Episode 186 | September 17, 2019

Heroic Public Speaking with Michael Port

A Personal Note From Orion

“All the world’s a stage” Shakespeare famously wrote. But have you ever been on a real stage, with an audience eagerly awaiting to hear what you have to say? Perhaps you have dreamed of becoming a public speaker or have done it before, but one thing is for sure: getting on a stage and sharing your message with the world is a sure-fire way to elevate your brand, and most importantly, inspire others with your message. 

While it may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be, because when you are on stage, all you have to do is be yourself. That is who the audience will connect with – the truth, the emotion, the stories that they can relate to and see themselves in. Whether you are selling an idea, a product, or simply spreading an inspirational message, nothing will hit home like you being vulnerable and coming from the heart. In doing so, your message could literally save someone’s life. 

I learned this myself when I stood on a stage recently and shared one of the most personal stories of my life. Luckily, I had one of my greatest mentors there to guide me, and he joins me today on my show to share how you can own the stage and inspire others with your words. Michael Port co-founded Heroic Public Speaking with his wife, Amy Port, and they truly are the best at guiding others to authentically shine on stage.


About Today’s Show

Steal the Show by Michael Port

Hi and welcome to Stellar Life Podcast. This is your host, Orion, and I’m psyched to introduce to you one of my favorite mentors in the whole world. His name is Michael Port. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Heroic Public Speaking, and New York Times and WSJ best-selling author of seven books, including his most recent, Steal the Show.

My journey with Michael Port started a while ago. It started at his event, Heroic Public Speaking Live, when I got to get private coaching with him on-stage in front of hundreds of people and share my message. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Both my husband and I signed-in to his program, Heroic Public Speaking, their grad program which is nine months. When I say ‘they,’ it’s Michael and Amy Port. He and his wife are a power couple and they are probably the best in the world in what they do in teaching public speaking.

What I loved about attending the program and being a part of their community is that community comes first and people support each other. There’s even a pledge that you say every morning to remind yourself to conquer your fear, help each other, and be there for one another. What they do is they bring their theatrical background into the speaking world, just bringing out your own voice.

What’s unique about their program is that there is no cookie-cutter signature way to doing things. Yes, there’s guidance and there are some rules, but it’s very flexible and you mold it, so it’s your own. If you see Heroic Public Speaker on one stage and then another one on another stage, you won’t actually know that they were trained by the same person because they help you bring out your own voice and make it your own.

After spending almost nine months training with him and traveling to New Jersey, I think that my speaking skills are just so much better right now and I can conquer any stage. I didn’t feel good about my speaking in the beginning and then I got some training, and then some more training, and then I got an award for best speaker and best closer. It was really powerful for me and now taking this journey just took me to one higher level.

It is just wonderful because if you want to share your message with the world, you have to learn how to touch the hearts of your audience, how to move them, how to make them want to create the change and want to move forward. I’m so freaking grateful for this training. It was awesome and I’m so grateful that Michael agreed to be on the show, which is awesome.

You’ll learn a lot about the art of speaking, but also a little bit about the behind the scenes, like how can a couple operate together and work so beautifully in front of their students, and still keep their privacy, still keep their boundaries, and still love and respect each other. There was another deeper aspect, kind of like a little peek behind the curtain of how they do what they do. I’m sure you’re going to really enjoy it.

And now, without further ado, on to the show.

Hey, Michael and welcome to Stellar Life Podcast. It’s very nice having you here.

It’s lovely to be here.

You are one of my favorite mentors, coaches in the whole world.

Oh my gosh, thank you so much. That means a lot to me, thank you.

Before we start, why don’t you share a little bit about yourself?

I’m a father, I’ve got three kids and a puppy which I never thought I’d have, but I do.

I like your puppy. I didn’t get to see him in person, but he’s so cute.

Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

He is very cute. I run a company called Heroic Public Speaking which you know a lot about. I started as an entrepreneur in the early 2000s and since then I’ve written seven books. My two most popular are Book Yourself Solid—that was the very first book I wrote—and then the most recent book is called Steal the Show. That book is all about public speaking and communications in all aspects of life, not just from a stage.

Yeah, but you started as an actor.

Yes, I did.

How did you get from acting to public speaking to teaching that to many people?

With a very big imagination, I would say. Look, I studied acting in college and then I got a Master of Fine Arts in Acting at the Graduate Acting program at NYU. Then, I worked professionally and I was on shows like Sex and the City, Third Watch, Law & Order, All My Children, Another World, and 100 Centre Street. I did small roles in films like The Pelican Brief, Down to Earth, and The Believers. I did lots of on-camera commercials and even more voiceovers. My voiceovers were my bread and butter, which means that’s what paid the bills in between acting jobs. As much as I loved the work, my personality didn’t fit the business very well.

Why is that?

