An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Patience — There’s a lot of heavy lifting you have to do without seeing the benefit for a while. But you have to be patient and keep going. If you keep doing things to move yourself forward, eventually you’re going to catch a break and something’s going to work.
At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Gabe Karp.
Gabe Karp is a captivating storyteller and one of the leading experts in the art of conflict management. His message on the value and strategies of productive conflict has transformed many organizations — whether they’re trying to revive a stagnant culture or take on a competitor that seems unbeatable. Karp doesn’t speak from the outside looking in. He’s been an executive, manager, and leader in a range of roles. When he speaks on the topic of constructive conflict, there are no hypotheticals — he’s been there, done that and learned from it. Widely considered the gold standard in conflict management and leadership, his approach, which has been honed over 30 years, can help any organization harness the power of constructive feedback, open negotiation, and conflict resolution. Karp has just authored, Don’t Get Mad at Penguins And other Ways to Detox the Conflict in Your Life and Business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My dad was a lawyer — so I had to learn how to make a strong case and defend my arguments to get what I wanted in our house. I was also the youngest of four kids, and if any of us ever said anything that didn’t make sense, we would have three other people pointing out our flaws. So, from a young age, I learned how to articulate my thoughts clearly and concisely in that environment. I think that sounds like a harsher upbringing than it actually was — or at least that’s how I perceived it. Let’s just say it was an environment with a lot of healthy competition.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I spent the first decade of my career as a trial lawyer. I later joined a small technology startup as one of the key executives who grew it into one of the top digital promotions companies in the world. After we sold the company, I entered the world of venture capital. I currently sit on the boards of several companies and non-profits, and work closely with several CEOs as they confront the inevitable conflicts that come with growing a successful company.
Whenever I looked back 6 months or a year to sort of take an inventory of how I’d been spending my time, I realized I was always gravitating toward conflict. As a lawyer, I focused on escalating conflicts and then worked to resolve them. As a startup executive, I gravitated toward conflicts to drive efficiency. I found that when we sought out and embraced conflicts in a healthy way, we worked better as a team, our company grew faster, we developed stronger relationships with our clients, our team members advanced in their careers, and we produced better overall results compared to when we tried to avoid conflicts. I also found that avoiding conflict is an exercise in futility. Sure, you can delay having to deal with difficult issues for a bit, but that usually just allows the issues to get worse — and then you’ll have to deal with them once they’re unavoidable.
Overtime, I noticed that I was more comfortable in the midst of conflict than most people around me. So, I spent some time unpacking that, in an effort to figure out how to help others increase their comfort level with conflict. I started mentoring people to help them navigate difficult situations and to view conflicts as opportunities to drive efficiency, fuel growth, and strengthen relationships.
I also did a lot of public speaking in my early career — as a litigator in court, and as a startup executive at culture events, trainings, and conferences around the U.S. and Europe. When I entered the world of Venture Capital, we would host summits for the leadership teams of our portfolio companies, and I would present there as well. I’ve always enjoyed public speaking but what I enjoyed even more was when people would bump into me months and even years later and tell me they put a piece of my advice into practice. It not only fed my ego (which is always nice), it was great to hear that someone found benefit and value in what I said. People started asking me to come speak to their organizations. And I realized — okay, there’s something here; this is something worth pursuing.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
