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Jay Baer

Jay Baer is a master public speaker who joins imPRessions this week to chat about mastering the art of captivating audiences. From hosting virtual events to giving a live keynote to an audience of thousands, Jay’s insight will make even the timidest speaker a pro in no time. It’s no wonder that Jay holds the title of being an inductee into the Halls of Fame for professional speaking. Plus, he loves tequila—what more is there to like?!

imPRessions Season 2 Episode #2 Transcript

Jenn: Hi, Kalli.

Kalli: Hi, Jenn.

Jenn: Ready for today?

Jenn: Of course I’m ready for today.

Jenn: What’s your take on public speaking? Does it scare you, or are you one of those people that kind of thrive on a stage?

Kalli: I feel like I thrive on a stage because I just. You just have to, like, tune it out and just talk. One of the reasons I even got into PR was because I just enjoy talking. Shocker. I know, for a podcast cohost, who would think? What about you? Do you get scared, or are you, like, front and center?

Jenn: I get scared. So, like as a musician, I kind of correlate the same thing and I get very nervous performing for people publicly. But I did have an incredible professor when I was in college that taught a public speaking course. That kind of changed my mindset about public speaking and how to properly prepare for it. And I still think about him sometimes to this day, even in PR, you know, needing to you know, talk to like a big group of clients. Right? We have a client that has their big executive team. And we’re kind of giving, you know, our proposal or reviewing our PR plans or something. I kind of use a lot of that mindset into it. But, I know a lot of people who don’t love public speaking. So, I think today’s guest is going to be really, really insightful and informative for a lot of people listening.

Kalli: Yeah, I agree, because, you know, it’s one thing, you know, to be on stage and just to be talking or talking for a lot of people, but to really be doing it within a more professional setting, when you really have a message to get across takes a lot more finesse than just rambling. So I think Jay will definitely be able to help our guests kind of guide them a little bit today in his experience, because he’s on top of that chain like he’s the king.

Jenn: And he’s a tequila sommelier.

Kalli: Yeah, 100%.

Jenn: Awesome. Well, let’s tune in.

Kalli: You stand on a stage. A room full of crowded people. The audience came to hear you speak and share your expertise on what you’re most knowledgeable about. The mere idea of public speaking can send some into a frenzy, for captivating a group of people is no easy feat. Thankfully, there are experts who not only enjoy being on stage-they thrive on it. In today’s episode, we welcome Jay Baer, an inductee into the Hall of Fame for professional speaking. A seventh-generation entrepreneur. Jay has written six bestselling books and founded five multimillion-dollar companies. Hi Jay, it’s a pleasure to have you on our show today.

Jay: I am fired up to be here. Thank you very much. We are not actually public speaking today, but in a way, we are because of all the listeners to this great show.

Jenn: Very true. Podcasting is kind of like public speaking in a sense because even though you’re behind the screen, you’re still talking and have to know what you’re talking about and make sure that your audience doesn’t think you’re a complete moron. So there is an art to it.

Jay: Indeed, indeed. Yeah. The challenge with podcasting and I used to host a show for ten years weekly, so I did 500 episodes. Is the. As a professional speaker, the lack of real-time feedback in podcasting always, always shook me a little bit, right? So on stage, you can look in the audience, and you can get a read on whether somebody’s paying attention, not paying attention if everyone is fleeing to the restroom if they’re looking at their phones, you get some real-time, uh, interaction in terms of how it’s going. And on podcasts, you don’t know until much later. And that’s always a little bit of a challenge, I think.

Jenn: Yep. The fun, the fun part of having a show. Speaking of that, thanks again, as Kalli said, for joining us. We’re really excited. Of course. So before we dive into how our listeners can master public speaking and the art of keynotes, can you tell us a little bit more about your background? How did you become a subject matter expert in this topic?

Jay: Very slowly. And then all at once. I have never really been scared of a microphone, even in high school when I was like a sophomore, they would say, well, somebody needs to be the emcee for the talent show. Somebody needs to be the MC for the pep assembly. Jay will do it. He’s not scared. And they just sort of handed me a microphone and said, figure it out. So I was never really afflicted with that quote unquote fear of public speaking that you mentioned earlier.

And I guess that’s a handy place to start. And then over a period of many years, I would do a couple of three, you know, presentations a year. I’d go to the Rotary Club and tell them about the internet, etc., but I never really thought it was a thing. And then, when I wrote my first book with my co-author, Amber Naslund, we did a book tour, and we went to 20 cities and told people about the book. And so those were speeches, I guess, if you will, and people kept saying, wow, that was really great. You should do more of that. And I said, should I? Yes. And, I found a mentor, Kelly MacDonald, who’s a professional speaker, and she sort of taught me a lot of the ins and outs of the business. And relatively quickly, I started getting asked to give presentations to a larger and larger conferences and events. And now, you know, 1500 presentations later, here I am on your show.

