Today is simultaneously the proudest day of my professional career, and the second scariest day of my life (we can talk about nearly being smushed by a herd of bison when you have me on your podcast).
I’m not new to the entrepreneurial game, but there is something profoundly different to being a solo founder vs. one of six co-founders (at my other startup, Unbounce), and there’s a lot riding on the success of this venture.
So what is it?
Be the Keynote is the place where anyone can become an exceptional public speaker and virtual presenter. It’s no-bullshit, actionable-only, cost-accessible, direct-access-to-the-backstage-stories-of-pro-speakers tips, tools, templates, and training.
And it was born from the third scariest day of my life… stepping on stage for the first time.
Read on for the full origin story, or skip to the what we’re launching today section.
Public speaking scared the sh*t out of me. To the point where my imposter syndrome made me say no to every speaking gig I was offered, for five years. That’s a lot of fear and a lot of saying no.
Public speaking also changed my life. But it very nearly didn’t happen at all.
Rewind to 2009
12 years ago, I stood on a rooftop with my five soon-to-be co-founders of software company Unbounce. We clanked our beer cans together and we said “Let’s quit our jobs and do this!”
That was the start of my entrepreneurial journey, and the beginning of an unexpected sequence of work and life events.
Part 1 – Writing to Establish a Position of Thought Leadership
Marketing was my role, which I’d never done before. Writing was also my role, which I’d never done before. Speaking was to become my role, which I’ve never done before, and I was adamant that I never would.
The genesis of most thought leadership is typically the written word, which over time unlocks the opportunity to use the spoken word to share your message or big idea on a stage.
I wrote relentlessly every day for years, trying to dominate the mindshare of my chosen subject and to establish myself as one of those thought leader people – which I define as someone who has two things: original thought, and a strong conviction about a better way. When you combine those two attributes you create something worth reading and paying attention to. More importantly, I had developed a perspective that I believed should be shared with people to help them become experts in their own right.
I found my message.
My writing was funny, brutally honest, and loaded with conviction and it caught people’s attention. I revelled in the attention, and the commentary that it was original because it was entertaining, yet highly actionable.
I found my style.
Part 2 – Refusing Every Invitation to Speak
Quite quickly I was being asked to speak at conferences, which to be honest, totally confused me. I didn’t really know what the point of conferences were. I’d only ever attended one – a stuffy affair in London that felt more like a lecture and bored me to the point of walking out.
Whether it was in person, over email, or on LinkedIn, I said no to every request to speak. I was utterly terrified, as most people are. In particular I suffered in a big way from imposter syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
My biggest fear was being on stage and during a post-talk Q&A session (still on stage), someone in the audience would ask the question “How do you know? Why should we listen to you? What gives you the right to be up there?”
So I said no. For five years.
Part 3 – Building courage
Over time, being hounded constantly by peers and coworkers, I agreed to do a webinar. Hiding behind slides on a screen talking to a virtual audience seemed less daunting but it still scared the crap out of me and I was really bad at it. But I stuck with it and had fleeting moments of enjoyment and success.
I started recording voiceovers for training videos – albeit late at night when the office was empty and I’d built up my courage via a bottle of red wine. By the 8th video I was adding a sassy sign-off message.
The next step was huge. I said yes to record a 10 minute video (with me in it). I stood in front of a flipchart easel and for the first time, saw myself on screen. I liked it.
I said yes to my first public speaking gig.
Part 4 – Austin 2014 – I woke up and puked in my mouth
I wrote about this experience in depth here (fair warning – some adult language).
To paraphrase, I woke up at 6am confused and delirious, noticed I was in a hotel room, realized I had to get up and speak, and threw up.
My talk was “just” a seven-minute warmup for a panel I was on, but I’d rehearsed it 50 times or more. Once I got going I immediately fell in love with the rush. The immense flood of adrenaline was like no other feeling I’d experienced. The feedback from people was great, and I made them laugh which was my #1 goal.
If I’d sucked I would’ve had a way out, back to writing behind my desk, but later that day I won an award for best presentation out of 64 speakers – on my first try.
I don’t say that to brag. I was a humble, scared wannabe when I arrived. But I left a completely different person.
