In 1993 I was asked by a well-known Los Angeles publicist to contribute my expertise as a news journalist for publicists attending an industry event held at UCLA. It was my first public speaking event and I was nervous but I knew my topic area very well, having served as a news journalist for nearly ten years for radio and print media. In fact, you could say I was at the “head of the pack” when it came to getting elusive or difficult people to give me an interview.
I laugh now when thinking about my first “real” interview while still a student at Emerson College in Boston. My professor had assigned the class to interview the person who most influenced us in our careers. I had chosen Hunter S. Thompson, known as “the Gonzo Journalist.” Hunter had written the controversial book on the Hells Angels motorcycle club, which I had read while in high school. He later went on to write “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and several other books which defined him as a rather edgy and (some would say “weird”) and always intoxicated journalist.
I managed to get a ticket to see Hunter, who happened to be speaking at U. Mass, Dorchester that month. I brought my trusty little tape recorder with me with its little plastic mike and I hung out backstage waiting for Mr. Thompson to arrive. He was late. Very late. And when he did show up, he had a fifth of Jack Daniels with him which he nipped off of behind the podium.
While I didn’t really have any journalist credentials, I did have to do this assignment and it was the last minute before it was due. When Hunter raced off the stage rather abruptly, I followed him down the hall. He jumped into an elevator – and I jumped in with him. I recall him saying, “Oh God. What do you want?”
I explained that I was a student trying to complete this assignment and I told him that I admired his style of journalism and wanted to get a few quotes from him. Honestly, he was trapped. He couldn’t avoid me so he mumbled something that I used in my paper and then he got out of the elevator.
After saying my goodbyes to his staff, who had been so kind to arrange my ticket, I realized that I couldn’t get back to campus because the MBTA had stopped running for the night. I was in kind of a quandry as I didn’t have the money for cab fare and this was not a good neighborhood to be walking at night. So I did what any young journalist would do – I asked his staff if I could catch a ride with them back to Boston.
Again, they took pity on me and said they would squeeze me in their car. What I didn’t know was that Hunter was also going to be riding in that car, and boy was he surprised when I jumped into the backseat right next to him – actually, almost on his lap! I remember what he said to me: “Oh God. Not YOU again!”
And that was my first interview, of which I was very, very proud!
I went on to become a news reporter for radio – a broadcast journalist – and later, a print journalist, as well, writing for Variety, the Los Angeles Business Journal, San Fernando Valley Business Journal, Boxoffice magazine, Pasadena Weekly, Insurance Journal and many other publications.
My career has given me access to some very interesting and successful people, among them: Jerry Rubin of “Yippie” fame, film actress Ginger Rogers, King Carl Gustav of Spain, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Rick Wakeman, keyboardist for Yes, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, bluesmen John Mayall, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, and the list goes on.
So getting back to my first panel as a journalist, I wrote a speech outline where I listed every tip I could think of as I went through the process I used to prepare for an interview. Some of it was common sense tips but it all derived from my, then, 15 years of experience in interviewing people for news stories.
The speech went well and after doing it I was excited to do it again. In 1997, I took an extensive course to become a Certified Seminar Speaker and with that added boost of confidence the floodgates opened up: I started giving workshops for the L.A. Community College System called “Jumpstart Your Business with Free Publicity.” At the same time, I hit the road, whenever I had some free time, to give a speech to business associations called “Self Promotion for the Self Employed” and “Do’s and Don’t for Media Success.”
Since that first little speech in 1993, 26 years ago, I’ve developed several more, very popular speeches such as “Utilizing LinkedIn to Maximize Your Business” which I have presented to high-level business associations, including: Vistage, Worldwide, ProVisors, NAWBO-LA, American Association of Daily Money Managers, Pasadena Bar Association, the San Gabriel Valley Financial Planners Association, Mid Valley Chamber of Commerce, Entertainment Publicists Professional Society, Bruin Professionals, Asian Business Association, German-American Chamber, Glendale Chamber, Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber, Lions Clubs and Rotary Clubs all over Southern California.
Since I believe in giving back to others, I also speak to high school and college students seeking journalism or business degrees. To date, I’ve presented at Loyola Marymount University, Pepperdine University, UCLA Extension, the University of Southern California and UC, Pomona as well as at 15 high schools in Los Angeles.
While I’ve been out doing speaking engagements, I’ve received my own fair share of publicity through interviews with hosts from KCKC AM, Bill Black’s Exit Coach Radio and Eszylfie Taylor’s “Ask the Experts” show as well as the Los Angeles Daily News, Crescenta Valley Weekly, Inland Empire Business Journal, and for my alma mater, Emerson College.
My newest speaking engagement takes me into the hearts of those living in retirement homes where I speak about “The Importance of Writing Your Memoirs.” I enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of those who attend as they think about their own beloved memories.
If you are thinking about the virtues of speaking on a topic of your profession, I highly encourage it. You may find, like me, that you like it and it may lead you to even greater experiences in life.