We’ve All Been Michael Bay

Movie Director Michael Bay had a meltdown on the CES stage today.  A bad one. He got so lost with the teleprompter script that, to the surprise of the audience, he simply walked off stage.  That’s not the type of shock-and-awe that the well known “Transformers” Director normally brings, but one that may be just as memorable.

But here’s the truth: At some point, we’ve all been in Michael Bay’s shoes.  The only difference is that we’re usually on a smaller stage when standing in them.

For me, it was in an AP English class my Junior year of High School.  We had to memorize a section from “Hamlet” and then recite it in front of the class.  I wrongly assumed that I’d be able to skate by on the assignment like so many others, but couldn’t have been more wrong.  I started memorizing it the morning of the recital, and thought I’d done enough to nail it.  Once I got in front of the class, I had gone through no more than 2 lines when I blanked.  I couldn’t remember the next word, and I panicked.  The more I looked around the room at my class mates the more I panicked.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, my teacher (almost) put me out of my misery and let me sit down.  I was mortified as my friends snickered and giggled at my lackluster performance.  That day I learned a lesson that I would never forget, and one that I vowed that I would never repeat.

Fast forward several years, and I found that I have had opportunities to speak to students from Middle School to Graduate School.  I have done live theater and improv comedy (two of the greatest tools for getting comfortable public speaking, by the way) to hundreds of people.  Whether its while giving a presentation to a room full or executives or speaking on-screen, I never forget that lesson learned long ago!

Here are my 3 Suggestions for you:

1) Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – You cannot over prepare when it comes to public speaking.  Know the material. Know the audience. Know your queues.  Repetition is your friend with this!  Here’s a great analogy from Jenni Hogan that highlights the importance of being prepared:

2) Be Comfortable with Improvisation – Inevitably, “stuff” happens.  Just accept that now.  You don’t know what or when, but something will go wrong.  It could be tech issues, people issues, weather issues, or countless other items.  Accept now that you can’t control everything, and train yourself on how to ad lib when necessary.  Find a local theater or drama team that does improv exercises and train with them for an evening. I promise it will be valuable and loads of fun! The ability to improvise is a learned skill (which take us back to item #1).

3) If You Mess Up, Own It and Move On – Maybe the best move Michael Bay did all day was immediately recognize and own his mistake.  With a bit of humor, he quipped on his blog that “I guess live shows aren’t my thing.”  There’s no better way to defuse an embarrassing flub than to take ownership and move on; your mistakes don’t define you.  This helps the public to find the closing chapter on that book, so they can quickly move on to another.  And remember, if you’re not screwing up occasionally then you probably aren’t taking enough risks!

So, what’s your story?  What was your Michael Bay moment and what did you learn form it?

-Eric

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