Kalli: That’s really amazing. And it probably is so much nicer to kind of naturally be brought into it. A lot of people are forced into it. You know, public speaking really can be quite nerve-wracking for so many people. On a lot of those fear lists, it’s usually one of the number one fears.

Jay: Yeah, it’s like snakes in public speaking. I think those are the like in, in like in that order.

Kalli: Yeah. I’m pretty sure there’s like an episode of Seinfeld where it’s one of the number one fears that people have. And it was like it was like above death. Like people are more scared of public speaking than they are of dying. And that being said, can you provide a few basic strategies that you found that speakers can use to, you know, help appease their nerves and immediately grab the audience’s attention and, hopefully appease their, their fears a little bit?

Jenn: And don’t bring snakes on stage. I think that’s rule number one.

Kalli: Right. That shouldn’t, yeah. Don’t bring snakes.

Jay: Although I have seen that happen. But it’s not part of my act, that’s for sure.

Kalli: Thank God.

Jenn: One of the things that people don’t fully understand about public speaking is that the presentation starts the second the audience sees you. So even when you’re not quote unquote on stage, when you’re just walking up to the stage, when you’re backstage, when you’re in the wings, when you’re in the lobby, like, that’s part of the performance. And so this idea of grabbing the audience’s attention starts with how do they view you and and what sort of impressions are you giving off from the very beginning, and then what a lot of speakers do, because they’re not really sure how to get into it…The first 2 or 3 sentences of their presentation are… good morning. It’s great to be here. I’m so excited to be in Tuscaloosa, you know, and it’s all of this just sort of small talk that doesn’t provide any value to the audience and certainly doesn’t snap them to attention. That first sentence needs to be something that is arresting, tight, memorable, dynamic, because you can lose them in the first five seconds if you’re not careful.

Jenn: Yeah, please don’t do the good morning thing. I can’t hear you. Is that all you got? I hate that, right?

Jay: Right. It is. It is the worst.

Jenn: It’s so cringey. That makes a lot of sense just to really hook them. I mean, people, you know, they’re on their phones. There’s also there’s a movement on stage and someone gets up to, like you said, go to the bathroom. Everyone’s looking around. So it’s really hard to capture that attention. I want to ask you, though, how do you do that in a virtual setting? Because, you know, with Covid, obviously, we’re thankfully in an age where we were able to pivot to a digital sense so people could still, you know, learn. And there were still opportunities for speakers to lead these amazing keynotes. But how does the dynamic of captivating audiences differ from on-stage versus virtual? And what can you do to ensure that you keep the interest of your audiences in a virtual landscape?

Jay: Yeah, I actually did a lot of training programs that I wrote and delivered for people trying to get better at virtual presentations. I think I did 80 webinars or sort of live virtual presentations that main Covid year. So I was super, super busy, which was fantastic. I was happy to be busy. A couple of things. Some of the same rules apply, right? That it’s much easier to be distracted in a virtual setting because you’ve got all your browsers and you’ve got what’s in your room. So you have to work even harder to keep the audience focused. So those first words out of your mouth are even more important, I would argue, in a virtual setting than in an in-person setting, but the one that people don’t think about very much. A lot of folks talk about your camera and your lighting, and yeah, that’s important. You don’t want to be the presenter. That’s presenting from a closet. That always is a little off-putting.

But the most important thing when you’re presenting virtually is audio, because bad audio is it’s such a turnoff. People will literally turn off, right? They will mute the sound and open up a different browser tab. Bad video is unfortunate, but it’s not a deal breaker. Bad audio is a deal breaker. So when people say, should I buy a new camera, I say no, buy a new microphone, have better audio first, and it makes a huge difference when the presenter sounds more clear to the audience than other people who are just sort of weighing in with questions, it almost carries with it an aura of, this is the person to listen to because you can hear them better, if that makes sense. It’s almost sort of a psychology factor.

Kalli: Yeah, that. Makes total sense. I know when we were first starting out, we played with a couple of different ways to make the audio better. And even just listening back to the episode, like, I definitely feel that and even listening to different webinars and things, you’re 100% right sometimes, like the videos not great, or it’s like, you know, a deck that you’re not even seeing someone speaking. It’s just speaking over it. Yes, but it’s really the audio that captures your… I agree with that 100% well.

