Michael Port


Set the Stage: Choose Your Role or Be Miscast

Key Takeaways

On being real:

I think really the truth of the matter is when are asked to speak on stage or present in a room, you're the one who's naked and that's why you're uncomfortable. But your job is to be open and to be revealing and to be honest and the more honest you are, the more willing you are to share in service of them, the more likely you are to connect with them.

We don't want to share too much information that's not relevant to that particular audience based on what our role is in that particular situation. But if we can find what is most relevant to them and be as willing to be as open and honest as we possibly can be, then we usually connect pretty well.

The Boston Globe mentioned that I'm surprisingly honest. People meet me and they go, “You're so real, you're just like I thought you'd be.” I'm always baffled by that because I should not get any praise whatsoever for being real and honest. The thing is, in the industry of self-help or business help, I think the bar is set very low so it's not so hard to be real.

I think, however, it's scary to be real because the assumption that we make is that, well if people see that we're flawed, if people realize that we don't know everything, then they're not going to see us as credible. When in fact, when people see that we are more like them than not like them, they're more likely to actually connect with us person-to-person.

On bios and beginnings:

The bio does need to build you up but if you come on sounding the way that you are introduced in your bio as this big shot, you might run into some trouble. I always find a way to be as self-effacing as I possibly can be.

On connecting with the audience:

Look, I think that as a performer when you are given the stage, it's an honor. I have such reverence for the stage. It's a significant responsibility to be given that platform. If you're going to be given that platform, it's helpful to stand for something because if you have to change what you stand for because of who's listening, then you water down your message, maybe even whittle away your character little by little. I found that I wasn't standing as strongly for what I believed in because I was hiding a part of myself for many years. It wasn't until I started sharing that in a way that didn't make people uncomfortable because, as I said earlier, that's very important, I wasn't able to really be fully self expressed and bold in what I stand for.

It was an eating compulsion that I had. Since I was a little kid, I've always been hungry. All I want to do is eat. It's this incredible compulsion. For years, my weight would go up and down and up and down. It was really, really difficult and it took me a long time to, I don't use the word 'overcome' because when you're compulsive about something, you're pretty much always going to be compulsive about it but I now am able to manage it in a way that's really healthy and I feel comfortable with myself and with it. I share that in one of my keynotes when I'm talking about this idea that we need to be real if we want to show up and really feel comfortable standing for something.

That, again, helps connect with the audience. I don't go into some of the details that would make them go, “Whoa, that's just a little too much,” but enough that they see, “Oh, he's telling us the truth, he's being honest. This is probably not easy for him to say.” Of course after I tell the story, I move into—I ask them what their deep fried car story is because I tell there's a story about how much I love – you can deep-fry a car tire and I would think it tasted good. I say I recognize that food may not be your thing but it may be a substance, it may be a mindset or perspective or way of seeing the world so that we can connect about this because many of us have struggled with some unhealthy compulsion at some point in our life. Just finding ways to connect and if we're not willing to share the true parts of ourselves, it's harder to make those connections.

Choose your role or you'll be miscast:

When you're looking at a job interview, when you're looking at a sales meeting, a negotiation, a first date, you are playing different roles and everybody who has ever had a first date has amplified certain parts of their personalities. Here's the risk you run. The risk you run is turning up the volume so loud on certain parts of your personality that they become inauthentic. We want to amplify parts of our personalities authentically.

Everybody does this; recognizing that they are performers is the key and they've realized, “I can perform in any situation. I can actually start to leverage the experience I have a performer even if you're not a trained actor and apply it to lots of different situations.”

One of the things that really important is that we don't assume that we have to perform like other people. If you watch me give a speech, you shouldn't assume, “Well, I have to give a speech like Mike.” If I watch you give a speech, I shouldn't assume I have to give a speech like you. You don't need to speak like Tony Robins. I've never seen Tony in person but they say he's huge. He's basically huge. I mean, he's 6'5” or something as it is but his style is massively. Some of the most compelling speakers, some of the most compelling performers are the quietest, simplest, easy personalities so you find your style and you leverage that. That's really, really important. You shouldn't try to be like someone else. We may get inspired by somebody else. We might find someone else's style interesting and maybe we see some ourselves in their style and it gives us some ideas. Ultimately, our style even if we are not the most charismatic person in the room can be very compelling if you're honest about it.