I like to make things happen as quickly as I want to. I have a sense of urgency around things that I want to do and at that age, in my early 20s, I didn’t have a lot of patience to sit and wait. Unfortunately, there is a lot of waiting around. Even if you’re working in that business, you’re often waiting around on set. You may be on set for 12 hours, but you may only shoot for 1 of those 12 hours. Then, the rest of the time you’re in your trailer waiting to be called as they’re working on the production, setting lights, etc. That just didn’t fit my personality very well at that time, and to be perfectly straightforward, I didn’t really love all the rejection that came with doing that work.

Anytime you want to do big things in the world, you’re going to get rejected. You have even more disappointments when you’re in the creative arts day in and day out because you’re often up for something really big that could change your life in a significant way, and then it’s gone. Then, you’re up for something big, and then it’s gone. That can take its toll. I think at that age, I didn’t have the maturity to understand that, that is a normal part of the process and to be able to separate myself from the rejection.

Over time, I got more comfortable with rejection, in part because as you get older, you tend to get a little bit more comfortable with who you are, but I also started focusing on results over approval and that made a really big difference for me. I feel fortunate that I had that loss when I was younger, meaning I wanted to do something and then I had a modicum of success but left a little bit too early or maybe before the tide turned. I’ll never forget how that felt and I’ll never go back there.

It's a huge mistake as a leader to always wonder what other people want. Sometimes you just have to go for what you believe in. Click To Tweet

I’m not saying I want to go back and be an actor. I actually have no desire at this point. My wife and I talk about that often. She was also an actor. She has her master’s from Yale in acting, as you know. Often, when we see what some of the performers have to do with people that they’re not in relationships with, we often say, “Oh, thank God. We’re not actors anymore,” because we don’t want to do those kind of things. It just doesn’t fit our particular lifestyle.

As an entrepreneur, you’re rejected every single day. As a speaker, you’re rejected every day in one way, shape, or form. But now I understand that there’s a big difference between my role as an entrepreneur and who I am as a person, my role as a teacher and who I am as a person, and my role as a speaker and who I am as a person. Someone might reject my work, but I don’t take it personally.

That’s amazing. It’s one of the four agreements—don’t take anything personally—but for me, personally, it’s quite hard. I studied acting in New York at the Neighborhood Playhouse. I studied there for two years and I have never felt so much rejection in my life, both in school and in the audition process. That’s why I left acting because I just couldn’t handle it. There is a part of it that has to do with maturity. Even today, I think I’m mature but, still, I have a hard time with rejection.

For me—especially being a foreigner—it was, “Oh, you are 26. You are  old,” and then it was, “Oh, you’re from Israel, your accent.” I really took it to heart when a casting director said, “Well, I guess the best role you can get is maybe play a small role as a terrorist,” or something like that. Lo and behold, Wonder Woman, the most iconic American superhero, is played by an Israeli, Gal Gadot, but I believed them. I was young, gullible and naive.

I came off to living in Japan for 3½ years and I dressed in fun clothes and accessories. I did everything to fit in. All of a sudden, all those fun colorful clothes and accessories, I put them in the closet and I wore my plain t-shirts. I tried to fit in, I tried to fix everything that I am, and also dim everything that I was.

I hear that. Let’s talk about fitting in because something comes to mind that I experienced when I was an actor that I think will be very helpful for folks now because we see parallels in all aspects of life. I didn’t have the discovery and realization at the time because sometimes when you’re in something, it’s very hard to read the label. If you’re in the bottle, it’s hard to read the label outside of the bottle until you’re able to get outside of that space and look at it from another perspective, then you can actually start to read the label.

What I discovered over time was one of the big mistakes I made as an actor was wondering what other people wanted. From a business perspective, we know that we need to think about what our customers, or our clients, or our students want. Absolutely. As a creative artist, if we’re so focused on what other people want, we don’t tend to produce anything original or unique and our opinion gets lost in the process.

What I would do is I get an audition, I go to my agent’s office to pick up the script. In those days, you had to actually pick up a script. I’m sure now they just download it. I pick up the script, I’d read it, and I’d start to think about, “What are they looking for in this role? What is the casting director looking for? What’s the director looking for? What’s the producer looking for?”

I’d often organize my preparation around those questions, but what I realized over time was that often, the casting director didn’t really know what they were looking for. They might have had an idea, but they often don’t know what they’re looking for until they see it, which means you have to present to them what they’re looking for. Really, what’s going on in the casting director’s mind is, “I got to bring in enough people that the director and producer like so I don’t get fired and replaced.” I know I’m being a bit reductive when it comes to that particular role, but I’m doing it just as a generalization to point out that very often, people are just worried about making the right decisions so that they can keep their job. That’s understandable.