Jay: And more and more people now are listening on headphones too, right? Which makes the audio fidelity even more noticeable between good and mediocre.

Kalli: Yeah. So it definitely makes a difference. Of course. You know, audio is really important. Video can be important. But one of the things that I’m really curious in is, you know, how do you catch people’s energy? Because the energy of an event is crucial. You know, what can someone do if they’re performing or speaking with an unengaged audience that, either they’re doing 50 things or if they’re in an auditorium and it’s a live event that they’re just kind of like on their phone or like, you know, scurrying off to like get a snack or go to the bathroom, like, how do you capture that audience?

Jay: There’s sort of three techniques for that. First is to change how you’re saying it. So you’ve got rate, which is how fast are you speaking? You have volume, how loud are you speaking? And you have sort of tone, which is are you trying to be malefics or are you trying to be sharp? Right. So you have all these different tools in your toolbox. You have to understand that your voice is an instrument, and you have to play that instrument. And if it feels like people are starting to tune out, you have to adjust the instrument. It’s the same way why there’s 10 or 12 songs on an album and not one long song on an album. It’s the same principle. That’s one technique is to use the tools in your vocal toolbox. The second thing is to make sure that from an eye contact standpoint, you are really spreading it around the room. You don’t want to fixate on one person or even one side of the room. You definitely want to make sure, especially in a live setting, that everybody realizes that you are paying attention to all of them. So you’ve got to move from the left to the center, to the right, and back again. Not in a sort of sketchy, shifty criminal sense, but in an intentional, you are changing your gaze to different parts of the audience to make sure that people in that section understand that you’re paying attention to them and, consequently, they should pay attention to you.

The third technique, and this is one that I use quite a bit, is. Changing the physical space. So, typically, you’re on a stage. If somebody is out in the audience and they’re in a theatre style or the rounds, etc. and in bigger rooms, especially some people towards the back can be quite a distance from the stage itself. And so it’s easier when you have farther distance to the speaker to just feel less included in the presentation. So I typically, in my programs, will twice in the program, get off the stage and actually go out into the house and get closer to the audience, because if the presenter is now five feet from you or even 25ft from you, whereas prior, they were 75ft from you, you will absolutely pay attention, right? You have to. And so changing that physical distance between audience and presenter is a great way to kind of bring people back to the focus.

Jenn: I’m going to go back to virtual for a second because that’s all amazing advice. Yep. But it’s it feels like that’s for your physical, in-person audience. And the reason I want to bring up digital again is because even though in-person events are back-thank God- there are still a lot of opportunities for people to do virtual events. And they are really amazing for some people who can’t travel for whatever reason and still really want to attend a session or have that one-on-one time with somebody. My question is, can you answer that from a virtual setting? Like let’s say, absolutely, your keynote is amazing. You’re doing a great job. Your audio is great. We already established that, right? You’re absolutely killing it. But people are going off-camera, or you see that they’re just doing something else, right? You know that in a meeting, right? When somebody is looking at emails or their phone, when you’re trying to speak, so what do you do then in a virtual setting in that regard?

Jay: The evidence of people not paying attention is a little harder to come by in a virtual setting, because you’re typically looking at the camera or your slides, and you might have a sense of what’s going on depending on the size of the room. The way I do it is, I assume that people will start to lose focus. The amount of time that any audience member can naturally pay attention to a speaker online is much shorter than offline. Our attention wanes more quickly when we’re looking at a screen, as opposed to when we’re looking at a person and we’re surrounded by our peers. So what you want to do in a virtual presentation is break up your passages. So in a live presentation, you might say, okay, I’ve got a bit here and this bit’s going to be six minutes. In a virtual presentation, you want to have like 1 to 2, maybe three minutes at the most bits. So you want to you want to have more of a staccato delivery in terms of how you structure your presentation. To begin with, you very much do not want to have slides with a bunch of bullets, because people can read the bullets faster than you can say the bullets, and that’s when you start to lose them.

