. So you’re at that spot where I think a lot of people are: “I spoke a few times. I really like it. It’s a lot of fun. I feel like I’ve got some of the platform skills and maybe I’ve got this natural knack to be in front of an audience. I have no idea what to tell them. Especially what to tell them in order to get paid.”
So was this something that you were like, “I spoke a few times, this is fun. Now I want to figure out how to turn this into a career.” Or how did you see speaking fitting into your current life situation at the time?

Brian Walter: A couple of things here. One is I think sometimes our topic finds us. Or the clients will tell us what we’re good at. So many of the biggest insights, the biggest ahas, I’ve had in my professional career have been things that I’ve realized from what clients have told me or asked me to do.

Now, the shift was that I had started working for this training company. I was doing a little bit of training, a little bit of speaking on behavior styles, the four quadrants. And I had funny stories and I was quite good. But I felt like a fraud because I wasn’t an expert at it. Then I thought, “Do I wish to be an expert on this topic?” And, candidly, the answer was no. So I want to speak more, but I don’t really have a topic at that time.

The retailer that I used to work at was headquartered in Seattle. They had a poor year from a gross margin point of view. And the CEO realized he wanted to get all the top people in the company, the buyers and the store managers and middle management people buzzing, as he said, about gross margin improvement.

And he said, “If I yell at them, that’s not going to work.” They had these series of monthly meetings, so they went to a vice president of training. They said, “Remember that funny guy who used to work here? What was his name? Brian? Have Brian come back and do something at these.”

So what was presented to me was the opportunity to do something at these monthly meetings to basically create a buzz about gross margin improvement. That was an amazing opportunity because it was a very clear objective, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone. There’s no one who does that for a living, creating a buzz about gross margin. It forced me to craft.

I did a knockoff of a late-night show, and I called it “The Late Meeting Show with David Letterbon.” The company was called The Bon or the Bonmarche. So I created a character, David Letterbon, and I started doing top 10 lists about gross margin improvement, guests with stupid pet tricks, or stupid human tricks about it.

So I started using what we are familiar with. I did basically a half-hour custom variety show about gross margin improvement once a month for six months. The finale was, we did a knockoff of the musical Grease and of course, instead, it was Gross for gross margin.

Grant Baldwin: I’m curious about this because on paper that sounds really risky. They’re giving you a blank slate of ” We want that one funny guy who used to work here to come to do something about gross margin.”

The typical thing is “Come give us a presentation. Come motivate us. Come inspire us.” When you’re doing a variety act, or you’re doing comedy, or you’re doing some type of bit, in your mind, it may be funny, but you really don’t know until you get in front of the audience if it’s going to work or not. So were you thinking ” All right, I have a blank slate. I can’t really lose here, so let’s give this a shot, and if it bombs it bombs.”

Or what are you thinking, especially going into that first one? Cause if you’re doing six months of it, you’re going to refine it. Over time, you’re going to get better. You figure out what works and what doesn’t. Especially with that same audience. But what are you thinking going into the first one about if this is a good idea or not?

Brian Walter: I went into it absolutely terrified. This is a high wire risk gap. There is no net. I told them conceptually what was going to happen, but they did not know what was going to happen. I did not know what was going to happen until I got in front of it. There were certain things that I now retroactively realize worked.

And here is the key principle. When you’re doing something risky like this, you reduce the risk by making it about them, because this can be customized and funny and connect, or it can be stupid.

It could be that they’re going to say it was dumb or that was trite. And the word you want to avoid more than anything else is that could have been hokey.

Grant Baldwin: I think that’s that fine line, that tightrope that you walk with humor, especially something like what you’re describing of what you did with that variety act, is that was hilarious or it came off cheesy and slapstick. Did you know, going into it, how to make sure that you landed on the correct side of the fence there?

Brian Walter: I had what I believed would work, and the main thing was by making it all about them. When you are talking about your audience’s lives, their work lives, and their work realities then it’s inherently interesting.

It’s not going to be hokey because it’s about them. If you make it about yourself, if you’re, “I did this and I did this and I did this”, then you’ve got the “I” disease. But when it’s you, yours, ours then that’s what works. I even remember the very first line that I opened with because it’s funny because I used to work there.

