An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
You are in control. Take charge. It’s about you and the audience, not about the feelings of a couple of people running the A/V.
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 Mark Zinder.
Mark Zinder is a leading financial expert, trend forecaster, and seasoned keynote speaker. He has traveled the globe delivering more than 2,000 presentations to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Laughing is the key to learning and connecting with your clients is the key to success.
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?
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, but was born in Frankfurt, KY. My Dad, ignoring the advice of friends and the explosive news of racial tension that was developing in the deep south, decided to pack us up and move the family to Alabama. It was 1961 — I was five. Originally both my parents called New York City home and living in the troubled south in the 1960s was not my mother’s notion of a good idea. After living in a small duplex for over a year, she did what many protective mothers would do at that time — while my dad was on a business trip, she put a contract on a house in a great neighborhood with an outstanding school system. When my dad returned home my mother took him to see the 3,500-square-foot, two-story colonial house on a well-manicured one-acre lot. My parents rarely argued but that day I remember my father repeatedly saying, “We will never be able to afford this house!” My mother, ever the persuasive and spunky New Yorker, was unwavering — she wanted the house. Dad called his stockbroker for advice and Tom told him that in his lifetime, he would pay more for a new car than he would for the house my mother was begging to own. Reluctantly, Dad purchased the house.
So, we moved to Mountain Brook, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, with an outstanding school system and a contingent of mainly upper-middle-class, white, Anglo Saxon, Christian neighbors that was comprised mostly of doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, CPAs, and a smattering of steel magnates and a few other wealthy business owners, which, I might add, was not our pedigree. My parents were first-generation Polish and Russian immigrants that embraced Judaism as their religion and would not be welcomed in this mainly pristine white Christian neighborhood (which the real estate agent was so kind to continually point out). To say that we were not accepted would be an understatement. Attending the Cotillion Dance or being invited to join the Mountain Brook Country Club would be reserved for another era — one that still has not emerged. But we soldiered on, living in that beautiful home with its magnificent one-acre manicured lawn.
A couple of decades later, as predicted, my father purchased a car that cost more than that two-story colonial.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path.
This is a story I rarely share — but it is very important to the topic of this interview. As a child, I had a speech impediment — a lisp. A simple word that described my impediment perfectly, which also was too obvious to ignore by the 5th-grade bullies (back in the 60’s they were simply referred to as “classmates”), because the word, thank you very much, contained the letter “S”. The word lisp, for those afflicted with the impediment, is both the setup and the punchline to a very cruel joke. I was often teased, but would never have imagined that a family member would also do so. After embarrassing my social-climbing mother in front of her friends, later that night, in private (her intent was not to be cruel…in front of others, that is), she spat the word “lisp” at me, using the well-positioned “S” for emphasis. I can only conclude that she was hoping that she could mock the impediment out of me. I ran to my room and cried myself to sleep. It hurt…but it also helped. I vowed to correct my speech impediment one way or the other. I practiced for hours upon hours in front of a mirror. I got better. For years I practiced more and got better still. I then did the most courageous thing of all for any 16-year-old with questionable self-esteem. I auditioned for the lead in the high school play. Days later the cast was posted on the wall outside the drama teacher’s room and my name was near the top, not the lead, but the one playing the comedic role of a character named Snazzy in the play, “Life of the Party.” Six weeks later, it was the opening night of a three-day run. After the successful Thursday night performance, the cast, one at a time, came back on stage to take their bows and receive their obligatory applauses from family and friends. Since I had one of the leading roles, I was one of the last to take the stage and take my bow. I remember this moment vividly — like it was yesterday — a defining moment in my life. I walked out on stage and watched the entire audience rise to their feet. I was receiving a standing ovation.
I knew that very minute what I was going to do the rest of my life — I was going to live it on the stage!
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was invited to be a main platform speaker at one of the largest conferences in the world. In 2005, I was asked to present to over 10,000 individuals as a mainstage speaker in Bangkok, Thailand, and with that many attendees, the organization needed to run a “tight ship.” My speaking slot was scheduled for 40 minutes — not 41, not 39 they emphasized — 40! I rehearsed numerous times. I had it down to the minute. I was prepared and ready to “nail it.”
