March 16, 2023

Get Rid of Your Fear of Speaking So You Can Shine on Stage and Camera with Rich Bontrager

If you are curious about what it will take to help calm your mind or your tongue before you speak in public, you will learn a lot in this episode from our special guest, TV host and media expert, Rich Bontrager. Listen in as Rich shares how he learned how to overcome his own anxieties around speaking so he could fulfill his childhood dream of being a public speaker who made a great impact in the world.

Rich “Trigger” Bontrager is the creator and host of How To Rock the Stage Show, airing live each Wednesday night. Rich hosts the National Speakers Association (NSA) podcaster, author forums, and the new NSA LIVE show Behind the Stage. Entrepreneurs, executives, and speakers hire Rich to unleash their brand authority by learning media-savvy skills that help them shine on camera and stage.

• [3:38] Rich shares how he had a horrible stutter as a child and how our mouth speed and our brain speed are not the same.
• [5:55] Rich explains slowing down was key for him… because he was trying to "firehose" people with so much stuff. 
• [15:38] “You need to be that voice of authority. You need to be that confident voice.“
• [16:56] “We’re a TikTok generation… We’re a soundbite generation… Their main phrases are the best sound bites they’re ever going to have.”

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Dr. Christine Li -

Rich Bontrager -


Christine Li  0:01  
Welcome back to the Make Time for Success podcast. This is episode number 118. 

If you're curious about what it will take to help you calm your mind, or your tongue before you speak in public, I think you're really going to learn a lot today from my special guest, TV host and media expert, Rich Bontrager. Rich shares with us inside this episode how he learned how to overcome his own anxieties around speaking by himself so that he could fulfill his childhood dream of being a public speaker who made a great impact in the world. Rich is the creator and host of how to rock the stage show, which airs live every Wednesday night. And Rich hosts the National Speakers Association podcast, author forums, and the new live show behind the stage. entrepreneurs, executives and speakers hire rich to unleash their brand authority by learning media savvy skills that help them shine on camera, and onstage. I learned a lot from rich inside this episode, it was a delight to interview him, and I look forward to sharing this episode with you now.

Hi, I'm Dr. Christine Li, and I'm a psychologist and a procrastination coach. I've helped 1000s of people move past procrastination and overwhelm so they can begin working to their potential. In this podcast, you're going to learn about powerful strategies for getting your mind, body and energy to work together so that you can focus on what's really important and accomplish the goals you want to achieve. When you start living within your full power, you're going to see how being productive can be easy, and how you can create success on demand. Welcome to the Make Time for Success podcast. 

Hi, my friends. It's Dr. Christine Li here again. But today with a different guest today I have Rich Bontrager with me today, and he is an expert in many different areas, especially the areas of media presentation, and showing up on camera and showing up on stage. I'm so excited to hear about his life, his career, and also to learn from him myself selfishly, but also to have him share his expert tips with you today. Welcome to the show. Rich.

Rich Bontrager  2:31  
Thanks, Christine. Thanks for having me.

Christine Li  2:33  
Thank you for being here. could you start us off by just letting us know who you are and your backstory?

Rich Bontrager  2:40  
Yeah, I'm actually celebrating 36 years as a professional broadcaster. I've been saying 30 years, kind of a blanket statement and just this weekend and went through and I did the math, and I'm like, I got a couple more years on me. 36 years as a professional, talk show host broadcaster of sports entertainment. A lot of that is where I come out of today I work with CEOs, executive entrepreneurs, to better help them learn these media skills, because they're so important. Now we live in a media centric age. And people need to know how to shine on camera and shine on stage more than ever before. So I actually coach people and I host a lot of events. Less than an hour ago, I just got off a two hour live summit that I'm gonna do all week long. So I'm always on camera always on mic helping people somehow.

Christine Li  3:30  
So how did you become an on camera person? What was the first glimmer of that kind of idea for you?

Rich Bontrager  3:38  
There wasn't one. Honestly growing up, I grew up with a horrible stutter. So I didn't read out loud. I ran out of the classroom crying I was teased, horrendously. So the idea of me ever achieved what I've achieved was only a pipe dream as people would tell me as a kid. I grew up listening to cubs baseball of Chicago with Harry Carey during came cubs baseball. I'd listen to my transistor radio late at night, and I would eat it up. He could describe the batter, the wind, the sound, the color, that he he does smell popcorn for the radio with Harry carry it with unbelievable. And I said I want to do that. And then I also love Johnny Carson late night talk show stuff and I said I want to do that. And all the while I couldn't even introduce myself to a girl. That's how bad my stutter was. I got there. My college professors said you have a great voice but no one will hire you. You can't do the news. And I found out the ad libbing the entertainment. The sports flow was my doorway into doing sports play by play and talk show and my career took off.

