Folks, I’ve been speaking and performing for a long time. A very long time. Guess what: I actually:

1. Am not burnt out.

2. Still have family members that talk to me.

3. Still have that vest (I think – – or is that what I saw the kids lining the doghouse with?).

4. Still have my dignity. A little. Ok, not much.

5. I’m still learning. 

See, my first full-time performing gig involved the Colorado Renaissance Festival. I was fresh-faced, on-stage, making people laugh and getting PAID! I made a whopping $30 bucks a day, plus tips, which mostly totaled to about $35/day. (OK, I didn’t say I was good, just that I got paid). Although I didn’t get rich, it was an awesome learning experience.   Although working at the Renaissance Festival was often hard on my self confidence, (I considered quitting about 5 times a day) but with hindsight it was a killer experience every speaker or entertainer should have.  (Though for your sake I hope you don’t have to wear the vest.)

The festival attracted people from all over Colorado, of course, but also from places all over the country. Being on stage and in front of audiences at a young age allowed me to really, really hone my craft in those early years, and it has paid off. A lot of times, when we’re young we don’t realize that what we do then can affect us 10 to 20 years down the line.  I was performing and doing what I LOVE(D) to do and making money at it. (Barely…. can you say, “Brad lived with his parents!“)  And doesn’t it look like I’m having a great time?

It was a tough job — 6 shows a day in 95 degree heat for the TOUGHEST audience Colorado had to offer. I was horrible, but luckily, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I didn’t understand how truly horrible I was.  I can tell you this:  there are techniques I use in my current comedy and humor that I KNOW were influenced by those early years working outside.

The best part of this job was that it provided instant feedback:  the amount of tip money in our hat was evidence enough of our success — or in my case, failure.   I knew the instant I looked in my hat after my comedy and magic show and saw 59¢ and a piece of gum that I wasn’t getting the big tips that good performers earned.  I new I sucked.  I knew that I had to improve fast.  (Because that gum just wasn’t that filling.)  Again, I knew I was weaker than the other performers, but luckily I just thought I needed to get a bit better.  I don’t think my ego could have taken the real truth that I was absolutely horrible.  But I did know I was bad.   And that (limited) self knowledge and a desire to get better created a pretty steep learning curve.

I see WAY too many speakers, comedians and magicians who would never last in an environment like that because they have no idea about how weak their product is;  they don’t know how much they suck.  One show at the Renaissance Festival where 1/2 of your audience leaves and the other 1/2 gives you a 25¢ would give them the slap in the face they deserve.

Let’s admit it:  most audiences today are formal enough that it feels awkward getting up as a group and leaving shouting, “You stink.”   They stay in the audience whether or not the speaker is mediocre.   Even in a comedy club, the audience will put up with some pretty poor comedy.  That’s why that Renaissance Festival  job was so great for me;  it was great precisely because it was so hard and because it created that instant and negative feedback.

After performing and speaking for twenty years some of what I do feels pretty easy and natural.   I’d love to tell you that my current ease with audiences is a natural extension of my “gifts.”   Ha! It isn’t.  It’s the product of a gazillion shows, a shocking number of were horrible failures, hundreds of embarrassing on stage disasters, and well… twenty years of getting it right.  

My point:  If you want to be a motivational speaker, remember to give yourself time to develop, and find a place where you can develop your material safely.   And if you are looking to hire a motivational speaker, make sure your speaker has years and years and years of experience under his … er … vest.

What was your first job? Has it helped you in the profession you’re in today? Do you have an ugly vest in your closet too?  Share your stories!

 

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