But then, if you look at the director—sometimes they have a new director who’s all of a sudden directing a $300 million feature film, but they’d never done a feature film before. They’ve only done music videos. They’ve got 20 hit music videos under their belt, but they’ve just been given the green light on a $300 million action film or something. They might be thinking, “God, I hope this actor comes in and shows me what I need and what I’m looking for, and I really hope they don’t ask me questions because I don’t know how to direct actors.” That’s not, of course, all directors, but that’s often the case for some directors.

Then the producer is often trying to figure out, “Can you give me something that I can bank on so that I can say yes to approving your casting? Do I have enough marky named actors in the film for budget purposes or marketing purposes? Can I go with an unknown here? Are they going to be reliable? Am I going to be his shoes?” etc. Sometimes, it’s a height problem. If you’re quite tall and the person you’re playing opposite is quite short, you might not get the job even if everything else is perfect because the height is an issue. Certainly, on stage that can be a problem.

There are so many factors that are beyond your control that actually have nothing to do with you. Sure, if you’re tall or you’re short, you can take it personally, but that’s you’re DNA. There’s not a lot you can do about controlling your height. What I should have done was go in there with really big choices and really clear about what I thought that character was all about. What objectives did that character have? What actions would I pursue to achieve those objectives? Not wondering what they’re looking for. Of course, when I was in this situation, I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing but when I would look back years after.

If you want people to respond positively, everything you offer must be important, relevant, and interesting.

Now, when I write books, when I write speeches, when I make choices, I’m always aware of what I think people want, but I focus more on what I think is going to be most effective. I’d rather have programming that is effective. I’d rather have marketing that’s effective. I’d rather deliver a speech that’s effective regardless of what people think they want because they may think they want something, but then you deliver what’s actually effective and then they realize, “Oh, that’s what I wanted. I just didn’t realize it.” Sometimes, it takes years of experience to get better at that because you don’t always know, but you’ve got to give it your best guess.

If Hollywood producers or book acquisition editors knew what made a hit, they’d only make hits. There are very few people that only make hits. Even Spielberg has made some movies that weren’t hits. If Warner Bros. knew what’s going to make a hit every single time, they’d only make hits, and they don’t. Same thing with HarperCollins or any other book publisher. If they knew what was going to make a hit, they would only buy that particular book. The fact of the matter is, they’re going to publish a lot of books, only a few are going to be hits, and that’s what they’re going to bank on.

I’ve written a number of books. Some have been hits, others not as much. I would venture to say that some of the books that I wrote that weren’t hits were actually better books than some of the books that were hits, from my perspective. You can’t always control it. You just have to do your best to deliver what you think is going to be most effective. Sometimes they’ll say yes and sometimes they’ll say no.

A lot of people think that a transition from acting to speaking is very natural. Of course, you can speak because you were an actress. There is some truth to that when it comes to stage presence and maybe some movement on stage or using your voice, but it’s very different. For me, it was very different because as an actress, I had my script and I was a character.

Yeah. Someone else wrote the lines for you.

Somebody else wrote the lines. Somebody else told me what to do. It wasn’t me. I didn’t have to expose my heart and soul. Whatever happens, whatever emotions I was showing was the character’s emotion. It wasn’t really me. Even if it was true emotions, I could hide behind the character, but when it comes to public speaking, the transition for me was so hard. It was a real struggle to even to do this podcast in the beginning because I was so consumed with, “Oh my God. English is my second language. What if I make mistakes?” Actually, my husband, Stephan, was the one who pushed me.

He’s so sweet and made me do it, really encouraged me. Also, another thing that I heard from a friend of mine, Neil Gupta, what he said, “You know, if you’re not going to share your message, somebody’s going to die.” There are many types of death. Somebody can die financially, emotionally, spiritually, and also physically.

The point was it’s not about you, it’s about your mission here on the planet, it’s about your destiny, it’s about your legacy, and what you share with people that can improve their lives forever. Those two things were the ones that moved me forward and encouraged me to do this.

That’s lovely. Sometimes, that’s such a big concept that even that can overwhelm folks, understandably. One of the things that I’ve found helpful over the years is actually creating a character that is the character that you bring to your speaking engagements.

It’s really funny because my talk that I developed at the New York Public Speaking at their grad program—which was amazing, everyone talked about it—is all about creating an alter ego.

It can be very helpful when you’re in the public eye because you can separate yourself from the work and the role that you play when doing that work or delivering that work. I think we’re circling back to where we started. This idea that if everything is about you, then you live a very self-absorbed life, and if you live a very self-absorbed life, you tend to live a very neurotic life. It’s a difficult existence to be in, to always be obsessing on yourself, how you look, and what people think. It’s very destructive.

It’s an epidemic lately in our society.

Absolutely. Social media certainly doesn’t help. Here’s the other thing that happens. Sometimes, when people are asked to perform in some way, they will try to rely on their mood. They’ll try to pump themselves up in a particular mood or state of being with the assumption that, “If I’m in the right mood or I’ve got the right state of being, the right energy, then everything’s going to come out perfectly. Everything is going to work.” That’s not necessarily the case. You may feel really good because you’re in a heightened state, but the way that you feel doesn’t mean that the audience felt the same way.

