Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 7, 201410:28 PM

If You're Going To Speak In Public, Please Don't Do This...

Everyone is talking about the Michael Bay meltdown that happened at CES.

I hate the whole "kicking someone when they are down mentality," but this is worth watching if you ever have to present or speak in public...

Ugh... it's tough to watch, isn't it?

Because I am often asked to speak in public and I have a personal passion for the art of public speaking, my email, social feeds and phone have (literally) been a-buzz all day about this incident. I can't imagine how Bay currently feels (if you're interested, he has posted a response on his personal blog and did a brief interview with TMZ). The human side of this is brutal. I would hate for this to happen to anyone. I'm sure he's not feeling all that great about the situation. And, to make it even worse, I feel like even commenting on this incident simply creates more attention to it (which, I am sure, Bay does not really want). That being said...

This incident has nothing to do with public speaking, a fear of public speaking or anything like that!

It's true. Michael Bay was not doing any form of public speaking. He was going to read on stage, live in front of an audience (something that he has never read or rehearsed before). That's not speaking. That's reading. He was going to attempt Public Reading not Public Speaking (these are not the same thing). I write a lot about this particular issue/fear right here: Overcoming Stage Fright. Bay is not a professional speaker. Bay never claimed to be a professional speaker. Still, Samsung paid him and he agreed to this event. The teleprompter either broke or he said the wrong line and this threw off the script and flow. The truth is that none of that matters because Bay broke the cardinal rule of presenting in public long before the wheels of his plane touched the ground in Las Vegas: he did not prepare. Not even for a second. You can tell by watching the video. Regardless of the teleprompter, it's clear that Bay had two speaking points: what is his work day in and day out, and what does he think of the new curved glass TV? He got so flustered that he couldn't even respond to those two questions, so he bolted from the stage. Five minutes of preparation would have changed all of that. Yes, five minutes.

It goes like this...

Here's how the five minute preparation should have gone in terms of giving Bay some direction: "We're going to use a teleprompter and it has our whole script on it. Let's meet 30 minutes before we go live and run through it a couple of times to get a feel for the stage and the interaction between everyone on stage. Technology might fail us, so if it does, let's just be sure that you're comfortable speaking to two key points: what your job is every day and how you work, and what you think about the new Samsung TV. If things really start going bad, be comfortable acknowledging it by letting the audience know that you're a director, that you're nervous but you're also really excited about this new TV and everything it can do." Obviously, nobody wants to be at the point where we're apologizing and letting the audience know that we're nervous, but that is the parachute for moments like this. In that quick five minute conversation, Bay would have had a mental framework, and would have been able to take ownership of the content instead of being paralyzed because he didn't know or prepare any of the content (regardless of the teleprompter).

...And here we are.

Bay is right. In his TMZ interview he said that he had a "human moment." We all have them. Good, bad and ugly. So, what turned out to be a bad day for Bay and an embarrassing moment deserves some empathy, but it's not something that could happen to any of us. It's something that happens when you don't know the content and don't do any preparation. So yes, it's a human moment, but it is a completely preventable one. I write this because it's moments like this that people will point to as a reason/excuse for them to not present ("I don't want to pull a Michael Bay up there, so I better not speak!"). You don't have to be a master presenter. You don't have to be a pro. You do have to have a semblance of knowledge as to what you're going to speak about, and you do have to prepare for it (more on that right here: How To Give A Great Presentation (Seriously). I feel terrible for Bay. I watched that YouTube clip once and could not watch it again. It is very uncomfortable for everyone. What's most important is that it doesn't act as a deterrent for you (or anyone you know) to speak. If you do know your content and you have prepared, and you do freeze up (which can happen), please don't run off. Just stop. Let the audience know that you're human and that you are nervous. Apologize. Nobody will die and no one will hate you. At the same time, also let them know that you have prepared. Then, ask yourself this one question (in your mind): "what did I want to tell these good looking people?" And answer it to the audience.