The great thing is half the people there were confused and thought it was still me who used to work there, so I was able to get away with some our language. And I was talking about the company at the time, and again, they were very familiar that they’d had a bad gross margin year.

The opening line was, “You know, I’m curious if you met someone at a party and they asked, “Do you work for a nonprofit organization?” how would you answer them? No, but we’re working on it.”

That line, they roared. And at that point, I knew I was going to be okay. Because I was using humor to reveal the truth, their truth.

Grant Baldwin: It’s so true. At that first joke, you know immediately within the first 10, 15, and 20 seconds how the next 45-60 minutes is going to go, based on that very first opening. So that had to be a good feeling. First joke lands and then you’re kind of off to the races from there.

Creating Experiences

Brian Walter: But it wasn’t about jokes. That was clearly how we opened, but we would create experiences. When we were talking about pricing — having the right merchandise at the right price, at the right time, at the right place, and that was how we defined what are the components of good gross margin — I pulled people who worked at the department store, buyers and store managers, on stage and I said, “I have selected three different women’s blue blazers.

Let’s play The Price is Right. How much do you think it is without going over it?” And then they would realize a lot of times you can’t tell how much something is. So we did things that were involved with their world.

I would do interviews with buyers who had high gross margins. We would have parody music where we had Elvis come up and instead of “return to sender”, it was “return to vendor”. It was different types of things. Now, ultimately what happened is this was successful and they kept asking me to come back.

Here’s a thing that sometimes I think it’d be good for your listeners to know. It sometimes takes you a while to figure out what your magic is. I continued doing things like this for the company that I used to work for three years. For three years, I didn’t think it was a transferrable skill. I didn’t perceive what I was doing, that is, customization as a skill. That’s why I do this.

And so what happens? I still remember, to this day, getting a call, and it was from a local insurance company. They were corporate headquarters. And they said, “Hi Brian. I heard from so-and-so that you’re an expert at making meetings more interesting.” Long pause. “Yes, I am. Yes.” Long pause. “Yes, I am.” And they’re like, “We have a sales conference coming up. We’d love it if you’d come and do the same type of thing for us. Does that sound like something that you can do?” “Yes, I can.”

And I remember being terrified. I did calls, I did interviews, because, I thought, I’m not an insurance expert at all. But then what happened is it went over well. And that was when the shaft of light from heaven shines down on your head and you realize. I get it. My magic is X.

Grant Baldwin: So did it take you those three years, though, of doing it for the previous company that you worked for? Did you never realize, “I could “take my show on the road” and I could do this for other organizations?” What were you doing in the meantime in terms of work and employment?

Brian Walter: Well, I was still working for the training company and everything I did, I still did through the training company, because they’re like, ” Hey, however you earn money that’s fine by us.” So I wasn’t doing it on the side. I was still doing it as part of what I was doing. I’m still doing some people skills training. I’m doing some people skills speaking. It’s just that I could only go so far with that because I realized I wasn’t an expert. I hadn’t put in thousands of hours.

And so what would happen is I would do a great job speaking, but then people would come up and start asking me questions about challenges in their workplace. And they’re asking for advice because that’s what happens when you speak, right?

And I realized I was a fraud. I was living in fear. I had about two levels of answers, and then as soon as I got to the third level, I thought, “I’m going to have to reveal that I don’t really know”.

That imposter syndrome is something that’s real when we’re developing our content until we realize, okay, this is where I truly have expertise. Because as speakers, you need to have expertise. And you need to explore to find out what that is.

Grant Baldwin: So it sounds like it took you a little bit to explore, to find that for yourself. How long did it take before you arrived at the point where you felt like you walk in and you feel like you can own it; this is what I’m an expert on; this is really why you hired me. How long did that take for you?

Brian Walter: Once I realized what my magic was, I got a great break. I basically took about a year before I had a lot of confidence, and then I got referred to a bank, and I got hired to do a series of brand rallies across the country and did 53 rallies in about a year.