On being comfortable with discomfort:

Doing anything big requires that we're comfortable with discomfort because there's always going to be a whole bunch of new things we need to learn. We're going to have to deal with criticism. As a result, we're going to be really uncomfortable.

Why it's good to be nervous:

Being nervous is what happens when you're excited about something that you want to do. If you didn't want to do it, you wouldn't be nervous about it.

The audience as the hero:

Good content is very important. However, I'm sure you've seen speakers who have good content that are boring. They may be lovely people but their presentation was boring. You may have some takeaways. You may say, “Well, I learned that. That was good. It might not have been a waste of time.” Those speakers may also want to connect emotionally. They may want to captivate an audience not for their own end, meaning not because they want a standing ovation but because the more engaging they are, the more impact they can have.

I'm sure you've also seen really good performers with pretty mediocre content. They can get people excited and have a good time but you don't leave with much. What we're doing is trying to meld those two things. In any presentation, we do, yes, want to think of our audience as the hero. We're trying to bring them on a journey. Often, the journey for them is seen throughout. They see our journey, and then they see themselves in that journey.

Our journey has been a dramatic one, hopefully. If we are going to share a dramatic journey, then we need to figure out how to make it dramatic. How do you turn a bit of philosophy or piece of content into something that is more dramatic to watch?

On practicing:

The first worst piece of advice is practicing in front of a mirror because if I put a video on myself right now and I do a speech to myself, my reactions of me doing it doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Plus, here's the thing. When you watch yourself especially when you're not used to watching yourself, you might not like what you see because you're like, “Oh, I do this weird thing with my eyebrow,” or “Oh, I have this habit of going like this.”

Yes, you want to see yourself on camera so that you can break yourself of habits that are getting in the way, so if you always flip your hair.

When you've performed for a long time, you can feel, you can tell. When you're new or you might not have the same instincts because there may be so much going on in your head that you're having trouble figuring that out and you're just trying to remember where you're supposed to move but the more experience you get – My point is that bring people in, have them give you feedback.

On sensory input and distractions:

The other thing is that the more experience you have, the more sensory input you'll be able to manage.

Eventually, you are able to manage all these different things. You're able to bring in things that happened outside your speech, make them work.

If you can allow yourself to be in the moment, you'll find ways of managing those kinds of things.

Often times, people are afraid they're going to forget what they were saying and they will all the time. I just said to you, “Wait, what was I saying?” And then, I remembered. If I didn't, you would have told me. We're no worse for the winner. Nobody said, “I can't believe that guy forgot what he said because he got distracted by somebody over there.” No, they're just listening to us have a normal conversation. There's nothing performed, nothing rehearsed. We're just talking so that's a normal thing to happen.

When you forget what you were going to say, just stay with the audience. Look at them. You can even turn it into a dramatic moment. Connect with them. Look in their eyes. Wait and it will come back to you. Because you can't go blank. It's impossible. Anybody who has tried to meditate knows how hard it is to blank their mind. The idea that you'll blank on stage is a false print. You're not actually blank. What's happening is you're thinking,

What does it mean to speak like a pro?

It's simple. Just be in service of others. Someone asked me once, “How do I really good on an interview because I've got an interview on my first big TV interview because I had...,” she had a book coming out or a book that came out. She said, “How do I be good?” I said, “You can't.” She was like, “What?” I said, “All you can do is be helpful. That's it. You can try to be helpful. That's it. Everything you do, helpful, helpful, helpful.”

There's lots of things technically that we need to learn; how to block performance on stage but our ultimate goal is to be helpful and everything we do is in service of that. The story we're telling is in service of being helpful. It's in service of being relevant to them. The bit that we came up with is in service of the story which is in service of being relevant which is in service of being helpful. That's the best we can do.

If we work really hard at that and I mean really hard, I mean more rehearsal than you think you could ever possibly do, and then multiply that by one thousand, and then maybe you've rehearsed a lot.

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