I found my voice.
I’d turned silence into sound, developed a completely new confidence, and most importantly, I believed that I belonged on stage.
Part 5 – Speaking changed my life
Since that day I’ve traveled the world, speaking to audiences from 6 to 6,000. I’ve made lifelong friendships with fellow speakers and conference organizers and best of all, I met my wife Nicole, after she saw me speak at an event in Las Vegas.
When I look back to 2014, the difference between me then and me now is enormous. My self-confidence rocketed, self-esteem improved, I developed a far deeper level of expertise in my subject matter from having to be the expert standing on stage fighting my imposter syndrome, and I achieved my personal goal of becoming a consistently top-rated keynote speaker.
The imposter syndrome? Gone.
That question I was afraid of? Never been asked.
There’s a cliche that the audience wants to see you succeed, and it’s true. They’re not there to disparage you, they’re there to learn, to absorb your insights, and be entertained by your magic whatever it may be.
My growth was so transformative that I decided I wanted to help others experience it too. I started coaching other speakers – with great success – but it didn’t scale and I wanted to have a bigger influence in the world. Most public speaking advice is terrible, or generic, or both, and in-person training is prohibitively expensive.
And thus, the idea for my second startup was born.
Introducing Be the Keynote
My mission is to bring accessible and actionable direct-from-the-stage expert speaking advice, to guide anyone who has the courage to speak to find your message, find your style, find your voice, and ultimately to Be the Keynote – whether it’s on a giant stage or in a Zoom meeting.
At Be the Keynote we have five core values that guide our actions and culture, both as an organization and as public speakers ourselves. They are the essence of who we are and the way we present ourselves to our customers, audiences, and each other.
And if you know me at all (a self-confessed acronym junky), you’ll know that I spent a lot of time finding a way to use the word S.P.E.A.K.
Support everyone who has the courage to get on stage.
Fear of public speaking and the imposter syndrome that can cause it are things we can change when we use our experiences to lift others up when they need it.
Present with truth and integrity.
As public speakers we hold a position of authority, leadership, and influence that should be used to enhance the knowledge and enjoyment of our audiences, and never to misguide or misinform.
Encourage diversity, inclusion, and respect.
Diverse perspectives broaden our understanding. Inclusive environments foster safety. Respect your fellow speakers, every audience member, and the event organizer who gifted you a platform to share your message.
Amplify the voices of many.
Everyone with a message deserves to have their voice heard. Expand beyond your own circle when referencing sources, sharing examples, and recommending the unknown or up-and-coming speakers to event organizers.
Everyone at some point is scared to speak.
Everyone tanks on stage once in a while. Everyone forgets what they are trying to say. And everyone deserves to be treated with empathy when it happens.
Today we’re launching:
- The speaking tips blog
- The Ultimate Guide to Giving Virtual Presentations on Zoom << quite possibly the largest piece of free content you’ve ever seen
- Our free membership plan which includes access to:
- Your member dashboard where you’ll see your favourited tips and all new releases
- The extended speaking tip library
- 3 months of free access to the “Ask a Speaker” Pro plan feature (see below)
- Exclusive video channels to binge-watch your way to presenting excellence
Next up we’re working on:
- The Pro plan which includes:
- Ask a Speaker: every month, get 4 of your speaking and presentation questions answered directly by a pro speaker
- Find a Speaking Gig: our searchable database of events that are actively looking for speaker applications
- Mini Courses: goal-based short courses designed to quickly solve the common presentation and public speaking problems people face, such as The Presentation Apocalypse: knowing what can go wrong and how to deal with it.
- The Presentation eXperience Design (PxD) certification course
- Our flagship training course that redefines how presentations are designed and created
While COVID has temporarily changed the world of public speaking at in-person events, the massive rise of virtual conferences shows just how important developing speaking and presentation design skills is today.
And before we know it, a new wave of post-pandemic live in-person events will be back, so the time to build those skills has never been more essential.
Find your voice, your message, and your style, and Be the Keynote.
I hope you find as much inspiration and joy in your speaking journey as I did, and I can’t wait to help you get there.
Founder, Be the Keynote
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