The conference boasted of its worldwide membership and that attendees were coming from 27 different countries, which of course meant many different languages would be spoken. Any concerns of a language barrier were quickly cast off when we, as the group of speakers, learned that there would be translators for those non-English speaking members. I didn’t see that as a problem at the time. However, I use a lot of humor in my presentations, not jokes like “a guy walked into a bar,” but humor, like, “I was walking down the street and saw this interesting-looking bar across the street so I went in…” By the way, jokes are told in the third person, humor, in the first person. However, if you think about it, humor’s subtle nuances are not easily translated from one language to another.
It’s the day of the event. I’m on my spot, backstage, behind the curtain, listening to the organization’s president deliver my introduction. As he said, “Please help me welcome Mark Zinder,” the stage manager pulled back the curtain and gently shoved me out onto the stage. (I later learned that in the past, speakers would often freeze when the curtain was pulled back revealing the sea of people — so they intentionally assist you by giving you a little push.) After the applause died down, I begin with a few funny statements about myself and where I am from. I do this to get a read on how the audience will respond. Did they laugh? Then I become more animated — this is now a “performance.” Was the response tepid? Then I back it off a little bit and the delivery style is more akin to a “speech.” For me, the first few minutes are critical, as they will determine my pace for the remainder of the allotted time. I’m just a couple of minutes in and it hits me. About a third of the audience members are wearing headsets for the translation and it is taking a few additional seconds for the different interpreters to translate my American humor into their native tongue. Sometimes it takes more than just a few seconds as I watch from the stage, in front of thousands of people, as the laughter rolls. At first, a large group of English-speaking attendees begin to laugh, then, after a little lag, a group to my left began to laugh, and then another group, and another. They are not all receiving the same joke at the same time, which is fine — I’m a professional and will be able to adapt — until I look at the foot of the stage and see the giant digital clock ticking down the seconds. Even though I had rehearsed, I was not prepared for the laughter to roll and last as long as it did.
As Vice President Dan Quayle once said, “One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice-president, and that one word is ‘to be prepared.’”
Yes, that is three words, and that’s what makes the gaff so funny. But as a speaker, on stage, by yourself, without other members of a cast to bail you out if you forget a line, or band members to keep on playing if your mic goes dead, you are alone. Sometimes, when things go amiss, it feels like you are completely naked, much like that dream many of us have experienced the night before the first day of elementary school — introducing yourself in front of the entire class — unclothed!
Lesson learned, even though you think you have planned, rehearsed, and are ready, be prepared to pivot for the unexpected.
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?
After being the national spokesman for a large money management firm, it was time to leave the steady paycheck behind and venture out on my own. It was soon thereafter that I received an unexpected call from Jay Klahn, the owner of Dynamic Speakers, who, over the years, would also become a very good friend. He had a client that was interested in booking me for a speech and Jay had found my website online. We were getting the initial interview out of the way, and I said to him, “Jay, I’m really, really, good.” We then started doing a lot of work together, and our speaker/agent relationship flourished. About three years into our friendship, he said to me, “Hey, do you remember when we first spoke on the phone and you told me you were really, really, good?” I said, “I do.” He then replied, “Do you know how many speakers tell me they are really, really good?” and I said, “No, how many?” and he said, “All of them!”
Lesson learned: Prepare your unique elevator pitch to describe what makes you different and how you stand out from the crowd because, out of the blue one day, you might get a call from an agent. And they don’t want to hear from you that you are really, really, good — they want to hear that from the prospective client who saw you speak and is looking to hire you!
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?
There is that one person in my life that was the motivation for my speaking success: it was my high school drama teacher, Karen York. She was the one who encouraged me to audition for the upcoming school play, and she is the one that metaphorically held my hand, molded me, and introduced me to one of the greatest “rushes” known to humankind — the standing ovation! There are thousands of speakers, and I have heard a lot of them. Those that stand behind the podium and read their prepared scripts — the ones that use no voice inflection or don’t even know how to use the stage or tell a joke or relate a story. Those that have something to say but simply don’t know how to say it. Karen York taught me that there was more than just reciting the rehearsed word. How you say it and how you use the stage. Voice inflection, timing, and non-verbal pauses are all key to an outstanding presentation. But it takes skill, and this skill is not innate — it is learned, and Karen took the time to teach it to me.
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?
Oh yes. My advice is both simple and difficult. “Be so good, they have to like you!” Simple in theory, difficult in practice.