Christine Li  4:46  
So how did the stutter end up not interfering with the performance live or when your ad libbing.

Rich Bontrager  4:56  
So this one the first thing that I teach a lot of people is I coach them have, you have so much in your mind that you want to say We're always excited, we're always amped up. And we want to share this wealth of information. The problem for many of us is, our mouth speed and our brain speed are not the same. I've literally had to figure out, what would that rhythm What was that speed rate? And how would I be able to sync those two up when I was a child, they tried to put me in the special ed classes, they thought I was limited in my own capacity and said, My dad gets saying, You don't understand. He's one of the smartest kids you're ever going to meet. He just can't get it out of his mouth. And I literally grew up, never any formal coaching never classes, I finally figured out what that rhythm was. And once I was able to lock that in, it unlocked a whole new doorway of a living in a career.

Christine Li  5:49  
I imagined. So what was that? What did you have to tell yourself that what were the ins and outs of doing that?

Rich Bontrager  5:55  
So slow down was number one. Slow down because I was trying to Firehose people with so much stuff. Because I wasn't normally the conversational guy at the table. So when people finally did say, Hey, Rach, what do you think? Richard want to shout it out all at once. And I get tongue tied, I would stutter. And then Richard, go be quiet again. Because rich blew it. And once I figured it out, take a deep breath. Figure out what you're gonna say don't ever think for me as a stutter overthinking. That's why the ad libbing is so good. I know my content. I know my stories. I know, I don't script a lot anymore. I do bullet points. So I can go where I want to. And when I figured out how I could edit my own conversations in my own head and have it come out of my mouth. It made me much more relaxed in any setting.

Christine Li  6:46  
Wonderful. I am thinking just as a listener of your story right now that you must have tremendous empathy for all speakers as a result.

Rich Bontrager  6:56  
Yes. Oh, yeah, I have worked with great speakers, people that are frustrated people that stutter. But the biggest thing is, I have all this stuff here rich. And I don't know how to get it out of me in a way that will capture the people that want to listen to me, they want to engage with me. So I've learned so much about all that myself. And the radio helped me a lot. I did radio for over 25 years, behind a glass window. And people rarely saw them saw me unless I was doing play by play at a game. So my voice and my brand literally was just the voice in the brand, there wasn't this, then I got on camera, the whole thing went a whole other direction now.

Christine Li  7:36  
So then my brain goes to where did your nervousness, then go? Were you then just completely confident once you figure that equation out? Or did your anxiety sometimes crop up?

Rich Bontrager  7:51  
It rarely ever did after that you so I also have a strong faith of strong spiritual faith. And my faith plays heavily into this. Because I would pray I would ask, take care of my tongue. There was a crowd out there, they paid to come see me. And I finally began to understand that flow that balance, literally, God literally said, you're free. And the phrase that has gone through my mind for years, is simply speak. And let him take care of the tongue tightness. But my job is to go out and speak and do what I do. And the more freedom I allowed myself in that, the greater my confidence rose, be the word of it wasn't me, it was God working through me. And I also had the ability to say, I'm okay, to the point. Now, if I do stutter, I make it part of the act. I will literally stop instead of having someone get uncomfortable. Because the audience would grab their chair, they think it was gonna be a train wreck now, what did they come for? So I would literally go live in the middle bit. Take to everybody, you're ready now. And they all laugh and the pressure disappeared. So I find my sense of humor helped me get comfortable with just going with the flow.

Christine Li  9:05  
I love this so much. And this was an unexpected part of the story. I love it. And I think I don't want our listeners to miss by accident because I do think you've been clear the belief part, right? The belief in yourself is such a core piece of your delivery about the end result is the belief that you have in yourself start Oh, yeah,

Rich Bontrager  9:28  
no, you have to be able to believe in yourself. So I coach people that when you go out live on stage, you give someone else your introduction, like you did for me, which was so well let someone else introduce you. brag on you a little but you don't need to brag on yourself. And then by having an introduction you are set up for success. Be they already bought their tickets, they're already in the room. Someone else is already amplifying you. I just need to go out and do my thing. And they already believe in me because you've already told them I'm good If you've already said, I've got these accolades, and these awards and whatnot, I don't have to prove anything after that point, I just need to go out with full confidence say, boom, Hi, I'm here and hit him with excitement hit him with passion to start my conversation.

