When Epic Means Hologram

By Jane Atkinson

I was bummed to have missed this year’s NSA Convention because the line up looked really great. And because they allowed streaming of the conference, I got to see firsthand that it was indeed, great!

One highlight was Mike Rayburn, a guitar virtuoso who blew my doors off when he played beside himself (get this) AS A HOLOGRAM. As I was watching I was thinking “holy cow, how much time did he spend perfecting this performance!!!” It was truly epic!

I interviewed Mike to ask him how this all translated from his perspective.

Jane: Mike, what did it feel like when you were standing in front of thousands of your peers and you knew that you had rocked it?

Mike: I laughed and smiled inside; for a moment all of my world was right.

Jane: You’ve played Carnegie Hall, were you nervous going into this presentation?

Mike: I was anxious, not nervous. Nervous is if I feel unprepared or uncertain. (Click to Tweet) Anxious is when there’s a lot on the line and I’m pumped but ready! I’m rarely nervous and often anxious going on. Two minutes before I went on it hit me: I had done EVERYTHING possible to be ready. So I was just psyched. In fact, I slept very little the night before just because the adrenalin was already pumping.

Jane: It appears to me your presentation would have taken hours and hours of practice. How many hours did you spend preparing?

Mike:  Uh…it’s all I did, other than my keynote bookings, for 4 or 5 months, and really a year before. Probably 1100-1200hrs. All for 25 minutes on stage. And don’t ask how much the hologram cost to create and perform. I mean, just writing and re-writing the hologram dialogue took a few days. Shooting it took over 24 hours in Hollywood, most at a movie studio. Watching it and editing the effects took a lot of back and forth. Rehearsing the timing with the hologram on video, knowing what to say when took many days, and I was still tweaking it HOURS before. The first rehearsal with the full hologram was the night before, that’s it.

I flew to Nashville for a few days, hired a studio guitarist friend to help me work out the parts. I flew back there a week or two later and spent 1 1/2 days in the studio recording, more time to mix and edit. Then I had to learn the hologram guitar half perfectly to air-guitar it for the shoot. Then I had to forget it and learn my own part well so I wouldn’t accidentally start playing the same part as the hologram live. For the keynote content I went back and forth with my mastermind buddies Dan Thurmon, Tim Gard, Waldo Waldman, Giovanni and Dan Burrus getting input, opinions, redirection etc, not to mention days of just writing.

I wrote it all, kept editing (that’s the work of champions, editing!), memorized it, was ready, and ten days before the program I threw it all out and started again. Like Eric Chester would end up saying, I made everything audition its way back in, re-wrote it, found new quotes, and then memorized it again. I also spent days just standing there practicing it in my studio (my kids wonder why I talk to myself so much). I have two full story-boards of it (first and second incarnations) using Giovanni’s storyboarding technique which I TOTALLY recommend! And all of the above is paraphrasing. That said, how great would our art form be if we all spent that much time preparing? It’s a lesson to me about how to get results and all that is possible if we’re wiling to do the work. It’s usually not that people aren’t good enough, it’s that they don’t want it badly enough.

Jane:  You stood beside yourself in a hologram and played a duet – using technology – how nervous were you that the technology would fail?

Mike: VNTANA (the hologram company) is so professional, I never worried about the hologram failing. I was more concerned that I might lose my place with the conversation and timing. About five minutes before I went on I walked over and told Ashley and Ben (from VNTANA), “There won’t be…but…if there is a train wreck, just re-start the hologram at [2:40],” where the Beethoven starts. Always good to have a plan B, especially with tech.

What people don’t know is that this was also the first time I’ve ever used electric guitar in a keynote. Talk about embracing my tech fear, I had three wireless transmitters on my belt – vocal, acoustic and electric – as they each have different electronics back stage. I was more concerned that some guitar thing wouldn’t work, a battery would be dead, or as happened in rehearsal, I started the Beethoven and my guitar was horribly out of tune because the stage hand had lain it down. Tech problems are so often something small, preventable and in retrospect, kind of stupid. I went painstakingly over every detail I could control 7-8 times.

Jane: If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently.

Mike: Not a thing. Great feeling, that. They say, “Leave it all on the stage” and I did. I swore to myself that if I ever got an NSA General Session Keynote I would give it everything. So I did. Shoot, I was preparing for this before I ever got one, attracting it into being. I would do it all again, exactly.

I watched the video. I certainly have my critiques of my platform skills, pacing, physical movement, etc. There are plenty of things I’d improve on and you know that as a coach. But we’re perfect because of our imperfections. I took and will always take great solace backstage repeating Eric Chester’s mantra, “I don’t draw perfect circles.” By accepting that we transcend it, and we keep a small mistake from derailing the whole performance. For what it’s worth, “Become a Virtuoso” will be my new keynote for the marketplace. This was the debut, the prototype. The first time you do anything is usually the worst you’ll ever do it. I can live with that).

Jane: Wow, Mike, thank you for sharing. An outstanding
performance and now we know why.
And the Eric Chester reference is simply about providing a perfect amount of content and performance, but not needing to do so in a perfect manner.

Note: Become a Virtuosa will become an excellent “Phrase that Pays” for Mike – congrats! So cool.  For more on “Phrase that Pays” check out The Epic Keynote.
See you soon wealthy speakers!