Stage Fright…

Lady and the Champs on stageIt’s been said that the most common fear among adults is the fear of public speaking. Death comes in second. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, most people would rather be in the casket, than delivering the eulogy.

This weekend, I worked on making that fear a bit smaller. I attended the Lady and the Champs speaking conference in Las Vegas. It was a fairly big event, with nearly 400 attendees from all over the world, at all skill levels. I worked hard trying to ‘blend’.

There were way too many interesting people to count. The conference featured the legendary Patricia Fripp, an amazing speaker, coach and first female president of the National Speaker’s Association. Standing just over 5 feet tall….she commanded the attention of the room any time she was on stage. The ‘Champs’ are former Toastmasters World Champions Darren LaCroix, Craig Valentine and Ed Tate, all top-notch speakers, each with their own areas of expertise. I also got to meet Charlie (Last Name) Wilson, who I first saw in the movie “Speak”. I was in a place where I didn’t know if I belonged.

There may be different levels in the speaking world….but at this conference, they made every effort to make it a learning experience accessible to speakers at all levels. There were seminars on skill building, coaching as well as the business side of speaking. They also featured break-out sessions on storytelling, training and humor, including a hilarious presentation by Tim Gard. If you ever get a chance to see him, you should. He can make the most aggravating and mundane travel circumstances so funny, the audience (full of speakers) was laughing from start to finish. To top it off….Tim got stuck in the hotel elevator for over an hour….giving him yet another funny story.

One of the features of this conference was the opportunity to get ‘mini-coached’ by the 3 World Champs…and Patricia. This wasn’t the typical ‘nice speech’ feedback. Patricia and the Champs gave feedback that was direct, to the point….and while professional, didn’t pull any punches. Fair warning – if you say “stuff”, “things” or “tons”….don’t stand within arm’s reach of Patricia. She’ll remind you to be specific with words that add, not detract. Craig Valentine was a master at character and dialogue. Ed Tate helped show how to make a real connection with the audience….and Darren LaCroix debuted a brand-new keynote for the group, as well as broke down his 2000 World Championship speech to show how using the stage can really transform a story.

But back to ‘mini-coaching’. Several times during the weekend, we had opportunities to give speech examples – Once people caught on, it was hard to get a spot. I was lucky enough to get a few seconds of stage time on the first day to say why I was there….but the other times, I wasn’t fast enough to get feedback. The one time I got close…they ran out of time. Darren was kind enough to take our names, and offer to give us a shot if they had time on the final day. Seeing how hard it was to fit everything in, I breathed a sigh of relief when I DIDN’T have to go up….

….until, in one of the last large sessions, with 400 people in the room, and ALL the champs on stage, Darren held up a piece of paper and called our names. Now I was going to have to do this for real. I thought about begging off, but I had come a long way, and this really was an opportunity that I wasn’t likely to get again. So, I jumped up and took my place in line as the 2nd speaker.

Darren called my name, and I walked up on stage. Taking my place right in front of Patricia, I gave my opening line and tried to remember what I had learned in the past 3 days…as well as my story. I was able to deliver it without rushing, and even got the laughs I wanted in the right place. I got excellent feedback from everyone on stage, which was to the point, professional….and incredibly useful. It wasn’t NEARLY as scary as I was making it out to be….

….and here’s the thing. I had a number of people ask me how long I’d been a professional. I had several requests to tell the whole story (especially since I left it with a cliffhanger on stage)…as well as an offer to give it a video critique. That was an incredible opportunity…and if I had held back, I wouldn’t have had the experience. Now I get to write the whole story and work on it until it gets to the level that it deserves to be….because there’s somebody out there that needs to hear it.

P.S. This event would not have run nearly as smoothly as it did without people like Cynthia Lay, who worked incredibly hard to keep things running like clockwork…even when ‘stuff’ happened. (Sorry, Patricia). It was great to meet all my new friends and contacts, including Karen Susman, Walt Grassl, David Penrose, Mark Holtz, Cindy Greene, Gina Lende, Stacie Campanelli, Dr. Gloria Nixon-Pone, Joanne Smith, Deborah Reisdorph, Becky Spohn, Beatrice Blatteis, David Chase, Melanie DePaoli, Arieh Bitton, Dacia Moore, Matt Morey, Bill Fleischhauer, Leo Novsky, Mona Benjamintz and Darren Kavinoky.

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