If they can read ahead, they’re like, why am I listening here? I can just read this later. So you don’t want to give them the story before they hear the story. Third thing is, and I do this a lot when I emcee virtual events, which I do quite a lot, is you really want to break it up. I do a lot of music, so a lot of like almost like DJ style music settings in the program, certainly in between speakers, lots of interactive elements, Q&A, comments, games, quizzes. You really want to turn it into almost a multimedia sort of vaudevillian style program online. And the last thing I’ll tell you is, very intentionally, every time you make a comment about the audience or directed to the audience in a virtual program, you always want to use the actual names of one or more attendees. So in a live performance, I would say one of the things that we need to think about is, is building a culture of responsiveness in our organization, but in a virtual program, I would look at the attendee list, and I would say, we need to build a culture of responsiveness in our organizations. Don’t you agree, Jennifer? You’re literally calling people’s names out because when they, even if they’re not paying attention, they hear their name, they’re like, oh, wait, the same thing that people do in third grade, right? If your third-grade teacher, you know, say, no, no, nobody, nobody raises their hands, and you’re like, uh, okay, you know, we’re gonna call on Billy. Uh, and Billy’s like, oh, no, I heard my name. So it’s the exact same technique.

Kalli: They do that in Peloton live classes, which is why I don’t take them. Probably because of that fear. Kike they’ll say your username. I mean, obviously, like, you can’t respond, but they’ll be like, “great job, spinning mama,” or whatever. That is not my name, for the record.

Jenn: But you’re clearly doing the thing, though. It’s not like you’re on your phone.

Kalli: No, but you could, like, be low in your resistance and going real slow. Yeah. So the instructors can see how you’re performing in the live class. That’s why I do on-demand when I do them. So, speaking of very fun times, when you’re in the middle of public speaking and trying to keep everyone’s attention… Jay, can you tell us about a time that you absolutely rocked a keynote there was great music, and everyone was feeling it. And also, I’m even more curious in a time that you didn’t feel so confident in how it was going and what lessons you learned from each of those experiences.

Jay: There is quite a bit of variance in terms of how it goes. That’s not necessarily based on me. I mean, certainly sometimes some days you’re better than others. It’s just like when you go to the gym or you do your on-demand workout, you’re like, yeah, I’m really feeling it today. And other days you’re just on the struggle bus and you don’t know why. Are you tired? Are you not feeling well? Like just, you know, some days are not your days. Doesn’t matter if you’re playing golf or you’re riding a bike, or you’re giving a presentation. Some days are definitely your days. You’re in the pocket; you’re in the zone. Other days you’re not. But where you see a lot of variance is just the energy of the audience. And some of the things I’m very intentional about asking on prep calls with meeting planners. I ask things like, what percentage of this audience is comprised by people who have been to this event last year or the year before? And that’s true both virtually and in person. Because when people come, when it’s the same people year over year, they tend to, of course, know more of the people sitting around them. And it’s a different, more collegial, more fun atmosphere, and it creates different energy in the room. I also talk a lot about how’s the room setup, how far is it from the stage to the first row? Are there aisles? If it’s a big room, do they have the screens? So the people in the back can actually see what I, what I’m doing, although there’s a lot of little things that will help you clue into what is the energy going to be like.

And I will tell you, I’m almost always because I’m usually the keynote speaker. I’m almost always first or last. I’m always the first speaker of the day or the last speaker of the day. And the energy is very, very different in the room based on even that slot. Right. And then what’s happening after I get off is what I’m done is at lunch, because then they’re hungry. Was there a bunch of executives doing business stuff before me? Because in the morning, because everybody has to go to the bathroom, right? So they’re sitting there listening to me. Everybody has to pee, is the thing that happens right after me in the afternoon a happy hour? Because that’s a different kind of vibe as well. Right? So you really have to think about the entire agenda for the day and understand kind of what people’s mindset might be when they’re sitting there listening to you in the same goes with virtual events. And virtual events is actually harder in that regard, because oftentimes you’ve got attendees in different time zones. So one person is starving for lunch, right? Somebody else is going to go pick up their kids at school. So it’s a very weird mixed bag. But I will tell you, the best programs are not necessarily the ones where I think I nailed it. It’s the ones where just the energy and the spirit in the room were the best. And that’s typically not always, but typically the events where there is more familiarity between the attendees. Does that make sense?

Jenn: Yes. And by spirit, you mean tequila?

Jay: Well, not necessarily, although increasingly, I do combine my programs with tequila tastings, etc. because I am a tequila educator and content creator. I’ll do a keynote and then that night I’ll do a tequila tasting for attendees or tequila class, which is really fun. I would love to be able to combine tequila at the same time with keynotes, but when you’re like on at 9 a.m. or 8:30 am, it’s a little tricky to pull that off. I’m game. I’m game if the meeting planners game. I’m not saying no, but sometimes it can be a little tricky.

Jenn: Well, why do you think Tequila Sunrise? Come on.

Jay: There’s a whole cocktail named for it. I completely agree. I like the cut of your jib there. You also asked about when it goes poorly.

Kalli: Yes.