You will be fine.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Mitch Joel

    Great post Mitch and 100% agree. A little preparation would have gone a long way here. You should never 'wing it' as that just means you didn't put in the work to be ready.

  • Posted by Jim Kukral
    Mitch Joel

    Yeah, pretty tough to be hard on him as he isn't a public speaker per say. But you're right, if you're going to go on stage, you better be ready. He could have had a much better "human moment" if he reacted differently and laughed and made a joke about how he's not a speaker and the prompter went down, etc... The crowd would have laughed and empathized with him. But yeah, never walk off.

    So this is a funny story. I was doing a gig to a class at The University of Akron, where I went to school years and years ago. I was presenting to a business class and in the middle of my talk the building fire alarm went off. We were forced to walk down five floors to the street. So I decided to finish the presentation on the street corner, while buses and cars passed by.

    Someone took video. My finest moment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4jO1JihRYs

  • Posted by Bob LeDrew
    Mitch Joel

    Great analysis. While it's impossible to know this for sure (especially for me, since I know virtually nothing about Bay beyond the fact that he makes movies with lots of explosions), I wonder if there was some mutual arrogance involved here -- the Samsung folks thinking that nothing could go wrong with Bay at the mic, and Bay and his people not thinking that their guy could ever go so badly off the rails.

    • Arrogance should be left at the door. There are thousands of people that looking to be impressed. No rehearsal and serious preparation for that moment in time? Shameful.

      • Posted by Alison Cummings
        Mitch Joel

        Sad to say ... but I went to college with MB and he was an arrogant guy way back then, not very likeable unfortunately. But I wouldn't wish this experience on *anyone*! Yikes. His fear and anxiety are so palpable that I found my own heart racing. Poor guy.

        My "one word" for 2014: Commit. That includes acting on a long-held intention to read up on public speaking (Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun has been gathering dust on my bookshelf) and getting more real-life experience + self-confidence. Gulp.

  • Posted by Donna Papacosta
    Mitch Joel

    This is great advice, Mitch. I like the distinction between public speaking and public reading. As you say, though, PREPARATION is key. If you'd been the backstage coach, things would have gone fine despite the technical glitches.

  • Posted by Ike
    Mitch Joel

    One of these days, we'll find out that the prompter was being operated by some kid whose cousin was working on the set of Transformers, and who Bay prevented from bringing into the soundstage to meet Megan Fox.

    • ... or we'll learn that the teleprompter was working fine and that he probably said what the CEO was supposed to say and then he simply lost track because he didn't even take five minutes to get up on the stage and practice with it.

      • Posted by Ike
        Mitch Joel

        Don't got using Occam's Razor with me... your simple explanation isn't nearly as fun as my conspiracy theory!! ;)

  • Posted by Mark W Schaefer
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with all your points but think he probably had a true anxiety attack to go with it, prep or no prep. I feel for him. He's still human and sitting in front of an audence of 10,000 -- maybe hundreds of thousands streaming -- is a good reason for many people to freak. It was probably a mistake for him to agree to do it in the first place (which what he later admitted).

    • I think you're right about the anxiety attack. This plays directly into my thought: he had no mental framework of how it was all going to go down, so the anxiety became the only mental framework, and it produced an irrational reaction that he acted on. 5 minutes of prep... and I bet the nerves and anxiety would have still been there and he would have delivered a sub-par performance, but he would not have left the stage in the manner that he did.

      • Posted by Anne Barnes
        Mitch Joel

        I would add that preparation could include self-hypnosis to release unsupportive thoughts, reframe the public speaking (or reading) with calm & confidence

  • Posted by Rob Biesenbach
    Mitch Joel

    I wonder if some of the lack of preparation comes from the intimidation factor associated with VIPs. Staff at an event may be too deferential and not push the speaker enough to really buckle down and focus. Also perhaps the assumption that because he's in show business he could handle it. But a director is not a performer, and even film stars get tripped up doing live events.