Christine Li  10:15  
Great. So the need to prove something and an experience of experiencing pressure can be really dangerous when someone's about to be on stage. Yes,

Rich Bontrager  10:26  
yes. And that's what we're tying on my tongue, the more I felt the pressure that I got to go up there, and I've got a while these people, they don't know who I am, they don't care. So the more that internal pressure came up, it was more like, I'm going to kill myself when I say hi. And for a stutter, the hardest thing to say is our name. So if no one introduced me, I'd go out and say, Hi, I'm Marie. And I would blow it. But by having an introduction set you up for success. The other trick I learned from me personally, was, I play my own music before I go on stage. So I love carry on wayward son by Kansas, I'll crank it the 12 I'll do the air guitar. I'll sing in the background, quietly as an industry of everyone else, but I literally get amped up for the show. So when they introduced me now, I'm already powered up, I'm already ready to go, the curtain goes up, the lights go up, and I go, bang, and I hit it with that excitement. And I'm free after that. I'm completely free from that fear of what am I gonna do the first things out of your mouth are so important. It took all that fear away of now I'm just having fun. It I was playing air guitar 30 seconds ago.

Christine Li  11:34  
Good song choice two, I will share what happened just before we pressed record, I have a standard habit of taking three deep breaths. So I can just separate myself from whatever happened before the recording to get present. And I could feel Rich's energy was already on like he was all set to go. He didn't need to do this to read for us. And I love it that and each guest is different that way we each have a different relationship with that internal machine of speech production. It's different for each of us. And we all have our histories with coming to terms of that right?

Rich Bontrager  12:14  
Well, again, since I came out of radio, it really was, except if I was doing a game out in public, it was the voice. When I got more on the TV side then because I have loved some of the greatest entertainment. I love Johnny Carson, his ability to just have a casual conversation and make it entertaining and fun. I gravitated to that I was studying and watching. So when I got on camera, I had a sense of I already know how to be dramatic. I've done acting, I've done some other things. And that was another layer that came in. So now. And that's another great tip, I fell in love with the camera. That camera is my girlfriend, a big crowd of people. There's no one in my home studio right now. But I believe there's a crowd across the glass. So my imagination from my childhood. And by the way I did used to talk to my action figures who I would line them up. And I would talk to them like they were a crowd. So I had Batman and Superman and GI Joe almost say an audience. And I would talk to them. So today when this virtual audience, I still believe they're right in front of me and I just go present full on, like you said, because I believe it's important to present like people really are watching and listening. And it's part of the illusion that as we perform now, on Cameron stage, you need to learn that skill as well.

Christine Li  13:36  
Wonderful. How do you teach your clients? What are some of the core things that you don't want people to miss?

Rich Bontrager  13:43  
So one of the biggest thing was during pandemic and everyone sat down, everyone got their cameras or microphones. And a lot of the professional speakers that I know I've worked with would call me and say, you make this look so much fun, and it's easy. And they hate it. They hate it and not having a live crowd and the noise and everything that goes with that live arena. And so I literally number one would say stand up. And they would laugh at me. They're like Rich is stupid. You and I are both alone in our home studios. Some some of them are in their bedroom, you can see their bed, and they're like this is stupid. And I'm like, just stand up and keep talking to me. So they would adjust the camera and get talking. Every one of those interviews, every one of those discussions midway through, someone stopped and said, rich. Why did this change? And I would play down. Like why? What do you mean, Christine, what is change for you? And they said, Well, I'm standing up and right there, they stopped. I'm standing up, I'm not sitting down anymore. And I said yeah, your mind is telling you you're performing your mind has said you're back on stage. That simple thing of standing. I just did a keynote an hour and a half ago. Live virtually. I stand for every keynote because my body knows what the stage looks like and feels like if I sit down, I'm in a passive mode. If I want to go all in, stand up and you instantly go back to live stage, that's the number one thing I teach everybody.

Christine Li  15:10  
Okay, now, I'm curious, you might teach people the skills. But do you notice that some people are still resisting being fully present and fully in performance mode?