Jay: And I would say for me, and I’m fortunate because I’ve been doing this long enough now that this doesn’t happen very often, but where it when it goes poorly, it is because you didn’t really understand and the current state of the audience and what behavior change you’re trying to create. You just didn’t do enough research, or you learned the wrong things during your research. So I should take a step back and say, uh, you know, my background is as a business consultant, right? So I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of brands.

So for me, giving a keynote speech is just consulting, but I’m standing up and holding a microphone. So many of the things I say on stage are the same things I would tell you if you were a consulting client, it’s just we’re all together in the same room. As a consequence of that approach to the business, I have literally never given the same presentation twice, not fully the same. It’s always customized and changed for the audience based on… oh, this is the financial services group, this is an automotive group, this is a hotel chain, etc. you know, they have different needs, and they’ve got different scenarios, and they’ve got different feelings and they’ve got different guidelines of what can and cannot change inside their business, etc.

And the best presenters do the most work. People say you get paid a lot of money to give presentations. I’m like, yeah, and I’m fortunate for that to be the case, they’re like, wow, you’re only up there for an hour. I’m like, yeah, it’s not about the hour. It’s the 25 hours I spent researching the industry, talking to people in the industry, and writing custom material that went into the hour where I actually delivered it. So the only time it really doesn’t go well is when that part gets messed up. Like, you just didn’t do enough research, you did the wrong research. ou learned the wrong thing in the research. And, it can happen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen very often anymore, but it can definitely happen. And it’s not about the performance. It’s about what went into the performance.

So what advice do you have then for somebody approaching their first-ever keynote or, you know, they have a client that’s gearing up for a speaking event? You know, Kalli and I are in PR and speaking events are a big part of what we do for sure. What’s the first thing that you would recommend? And it could be a shot of tequila. Who knows. But what’s the first thing that you never know? What’s the first thing you recommend? Just to, uh, make somebody feel a little bit more comfortable and give them some advice on how to connect with their audience?

Jay: Two things. First, and this advice was given to me by my friend Scott Stratten, who’s a magnificent keynote speaker and friend when I was really first starting to get active in this business. And it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received, and certainly the best piece of advice I’ve ever received about speaking. You said, Jay, you know a lot. Why don’t you take half of what you’re trying to deliver in that presentation and throw it away, and then it will be a great keynote when people haven’t done this a lot. The tendency – and I absolutely fell into this trap – the tendency is to try to tell the audience all of the things that, you know, in the amount of time that you’ve been given, and that’s where you’ve all seen this. That’s where you get the presenter to stand on stage and say, there are 13 pieces to my system that I want to teach you in the next 45 minutes, and the audience cannot absorb that level of information, nor do they want to, nor should you try. You’re much better off having three good points that you talk about three different ways than having nine points that you talk about one way.

So less content delivered with more air, more examples and more stories will always work better. And that is very counterintuitive to many people who have not done this very much. The second thing I would tell you is to fundamentally change the way you’re thinking about this assignment. When people who aren’t experienced speakers say, I have to give a speech or a presentation, it causes a lot of anxiety because they’re like, I don’t know, I don’t know how to do that; that’s not my job. I’m not a speaker, quote, unquote. Don’t think of it that way. In fact, I wouldn’t even use that language. All you’re doing is telling a group of people what you know. You obviously know the thing, or you wouldn’t have been asked to give a presentation about it. So don’t think of it as delivering a speech. Think of it as if you had six people around you who said, hey, tell me about what the modern trends are in PR of course you could do that. You could do it with wisdom. You could do it with humor. You could do it with true expertise.

You could do it with sparkle and aplomb. It’s no different. There’s just more people there. So what sinks folks most of the time, is the whole idea that they’re giving a speech as opposed to they’re just delivering what it is that they know well.

Kalli: So yeah, well, I mean, there you have it. When you talk to someone like Jay, it’s hard to believe how difficult public speaking and leading a keynote can be. But it takes finesse, practice, and a confidence to achieve Jay Baer status. Jay, thank you so much for joining us today. Our next tequila drink will be toasting you.

Jay: I would hope so I would be I would be a little disappointed if it wasn’t.  Thanks for having me on; I appreciate it.

Kalli: Oh, of course, of course. And definitely especially our Tequila Sunrise. And to our listeners, thank you so much for tuning in. And be sure to follow us on social media, leave a some reviews and listen on our available platforms such as Spotify, Apple and Amazon Music. And don’t forget, we publish new episodes every other Wednesday and we’re always on the lookout for new guests. So if you know someone, drop us a line at Bye for now.