    • Samsung paid him for services. Intimidation and VIP aside, they are both major professionals who should have known better by, at least, having a quick dry run. Even the best of the best rehearse. I doubt that Bay shows up on set and starts rolling the cameras without a whole bunch of preparation and trouble-shooting.

  • Posted by Sue Johnston
    Mitch Joel

    I like the idea of calling unrehearsed scripted talks "public reading." Thanks for that.

    For years, speaker coaches have been teaching that it's ridiculously risky to rely on technology for speaker support - whether that's slides or teleprompter. To ignore that advice is foolish.

    The words are less important than the ideas. We have to invest time pulling the ideas - no more than three - from our head and repeating them, in our own conversational language, to get them into our body so they'll come through our lips.

    The really sad part was leaving the stage. How strange for a film-maker not to know that all communication is for the audience. When you focus on the audience and its needs, you can't focus on your nervousness. Bay let his focus be on himself, the fight-or-flight mechanism overtook his brain and he fled without giving himself a chance.

    • Fight or flight is the first phase of an anxiety attack (as Mark stated earlier). It's too bad he didn't have that mental framework from a little preparation to override the irrational reaction that the fight or flight moment invoked. We have all had anxious moments, so I really do empathize with him, but this was a 100% preventable "human moment."

  • Posted by Roger Morier
    Mitch Joel

    While I can empathize, it's hard not to experience a little Schadenfreude since, after all, he presumably was paid an obscene amount of money to do this and knew far enough ahead of time not to be surprised. I wonder if Samsung will ask for some of those dollars back? Or give him a second chance at another of their events - which would probably attract even more people. Heck, if he fled a second time, he could make even more money and become known as "Boltin' Bay" ...

    • One thing for certain, Samsung is getting a ton of press for this new curved TV... and I don't think that's all bad. They probably got way more impressions this way than had everything gone as planned (as sad as that may be). I also don't think Bay's actions reflect badly on what this TV can do.

  • Posted by seth godin
    Mitch Joel

    I've been there and seen that, and here's what I think actually happened:

    19 people in a committee worked on that script, and it sucked. And it didn't sound like him. And they kept changing it until the last minute.

    And he's standing there, and he's reading something dumb, and he feels like a sell out and he's humiliated, and THEN he stumbles and he says to himself, "you know what, I never want to do something like this again," so he leaves and locks the door behind him.

    The times I've been asked to do this, I just say, "fire the copywriters, I'll write my own."

  • Posted by Carrie
    Mitch Joel

    This is indeed disturbing to watch, and brings up a number of speaker/presentation issues. Does a staff member rehearse speakers or even touch base? Does the VIP factor mean leave them alone totally, and risk embarrassing themselves and you? If you watch the first part of the video, he seems uncomfortable to begin with...did the telepromter actually break, or was something else wrong? A classy thing to do would have been a brief pause and return to the stage. Maybe CES needs to take a lesson from Dreamforce...never once seen this kind of breakdown there.

  • Posted by Suzannah Baum
    Mitch Joel

    True, preparation is a key element that may have helped him avoid this whole scenario. Most people feel the most anxiety within the first 30-60 seconds of their presentation, and you really just have to suck it up and get through those brief feelings of discomfort before you can hit your stride and start to realize that what you have to say is interesting, and the audience really does want to hear it.

    I'm not a big fan of telling an audience that you're nervous or apologizing -- although if it would have kept him from leaving the stage, then so be it. With a deep breath and a moment to compose himself, he could have "re-centered," and allowed himself to share his genuine knowledge and expertise with the audience. It was a lost opportunity to show his audience how he's vulnerable, nervous, and essentially, "just like us." What a great moment of connection that could have been.

    Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this:

    1. This is a warning of what could happen if you don't prepare for everything surrounding a presentation; for the presentation itself, for technology failure, for when anxiety hits, if you go blank. You've got to be prepared with a backup plan for every scenario.

    2. You can bet that Michael Bay will NEVER let this happen again, and will probably be prepared within an inch of his life for all his future presentations. I hope he gets back on stage soon.


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