If you've seen Michael Bay's public meltdown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas on Monday, then you witnessed every public speaker's worst nightmare. "I am not prepared enough, I am not really comfortable speaking in front of large audiences, I don't really have a handle on my content." We all cringed and felt that angst in the pit of our stomachs as we saw his typical Hollywood cool melt away, sending him scurrying off the stage with his tail between his legs. Some of us felt compassion, some of us felt dread. Some of us thought he was a total jerk for leaving the moderator and the uber-sponsor Samsung hanging because he just couldn't pull it together.
In truth, what Bay was really missing was basic presentation skills. In this case, we were not counting how many times he said "um" or if he was pacing the stage like a caged tiger. We were horrified by how a simple teleprompter challenge completely dismantled this Hollywood heavyweight. Had Bay been properly trained in how to handle himself in this type of situation, his nerves would not have gotten the best of him.
What really happened is this: Bay lost his place with the teleprompter and all he could hear in his head was "I don't remember what I am supposed to say." His heart rate climbed, his sweat glands went into overdrive and he no longer had any control over what he was doing. And, while he tried to convince the audience - and moreso himself - that he could "wing it," the minute he started speaking extemperaneously, he fell apart. His mind was too focused on the glitch and he could not calm himself down enough to speak from the heart. Bay knows how to talk about his films. He has been interviewed hundreds or thousands of times about his moviemaking. He has given countless interviews and, with composure, has again and again shared his perspective on what makes his films great.
Everyone is talking about how unprepared Bay was. He didn't practice the content ahead of time. That may be true. But, Bay has also not been well trained as a public speaker. If he had been, he would have used his skills to regain composure and volley the ball back to the moderator while he thought for a moment about what to say. The moderator, a well-trainer speaker, deftly moved the conversation to the TV when he saw that Bay was struggling. In fact, had Bay stuck it out, the moderator would have navigated him through the entire presentation and, hopefully, gotten him back on track with the prompter.
We all watched that video and imagined ourselves up there, reinforcing every fear we have about public speaking. What we may not be thinking about, however, is that the key to successful presentations is not knowing your content but knowing how to leverage your mechanical skills. Overcoming the fright is more about having control over yourself and getting comfortable with your ability to engage the audience. Bay was so dependent on the content on the teleprompter because he did not feel confident about his abilities as a presenter. If a skilled speaker, like President Obama, for instance, had lost his prompter (and this has probably happened to him more than once), he would tap into his basic communication skills to either fill the gap until he got back on script or ad lib his way to the end.
Our audiences receive messages from us in three main ways - visually (how we look), vocally (how we sound), and verbally (what we say). The verbal portion only represents 7% of how the audience perceives us. So, with that in mind, the CES audience would have engaged with Bay had he shared in a confident way that his teleprompter had malfunctioned and wanted to chat a little bit about his movies and this really cool new TV. If he made eye contact with the audience, stood tall and spoke loudly and directly, no one would have cared if he missed some of the key features of the TV. Well, Samsung might have but they were smart enough to have a moderator there to make sure to fill in the gaps.
When you look at the Michael Bay video (and it is really painful to watch) and reflect on this, relating to your own fears of public speaking, don't get fooled into believing his lack of content was his downfall. It was his lack of training and refined skills as a speaker that crushed him. A little training goes a long way to mask a multitude of problems.