Let the choices you make be in the pursuit of making others feel valued and served. Click To Tweet

Our job is not to rely on mood because it’s not easy to control your mood. You can control your actions, but the mood is harder to control. You may go into a speech and you have very little sleep, you took a red-eye, maybe it’s in Vegas and you don’t like Vegas, and it’s at 10 o’clock at night.

I actually don’t.

I don’t like Vegas either. No offense to those who do, but I like to go to bed early and most things in Vegas start quite late. Let’s say you’ve got to give your keynote at 10 o’clock at night, you’re on East Coast time, and you’d normally go to bed by nine o’clock East Coast time. None of those things are going to help your mood. If you actually used your mood to influence how you delivered, then you’d walk out there in the wrong state of being to be effective.

If you don’t worry about that at all and instead you focused clearly on what your objective is and you make choices in pursuit of that objective with respect to how you want to make them feel—meaning how you want to make the people in the audience feel and what you want them to do—then you’re naturally going to be in a state of being that is appropriate for the pursuit of those actions. Your state of being is going to change through the pursuit of those actions and the objective at the end. This way, you never have to worry about mood.

Yes. Every time I feel bad, if I actually talk to somebody who needs help and I go into what they need, I forget about my needs and the intention is about them. Everything is about intention and things manifest through intention. If you will come with a pure intention of helping somebody, making their day better, teaching them something valuable, and this intention is strong and pure, then it’s going to happen. Rather than, if you think about, “I have that intention, but I also want them to love me, like me, respect me, and blah-blah-blah.” It can dilute your message.

Absolutely. I had a student who called me up one day, very excited and very anxious because she had just gotten an opportunity to be interviewed on Good Morning America. And she’d been working for this for a long time. This is going to do a lot for her book. She said, “Michael, I got booked on Good Morning America. What can I do to be good?” I said, “Well, you can’t.” She said, “What do you mean? Am I not good?” I said, “No. Of course not.”

But we can’t go into a situation like that trying to be good. Instead, we can try to be helpful and if we’re very helpful, that then is effective, meaning you’re producing value for the audience. If you do that, then they’ll say, “That was really good. That was well worth my time.” But if you try to be good, what does that mean? Does that mean I should sit a certain way, look a certain way, or say the right things? That’s always about you and not about the needs of the viewer, or the audience, or the reader if you’re writing something. It takes the pressure off and then you’re specifically just focusing on, “How can I be helpful at this moment?” It makes it a lot easier. Again, it doesn’t matter what your mood is, you’re just focusing on how you’re trying to affect the people in the room.

I like that. When I went on TV, I did a course on how to get on TV and it wasn’t that intention. Yes, I gave the four tips, but my intention was not about being helpful, my intention was to be good, loved, liked, and rehearse every word I’m saying. It got better, the more I went on TV. I didn’t do too many appearances, but I really like this. This is so nice and it’s so liberating.

I hope so. I think so. Of course, we want to be well-prepared, we want to do a good deal of rehearsals so that we’re very comfortable with our material. If we learn protocols for doing Q&A that are effective protocols, then we’re going to do a better job of it. That’s all the technicality behind it, but from a philosophical perspective, instead of focusing on yourself, you’re simply focusing on being helpful to them.

The best time to start is today.

I like that. I want to talk a little bit about your programs that are freaking amazing, mind-blowing, professional, unbelievable.

Thank you so much.

My first interaction with your work, with you, and with Amy, your wife, was that HBS Live and I did something special for myself. I became a VVIP. Not a VIP but a VVIP, a very, very important person. That meant me going on stage and getting coaching from you in front of 500 plus people.

That’s right. You were so brave.

And telling my core story of abuse. I did speak about it before but never like that. That experience was something that I will cherish for a lifetime. I remember being on stage. You did a lot of coaching, it was helpful, and it was amazing, but what I most remember is that energy that I felt, that amazing connection with the people. I actually felt the energy back and forth. It just felt like angels were singing.

That’s beautiful.

It felt so good. I thought that the story maybe only resonates with women but then, I had so many guys approaching me later. It was really cool and I’m forever grateful, Michael, for this experience. It was out of this world.

Oh, that’s wonderful. It means the world to us. One of the things that creates a lot of anxiety for folks is whether or not their story is going to be accepted by other people. Not all speeches need to have your personal story or origin story in them, but some people do share more about their personal experiences than others. For those folks that are interested in sharing more of their personal experiences, it can be a confronting concept because you don’t know if people are going to accept them, or if they’re going to appreciate them, or going to find them valuable. I really respect the fact that you took that risk in front of such a large group of people for the first time that you were doing and then, of course, you’re going to get coached on it right there in front of everybody else.

