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Unbounce’s 4 Year Quest to Make Oli Gardner a Public Speaker

I included my name in the title because public speaking, and the long long journey it’s been to make it happen, is all about putting yourself out there.

Well. I’m out there. Kinda.

Oli Gardner speaking at the first Unbounce customer meetup

Since we started Unbounce, Rick and many others in the marketing world have been asking or trying to persuade me to speak. To get on the circuit or at least at a few conferences.

I was mortified at the idea right from the get go. No way. I’m a writer not a speaker. I speak through the blog, where I get to spend as much time as I like leveraging control-Z.

Orlando? No.
Paris? No.
San Diego? No.
How about a Skype interview? Nope.
Edinburgh (where I went to University!) Afraid not.
All expenses paid trip to Finland? Leave me alone. Definitely. (And yes Cyrus, I do actually have a 3rd post in the works. Epic, naturally.)

Why the hell was I turning down all these great opportunities?

I told myself – and others – that, we as a company were better off with me playing to my strengths and not worrying about the other stuff. There’s a certain logic to that. Except that it was utter horse shit. I was just scared.

I was afraid of being called out in public. Of being branded an impostor. Which would affect not only me, but our brand too.

I became a marketer the day we founded the company. I’d never done it before. And all of a sudden I was writing – and trying to define – marketing theory.

TSN Turning Point #1 – Hiring up


And then 2 years ago I hired Georgiana Laudi to be our Director of Marketing.

She’s the (tour de) force behind the marketing we do here now, which if I say so myself, defines badassery.

We shipped Gia (as she’s known around the office) in from Montreal to take what I was doing to another level.

Saying no to Rick’s nudges wasn’t so bad. We’ve known each other for 14 years, and can tell each other to fuck off and get over it pretty quickly.

But Gia was an entirely different box of candles. Good luck saying no.

Anna Sawyer

So I conceded to being the guest on one of our early webinars, about landing pages and PPC, as a co-guest with Anna Sawyer (then of Trada).

This was kinda awesome, because Anna is a rockstar, knows everything about PPC, is funny, charming, and did 80% of the talking.

As an aside, I was checking out her Instagram the other day and noticed that she *doesn’t* take food photos. Admirable – and made me look at mine (17% food shots).


The world needs more Instagram photos of food as much as it needs more selfies from Chris Brogan.

And then (and I shit you not) as I sit here writing this post, I get a message on Instagram from The Province, a provincial Newspaper we get here in Vancouver, saying that they loved my food photography and would like to feature it in the paper.

That felt good because I put my dreams of becoming a wildlife photographer on hiatus when we started Unbounce.

I digress

The webinar was okay. I sweated a lot and felt uncomfortable the whole time, with no real recollection of it afterwards.

I’m an empath. I present my interactional dialog with others based on what I feel from them in return. (I need to see you to be able to relate to you.)

Talking at a mic makes me uncomfortable as there’s no feedback. Ryan does a great job as the host of our webinars. He makes things flow well, but a few slides in, I lose focus and typically start accelerating my speech and losing track of how to project something interesting.

After the event I’m relieved, but generally disappointed. That’s not how it should be. Let me be a writer. I feel good when I write.

TSN Turning Point #2- Moar Webinars

I did another webinar after that one. About Conversion Centered Design – which is my thing! But still, I went into shock mode when I was faced with the mic.

At this point, I was even turning down Skype interviews because they were live and I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to answer questions.

Stumbling block #400

Thing is, I said yes to doing those two webinars. But you didn’t know about my rider. A rider being the list of stuff you want backstage before you go perform (and afterwards).

I didn’t ask for groupies, cocaine, 11 white doves or a giant pleather sofa.

I wanted the questions in advance.

I consider myself a thoughtful and entertaining writer. That’s because I get to weigh my thoughts and make them entertaining. Put me in an interview, with live questions, and I’m utterly useless. Maybe that will improve as I go through this process.

So I’d ask everyone that was asking, if they could provide questions ahead of time. I still do it. It lets me answer questions in a way that’s actually insightful, and provides a lot more value to anyone listening.

When someone asks me a question when I’m nervous, I can’t connect to any of my knowledge or experience. I freeze. On the other end of the spectrum, Gia is amazing at thinking on her feet in an interview, something I admire greatly. And another reason why I was saying no all the time.

And then we decided to release an ecourse: an 11-part online course about landing pages and conversion. As I wrote the content for it, I got more and more convinced that it couldn’t succeed unless we took the content up a notch with some video.

TSN Turning Point #3 – The ecourse screencast sessions

the-ecourse-video-sessionsAgain my fear dictated workflow. I had to wait until everybody left the office (cleaners too). Then I’d sit at my desk with a pretty sweet mic and do voiceovers for some screencasts. Two things I’d never done before. (Ryan helped a lot in getting the setup right).

