Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Waiting on a Sunny Day -- My Wedding Toast

I got married Saturday and gave this toast, which wrapped together my feelings about my father's death, my new bride and the emotional Bruce Springsteen concert we went to in September.

This is how it was planned in my head. I was a little overcome in the moment, though, so it came out a little differently.

In one of those sad ironies, just as Karen and I began planning our new life together, my father was going through the last days of his life.

The week before he died in September, I was at his bedside with my family. And it was, of course, a difficult time. So it was nice toward the end of week to come back to Chicago to my own little family – Karen … and the cat. (In that order!) 

That Saturday night we had tickets to see Bruce Springsteen at Wrigley Field. It seemed an inappropriate thing to do, given the circumstances, but it turned out to be entirely appropriate, because Bruce worked the crowd that night like an old-time gospel preacher.

During one extended song, he sang this refrain over and over: “Are you missing anybody?” Are you missing anybody? Of course, foremost in his mind was his old friend and bandmate Clarence Clemons, but it felt like he was speaking directly to me – just as I’m sure it did for many others that night who were experiencing their own loss.

Then he said, “Think of who you’re missing, and let ‘em stand alongside you a while.” Think of who you’re missing, and let ‘em stand alongside you a while. It was an incredibly powerful moment.

A few songs later, the skies opened up and it started pouring down rain. And it didn’t stop. And neither did Bruce. He kept right on playing, and he greeted the storm with this song, which has become special to us.

It’s called “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” and it speaks to those times in our lives when we’re confronted with great joy and great sadness simultaneously, and each has the effect of etching the other a little more deeply in our experience. And I know we’re not the only ones to have felt that.

So then a toast: to my father, Lt. Col. Donald Edward Biesenbach. May he always stand alongside us when we need him. To my new bride, Karen, and the lifetime we’ll share alongside each other. And for everyone here: to the rainy days we’ve seen, and the bright, sunny days that always follow.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Picking Up, Dusting Off

I got some feedback recently on my public speaking that was, honestly, devastating.
But, as is my habit with almost any setback or loss, whether in my career or personal life, I was figuratively (and almost literally) picking myself up within minutes and putting together a plan to make it all better. I only hope that's a sign of good coping skills and not delusion.
Here's what happened. I did a presentation to a colleague's employees and he absolutely loved it. He was so taken with it that he vowed to adopt my lessons and change the way they do their own presentations. He thought so highly of it that he recommended me to one of his contacts at a professional speakers bureau.
Now I've applied to a few speakers bureaus and it's a tough, tough field to break into. I thought acting was a competitive field, but getting a talent agent was far, far easier than getting representation for my speaking. Hell, getting a publisher for my book was easier, and the publishing world is insane.
But there are tons and tons of speakers out there and relatively few gigs. Most people want to book a celebrity or athlete or political figure or bestselling author. And most speakers bureaus want to represents those kinds of speakers, because they make a bigger commission from $50,000 engagements than they do from $3,000 engagements.
Still, I have been confident from the beginning (which, I must remind myself, was about 16 months ago) that I have a unique and compelling story to tell and a way of delivering that story that truly stands out.
But the feedback I got on my video was surprising. On the positive side, he said I come across as a nice guy and he was sure that audiences must like me. He could tell that I do well in front of audiences, and that's true. The feedback I get, in both formal ratings and direct feedback from people who come up to me afterwards (many buying my book), is very, very positive.
But he said the industry was getting away from hiring speakers who make audiences feel good. They want someone who will challenge and provoke them, push them in a new direction.
He also said my opening story was too long, which is true. I like the video because it captures my entire book in about 10 minutes. But it needs to be just three or four minutes.
Finally, he said I need a harder edge in my speaking style. I need to come on stronger --  not jerky, but forceful.
So I've got a whole new gameplan. I've been working on a new introduction, something that makes a strong statement right up front. I've come up with a new opening story that's shorter and more pointed. And I'm taking the rest of the speech and giving it all a sharper edge. Less coddling, more provoking.
And then I'm going to hire a videographer for my next big speech and create a whole new video. And then I'm going to start all over again with my marketing.
That all sounds very constructive and positive, but it's taken me a few weeks to move from resignation to grim determination to glimmers of excitement.

And who knows? This guy could be completely wrong. But the more I've thought about it, the more I agree with him. To progress *clink*