And fantastic coaching, if I may add. You are so brilliant. I don’t know how you see things like that but, you know how to change things, you know how to change the movement, you know how to change the intonation, and you know how to change even the story structure so it’s easier for the crowd to consume. I can get very dramatic and the story is dramatic in nature. It’s a difficult story, but one of the tips that you gave me was to break it down with some humor which was super helpful for the audience to feel safe, to know that I am safe, and not just beyond the edge of their seat, they’ll like, “Is she okay? What’s going to happen?”

We never want the audience to worry about the speaker. That’s very important. They always need to know that the speaker is safe and the speaker is in control because that makes them more comfortable, especially if you’re addressing issues that may be provocative. One of the things that’s important to mention is that you heard us mention this the very first time that you came to Live and then you heard us mention this in a grad school here at HBS HQ, that audience members will observe us giving direction to the students that may seem in conflict with direction we gave to another student because there is no one way to do this work, there isn’t a formula.

And that’s why I love your work. Let me interrupt you for a second. This is why I was so freaking impressed with the way you guys teach because you teach people to be who they are. You teach people to shine as they are. You can be a quiet speaker. You can be a dramatic speaker. You can be a funny speaker. As long as it matches who you are and your personality, go with that because the people of your tribe will gravitate towards you and you only. The bigger you get, the more polarizing you’re going to get and some people will be raving fans and some people are not. That’s great because you need the people that resonate with you and they cannot resonate with you if you don’t show up as the person that you are.

That’s right and this is an art. An artist’s job is often to break the rules to create something even better. Anybody can tear something down, that’s easy. Building something better in its place is harder which is why we’re not too concerned with critics because a critic spends most of their time breaking something down rather than actually building something which is much more difficult and requires much more risk.

Anything that's worthy of sharing should start with a crazy idea. Click To Tweet

One of the few reasons you felt such a connection to the audience when you were at HBS Live and then, of course, connection to your fellow grad students here is because the environment is safe. We put very clear constraints around the behavior in our environment. We create a safe container for people to take chances and try new things.

Yeah, it starts with the pledge.

It starts with the pledge. Everybody has to know that we’ve got their back and that everybody else in the room has got their back. For example, as you know we have a rule that if you criticize somebody to them or behind their back, in some way that is dysfunctional, disruptive, disrespectful, then we’ll just ask you to leave. It’s simple. It’s not a big deal for us. No student is more important than any other student in the group.

Of course, every once in awhile, we’re adults, we may say something that we don’t realize put somebody else off but then, they’d tell us and we apologize, it’s simple, and we move on. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is small-minded, petty, disrespectful, critical, narcissistic, put-downs of other people. We just don’t accept it.

You cut out the weeds so the flowers can grow in the fertile soil of HBS.

Very poetic. Everybody knows that this is true. They know that this is something that we stand by. We also don’t allow people to coach each other during their time with us because that’s not what they’re there for.

Do you know how many times I coached Stephan? I was a rule breaker.

Well, that’s different. You’re married so you have a separate contract. Completely different.

Actually, I was spot on because of the comments that I said were similar to what you said.


It was like, “Hm, I’ll be Michael Port when I grow up.”

Exactly. You got much better hair than I do. It is really important because unsolicited feedback is a part of life. Certainly, sometimes, somebody will say something to you that might actually be helpful, but very often, the advice that you’re getting isn’t helpful because it’s out of context. As a result, if you start paying attention to every bit of advice you get no matter where you get it, you often create something that’s just a big patchwork of ideas that is not contextualized well, is not well-organized, and doesn’t necessarily serve your super-objective for the speech.

We just take that off the table and then no one’s worried about getting feedback that they’re not going to like from somebody who’s not their teachers. You’re going to get feedback from your teachers here that may provoke and require that you change the way you’re doing something, but that’s why you’re here because you chose to work with our teachers because you know they’re the best in class and their agenda is yours. They’re trying to serve you and you’ll put that faith and that trust in your teacher, but you don’t want necessarily to get that from everybody around you. It’s not always helpful. So, we just cut it out so that it’s not part of the process.

Once people become long-term students where they’re at a very senior level with us, we do teach processes for getting the feedback you need when you need so that you’re controlling the feedback loops because sometimes you do need to get feedback from other people. You just want to have some management over that particular process. We teach people how to do that and eventually, they will do that with each other inside our programs but, once they’ve learned how to do it so everybody still feels safe and actually gets feedback that’s helpful.

The other reason is that, very often, what I find when people go to personal training or development programs, they spend so much time focusing on the other people there and what other people could do to improve, that it’s a way of escaping doing it for themselves. If you’re not allowed to do it for other people when you’re here, the only person that you do it is for yourself, you have no choice. That’s why you came. You came for yourself. You didn’t come to teach other people. That’s not why you’re there.

What are some ways of asking for the right feedback?