And yes, that’s a One Direction mug holding up the mic. #itsryans

Each night had a process. 2 glasses of red. Record the screencasts. 2 more glasses of red. Play them back while recording a voiceover.

I pulled 16 hour days for two weeks to get the videos done, and in the process found my stride. At the start I was cautiously describing what was happening. By the time I got to video 5 of 9, I was recording a sassy signoff message at the end.

I’ve been Oli Gardner, and this has been the Smart Marketer’s Landing Page Conversion Course. I’ll see you next time when we’ll learn where you should shove your call to action.

Here’s one of the vids (it’s all voiceover screencast style) in case you wanna check it out. It’s good but not great. But a step in the right direction.

This is definitely the most important part of the story. Doing the audio for these gave me the confidence that I could speak as well as write, albeit with a ton of edits and several takes.

This was an *actual* turning point.

TSN Turning Point #4 – Joanna Wiebe

Joanna is one of the most special conversion-focused copywriters I know, she’s been an author on our blog many times, and is the founder of Copyhackers. When she approached Ryan (“Rye Rye” – they’re best buds) to see if we could contribute a video to her Fired Up And Focused Bootcamp, i’d literally just walked away from a discussion with Gia where she was bugging me about other speaking engagements and I finally just broke down and said…

From this point forward. Assume that I’ll say yes to anything.

Joanna needed a 10 minute video for the course. A 10 minute video of me speaking to the camera. That’s a major step up from a screencast audio voiceover.

We set up Ryan’s cam in the boardroom and I rocked it out in about half an hour. Several one take recordings and I was done. It’s hardly pro, but it’s supposed to be an honest instructional vid for startups. Here it is:

Then I started kickboxing

My very close friend Geoff Wilson got me to show up at a kickboxing class. After about a year of grappling in the bar and seriously pushing me to be a better person through martial arts.

It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Subsequently, I had lunch with our coach Richie Yip, who’s a very special kind of communicator – his classes are amazing. We watched portions of my Joanna video over lunch at Steamworks (the pub below the Unbounce office). He watched my body language and gave me some valuable tips about confidence in general, and more specifically, for how to hold my hands while speaking. I think about his presentation style (and confidence) whenever I approach a camera.

My confidence was at an all time high

The old ‘will you do some public speaking’ demons were still asking “Can you get up in front of a crowd and speak?”. The answer was still a resounding no.

TSN Turning Point #5 – Local events

One of the things we needed to do was get the Unbounce brand/company out to the local Vancouver audience.

We’re known around the world as an online brand, yet many in Vancouver didn’t know who we were. Most assumed we were in San Francisco.

Last week we held our first ever Unbounce customer meetup. It was amazing.

And I was the headline act.

Meh, that’s just a lot of smoke blowing.

I was just the last person in the room to hold the mic (also with the smallest audience after 30% had left).

Oli Gardner speaking at the first Unbounce customer meetup

I had practiced the shit out of my presentation (I was going to critique a landing page), and after pacing the entirety of “The Landing” – the building we work in – I was as confident as I’ve ever been while faced with giving a talk in front of a crowd of people.

And, yeah. I was on last.

As the guy before me wrapped up his talk, I walked up to the stage shitting bricks, but took the mic confidently.

Ack. The wrong presentation was loaded up, we had to pause while it was replaced. No worries. I passed Rick the mic to fill some time while I scooped a sip of beer.

Presentation loaded. Press play.

On my phone I could do 2 things: Run through the presentation, or “control” the presentation on another machine – something I’d very carefully set up for everyone earlier in the day. Swipe right for next, swipe left to go back.

So there I was, finally on stage speaking for the first time in my life (apart from a best man’s speech). Swiping in perfect synchronicity, loving my timing, until someone (I think it was Sarah) pointed out that the slides weren’t changing. Of course they weren’t.

I was sliding through the pres on my own phone, as opposed to controlling the pres on the laptop, with the crowd watching me talk about the awesome slides that they couldn’t see.

Five slides of me yapping on as everyone looked at the opening slide.


Not how I’d imagined it starting during my 20 practice runs.

But then I got into my zone. I ripped through a landing page critique, without being afraid of live questions. Dropped some F-Bombs, dealt with a heckler (you know you’ve made it when…), an adorably coherent chap who went on to threaten me after the show — “I’m going to f**k you up as soon as you leave tonight.” (Thanks for escorting that guy out, Carl << The Unbouncer).

That’s a pretty good night.

For a few days after I was so high on the moment that I wanted to speak everywhere and anywhere. Mostly to make up for all of the things that went wrong.

I loved it.

What’s next?