Rich Bontrager  15:27  
Yeah, there's a difference between performing and performance. And you need to be on you need to be that whatever your brand is, you need to be that brand entity here. But you needed to be that voice of authority, you need to be that confident voice. So I coach a lot of people that are just now getting into this, don't want to use monitors or tele scriptures, take a post it note, and put your points in front of your screen off camera, literally right in front. So if I'm talking to you, right, now, my camera is up, hi, I look at the camera and not even directly at you on the other screen. And then I put post it notes 1234 And my my speaking parts right there. So you can hit every one of those very strongly, but it still looks you and I are having a private conversation. It takes the distractions away, it keeps all the focus right here. And that's where you want everyone your conversation. You want it to be you and I and just what happens your audience, it's a listen in.

Christine Li  16:25  
Okay, then that issue of authority, in terms of maybe the individual's ambivalence about showing up as the authority, maybe they know all the things, they've written all the books, or they've done all the thinking that's required, but then they get on stage and all of a sudden, that sense of their authority kind of dribbles away, what do you say to that person?

Rich Bontrager  16:51  
So again, that's where know your stories more and more worry tick tock generation where a soundbite generation so I coach people on their main phrases are the best sound bites are ever gonna have. I talked about rock in the virtual stage I talked about rock and and stage I talked about helping people shine on camera and shine on stage, the same stuff we wrapped around, and I can use them different ways. If they can learn those and have those phrases ready to go into your interview in your conversation, you immediately own that because you know it inside and out. But you have to make it sound like it's a natural soundbite. It's not like something you forced into a conversation. Politicians are great at it. So if you want to learn how to do sound bites, they ask the President a question. He does not want to answer that question. But he has to say something, he'll preface it do this, but he will lead it back to a sell buddy and plan that day. And there is gold in owning that instead of being off guard. So really, that's where knowing your material, but it's got to be short and quick. So people stay interested.

Christine Li  17:58  
Okay, so preparation is a big tool.

Rich Bontrager  18:01  
Yeah. Oh, yeah. You have to know your material inside and out. And if you are an author, I work with a lot of authors. I do book launch parties. They want to read the book, they literally want to open it up and say, let me read you this about my book. I take the book away. And I say, tell me about the book. Tell me about the characters. Tell me your genius of what made you write it versus read me the book, they want to read you the perfect paragraph. Nobody cares. They want to hear what they did and why they did it. And that's a different comfort zone for a lot of authors. So there's a lot of coaching of know your material, because the material, your book is still your book. But you are now the Narrator You are now the expert of the book. And it's a big step for a lot of people.

Christine Li  18:51  
So when you were that young child struggling with the stutter, did you know about the power of your voice back then that's what I keep thinking of as we're talking. So I'm going to ask that question here.

Rich Bontrager  19:04  
No, that's a huge coaching area and started in my broadcasting career. I brought it into all my coaching I do as I teach media skills to people. The voice in your head is your head cavity sound what you hear in your own when it comes out. Right now I'm hearing the head cavity. You have to get used to listening and watching yourself and listening to the room sound. It's different than your head sound. And the first time I listen to audio tapes, it was like chalkboard. He was like he's rich. Don't ever do that again. And I literally had learned how to use my voice to raise the pitch lower the pitch to storytelling to be whisper when a whisper is important to raise it when you get really loud and excited. And as I did and I found that different pitch in different places. I became more of the brand media voice. It's funny. 36 years later people call me and they'll say Hey, dude, it's me. You You're using your radio voice. And I didn't realize I'm doing it, because I'm doing this so much now again, but there is the head. And this is the room. You need to study your voice get comfortable with their voice if you're really serious about making an impact.

Christine Li  20:15  
Okay. All right. Love it. And thank you for sharing your responses there. Could you talk about the anxiety that people associate with performance? And you have such joy with with the artist speaking and performance and coaching? Most people I would say, have some amount of fear, real stress, real physical reactivity, when they're thinking about even going on stage, let alone being on stage? Can you share some stories or some guidance for people who might be listening and are in that category?