Many speakers dream of getting the call from an agent and having them fill their calendar with speaking engagements, and all we have to focus on is getting to the event on time. Let me throw a wet rag on that right now. You are the presenter and the agent! You are always selling. While taking Daniel Pink’s Master Class (yes, I am still learning and trying to perfect my craft), I learned that we spend roughly 40% of our day selling. “But I’m not a salesperson,” you may be thinking. Oh, yes you are. Whether it is an idea, a product, or yourself…you are selling. That is 24 seconds out of every minute, 24 minutes out of every hour, you are selling, and what you are selling is your ability to articulate, educate, enlighten, inspire, and engage.
Ladies and gentlemen, when you are on stage, you must remember that every presentation you deliver is an audition for the next presentation. I can’t begin to tell you how many people approached me after I delivered a speech to tell me they were interested in having me speak at a conference they are in charge of planning. If you are really, really, good, they will like you…and want to hear more from you!
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?
My job, as I see it, is to know what the audience knows, and know it well. My job is to also know what they don’t know, and know that as well! That’s the hard part, but also the most rewarding. I’ve seen too many speakers get up on stage and deliver a presentation that doesn’t articulate any new information that I haven’t already read in a recent news story or seen delivered weeks before by someone else. Yes, I know our job as a speaker is to speak, but it is also to inform — to bring something new to the table, whether an idea or simply a different way of looking at things. The thing that drives me is when someone approaches me afterward and says, “You know that story you told about (fill in the blank), I didn’t know that!” I love to teach and I love it when the audience learns something new.
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’ve been speaking professionally for over 30 years. I’ve delivered somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 presentations in 12 different countries — and yes, all for a fee. In those years I have been to enough conferences that I have seen more than my share of speakers. Some good, many bad. Often, I want to approach them afterward and say to them, “Just talk to us like you were telling this story to your friends.”
Once I had the honor to speak on the same agenda with the pilot that flew Air Force One during the events of 9/11. He wasn’t just along for the ride — he was in the thick of it and his story is fascinating! A story many of us have never heard — one that should keep you on the edge of your seat. We became acquaintances and I was stunned to hear his speaking fee — it was half of what it should have been. The way he told it was good — it could have been great! For someone who is not a trained orator, the default is to tell the story in chronological order: This happened, and then this happened, then this, and then I went home. The end. For the novice, it makes sense. For the pro, it’s all wrong.
What would I like to do next? I would like to train speakers that have something to say — how to say it, how to deliver it, and how to move and use voice techniques so they engage the audience. Speaking publicly can be a great career and an amazing “rush” not only for the speaker but also for the audience — if done properly.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As stated earlier, I use a lot of humor in my presentation. One of the reasons is that people will retain seven times more information if they are laughing while they are learning. Seven times! I want my presentation to be memorable, but I want to be memorable also. By doing so, when an audience member who heard me speak is talking to someone that wasn’t at their meeting, they don’t say, “I heard this guy speak at the conference,” but “I heard Mark Zinder speak at the conference… and he was really, really good!”
I will state it again: Be so good they have to like you. That is actually a derivative of a Steve Martin quote that goes, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
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.
- I’m going to start with the most important thing of all: setting the stage. And I’m speaking about the physical stage — setting the “stage” for your presentation. The lights, the sound, the volume on your wireless lavalier microphone. If you are speaking at a large conference, you might have less control, but I can’t emphasize enough about taking as much control as you can. Let me first start with audio/visual. I’ve done thousands of presentations and if there is going to be a problem while you are on stage — it’s going to be with A/V. I now have it in my contract that I will be using my laptop. This is non-negotiable. There have been too many times that their equipment simply stopped working, or the PowerPoint deck that I sent them has gotten discombobulated. Or maybe you gave them a thumb drive at the actual event, the morning of. Nope. I have experienced that not working either because whatever typeface I am using is not a typeface they have on the computer, so the titles on my slides are in gibberish. I travel with a laptop that I use exclusively for delivering my presentation. I keep it clean. That way, if there is a problem with my computer (and there never has been) then it is my fault. Also remember to pack all the necessary adapters, extension cords, clickers, etc. Next, do a sound check beforehand. The A/V group thinks they know your voice level (we will discuss this later) but the speaker before you probably had a softer voice so they have the sound turned way up. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to move the lavalier mike down my tie because the volume is too loud. Lastly, the lights. Again, not being a speaker, the person in charge of the lighting thinks it’s a good idea to turn the lights down so the audience can see the slides better. If you want to guarantee that the audience will be napping during your presentation they slated you to deliver after lunch or at the end of the day, then turn the lights down. Otherwise, ask that the lights be brought up to 75% house. 100% house would be all the way up. Turn them down, but just a little. Remember, the focus should be on you, not the slides. I have designed my PowerPoint slides to present themselves well in a brightly lit room. Lastly, the people “manning” the A/V booth will tell you they are professionals and not to worry. However, they are not the ones on stage — you are. Take control and don’t worry about hurting their feelings.
