2000. The stage calls and it scared the hell out of me

If you want to “make it” in the dental marketing world you must get yourself invited to speak at dental meetings, seminars and continuing education events. I was aware of this from the beginning but I ignored it. Why?

For most people, the fear of getting up on stage in front of a large audience is even greater than the fear of dying. This was certainly true for me. It was a demon I had to beat or my career would suffer.

Many people were asking me to speak at their events and meetings. I was turning them down because of this demon. Until the day when a very big dental star called and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

His name is Dr. Bill Dorfman

Any dentist reading this right now will most assuredly know who he is. For just one thing, he invented Zoom Whitening ™ which thousands of dentists use in their practices to whiten their patient’s teeth.

Many people outside the profession of dentistry will also know of him.

He was the “house dentist” on ABC’s mega hit show called Extreme Makeovers, which debuted in 2002. This show, and Bill’s involvement with it, was probably the biggest Public Relations gift to dentistry ever. Dentists from all over the country owe him a debt of gratitude for what he did for the profession.

Bill and I got to know each other when he asked me to co-author an article with him for Dental Products Report. It was great working with him and I have to say it was especially wonderful to have my name and bio next to his at the bottom of the article!

Bill had also been heavily involved in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry for many years.

Imagine my surprise when one day he called me out of the blue and asked if I would speak as part of his program at the 2001 AACD meeting in Boston. I was both honored and scared to death. I mumbled something about not being a very good public speaker and that I’d probably make a dog’s breakfast out of it and embarrass him in the process.

He would hear none of it

“Howie, you’re in Seattle right? Go find a Dale Carnegie course and do it. It takes 8 weeks. Then come down to my office in LA and I will coach you. You’ll do fine.”

At that moment I felt like I had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The devil whispered, “You will suck and it will ruin your career and you’ll probably have a heart attack. Don’t do it!”

The angel on my other shoulder said something very simple; “You don’t say no to Bill freakin’ Dorfman! Dental presenters from all over the world would KILL for a speaker’s slot at the AACD and he’s just handing it to you. Don’t be an idiot.”

The angel won the debate. But not without a fight from me.

The Carnegie course was actually quite helpful. I decided not to take Bill up on his generous offer to coach me. I felt I might be able to do this.

The meeting was still about a year away so there was plenty of time to practice. Instead of feeling somewhat calm about the meeting being so far in the future, I thought and fretted about it EVERY single day for the entire year.

Then finally it was show time

And I was a medical event waiting to happen. Backstage in the speaker’s lounge, Bill came up to me. I thought he might give me a pep talk or words of encouragement before he introduced me.

Uh, no.

He put his hand on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Howie, you’d better not embarrass me.” Thinking he was being funny I kind of chuckled and looked at him. He was NOT smiling.

Soooo, no pressure there! None at all!

The auditorium was a huge cavern, filled with my soon-to-be tormentors with their baskets of rotten tomatoes and insults ready to be hurled my way.

From the stage I couldn’t see the back of the auditorium. The lights pointed at me were so bright I could only see the first few rows of people, which turned out to be helpful in reducing the magnitude of the whole experience.

The crowd actually stretched all the way back and receded into blackness. There must have been 3,000 people in there.

While Bill was introducing me I could feel my sweat not only coming through my shirt but also through my suit jacket as well. I was doomed. I hoped they had paramedics in the house because I knew I would have a heart attack.

Then something totally unexpected happened

Walking to the podium holding my Power Point clicker (which was slippery with my sweat) I looked up at the crowd with a smile on my face and…

I completely relaxed. Total calmness.

It was a Zen moment where I was totally in The Now.

During my delivery I wasn’t the least bit nervous and I survived, even getting appreciative applause at the end.

Did I knock it out of the park like Howard Farran or Bill Dorfman can do? No. But I didn’t embarrass myself. Or, more importantly, Bill.

I even managed to tell a joke that got a great laugh from the crowd. A first time speaker should never attempt comedy on stage. It usually never goes well but I broke that rule and managed to survive.

From there it got easier for me to be on stage and I got more invitations.

I started to speak at meetings along with my good friend Dr. Rodger Kurthy. Most dentists know who he is. Rod invented arguably the best teeth whitening system in dentistry called KoR Whitening. We have been besties for 25 years. Being on stage with him was a lot of fun. He is a masterful public speaker and I learned a lot about the Stage from him.

It was to serve me well in the years just ahead.

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