Keeping it constrained is important, meaning limiting their response to the question that you’re asking them. If you’re very specific with your questions, then you can get the feedback that you need. For example, every speech has a big idea of some kind and it’s very important that that big idea is crystal clear throughout the whole speech and that your throughline and all of your content data points connect to continue to serve that big idea.

You may want to bring in some folks to observe a rehearsal of a speech that you’re working on so then at the end, one of the questions you may ask them is, “What was my big idea?” They have to tell you what they think it is. Then you write it down and if everybody gets it, you’re good to go. They got your big idea, good, but if you’re getting different things from different people, then you know, “I’ve got to really work on my big idea.”

You may also ask another question. You say, “What was my big idea?” They give it to you. You feel like everybody gets it and then you might say, “On a scale of 1 -10, how relevant and interesting do you think that idea is?” Or you could one question relevant, next question how interesting or how important. Then they’d just give you the number.

Let’s say someone gives you a seven, you may say as a follow-up, “Why didn’t you give it an eight and why didn’t you give is a six?” Because if they say, “I didn’t give it a six because of this,” and they’ll tell you something good about it that affected them positively. Then they say, “I didn’t give it an eight because of this,” and then they’ll tell you the thing that they felt was missing, but you’re really in control of that conversation.

It’s important to familiarize the stage. You have to know your floor space and utilize its highest potential.

When people start going off into other areas that you don’t want to be focusing on at that time, you just ask them to stay focused on the questions that you have. There are just a few of the questions that you may ask. We have many different questions, but the point is to go into that process knowing what you want to work on, and then asking questions that give you the information that you need to then translate into your next rehearsal session to continue and to improve both the content and the performance.

Yes. Experiencing your curriculum as a student, what I loved about it is how there was so much clarity and every topic was broken down in a very clear and digestible way. I want to do my own seminars eventually. I want to do a three-day seminar and retreat in an exotic, beautiful location.

Tel Aviv?

That’s nice, but I was thinking more like Costa Rica, Jamaica, Hawaii.

I’ll take all of the above. Thank you.

How do you go about teaching the content in such a clear way? For me, I have all those million and one ideas in my mind, but even in writing my keynote, it’s been really hard to break it down to where it’s not too overwhelming.

It’s a big question. There are a lot of different factors that go into creating effective curriculum for hour-long presentations, one-day presentations, two-day, three-day presentations, six-week courses, and more.

Eight months like yours.

Eight months. Exactly. Full higher education, long-term curriculum. There are a couple different things to consider. One of the things we often see that is  problematic is way too much plane for not enough runway. Meaning, way too much content and not enough time. When people are creating these kinds of presentations, especially at the beginning of the process, they want to add so much value. They want to be seen as credible and as an expert that they will put so much into it that ultimately, the audience becomes overwhelmed and they can’t process it well because there’s too much.

When I did my one-day event, people got breakthroughs and it was awesome. They got a lot of knowledge, but on my end as the instructor, I was like, “That was a little too much for them,” because by the end, they were like, “Okay, my head is exploding. This is too much.”

Yeah, of course. What we want to do is make it very clear. We have something called the Foundational Five and you’ve done the Foundational Five. The Foundational Five is something that we use anytime we’re developing a meeting, anytime we’re developing a course, a class, a speech because these five foundational elements exist in all of those mediums and more. That’s always where we start and then we can build based on that Foundational Five.

The Foundational Five includes a big idea, and I mentioned that previously. Each speech, each workshop, each presentation, each course has got to have a big idea. That big idea doesn’t necessarily need to be different to make a difference. It just needs to be important, relevant, and interesting to the people in the room. If it’s important, relevant, and interesting, then they’ll pay attention. Now, once you’ve got a big idea, then you want to make sure you’re clear on what your promise to the audience is because that’s the thing that going to drive all of the benefits that they’re going to get as a result of achieving the promise.

Those benefits is one of the Foundational Five elements as well because that promise is going to produce benefits or rewards. People really want rewards and benefits. However, a fourth foundational item are the consequences of not adopting the big idea and achieving the promise. You have a big idea, you have a promise, you’re able to articulate all of the rewards of that promise, and you’re also able to articulate the consequences of not achieving that promise. What’s going to happen if you don’t?

If something is important, relevant, and interesting, then people will pay attention. Click To Tweet

The fifth Foundational element is being able to demonstrate, illustrate, and articulate that you understand the way the world looks to the people in the room. Because if they don’t think you understand the way the world looks to them, it’s much easier for them to discount what you have to say.

Even if they think you make sense, it’s still easier for them to say, “No. I’m not going to do anything with this because he or she doesn’t really get me.” Because when you’re asking people to do things that are different, or provocative, or big, it might be challenging to them. It might be provocative to them. They may want to push back because if somebody has been around as long as I have—I’ll be 50 in 1½ year, so I’m 48½—there’s a lot of things that I’ve thought about doing or changing over the years that I may have not done anything about.