There are too many examples of things going awry, but the one that disappointed me the most was the time I was speaking to over 10,000 people in Bangkok, Thailand. Numerous screens hung from the rafters above because the people employed to video the event were also delivering it live so the people towards the back of the hall could see the speaker. The very first acting class I took was called Stage Movement — the professor taught us how to use a stage. “Imagine you are in a box,” he said. If you are on a big stage, then you are in a big box and exaggerate your movements. Small stage, small box, keep your arm movements close to your body and your movements across the stage smaller. This was going to be a big stage and I was going to use every bit of it. I was talking to the director and giving him the lowdown of what I would be doing and how I would be moving, and he said to me, “We’ve got this — we do the Academy Awards every year. Don’t you worry.” I was thinking that the video clips of me speaking in front of 10,000 would be great for my “Promo Reel.” “Ok,” I thought, “The Academy Awards.” I was duly impressed. Less so when I finally received the video. It was junk. Not at all usable. None of it. I was so disappointed.
The lesson learned: you are in control. Take charge. It’s about you and the audience, not about the feelings of a couple of people running the A/V.
2. Begin at the end. Tell them what you are going to tell them — not in its entirety but give them a hint of what to expect. Then take them on a journey and when you get to the end, you get to finish the story that you started, completing the circle. I once heard Annie Leibovitz speak. She was on stage for over an hour showing many of her now famous photographs and telling the story behind each of them. She ended with what I think is one of her most famous of all, the picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John Lennon, unclothed in a fetal position, nestling his wife. We all remember that photograph. What I didn’t recall was that picture was taken just hours before he was shot outside his home in New York. Personally, I would have started with that photograph and told a story or two about how there were earlier photographs of Paul and Yoko, not taken by her, in bed, protesting the war (setting the stage). And then how she had taken this iconic picture that later graced the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. I would have then continued on my presentation and at the end, bring that photograph up again and explain why it was so important and what had transpired right after it was taken. Here was a man who had publicly protested the senseless killings of others and then later that day, after taking this now famous picture, he too was part of a senseless murder. End there. Leave the audience awestruck. Complete the circle. The audience would know that you were ending your remarks. Accept your applause, take your bow and then open it up to questions.
3. People tend to speak softer when they get on stage — I can only imagine it is because they are nervous. When I am training speakers, one of the first things I do is to draw five hash marks on a piece of paper. The top hash mark represents “yelling.” The bottom one is “whispering.” The one in the middle is the level at which we talk. Here’s the problem; when unseasoned speakers get on stage, they tend to take it down a notch below average. No! What you need to do is to take it a notch above average. This is where you are speaking louder, but not yelling. At this level, you are speaking with enthusiasm and the benefit of speaking with enthusiasm is that enthusiasm is contagious! Be enthusiastic about what you are telling the audience and the audience will become enthusiastic as well.
I call the period after I speak “kissing the babies.” This is when people stand in line to either ask a question or compliment me on the delivery of the speech. Nine times out of ten, if they are complimenting me, they refer to my enthusiasm.
4. Mark Twain once said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” Reading is where you will get a lot of facts, but it is also a great source for great stories. I used to go to a bookstore, gather a half dozen nonfiction books, get a latte, find a big comfy chair, and read the first four of five chapters of the selected books. Sometimes, additional stories come later, but I promise, there are going to be a couple of good stories in there. I speak on finance and economics — a rather dry topic, and the books on these topics can also be dry and uninteresting. However, the author, encouraging you to read on, will include a story that will illustrate what he or she is trying to teach. Today, I have substituted Amazon for the bookstore, which will allow you to read about 50 pages before they want you to purchase the book. Libraries are also a great source, absent the latte and big comfy chair.