At that point, that was like a fast-forward of craft development. Between getting the gross margins engagement, which is 1998, it took me until about 2001 to realize what it was that I was good at, and then from 2001 to 2002, where I was really perfecting my craft.

So at that point, pretty much from 2002, I realized, okay, I’m really good at this and I could provide a lot of value to clients in almost any industry. I was off to the races.
Involvement with National Speaker Association

Grant Baldwin: One of the things we talked a little bit about up top was your involvement with the National Speaker Association NSA. How did it first come on your radar and how did you first get plugged in there?

Brian Walter: Oh, for me, I had heard someone share about it. I’d heard about the National Speakers Association and I liked the sound of it. What do I enjoy doing? I enjoy speaking in front of live audiences. Oh, there’s an association. That and I didn’t really understand what they did, so it’s either about speakers or for speakers or education — didn’t really know for sure. I knew that that sounded good.

So I found out they had chapters in different cities and in Seattle, where I live, they had a chapter meeting, so I went to a chapter meeting. I still remember. It was January, 1997. I went to one meeting and then said, oh, these are my people. Because if you want to get paid to speak professionally, then you’ve got some mutant gene inside you that says, “What I have to share is so valuable that people or organizations should spend thousands of dollars for the privilege of hearing me speak for about an hour. If I’m honest, I probably wasn’t compensated enough.

And we believe we can change lives, we can change organizations, we can change how people relate. And that’s quite often true. And to find people who also thought that way.

Also, a great thing about the National Speakers Association is that you’re getting to be part of a community and there are people who will cooperate and believe that anything is possible.

I mean, you literally could go up to another National Speaker Association member and say, “I’m thinking of developing a leadership program on the leadership secrets of squirrels and someone would say, “Well, that sounds fantastic. You know, my brother’s a park ranger. Would you like me to connect with you guys?” I mean, it wouldn’t be like you are a lunatic. To be part of a community where everybody believes anything is possible and we should help each other; that’s a great community to be part of.

Macro View of NSA

Grant Baldwin: I think a lot of people who are listening have at least heard of the NSA, the National Speakers Association, or maybe this is the first time coming across it. Give us a high-level view.

You’ve got the community aspect, but on a weekly or monthly, or annual basis, what does that look like in terms of being involved in the community? Because you’ve got speakers literally all over the world, so how does that play out practically?

Brian Walter: Sure. Let me kind of give you the macro view.

There are about 3,500-3,600 members within the United States. And when we say speakers, we mean those who present live for compensation. So it’s not all keynotes. In the past, it was mainly keynotes, but as speaking has evolved, more people do what I call a hybrid.

So there are keynote trainers, consultants who speak, authors who speak, humorous entertainers — used to include ventriloquists, but I haven’t met one of them for a long time — singers who also give messages with their singing. So basically those who use the spoken word as a key part of their business to impact or make a difference. That’s who is part of this organization.

There are about 35 chapters spread out in the United States. Most major cities or geographical areas have one. Generally in a chapter, there might be anywhere from 30-150 people who are a member of that particular chapter, depending upon where you live. They’ll generally have monthly meetings.

The national organization has several meetings throughout the entire year. There will be a winter conference with about 300-400 people in some city. In July there’s what we call Influence, which is like a convention, and that’s the largest event. That’s going to have 1,500 or up to 2,000 people. At an event like that, there’ll be labs, which are smaller groups of 100 people from around the country who come together for a particular topic. It might be the technology lab, humor lab, or platform profits lab. It has a particular focus.

People go to NSA, become a member, and go to local and national events to network, get speaker education, and get entrepreneurial business knowledge.
Grant Baldwin: I think one misconception is that a lot of people think, if I join NSA then that is something where I get speaking gigs or referrals. Maybe they confuse NSA with a bureau. So maybe talk about the differences there.

NSA is not necessarily a bureau or a place where you’d actually get bookings, although that may be a tangential benefit of building relationships with other speakers. Talk about the differences there.

Brian Walter: Absolutely. A way to think of the National Speakers Association is an association for speaker education and community. So NSA does not book speakers. It helps speakers learn how to get booked.