For a speaker to come up in 60 minutes, just snap his fingers and expect that I’m going to make these changes that I haven’t made in the last 48½ years, well that’s a pretty big ask. Even if I want to make those changes, even if what you’re saying seems to make sense, my subconscious if not my conscious, may look for ways out and give me excuses. One of the excuses that I may be able to raise is, “Well, I don’t really think you get me. I mean, it’s fine for other people, but you don’t really get me.” 

If we can demonstrate that we do understand the way the world looks to them, not by pretending that we are just like them if we’re not because we may not be. When I’m teaching newer speakers, obviously I’m not a new speaker so my experience of the world is very different now than it was 20 years ago. I’ve got to be able to demonstrate that I understand the way the world looks to them right now, even if I’m not in the same situation so that we can get on the same page.

Those Five Foundational elements need to be in place first because then you can start to build a curriculum based on those elements. Your curriculum is all designed to serve the promise. How much curriculum do I need in order to help them achieve the promise and no more? Not “no more” because you don’t want to deliver more value. Not “no more” because you don’t need to deliver more so you shouldn’t deliver more and waste their time. There’s always more you could deliver, but if you could look at what they need in order to achieve that promise, then you can constrain that curriculum so that it’s designed specifically to serve that promise.

You do the same thing for each class inside of the curriculum. You’re going to accordion that curriculum out and in depending on the size of the promise, the venue that you’re in, the scale of the event, and how much time you have. There’s a lot of different factors that go into it, but the promise and what you’re delivering need to add up. If you don’t deliver enough so that they can achieve the promise, then you’ve underdelivered. If you deliver so much that it’s so much more than they need in order to achieve the promise, then you’ve over-delivered, but not in a good way. You’re just going to overwhelm or potentially confuse them.

It’s important to remember that even the most attentive students will not get everything that you’re teaching. We have people who will come back and repeat programs, many times over, as you know. Sometimes, someone who’s new to a particular program will say, “Wait, so it’s your third time? I don’t understand. Did it not work the first two times? What’s the problem?” They say, “No, no, no, no. They worked brilliantly. That’s why I keep coming back. I wouldn’t come back if it didn’t work brilliantly, but every time I’m here, I hear something I didn’t hear before.”

Yeah, I totally get it.

Because until you have context around what you’re learning, you may not know what you don’t know and what you need to know. You’re often only able to absorb a certain amount at any given time, but that amount now brought in your ability to contextualize the information, the subject matter, so that the next time you hear more information on it, you’re able to absorb even more. Your viewpoint gets even bigger. You’re able to contextualize even more of that particular knowledge base and then so on and so forth until you get to the point where you can contextualize pretty much everything there is to know about that particular topic. You don’t need  a lot of time to think about how to do something. You’re able to do it quite automatically.

You and Amy have a way about you where you really know how to put the boundaries between your personal life to when you interact with your students. For me, in my experience, there is like an invisible wall when it comes to your personal life. You keep it very private, but you’re all in with your students. How do you create this boundary?

My wife and I work together.

How is it by the way?

It’s lovely. We feel like the luckiest people in the world because we get to spend all day with each other. We would feel sad if we only got to see each other for a few minutes in the morning and then for a couple of hours at night. We feel very lucky and very blessed. We’re very clear about what our roles here are at the company and those roles may change over time, but we respect the roles that each person plays and that certainly helps. Paul Newman really nailed it for me when he was asked by a reporter what his secret was because he and Joanne Woodward were married for decades. In Hollywood, that’s an anomaly. That’s not the norm.

Even in real life.

Even in real life, excellent point. Touché. He said, “Oh, that’s easy. Two things: respect and lust.

I like it.

Because if you have a lot of lust in a relationship but not much respect, that relationship is probably not going to last too long or be very healthy. If you have a lot of respect in a relationship but you don’t have the other intangible, that relationship may not last that long because there’s something big missing. Respect is such a significant part of a healthy, productive relationship as is the intimacy associated with a romantic relationship. Those two things. He really nailed it for me. The respect piece is evident to anybody that’s around us here. We respect each other tremendously because I think she’s the most impressive person in the world.

To achieve true influence, you must be able to demonstrate how the world works to your people. Click To Tweet

Very beautiful swan, very regal.

She’s incredible. She’s a goddess. She’s incredible. I’m okay. I’m passive in any event. But then we’re also very clear about what we share and what we don’t share with the public, not because we feel like we want to hide things but because we want to keep some things for ourselves. That’s all. It’s a little bit selfish. We want to have some things that are only ours and we get to keep them. That’s important to us.

I wouldn’t call it selfish. I would call it self-care.