I was reading a book called The History of Money. Towards the end of the book was an amazing story that I continue to share to this day. It was the story about the Wizard of Oz. A story we are all familiar with, but few people know that it is actually a story about monetary policy! Oz, as we know, is the abbreviation for ounces, like an ounce of gold or an ounce of silver. “Follow the yellow-brick road” — the golden road paved to the Emerald City — Washington, DC, where the dollar (or greenback) was printed. Dorothy was an activist out of Kansas City; her real name was Leslie Kelsey, but her nickname was “The Kansas Tornado.” The Tin Man was the American industrialist, the Scarecrow represented the American farmer, the “winged monkeys” were the American Indians, and the “munchkins” were the little people — the U.S. population. In the book, Dorothy’s slippers are made of silver, but because the movie was produced in 1939, and technicolor had been introduced just four years prior, they decided to make her slippers ruby red! Ladies and gentlemen, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book published in 1900, is not a children’s story, but a commentary on what was unfolding in the late 1890s when William Jennings Bryan was running for President and was proposing the United States get off the gold standard and go on a bi-metal standard — gold and silver!
Facts tell, but stories sell!
5. If you are a speaker that doesn’t have a particular story — landing a plane on the Hudson River or flying the President during 9/11 — then always, always, always be writing new material. Always. And here is some advice: don’t try out your entire new speech all at once. When delivering your older speech, slowly add some of your new material into it — just kind of slide it in. Try it out. Keep using it until it is polished. Then remove it and set it aside. Add something new, try it out, polish it up, then set it aside. Nothing is worse than trying out new material all at once without ever rehearsing it in front of a live audience and then dying on stage. Well, wars, racism, apartheid — all those things are much worse, but you get my point, right?
Recently, my agent called, and he was trying to convince his client to bring me back. They had hired me ten years ago and their initial response was, “We’ve already heard him.” “Yes, but that was ten years ago,” he said. “Yes, it’s the same person but with different material. You loved him then you will love him again now!” They booked the gig. Always, always, always be working on new material!
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
Jerry Seinfeld can put things in perspective like no other. He once asked the audience if they knew that public speaking was the number one fear in America. Most everyone knew it. He went on to share, adding some perspective, that the fear of dying was number two. NUMBER TWO! Which, according to Seinfeld, meant that if you are going to a funeral tomorrow, you would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy!
Earlier, I spoke about performing in a high school play. It is now night two, Friday night. It is five minutes before showtime. After the lights go down and the curtain goes up, I am the first actor to walk out on stage. The director, Karen York, approached me and asked if I was ready. I said to her, “I’m so nervous.” She then explained to me that what was causing my nervousness was the same thing that causes excitement — my adrenalin was in high gear. She told me that I had to rephrase my statement and not think, “I’m so nervous,” but rather, “I’m so excited.” It is self-fulfilling, she said. She went on to remind me of the standing ovation I had received the night before. She said, “close your eyes and relive that moment — how it made you feel — how excited you were for hours afterward. Now, when the curtain goes up, step on that stage with that feeling, and then go do it again!”
The best advice I ever received.
You see, we are climbing a metaphorical ladder. Many of us get about halfway up and we think to ourselves, “Yes, this is good enough…I think I’ll just stay right here on this rung — this is where I am most comfortable.” Aren’t you curious about what’s up near the top rung? One step, two steps, three steps higher. My advice: Your curiosity has got to be one degree greater than your fear!
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?
Can we stop lying already! News anchors, politicians, and heads of state should be above this angle for winning approval. This may come as a surprise to many but Frank Abagnale, the man portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, Catch Me If You Can — it’s all a lie. He never impersonated those professionals — the pilot, the attorney general, the doctor, the professor. He didn’t do it. How do I know? Because I was once a speaker’s agent myself and he was one of the speakers I represented. I then went to work for him, promoting his speeches. That is until I discovered he was a fraud. One threat and 40 years later, the actual truth is beginning to surface. I have learned that it is easier to con someone than it is to convince them they have been conned. If you believe his story — you’ve been conned!
One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain who said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
If I could influence a movement, it would be one where the truth was always told, versus saying anything to get better ratings, get elected, or become famous or wealthy.
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!
Mike Birbiglia. If you are unfamiliar with his name or his work, I encourage you to go to either Netflix or Amazon and stream one of his many shows tonight. I suggest watching “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” first. Then watch it again but this time pay closer attention to his delivery- how he starts with where he is going to end, and how he uses voice inflection for effect and impact. Watch how he uses the stage. Watch how he talks to the audience rather than at the audience. He is a master of his craft there is no one better at delivering a story.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can find me on LinkedIn or through my website, MarkZinder.com
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you for the opportunity. I do want to close with one more piece of advice; BE SO GOOD THEY HAVE TO LIKE YOU!
Mark Zinder 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.