Rich Bontrager  20:55  
Yeah, there is an innate fear that everyone fear and all the world is public speaking, has been that way for years. Since COVID, we've added a camera now into everyone's life. So that intensity has gone up in there, like, how many different webinars you've been on where people had turned their camera off, but they'll talk on microphone, because that camera is the next fear level, they don't want to show up. So yes, I help people relax, I have them find a comfort zone, I coach about your environment. Normally, I have a green screen, I've created an environment that's a media centric persona that people see. And they go, Oh, this guy talks about media, this guy's a broadcaster, it sells me before I even talk, creating your environment. If you don't have a green screen, that environment that you can create, promote you advocates for you, speaks for you. And that's another way to get over the anxiety because I know people that love comic books, and their shelves will be filled with action figures, comic books, and they're gonna talk about being a comic book geek. But they're in their environment. There's nothing to fear here. A lot of people are trying to step out without being comfortable in their own environment. Now, when they turn on the microphone, it raises it. So the more you're comfortable in your bubble, the better you're going to be naturally.

Christine Li  22:16  
Okay, great tip, can you share a story of a transformation of how maybe somebody was near blacking out with the thought of saying something in public to really just shining and being really comfortable and natural on stage.

Rich Bontrager  22:36  
So I work with executives and companies on the stage presentation on learning media skills, there was an insurance company that hired me for their top executive team. And they were struggling during pandemic especially. But the idea of talking communicating during sales calls, comforting clients that were in a tough situation. They used to do that live in person across coffee tables, they would go on the road and go meet with people. Well, now it's in a zoom box by themselves, all these things were talked about. And one particular gentleman in his company, never turned on his camera. Because he was in a basement, and he admitted I was in a hoodie with my dog eating my Cheetos. And I'm not getting it on my camera. So every client felt the confidence dropped further in further because they weren't doing this anymore. We did my coaching, we went through an hour long session, that particular one, broke them all and many breakout rooms, they came back and the first guy on camera was that gentleman that I've been told about in advance, turned on his camera and said, You crushed me, you killed me. I am now ordering the virtual backdrop from the company. I'm putting on a collared shirt to show unprofessional again. And he went down a whole list of things. He said, I'm really going to learn how to talk to the camera, like I'm talking to my client. And I'm going to do everything you described because it is a game changer for the business. And he admitted I was the weakest link to the corporation's failure right now and the rest of the team applauding they actually said thank you. Well, job well done. And when you see that and when they get old that they can feel they can really step into it. That's why I coach and do what I do.

Christine Li  24:20  
I love it. That's a wonderful story shows the change in one person can change. So many people so much energy, so many businesses. Absolutely communication, our presentation or comfort level with showing up is so critical. So thank you, thank you thank you for being a wonderful representative of that message and teacher of that skill. Can you please share with us how our listeners can stay in touch with you can watch your TV show all the things let us know.

Rich Bontrager  24:54  
Yeah, the easiest way is to go to rocket stage That's rock the stage media dot Calm, that highlights many of the services offered. And you can see replays of the rock to stage show. Rock the stage show now streams live every Wednesday night at 7pm. Eastern time. And we're on multiple streaming platforms at once. As one thing we haven't talked about, I'm the biggest advocate of live TV like it was back in our history. And I love getting on multiple channels doing one show, but many people can see at one time, I'm coaching and leading people now on how to build their media empire. So if you want to learn more about that visit rock stage media or rich at rich Bontrager dotnet is my email. I take all my own personal email, contact me I'd love to talk to you.

Christine Li  25:40  
Okay, and I will share that information in the show notes. Thank you so much. Rich, you've been a delightful guest. So many stories, so many nuggets of wisdom, and such a great success story that you've shared with us today of your own life. So thank you.

Rich Bontrager  25:55  
Thanks for having me.

Christine Li  25:57  
All right, everyone. That was an episode knocked out of the park. Thank you so much for being here. I will see you next week when the next episode drops. Take care. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Make Time for Success podcast. If you enjoyed what you've heard, you can subscribe to make sure you get notified of upcoming episodes. You can also visit our website for past episodes, show notes and all the resources we mentioned on the show. Feel free to connect with me over on Instagram too. You can find me there under the name procrastination coach. Send me a DM and let me know what your thoughts are about the episodes you've been listening to. And let me know any topics that you might like me to talk about on the show. I'd love to hear all about how you're making time for success. We'll talk to you soon. Bye!

Transcribed by

Rich BontragerProfile Photo

Rich Bontrager

Rich “Trigger” Bontrager is the creator and host of How To Rock the Stage Show, airing live each Wednesday night. Rich hosts the National Speakers Association (NSA) podcaster, author forums, and the new NSA LIVE show Behind the Stage. Entrepreneurs, executives, and speakers hire Rich to unleash their brand authority by learning media-savvy skills that help them shine on camera and stage.