While still at ePrize, we did a big promotion for WWE, and they asked for an executive from our company to speak at a press conference promoting the campaign. I show up, looking like an “executive” wearing a suit — and if you’ve ever seen wrestling fans, you know that the last thing they want to see at a press conference is some executive in a suit, especially right after John Cena just got them all fired up in a way that only he can. I remember walking out from behind a curtain into a wall of deafening noise, blinding lights and cameras. It was so loud, the only thing I could really make out were the insults that the wrestling fans were hurling at me. I said earlier that I’ve always enjoyed public speaking, but this was definitely an exception. In that moment, all the excitement over getting a chance to speak at a WWE press conference completely evaporated. Then the audience started chanting, “Who are you?! Who are you?!” All I wanted to do was go home and crawl under a blanket. But I just started talking and, somehow, I ended up turning the crowd around — to the point where they were all chanting my name. That was a crazy day. After the press conference, the WWE asked me to appear on WWE’s Monday Night Raw for three weeks in a row as part of the campaign we were running for them. They even gave me a championship belt with my name engraved on it to commemorate the experience. I’ve got a few degrees and certificates for things I’ve done in my life, but that belt was the only thing I put up on the wall of my office. I was a wrestling fan as a little kid and I’m still more proud of that belt than anything else. By the way, one of the biggest lessons I learned from that experience is never follow John Cena on stage — the only place to go from there is down.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started as a keynote speaker, I had a great presentation deck with images, videos, and several slides with titles that were my cues for what to say next. The combination of the slide deck and my speech made for a compelling presentation. I was very excited to present at one of my first paid speaking engagements. When I arrived at the hotel conference room about 30 minutes before I was about to go on, I saw that it was a crowded and I thought, wow, this is really cool that I get to present in front of all these people. Then I realized there was no screen in the room, no ability to project my slide deck. I felt lost; I didn’t have the anchors I needed.
I did my best to describe what the videos would’ve shown, and I relied solely on my words instead of falling back on the images on the screen. It actually worked much better than I thought it would. From that experience, I learned that, while it’s always great to have slides, I need to be prepared for anything because the show must go on. Another lesson from that incident is that whenever anyone asks me to speak at their event, I not only ask upfront the details of how the room is setup (and whether I’ll be able to show slides), I learn what the meeting is about so I can customize my presentation to make sure it resonates with their specific audience.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, Josh Linkner. He’s a keynote speaker, and he’s written two New York Times best-selling books. We were a year apart in high school, and he was the founder of the starup I joined. We’ve worked together and have been friends for a long time. He was the one who encouraged me to jump into the world of public speaking, and he helped me as I leaned into building a business. He’s been extremely generous with advice, sharing the insights he gained over the years through trial and error. It’s been great to have the benefit of his years of experience and wisdom. I can’t thank him enough.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
When starting any kind of business, it can be demoralizing when you hit a brick wall at 100 miles an hour. But you have to be able to get up, shake it off, and start running as fast as you can again. The only thing that’ll get you through extremely difficult times is passion for what you’re doing. If you don’t have that passion, you can’t do it. But if your passion sets you down the path of being a public speaker, any obstacles or fear that get in your way will be overshadowed by your passion to keep moving forward. By the way, there are people who are terrified of public speaking. If you’re one of them, definitely don’t go down this path. But if you’ve got a topic you’re really passionate about and want to share it with others, I say go for it. Don’t let anything get in your way. Of course, if you’re really passionate about it, you won’t care what I say anyway.
What drives you to get up every day and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?
Well, like I was talking about before, it’s the passion. I’ve done a lot of work to understand the anatomy of conflict — the things that give rise to it, how to defuse it, and how to leverage it. I’m convinced that embracing conflict in a healthy way is the single greatest driver of success and happiness. Many people shy away from conflict at all costs. Sure, there are certain conflicts you shouldn’t engage — like when someone steals your space in the parking lot, you don’t need to get out of your car and give them a piece of your mind. I would just shut up and go find another parking spot. But other forms of conflict — like dealing with a person who has a difference of opinion or who is behaving in a way that makes you really uncomfortable — bullying you or being dismissive of your value — I’m 1,000% convinced that avoiding conflict in these cases will always be the wrong move. I like thinking about this stuff, talking about it, sharing my perspective with others — it’s a genuine passion.
