Big Mouth

Over the past two years I’ve given more talks to wine or wine-related audiences than the rest of my career combined. The reason is a function of the world of Blogs having caught the attention of the wine industry and working with Specialty Wine Retailers Association. Outside of making a new client pitch or pitching a story to an editor or writer, it’s probably the most exhilarating thing I do.

Although I’ve arranged for clients to take formal training in public speaking and although in college I study the "History and Historic Forms" of speech giving, I myself have never had any training. And honestly, I think it shows.

The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome in doing this is the same that most folks have had to work at: stage fright. When present in only a small degree, stage fright can actually focus the speaker. When present  in abundance, it can debilitate the speaker. I used to have debilitating stage fright when I first entered junior college after High School. I was simply unable to speak in front of the class or from my seat. It was so bad, I choose classes and situations that were less likely to force me to speak up. But that never worked out too well.

In the end, one strategy worked for me in college. Every night, prior to every class the next day, I studied hard not just to learn the material, but to be completely prepared for any question I thought was likely to come my way. Those were very long nights, but it gives you an indication of how bad my fear of public speaking actually was.

I carried this tactic with me to Humboldt State University then to San Francisco State University, where I eventually was able to address larger audiences with preparation, but not quite as much preparation as before and I no longer sweated through my cloths.

I have two very interesting public speaking engagements coming up here very soon that I’m very excited about.

Tomorrow I address the 2008 Crushpad Marketing and Selling Seminar. I’m going to discuss with Crushpad clients how blogs can be used in marketing.

Monday I address the Wine Industry Financial Symposium on behalf of Specialty Wine Retailers Association. I’ll be sitting on a panel with wine industry lawyer Corbin Houchins and Jeff Carroll of ShipCompliant that addresses the state of direct shipping compliance.

These two events address two very different audiences and will cover entirely different subjects.

Later this year I’ll have the pleasure of speaking before the Wine Bloggers Conference and at the University of California Wine Industry Extension Program at Davis.

All four of these audiences will be exactly the kind you want to speak in front of. Folks will be there because they want to be and because they have  a desire to learn something. That is a somewhat different situation from speaking or testifying in front of a committee of legislators, who, in many cases it seems, simply don’t want to be where they are. 

Nothing focuses the mind quite like thinking about how you are going to keep the attention of a good sized audience without wetting your pants. I’m hoping my pants will stay dry for the rest of the year.

12 Responses

  1. Josh - September 19, 2008

    Depends are your friend!
    Or you could just go all Fergilicious and pee right on the stage.
    Leaves quite the impression apparently. :-p

  2. Tom Wark - September 19, 2008

    Gosh…thanks for the tip, Josh.

  3. Melissa Dobson - September 19, 2008

    If your radio interviews are any indication of your ability to keep an audience’s interest, you’re going to be just fine. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. chris Wickham - September 19, 2008

    Yeah! It’s always hard to speak in front of crowds Tom.
    What do you think about a blog for our winery? Tularosa Vineyards.

  5. David Harden - September 20, 2008

    As (almost) always, highly interesting stuff.
    Is there a (free) transcript for the Crushpad talk? I’d be most curious about how you handle (web) traffic and (user demographic) segmentation wrt to the marketing value of blogs.
    J David

  6. Charles Atkins - September 20, 2008

    Tom- Outstanding presentation this morning. Great pearls of info for us small, boutique wineries.Thanks for sharing your time and knowledge with all of us Crushpad Commerce partners. Bravo!
    I th

  7. Tom Wark - September 20, 2008

    Thank you..What a nice thing to say. I’m very bummed because I had to run out afterwords unexpectedly. My friends who were coming in later actually came in earlier.
    What a fascinating crowd was there. I think I was right. I think some of those at the Crushpad facility will be talking about their beginnings in 20 years or so.

  8. Dylan - September 21, 2008

    I certainly was run through the gauntlet of public speaking training in College. One of the greatest things I learned was that stage fright doesn’t mean you’re unprepared or a hack, it means you care. Even the top-tier speakers who appear before a massive crowd get a pang of the butterflies; the mark of a great speaker is recognizing that it’s because you care that you feel this way and using that energy, those butterflies, to profound effect.

  9. Morton Leslie - September 21, 2008

    The great thing about public speaking is that everyone in the audience is rooting for you. You don’t have to worry about winning them over. All you have to be is reasonably well prepared.
    It helps if you watch your breathing. Stage fright is similar to acute stress response or “fight or flight.” You actually can forget to breath which deprives your brain of O2 which in turn makes things worse. Take some deep breaths before, go to the podium, pause, establish you breathing, and then begin.

  10. marisa d'vari - September 22, 2008

    Tom, if you come to NYC, would love to hear you speak! Be sure to announce it on your blog. I’m sure you are fantastic.

  11. JohnLopresti - September 22, 2008

    I certainly encourage you to speak your mind, and from your experience. It is somewhat different speaking many years after the incidents of early college years. I had occasion to learn much about how my audiences hear me by some sessions a friend presented to three or four people in his home. We took turns speaking into a microphone and taping the whole session. This was very different from the rhetoric one employs when speaking live at a public event, but it educated all of us to the peculiar things one’s voice does when processed by electronics and amplified. I think part of the extracorporeality of public speaking is hearing one’s own voice flattened out and embelished by the public address system.
    Having studied history, probably you are accustomed to jovial and knowledgeable teachers with a variety of eccentricities, as is the historian’s wont. There is a world of difference between the polemics of history profs and the utterances of, for example, geologists or nuclear physicists. Still, conferences can be a delight, even for the deities who are commissioned to be speakers. Like all gods, you are put to the test before reaching the paradise-like feeling of having made a good presentation that people thought useful.
    As one writer mentioned, transcripts are valuable, if your hosts can make audiotape of your speeches available to you for transcribing. Studying transcripts can be one of the strokes of genius to help you excel in marketing, it is an extra measure of meticulousness that is rare in the charged worlds of commerce and sales.
    If you make it to NPR as an interviewee, you discover a new pestilence which has descended upon speakers of all stripe: the emcee who interrupts the speaker to warn that airtime is expiring and will the speaker please wrap up all comments in 25 words or less.
    Another interesting field in which to learn much about speechifying is video. I imagine you have hours of your own presentations on videotape already. I spent several years with videotape editing personnel, and took some courses; video production is a lot more understandable viewed through the technical lens.
    Disclaimer: most of the foregoing in my remarks now would be fairly irrelevant for my current work, as I decided to do sorts of things that are ok to do without having public speaking responsibilities.
    I think some of the most interesting speakers are people who, like Tom, know their trade; but also, like the host here, are funny; and, additionally, people who like to explore various ways historically people have developed knowledge, which is what I suspect is part of the course in the history of speechmaking you are studying.
    However, I have unusual preferences for speech listening. JK Galbraith was an interesting lecturer; WH Buckley Jr was disappointing even when he was recently out of Yale.

  12. Tom - September 22, 2008

    You undoutedly remain the source of the most interesting comments I’ve read here or anywhere else on the net. Thank you for your thoughts and comments.

Leave a Reply