I have been speaking before groups long before I got into talk radio. I guess speaking was ingrained into my DNA. Growing up in a large, Italian family was good training, especially when it came to conversations at the family dinner table.
Of course, there is no better training ground for public speaking (or talk radio) than the teaching profession. I always considered those classrooms my toughest audiences. You had 25 to 30 kids who, for the most part, wanted to be anywhere but your classroom.
Those years were tough, but it taught me the art of “speaking on my feet” and recognizing the importance of understanding “what made your audience tick” (in the minds of my high school students, it was two magical words: class dismissed!).
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
I guess I’m closing in about two thousand speeches, and rarely have any two speaking engagements been alike. There has been some really interesting inside stuff.
While I was a teacher, I became known as a “maverick” in the classroom for my somewhat unconventional teaching techniques, so I was often asked to share my experiences with other educators.
One time I spoke to a group of teachers along side a swimming pool with people diving at the other end. The snow days had pushed this event to July 1st, so it was a difficult crowd to say the least. While I thought it was nice that the organizers were able to get a venue outside of the typical school environment, some of the teachers were probably longing to be in the pool than hear me speak. I can’t say I blamed them.
One guy had to be removed because he held up the paper in front of his face while I was speaking. That didn’t work so well for him.
“You Have No Future as a Speaker”
When I started at WWDB Radio, my speaking engagements were taken to the next level. I approached a speakers agency to become a client. The female who ran it sent me a note telling me I’d never be paid to be a speaker.
I still have that note today and it acts as a great motivator. A few years later, after I received a five-figure fee to do a keynote for a business conference, I sent the woman a copy of the check and her old note- I told her I was glad I did not follow her advice.
“I Am Not Going to Pay You!”
Another time early in my career at WWDB, I was asked to speak at a youth drug & alcohol awareness event organized by a local county health services agency. I was doing the overnight shift at the time and saw that the weather forecast called for some snow overnight and into the morning commute. I confirmed with the event organizer that the event was still on.
That morning, it took me three hours to get from Bala Cynwyd to Doylestown. I made it on time. Unfortunately, the event was lacking students. I couldn’t blame parents for not wanting to take their kids to an event with snow on the roads.
The woman who organized the event comes up to me and says, we only have a few kids here so we are cancelling the event. When I ask for my fee, she says, “I am not going to pay you” and walks away. No apology. Not even gas money.
Ironic that she was part of an agency that promoted drug & alcohol awareness; her bizarre rationale and unprofessional behavior made me wonder if she was under the influence.
I should have used the “power of the microphone” and escalated the issue to the highest levels in Bucks County government, but I decided to just chalk it up to a learning experience. From that day forward, I insisted on contracts and getting at least 50% of my fee in advance.
My Golden Rules of Speaking
My first rule of speaking is if I show up to speak, I am going to speak even if a mob tries to stop me. This came in handy when finishing my speech interrupted by the Occupy movement at City Hall. I always finish a speech.
My second rule is to take people inside talk radio and show them how it works. People want to know about call screening, topics, and how I figure out a show. I am often approached at these speaking engagements by past callers and they came away with a better appreciation why it takes so long to get on the air (a full board of callers, plus commercials and other breaks) and why they do not get as much time on the air when it’s their turn (see previous: a full board of callers, plus commercials and other breaks).
Fun Times In the Green Room
I have been the emcee or a discussion moderator at least five hundred events. One year, I was hired to moderate an executive panel discussion at a major global trade conference. It was a heavy-duty panel: the head of Coca Cola Enterprises, the CIO of a major healthcare company and the President of Wal-Mart International, among others.
We are in the green room and I begin to make small talk with Craig Herkert, the President of Wal-Mart’s International Division. He’s very personable and tells me about life in Miami. Suddenly, when he learns that I am a talk show host in Philadelphia, he smiles in recognition and says “I remember listening to you when I ran the ACME grocery chain!”
Suddenly, we are talking about grocery shopping in Philadelphia. I ask him if he can pass word back to his former ACME colleagues if they could see to stock more vanilla flavor yogurt on their shelves. I tell Craig that they always seem to be out of vanilla yogurt.
And from moderating high-power/high profile executive panel discussions, I got to entertain the crowd at halftime, or whatever they call it, at a rodeo in Plymouth Meeting. I remember attacking the Dallas Cowboys and saying “Now, let’s get back to roping.” I also called the landing of small aircraft at Wings Field. The rodeo was harder.
Some of the funniest moments happen when I’ve been in the green room with others waiting to go on stage before a speech. I recently spoke at the memorial for Wild Bill Guarnere and backstage was Councilman Jim Kenney. Kenney and I loathe each other. I made sure to sit right next to Kenney and act as if I owned the space.
These tense moments happen often. At a recent fundraising event in South Jersey, Donald Norcross were speakers. We got into it when he confronted me and said “It’s a lot different looking a guy in the eye, isn’t it?” Actually, it isn’t. And I hope he will take up my offer to appear on my show,
I have enjoyed all 2000 speeches and events. How about if we do another thousand?
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