A speaker’s bureau is a whole bunch of individual businesses that will contact companies and say, ” We hear you need a speaker. We will find the speaker for you.” They’re not an agent who represents an individual speaker and promotes that speaker.

Instead, they say, “Here is a pool of speakers that we are familiar with. Once we find out the need that the client has, we’ll suggest three or four speakers who might be a good fit. They might pitch those speakers to the client and the client chooses one of them. That’s what a speaker’s bureau does. They’re not into education, they’re into their business that books speakers.

How to Get Plugged in with the NSA

Grant Baldwin: So if someone’s listening to this going, “Okay, I’m interested in being involved in the NSA.” What would be some of those next steps to get plugged in? Especially because you mentioned there are about 35 chapters within the US, and we could probably also touch on our neighbors to the north, but if there’s a local chapter, do I just show up? What do I do if there’s not a chapter in my area? Talk us through that.

Brian Walter: Absolutely. So the first thing I would do is I would go to, which is the national website, the National Speakers Association website. And there you’re going to find all sorts of resources and information. You can join the non-member NSA speaker Facebook group, and from there you’re going to start getting into the messages, the white papers, and the different resources.

Now there are certainly educational materials. There’s a monthly magazine. There is a monthly audio program called Voices of Experience. Those are free to members, but you can purchase them as a non-member. So that’s a way to start getting involved in some of that at the information level.

Through that website, you can find out if there is a local chapter where you live, and then you can go to that chapter’s individual website and see what the programming is at the chapter. I would say, depending on the chapter, probably anywhere from a third to sometimes up to half of the people who are coming to the chapter are those who are what I call seekers, those who are seeking out the speaking industry to check it out. So you will find the local chapter meetings very newcomer friendly because it’s a gateway into the organization.

That’s how I got involved. In fact, most speakers I know tend to get involved at the chapter level first. Because that’s easier. And it’s very affordable to do so, and you get to meet other people, talk to other people face to face, and see, is this something that I’m interested in?

Grant Baldwin: Very good. So we can start looking into that. You alluded to it with your winter conference, but what are some of the training events that are available throughout the course of the year? If we want to learn more about the speaking business and growing it and networking and connecting, what are some of the national conferences that you have?

Brian Walter: Usually in February of every year, there’s what we’ll call the winter conference, and that’s about a two-and-a-half-day event. The emphasis will be on the business side of speaking and also the platform or presentational side of speaking. One of our past presidents quoted it this way. He said, “People join NSA for one of two reasons. They want to speak. Or they want to speak better.”

And usually one of those two angles is what you are most interested in. I’ve got good platform skills. I connect, but how do I make more money at this? How do I develop products? How do I do an online presence or edutainment?

There could be the business side of it that’s most attractive to you. Or it could be, how can I be more interactive in my presentations? How can I use polling audience polling in my presentations? How can I be funnier? How can I do a better job with my visuals? So when you break down the art of speaking in front of others professionally, those are the two tracks that most people want to explore.

Grant Baldwin: Awesome. Personally, I lived in Missouri for several years and the closest chapter was in St. Louis, which was about three or four hours away. So I was never able to make it to a chapter meeting, but a couple of years ago went to one of the national conventions that was in Phoenix. You go there and you’re like, “Wow, these people get it. These are my people. They understand what it is that what I do.”

So even if you don’t have a local chapter that you can get to, or even that you could drive to a couple of hours away, it would definitely be worth checking out either the winter conference or the national conference. If you’re interested in speaking, this is a great association, a great organization.

Any final words of wisdom before we wrap up?

Brian Walter: I would say, especially when it comes to the National Speakers Association, your listeners’ development as speakers is to realize where are you in your development cycle now. For example, let’s say I’ve been a mid-level manager somewhere, and I’ve always been told that I’m good at speaking, and I’ve done it for free a number of times, and I’ve got really good feedback. For that person, figuring out a topic, figuring out where their value is, and then how to develop that, is probably going to be the primary thing that they need to work on.
But there are other avenues in speaking.

For example, let’s say you’ve been a consultant or you were a vice president, a city-level executive. You have a profound expertise area, and you’ve now retired or you’ve left or something. This is now a second career for you. You’re going to have different needs because you already have expertise. But you need to know, how do I monetize this? How do I turn this into a business?

