Many years ago I saw George Carlin on tour. 
It was a smaller club in a small east coast city.  We were surprised it was such a small club with relatively inexpensive tickets; he couldn’t be making much money.

We were very excited – he was one of my middle-school heroes. I think his 1972 “The Seven Words you Can’t Say on Television”  (Totally NSFW) was the “Who’s on First?” of my generation.

Forty years later, I can still rattle off every enunciated syllable, and I’ll bet most of my same-aged friends can too.  It was a watershed moment. (Where were my parents back then???)

We were excited to seeing him – a true childhood hero. Unfortunately, most of his material was awful.  It was offensive but not funny.  Or neither one.  Or simply boring.  Had he lost his edge? Was he over the hill?
It gradually became clear to use, he was simply working on his new material.  His strategy was to perfect the material in smaller clubs without fanfare or the media, then use it where it really counts, on TV or on his national tour.  He was too experienced to try out the new stuff during an HBO Comedy Special. 
So what’s the lesson for all speakers? 
Make it great, then make it public.  

If you have an idea for a new marketing training program, a law firm retreat presentation, or great continuing legal education (CLE) seminar, spend 100 hours on the presentation before you show it to anyone. Research it, organize it, write it, and reorganize it. Rehearse it over and over to get the pacing just right. Figure out where the pauses and modulation belong.

If you use PowerPoint, match the timing and animations to the points you’re making and how and when they should show up on the screen – what should be revealed, and when. What points can you illustrate more vividly with powerful visuals?

Rehearse in front of a mirror, then videotape yourself.  Consider what works and what doesn’t. Everyone’s different but I’ve found that I can’t add the jokes until I’ve given the speech out loud at least a few times. My presentations get funnier over time, as I get to know the material better, and hear myself talk about it.

Try it out in front of friends or family first, get feedback, then fix it again.  Run it somewhere small first, the local public library, perhaps, before asking for money, or risking your reputation in front of NALP, LMA, ALA, ABA, or whatever groups you target.

That’s what the true experts do. Follow their lead.

That is, bomb quietly so you can rock in public.

Ross Fishman, JD
CEO, Fishman Marketing, Inc.

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