Public Speaking Lessons from the Michael Bay Meltdown

Public Speaking MistakesLike everyone else, I was mortified when I saw the now-infamous video of Michael Bay melting down onstage the other day. I consume a lot of public speaking blogs and the reaction from professionals has been a good deal less voracious than from the public in general.

There was a lot of empathy expressed (the phrase “hard to watch” came up a lot). Everyone’s been in that situation where things don’t go as planned and we hope we’ll have the strength to keep it together when we’re tested.

So What Happened?

To Bay’s credit, he took immediate responsibility for the screw-up, saying he skipped a line on the TelePrompter and things went downhill from there.

But we don’t know exactly why it spiraled out of control so fast. Possibilities include:

  • The organizers didn’t plan a proper rehearsal.
  • He didn’t show up for the rehearsal or didn’t give it serious attention.
  • He doesn’t like public speaking and is subject to stage fright.
  • He’s just not good at winging it.
  • Or perhaps it’s the TelePrompter operator’s fault. (Doubtful. These people know what they’re doing and it takes more than a skipped line to throw them.)

Rehearsal is for Everybody

Whatever happened, he clearly wasn’t prepared for the worst. Either he didn’t rehearse or he didn’t practice the script in advance or he didn’t take time to think about the ideas behind the words—the points he wanted to get across.

(I would also hazard a guess that he’s the kind of person who’s big on control, and when things don’t go as expected or as he wants, he freaks.)

People are always surprised when show business professionals screw up a performance like at an awards show. But live events are a far cry from recorded ones (he himself admitted, “I guess live shows are not my thing”) and rehearsal is absolutely essential. For everyone. From the CEO on down.

Other Perspectives

Here are a few interesting perspectives from around the blogosphere.

Nick Morgan at Public Words is a body language expert and spotted something that suggested Bay was in trouble right from the start:

What’s interesting is that his body language from his entrance signaled his discomfort, even before the teleprompter problem. Watch his leg shooting up like a teenager getting kissed as he shakes the hand of the emcee. Bay is already not doing well, and his body knew he was in trouble before the trouble began.

I didn’t catch that on first viewing, but here’s a helpful screencap:

Body language

Mitch Joel at Twist Image points out that calling this “public speaking” is really a misnomer:

This incident has nothing to do with public speaking, a fear of public speaking or anything like that … He was going to read on stage, live in front of an audience (something that he has never read or rehearsed before). That’s not speaking. That’s reading. He was going to attempt Public Reading not Public Speaking.

Lisa Braithwaite at Speak Schmeak boils the issue down to a single lesson:

I’ve just got one tip for you, which precludes all the others: Prepare for your technology to fail. Understand that anything requiring cables, cords, power sources, monitors, on/off switches or pixels might stop working.

And Seth Godin, commenting on Mitch’s blog, raises the possibility that the problem started with the script:

19 people in a committee worked on that script, and it sucked. And it didn’t sound like him. And they kept changing it until the last minute. And he’s standing there, and he’s reading something dumb, and he feels like a sell out and he’s humiliated, and THEN he stumbles and he says to himself, “you know what, I never want to do something like this again …”

That’s quite the tale, but having been involved in a lot of writing-by- committee, it does have a ring of truth to it.

It’s Public Speaking, Not Cancer

I think the spirit of the commentary (from these sources, at least) has been really constructive. They come to learn from Michael Bay, not bury him.

And besides, Bay’s doing just fine. As Rich Hopkins at Speak & Deliver points out, he’ll go on with a life of making gazillion-dollar blockbuster movies and this will be just a “tiny hiccup” in his career.

Which is one more fine tip: if your speaking career falls through, it’s good to have a backup plan.


Photo Credit: Allie’s.Dad via Compfight cc