Well now I get to be nervous all over again for our next meetup in Seattle in March.

Then shit gets REAL!

I’m on 2 panels at HeroConf in Austin in April. Moderating one, speaking on the next.

I’m scared, but also really excited because I’m actually close to being able to accept that I should be speaking in public.

Bring it on. — “Never say no”


— Oli Gardner (Public Speaker)

13 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Reply

    Corey Dilley

    4 years ago

    Great post, Oli. I didn’t realize the lack of emotional feedback from the mic was what turned you off so much about Webinars. What if we put one of the attendees on Skype for you, so you could see their reactions? That way, you’d be talking to a person, instead of a mic. Wanna try it out tomorrow?

    • Reply

      Oli Gardner

      4 years ago

      Interesting idea, would probably freak me out more.

  • Reply

    Steven Macdonald

    4 years ago

    Oli, this is a great post. I was laughing out loud so much when reading this because I am exactly the same!

    I’ve given cringe worthy presentations in the past and they have haunted me ever since (October 2010 and I still cringe). I now need to prepare at least 3 weeks in advance for anything I present, and create a script for each one. Yet I still only present 1-2 times per year at the most.

    And I need to listen to gangsta rap before I present to get in that “Don’t F**k with me” state of mind (Straight Outta Compton by NWA, anyone?).

    That being said, there aren’t too many feelings better than nailing a good presentation and the high you get from it afterwards (must be like being a rock star, right?).

    Glad to hear you are doing better. I like the idea of martial arts, and can see how that has helped. I should take it up myself.

    • Reply

      Oli Gardner

      4 years ago

      Thanks Steven,
      haha, getting juiced up (or calmed down) with some music is a great idea.
      In the past, I always compared speaking with going to the dentist: as soon as the appointment was made, my life was a stress fest until after it happened.
      Definitely getting better now.
      Just did another webinar this morning which was a lot of fun.

      • Reply

        Steven Macdonald

        4 years ago

        Great comparison with the dentist!

        And happy to hear things are getting better for you.

  • Reply

    Nina Anthony

    4 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey into the world of public speaking. I, too, am a writer (and introvert as well) who has been asked for years to do trainings and public speaking events. I’ve done a few over the years but I can’t begin to describe how I feel while preparing for them. I literally feel sick to my stomach. I lose my train of thought and forget to breath during the first few moments that I open my mouth and eventually I relax. I’m bookmarking this post for future reference and sending with some of my friends who have the same fear of public speaking. It’s nice to hear that a man can have the “Imposter syndrome,” too!

    • Reply

      Oli Gardner

      4 years ago

      Hi Nina,
      Thanks for sharing.
      I’ve been talking with a friend recently, specifically about the “Imposter syndrome”, which she struggles with. For me, this manifests because I’m completely self taught in virtually everything I’ve done in my career. This can lead to situations where you don’t think you’re qualified because there’s nothing official to latch on to. I think it’s common among the self taught. When it comes down to it, education (from my perspective) is little more than a foot in the door, after which it’s largely forgotten – I have a Masters in Advanced Digital Electronic Design which is completely useless to me. So as a marketer/creative I can only prove by doing, which at the end of the day is the most important thing. But it does stick in my mind sometimes when someone talks about fundamentals and theories that mean nothing to me because I never sat in a class and heard someone talk about it.
      Hard to articulate.

      • Reply

        Nina Anthony

        4 years ago

        I am self taught in search marketing, but I have a B.A. in Journalism. I have had this “syndrome” for years — starting with my first ad agency copywriting job after graduating from college. I only recently learned that it’s a fairly widespread psychological phenomenon. I have spoken to many women in a variety of fields — from computer programmers to marketing executives — and was surprised to learn how many people I knew share this inferiority affliction. When a male friend overhead me talking to some female friends about this he said, “Oh, I think everyone has that to some degree.” Maybe so, but most people conceal it very well. I guess that’s the reason we so often feel like “frauds.” Again,I appreciate your frankness and humor about this subject. Your article and some of the comments made me feel more comfortable about myself knowing there are kindred spirits out there.

        PS Your response to Corey about the mic seeing attendees faces/responses really made me laugh. Oh, how I can relate!

  • Reply

    Philip Petrescu

    4 years ago

    This was a great story Oli!

    I too was afraid of speaking in public. Afraid of forgetting what I need to say. Afraid of being judged by the others as being a beginner at this. And I’m still afraid to some extent. It will probably never go away, but I’ve reduced it to a level where I can manage it.

    I enjoyed reading your post so much that it encouraged me to write about my experience with public speaking:

    I met Rick and Gia in San Francisco last year at the Conversion Conference. I’m so looking forward to meet you too now that you’re more into this “conferences” thing. :)

  • Reply


    10 months ago

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