I gave a keynote today.
It’s an interesting thing, because officially this was only my second public speaking engagement.
The first, on an international stage in Istanbul, was unexpected and I was underprepared. What should have been a 45 minute presentation lasted 15. The slide advance clicker didn’t work, my presentation started on the final slide, and what I considered to a humorous note about Buzzfeed’s “Try Guys” trying drag for the first time to demonstrate something or rather to do with content was borderline offensive to a room of 300 or so people paying $600 to attend.
Apparently cross-dressing isn’t funny in Istanbul.
That said, I don’t consider that event a failure; more like a well-intentioned date where the conversation never really gains traction and every talking point just feels awkward. But hey, at least I got a free trip to Istanbul!
Now even though that event wasn’t terrible, it gave me a reason to second guess whether or not public speaking was something I was cut out for.
I had arrogantly assumed public speaking would come naturally, given my acting background, but when every time I tried to connect with the audience was met with crickets and blank stares, it made me decide at the time that I wasn’t going to actively pursue this avenue in my career.
However, when Shopify’s PR team announced they launching a public speaking program, I forgot the embarrassment of that first engagement, signed up, then quickly forgot about it.
Months later, one of the members of the PR team asked if I’d be interested in speaking at an event in New Orleans, I said yes, and thinking the event coordinators already wanted to book me, we got on a phone call to discuss the details of what the presentation could be. About halfway through our conversation, though, I realized that we were pitching them so I switched gears to really sell my presentation, and ultimately they loved it and it was accepted.
As fate would have it, the timing of the event was terrible.
Shortly after committing to the presentation, I also signed on to work on developing the assets for a major program launch with Shopify, start work on our email automation program, a campaign that takes a direct shot at competitors, and a program to bring existing customers into the higher tier part of the platform.
And as it turns out, the deadline for most of these commitments were all within a two week span of each other, with the major program launch happening the day of the keynote.
I tried to back out. Twice actually.
I talked to PR and asked if they could help get me out of the event. I talked to my boss to see if it could be reassigned. I asked our legal team to review the contract for some kind of loophole.
Nope. PR said I was the best man given the conference’s audience, my boss said it wasn’t fair to throw someone else into it last minute, and legal said the contract was binding.
I was on the hook.
There were anxiety induced rants with my wife about the commitment, there were sleepless nights, there were a lot of stressful moments in getting the presentation made, but ultimately, it got made. (Even if I was fixing the introduction slides the night before the event.)
Though I had my major talking points mapped out, if I’m being honest, I never did get to do a full run through.
But, none of that matters now.
I gave a keynote today. The audience laughed in the places I wanted them to laugh. They interacted, raised their hands, and smiled at all the places I thought they would. They were nodding along, and taking notes, and looking at me with intent, alert eyes, and I could see that even though I was introducing something new, they got “it.”
Afterwards, I was approached by people who wanted to shake my hand, ask questions, and take pictures.
They said it was helpful and they thanked me for bringing clarity to something that has been eluding them.
I gave a keynote today.
And I nailed it.