Yeah. That’s nice. Self-care. We also have some rules that we adhere to when we’re presenting. Again, we know what our roles are so we each present those roles and we don’t step on each other or try to take each other’s roles. We also are very clear that we do not ever poke fun at the other person. That’s an absolute because, at home, we’ll tease each other which we love. Amy teases me, I tease her. It’s the way we flirt with each other. It’s healthy, it’s productive, and we enjoy it. But we don’t want to tease each other in public, especially from the stage because it can be misconstrued.

Yeah, it can always take a wrong turn.

Exactly, and we don’t want to open that avenue up to any of our students. It’s okay to tease Amy. Making jokes at her expense is not okay in this house.

What are some other rules?

Well, we always sit on the same sides. I always sit to the right and she always sits to the left.

I like that.

Once in awhile, we’ll change that, but for the most part, and it might not seem like a big deal, but what it does actually for us is it gives us a really clear…

It’s an anchor.

It’s an anchor around our physicality. We get into these physical routines that are very complementary and that works very well for us.

Michael, I have so many more questions to ask you. I can talk to you for hours and hours on end.

That’s very sweet. Thank you.

But our time is almost up, so I’m going to ask you two more questions. Where can people find you? I know you have a great download on heroicpublicspeaking.com. How can people connect with you, take your courses, and all that?

heroicpublicspeaking.com is the place to go. We outline our courses for individuals there and as you mentioned, there’s a great download where you can 50 tips to world-saving speeches. Many of them are going to be counter-intuitive. You can download that and you can read it. You can always reach out to us at questions@nullheriocpublicspeaking.com.

We’d love to talk to you. We are an exclusive organization in that it’s a rigorous curriculum. It’s for people who are serious people. We have high expectations with respect to how our students interact with each other and with the actual program, but we are open to everyone who wants to create significance in their life, wants to do it with integrity and meaning, and get up to big things. Diversity is a core value of ours and individuality is a core value of ours.

As you said before, we’re always looking for what makes an individual shine, not, “How can we make them like us?” In fact, we think if anybody can look at one of our students and say, “Oh, yeah. That’s a Heroic Public Speaking student,” then we failed. What we want them to see is that person, that unique, beautiful, wonderful, meaningful human, and leave thinking,. “Oh my God. That was one of the most profound experiences, most transformational experiences that I’ve ever had in my life.” They shouldn’t look at the technique and they shouldn’t know where it comes from.

Beautiful. What are your three top tips to living a stellar life?

Number one, do what you say you’re going to do because if you are someone who does what they say they’re going to do, then you build a really powerful reputation and you feel really good about who you are. You can hold your head up high wherever you go. I think that’s critically important.

Number two, we can do more with others than we can alone. If you think that you’re the only one who can do the thing or if you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done right. Then you’re probably going to stay small because the fact of the matter is we can do a lot more with each other, together, than we can alone.

Number three, I would share a Winston Churchill quote. Winston Churchill said, “It’s a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” I really, really like that because sometimes we want so much so fast, we want all the answers right away, and often that’s not the way the world works. One link in the chain of destiny at a time. You keep building that chain link. By the time you’ve matured into what you’re pursuing, that chain is so strong, link after link after link after link that you’ve built over time that’s it’s unbreakable.

Beautiful. Thank you so much, Michael. I really, really appreciate it. That was so much fun. Thank you.

You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Thank you and thank you, listeners. Remember, do what you say you are going to do, do more with others, and remember to pursue one link in the chain of destiny at a time. This is Orion, until next time.



Your Checklist of Actions to Take

{✓} Make sure your speech or pitch has these three key factors: it must be important, relevant, and interesting.
{✓} Focus on results over approval. Rejection is part of life and it shouldn’t stop you from discovering your true purpose.
{✓} You’ll never feel ready. No one ever feels ready. You’d be surprised how many successful people began with a leap of faith. If you have a dream, take the first step today.
{✓} Focus on what’s effective rather than trying to please people. Most entrepreneurs get stuck on the idea of giving the public what they want, but sometimes they don’t know what they want until they see it.
{✓} Not everything you deliver is going to be a hit so just keep creating and offering value to your audience no matter what. Even the greats like Spielberg have some flops from time to time.
{✓} Set an intention that will help influence how you deliver a speech or pitch. If you want your audience to be energetic and attentive, it’s your responsibility to set the mood in the beginning.
{✓} Be in command of yourself, your speech, and the stage. Gage your audience and environment prior to speaking so that you develop a sense of comfort and familiarity. 
{✓} Always remember to ask questions that will give you the feedback you need. This will allow you to become better at your next meeting or speaking gig. 
{✓} Learn from a mentor. Hire an expert who can guide you into becoming an excellent speaker and communicator. 
{✓} Check out Heroic Public Speaking and see how Michael Port’s services and workshops can help you thrive.

Links and Resources

About Michael Port

Michael Port is the Co-Founder and CEO of Heroic Public Speaking and a NY Times and WSJ bestselling author of 7 books including his most recent, Steal the Show.



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