We should work through conflicts instead of running away from them. We’re always going to be better off for having gone through that experience. When we step into that discomfort, we’ll learn about ourselves, and will learn about how to manage conflict. I believe, wholeheartedly, that I have simple yet powerfully effective tools to detox conflict and leverage it to drive success and happiness. It’s not a talent you’re born with; it’s a skill anyone can learn and enjoy immediate benefits when they practice it.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
I recently wrote a book called Don’t Get Mad at Penguins — which came out two months ago — so I’m still in the wake of the book launch. It’s available everywhere books are sold (shameless plug). I really enjoyed researching and writing the book, and I’m proud of it. So that’s probably the most exciting thing at the moment. And then, of course, I’m excited to do more speaking. I enjoy mentoring people and sharing the lessons from my book and keynote — whether it’s on stage with several thousand people or one-on-one.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Someone recently told me, “A life without meaning and purpose is a pretty depressing existence.” It may seem obvious, but that statement stuck with me. I like the perspective and it’s caused me to be deliberate about how I spend my time, what I focus on, and the things I put energy into. Since I heard that, there have been times I have stopped putting energy into something because it didn’t contribute to a life of meaning and purpose. Today, this is what’s top of mind for me.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.
- A great speech — this one is obvious but I’ve seen some speakers who have great stage presence but didn’t have anything compelling to say. You wouldn’t be doing yourself, or anyone else, any favors if you work really hard to get a speaking engagement, only to fall flat on stage with nothing to say.
- Tenacity and resiliency — Having a great speech is critically important, but the real work of being a highly effective public speaker is actually getting booked as a speaker. You need to have urgency and a burning desire to get booked as a speaker– and then you need to start putting that burning desire into action. In most businesses, when you first start out, you’re going to get a lot of rejection. You need to have resiliency so that after you run into a wall going 100 mph, you are able to get back up and start running again. If you don’t have that, I wouldn’t recommend going down this path.
- Freakishly fast responsiveness — When someone reaches out to you and says they have a speaking opportunity for you, you need to get back to them immediately. If you take 24 hours to respond, you’re not going to succeed in this business. You should measure your response time in minutes, not hours and certainly not days.
- Commitment to the craft — You have to continually work and refine your presentation. Just in these past 12 to 15 months, the world has changed dramatically. I don’t care what it is you’re speaking about; your message should adapt and change to meet the demands of the current world. You also ask potential clients exactly what they want to get out of your keynote at their event. You customize your presentation to give them what they want.
- Patience — There’s a lot of heavy lifting you have to do without seeing the benefit for a while. But you have to be patient and keep going. If you keep doing things to move yourself forward, eventually you’re going to catch a break and something’s going to work.
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
If you have to go into the water but it’s freezing, you just have to jump in. Don’t dip in your toe, don’t wade in. Just dive in and do it. When you’re nervous about public speaking, you just have to jump in and start talking. The worst thing that will happen is that you’ll screw up. And, yeah, you’ll be embarrassed — but no one is going to get hurt and it’s not the end of the world. Half the time, the audience won’t even realize you’ve made a mistake. Just be able to laugh at yourself. If you freeze up on stage, joke about it and say, “Wow, I just froze up,” and that’ll get you a laugh from the audience.
When I walked out to that WWE press conference, I didn’t want to be there; I just wanted to go home and crawl under the covers. But that wasn’t really an option so I just jumped in and started talking. For the first 30 seconds, I don’t even know what I was saying, but I forced my way through it. At some point, the stress and anxiety of the situation gave way to the fact that I had a reason for being out there, that I had something specific to say. So, I said it and things worked out.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think my kids would disagree with the premise of your question so will you please tell them that I’m a “person of huge influence,” and really emphasize the word huge? Seriously, I would want to start a movement to dispel the myth that conflict is a bad thing that should be avoided at all cost. I would want to start a movement for people to create and embrace the healthy conflicts that fuel success, strengthen relationships, and get them to a happier place. I would achieve that by telling anyone and everyone that I can.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine. Talk about conflict; I’m really impressed with how he has led through this war with Russia against his country. That’s a guy who has stepped up to his calling in the most dire of circumstances. He also is a pretty funny guy and probably great to hang out with. I really hope that he and his family make it through to the other side of this thing.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Gabe Karp On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.