So the best thing to know is, what is it that you need. Because there are different educational opportunities within the National Speakers Association that can help to depend upon what your emphasis is. But it helps for you to know what you want and to know what will actually make a difference.

Because like anything else, you have to invest in this. You have to invest time and some money. It’s not hugely expensive, but it’s not nothing. And it shouldn’t be nothing because if something’s free, you’re not going to value it. If you know what you need, then your development cycle is going to go a lot faster.

Off the Rails Story

Grant Baldwin: Alright, I’ve got one final question for you. This is something that I didn’t prep you on, but I’m going to fire away anyway. Tell us about a time as a speaker when it went off the rails and it did not go well. A time where you would say, it cannot be worse than this. Any bad stories come to mind of being on stage?

Brian Walter: Oh, I remember it was an insurance association. And what had happened was that I had done that insurance client — so it’s earlier in my speaking career, but not as early as I would like it to be. So I’ve been speaking and I made a presentation at a state association and it went great. It was for independent insurance agents. Then another state association hired me and they said, “Can you do that exact same presentation?”

So I signed a contract. Time goes by, but as we get closer, they had a regime change and they said, “You’re still speaking, but we need you to change the topic.” And they gave me a topic that I was not familiar with, but I said it was okay. I can do it. I can do anything. And so I said, ” I want to interview a wide variety of members.”

And they said, ” We’d really prefer you to just interview these two board members.”

I said, “Well, no, I’d really prefer to interview more of the people in the audience.”

“No, no, no. These two board members.”

And my gut said that was a mistake, but I didn’t follow my gut, so I interviewed these two board members. I get up to do a 75-minute presentation and the very first words, and I had come up with some customized humor, out of my mouth, two people laughed out of several hundred people there — the two people I interviewed. And I thought, well, that was an aberration. So I gave some more material and the only people who were smiling, nodding, or laughing were the two people I interviewed. And I realized at that moment that I had made a horrible mistake. I had customized this whole thing for two people, but there were 300 people there.

So I started ad-libbing like mad, and I brought people up on stage and I did not have it that day. It’s like the earth, it slows down on its axis. It was the longest 90 minutes of my entire life, and I knew it was bad because at 45 minutes I thought “It’s okay. I’ll say, let’s take a micro break here, three minutes, turn to the person next to you…”

When I did that, half the people got up and left. I mean half. I’m watching half the people stream out of the room, and I think I have another 45 minutes. I’ll never forget the pain of that. Sometimes you’re sucking and you know it’s all about you, but sometimes you can just make a mistake.

I’ll close with this story. I was doing another thing for a photography associate, and I was still doing behavior-style type of things. So I’m connecting and most of the audience is really liking this except for this guy in the front row, and he is scowling at everything that I say.

He’s crossing his arms, and he’s shaking his head, and his foot is tapping, and I’m thinking, I’m not doing a very good job. And so I start looking at him more, and his energy is dragging me down. I keep going, but my confidence is getting lower and lower and lower and lower. At the end I’m thinking, I’ve done a horrible job. I shouldn’t even ask for the check. I should slink outta town.

Several people up are coming up and saying, you did a good job. And I’m thinking, yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re being polite and I need to get out of here. And then I see the guy walk up to me. Oh great, he’s going to kick me before I leave. He says, “I gotta talk to you. I gotta talk to you.” I’m like, oh, great, here it comes.

He says, “That was one of the most interesting, challenging presentations I’ve ever heard. I’ve just been wrestling with the things that you were saying.”

I realized my effectiveness dropped by about 50% because I assumed I knew what was going on with that. That was a key lesson, which is never to assume. And that’s why I tell other speakers: talk to the love in the audience.

Talk to the people who are nodding and smiling. If you see frowny faces, they could have had a fight with their spouse; they could have had indigestion; they could have to go to the bathroom. Who knows what their problem is? Ignore them. Talk to the people who are giving you the love.

Grant Baldwin: Good advice there. Brian. Thanks for hanging out with us, man. I appreciate it.

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