Episode 3- How To Play To A (Nearly) Empty Room

How do you talk to an empty room? When people start a podcast, when people want to become public speakers, when people start businesses, they envision what it’s going to be like when people are just knocking down their door to listen to them or they want to work with them. But the reality is in the beginning of everything, you’re starting with a nearly empty room now for the most part, whatever level you get to when you start over, you’re back to a near empty room. I find that exciting when things are going really well, I need to start something new and something different and something where I’m a beginner again. It’s always been the way I’ve gone about things and that’s what’s happened here with the podcast. I’m not starting this podcast to build a business. I’m starting this podcast after we’ve built the business. This is now a time for me to grow and learn and do something different and actually take the proof of concept that we learned with these businesses and then be able to bring it to more people. 

To me, it doesn’t start with getting the audience and then trying to make something from that. It comes from making something and then allowing that to grow the audience and allowing that proof of concept of what you’ve done. We’ll talk about that a lot here. The proof of concept to get things done. So experience is truly the best teacher. So as I go into this knowing that I’m going to publish this episode and I don’t know how many people are going to listen to it, it might be a few hopefully, but this is not about getting as many people to listen as much as possible. This is about doing a show that people enjoy and like and want to spread the word on and talk about because they enjoy it. Not for me trying to build a huge audience. So what happened? I’ve learned this over and over again in different avenues and you start small and you learn when you’re small, you learn when you’re just beginning to grow. 

That’s when so many of the lessons come out. And when I thought about this podcast, I thought, wow, that really would be cool to tell. You know, we can tell a lot of stories in the show, but I had a time in Cleveland a couple of years ago, probably about five years ago where I was giving a speech, a public presentation about my career as a photographer and about building our photography business to different levels that a lot of people hadn’t got to. So I got asked by this organization in Cleveland to come speak about photography. They had a large amount of people in their group, so they sold it really well in terms of the amount of people that would be there. So I booked it and scheduled it and worked on the speech and had everything down and I practiced a ton, got everything ready and I drove to Cleveland and the two and a half hour drive. 

They got me the hotel, I get to the hotel, I relax and I go over to the venue where the presentation is going to be. Now I go into the room where the speech will be, and and it looks nice. There’s probably 200 seats and things all lined up, front to back and the stage over here. So I get there about two hours before the speech just to kind of meet everybody, just to get my nerves together because I hadn’t done it too much at that point. I meet the guy that’s running it and they’re making coffee with about an hour to go. A person trickled in and they said, oh you’re the one, you’re the one speaking tonight. So we started talking and we’re having this really nice conversation and I noticed we’re talking for 10 or 15 minutes and nobody else has come in. And I’m like, wait a second, this thing is going off in 45 minutes and there’s two people here and then we’re talking a little bit more and I’m getting really kind of uncomfortable because I’m trying, whenever I’m talking to somebody I try to pay attention to what they’re talking about and what they’re going through. 

But I notice at this point maybe there’s three people in the room. It was about a half an hour to go. There’s still three people in the room, there’s three people in the room in 200 seats, and I’m feeling pretty stupid at this point. Now I start trying to think positively. I’m like, well, maybe they’re coming together, maybe they’re coming in carloads and maybe there’s a bus or two that’s going to come and that’s going to bring everybody in for the group. And now there’s about 20 minutes to go until my presentation was going to start. At seven thirty. It’s now ten after seven and there’s four people in the room and nobody seems to be in a big hurry in any way. And it was then that it dawned on me, I don’t think this crowd’s getting any bigger. So that was four people and me, and now I’ve got to start getting ready for my presentation. 

I can’t even monitor the crowd. And more than that this one guy is talking my ear off a lot. So he wants to keep going. And I had to cut off the conversation with one of the four people in the room. They actually showed up for me and I had to leave, so now I’m kind of watching, so now I’m up on stage. I’m getting my mic set and I’m looking around and as I got my mic on and everybody took their seats, the reality of what was about to happen just hit me. I was about to speak for 194 empty seats and six filled ones. A total of 12 eyeballs would be looking at me during this 90 minute presentation that I had prepared for weeks. If you imagine those times where your stomach just turned upside down.

 I don’t know if it’s embarrassment. I’m not sure if it’s fear or what it is, but I remember being on the stage and having a pit in my stomach like I really just want to leave. I want to turn around, go through that back door, get my car, drive home, I’ll be home in time for bed. We’ll pretend like this nightmare didn’t happen. It was at that point that the guy that ran the organization came up, and introduced me. He, by the way, was one of the six people, so there were five people that actually showed up to see me and I started my presentation. I had the slides set up and I went through it and the first minute was awful. It was awkward. It was embarrassing. One of the six people was on their phone. It was just nightmarish and as I went on, I told the first story and I got a bunch of laughs. 

I kept going and I kept going and I realized I’m getting everybody’s attention. About 10 minutes into it, there was no stress at all. There was no worry at all. I was like, how well am I doing? Are My lines coming out? Am I pausing enough? It didn’t matter that there were six people or if there were 200 people, it actually was kind of fun talking to six people because I got eye contact with every one of them. I got to tell each one of them a story like I got to look right at them. As I was telling the stories, there was no overwhelm at all. It was actually underwhelming and allowed me to actually do what I wanted to do the right way without worrying about impressing anybody because there was hardly anyone to impress. 

So at the end of it all, I felt really confident and part of me was just thrilled that it was only six people. What a great testing ground. What was funny was I got to talk to each person after the speech, which you don’t get to do with a big crowd, and every one of them gave me their insight, gave them their feedback and two of them came up to me and said, man, everybody is going to be so disappointed that they missed this. What started out with great anticipation and then moved to something of tremendous kind of sadness, disappointment. It ended up on this really high note of it doesn’t matter how many people in the room, it doesn’t matter if they’re six, it doesn’t matter if there’s 206 was actually a good thing to start. It allowed me to do what I needed to do without the overwhelm of too many people or too many distractions and that’s the way I feel right here with the podcast and that’s where I want you to feel as you’re starting your venture, whatever that is, whatever the next thing is, because I don’t care where you’re at. 

When you get to where you want to get to, it’s not going to be the be all end all. You’re going to want to be challenged, you’re going to want a new thing. So we’re constantly looking for a new challenge, at least the driven ones of us. If you’re not driven and you’re just fine the way it is and you don’t want to grow it all, this is probably not going to be your show because we’re just constantly working through this type of stuff. But it was such a great lesson for me because I think I might not have started this podcast without it because I might think I need a certain amount of people to listen or I need to get to this level before I can go. I need to know. It’s going to grow to this level. It doesn’t matter because what happened is that free speech for six people then turned into a paid speech, then turned into a higher paid speech than turned to an even higher paid speech with more and more people. 

And that’s without giving it very much time. So that’s something in the future I want to do more of. But just seeing that progress. So for the podcast, it really is do it the best you can for the smallest amount that you can, and then go from there. So that’s how we’re going to start things. So that’s how we’re going to start. So the question was how do you play to an empty room? And the answer is you do the best you can for the smallest amount that you possibly can. Hope you enjoyed that. And I will talk to you tomorrow.

Leave a Comment