Billy Crystal’s Sage Advice For Public Speakers

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 27, 2013 – 6:02 am

I recently read Billy Crystal’s funny new autobiography, Still Foolin Em’.

In one passage, Crystal recalls a night early in his stand-up comedy career on which Jack Rollins, the well-regarded producer who managed David Letterman and Robert Klein, came to see him perform. The two men went out to dinner afterward.

Rollins wasn’t impressed.


Billy Crystal with Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones


“We had settled into a booth in a quiet restaurant when Jack said, ‘I didn’t care for what you did tonight.’ I wanted to stab him with a fork. ‘Why,’ I spit out. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘the audience loved it, and you can do very well with what I saw, but I have no idea what you think about anything. You didn’t leave a tip.’

‘A tip?’ I managed to ask.

‘Yes, a little extra something you leave with the audience: you…Don’t work so safe, don’t be afraid to bomb. Come back tomorrow and don’t use any of this material; we know it works. Just talk. Let me know how you feel about things. What it’s like to be a father, what it’s like to be married, how you feel about politics—put you in your material. Leave a tip.’”

It seems to me that advice also applies to public speaking, since audiences almost universally want a sense of who you are, what you’re about, and what you believe in.

Overly scripted or memorized speeches in particular fail on this count. Too often, a “perfect” speech scores high on precision but low on connection, undermining the entire effort.

How can you leave your audience a tip by putting you in your material? Here are a few ideas:

  • In a speech advocating for a specific issue, address why you got involved in the cause.
  • In a sales pitch, address your initial skepticism about the product before you had an “a ha” moment which allowed you to see the brilliance in it.
  • In an informational speech, mention how the topic you’re discussing applied to you or someone you know in a real-life situation. (This video of an insurance specialist discussing his personal investment in his product is a terrific example).

Here’s the bottom line: Leave the audience a “tip,” and you’ll look mah-ve-lous.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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