How the KEEN Digital Summit cured my fear of public speaking

Turner America

Keen digital summit speakers After my two-step tango with a multi-billion dollar juggernaut that spanned 3 countries, 6 cities, and 4 very confused parental units, I received the unexpected, and arguably unearned, offer to speak at the KEEN Digital Summit in Nashville.  The conference is comprised of awarding winner journalists, social media darlings, magazine editors,  public relations strategists, serial entrepreneurs, and now, it appears, a dipshit, unemployable blogger.


Keen Digital summit speakers


While the invitation brought with it a sense of accomplishment that I was finally making progress in the online world, it also forced me to confront my two biggest fears.  The first, that I must finally confess to label of travel blogger as my official job title on the event’s program for simplicity sake. This is new and uncharted territory for me, as my typical response when asked what is my chosen profession is to abdicate the responsibility of telling what I do to my nearest compatriot, or in the case of being left alone to my own devices, a few words of uncomfortable, sarcastic deflection and mumbling, hoping that the seemingly interested party loses interest at what I actually do. And my second greatest fear: donning the microphone in front of a crowd.

keen summit speakers

I do not tell this secret lightly, but it must be told: I get the shakes when I get in front of a podium. This, of course, is not a surprising detail to the average person about an average person. Public speaking is said to be people’s greatest fear – even over the most definitive of truths: you are going to die. But what makes my case particular jarring, for my narcissistically inclined self anyway, is the fact that people believe I would be a natural public speaker. Put me at a table with Jack Daniels in one hand and the even the most distracted and disinterested of ears I will enrapture with a yarn about a mysterious murder in Cuba, dashing through the Austrian Alps in a strange toboggan with Alpine men dressed as the ghoulish Krampus for a holiday extravaganza, or even as simple as recounting my daily duty of cleaning up tiger excrement and fur balls courtesy of my latest travel job. No – I will confess my secret of all secrets. When the time comes for me to actually stand tall and bear that unbearable electronic device, I shutter to think of myself in the room full of people sitting in wait, expecting me to rouse to the same level of willful exuberant storytelling as I do at that table with the Jack clenched in my hand.


My dear friend, and fellow speaker Stephen, is clearly a veteran of public speaking and knows how to prepare.

My dear friend, and fellow speaker Stephen Oddo, is clearly a veteran of public speaking and knows how to prepare.


The word ‘fraud’ is a scary yet completely plausible outcome when online personalities collide with real people in the real world. It is the Kryponite bloggers rarely speak of. The unholiest of unholies that keeps us up at at night, and well liquored up when we attend conferences.


How on Earth did my name get on here? Is it too late to run for the border?

How on Earth did my name get on here? Is it too late to run for the border?


I somehow weaseled my way out of the required speech class in high school. I don’t know how I did it – probably using the same skill I wield at the table with the Jack – but what I do know, deep at my core, is that that room terrifies me.


Scary as hell

Scary as hell, especially with a lawyer watching me in the corner.


Nonetheless – at the end of the day – they, our collective imagination of grandfatherly advice, dictates that we must face our fears or forever be ruled by them.


'Come, come my friend...there is nothing to fear here...just your demise as the crowd laughs you off the stage, you goon.'

‘Come, come my friend…there is nothing to fear here…just your demise as the crowd laughs you off the stage, you goon.’


You must face your fears.


Doom most certainly awaits...

Doom most certainly awaits…


You must rise to the challenge.





You must embrace the unknown.


'It is okay to get a bit weird, it helps with the nerves. Besides, we're in Nashville - weird is the new normal here.

‘It is okay to get a bit weird, it helps with the nerves Turner. Besides, we’re in Nashville – weird is the new normal around these parts.’


And if that fails, there is always the old standby of imagining everyone in their underwear.


Okay - I can always fall back to the Alamo.

Okay – well actually the old standby is the nearest saloon.


Note to future public speakers: imagining people in their underwear does not really work and should be used with extreme prejudice. If you happen to be speaking at a conference in say the Southern Mediterranean, you may find yourself suddenly more aroused than able to make speech.  Alternatively, if you find yourself in America, you may feel such a sense of disgust that you may never in fact be able to eat again much less make coitus.

One last chance to make a run for it

One last chance to make a run for it


Wait — What would Johnny do? Make a run for it? Or stand his ground and take it like a man?


Naw...what would Johnny do?

“Actually son, I would first get rhythm before I got the blues”, then I would proceed to kick down the door and rock the mic that’s what.


Nay – for my first foray into public speaking I just relaxed, took a deep breath, and just as words were about to dribble out of my mouth…

  Hey thur suga pie, ya’ll want a whiskey or a bourbon or sumthang before ya’ll go on stage?

Salvation arrives in mysterious forms when visiting the Bible Belt.




My role as a public speaker at KEEN may have been one of my shortest lived jobs to date – a whooping 45 minutes, with of course my fellow, much more distinguished panelists (magazine editors, business owners, adults and such) pulling weight when I had to hem and haw and pretend that I actually knew what the hell ‘Creating Killer Content Across Multiple Platforms’ actually meant.


From left to right (the talented & beautiful Erin Street, the notorious Darren Frei, the suave Stephen Oddo, & the 'how the fuck did I get here kid himself' Turner Barr.

From right to the left (the talented & beautiful Erin Street Editor of Southern Living, the notorious Darren Frei of the PACE, the suave Stephen Oddo of Walks of Italy, & the ‘how-the-fuck-did-I-get-here-kid’ himself, Turner Barr of


But the important thing is that I now know I can take that dreaded mic in front of a half-asleep, half-hungover crowd and rabble out the words needed to form some semblance of English prose when the time comes. My deep seeded fear of sputtering incoherent incantations of social media buzzwords like ‘pivot’ and ‘synergy’ subsided as I eased into my new job as a public speaker and nodded my head along in knowing fashion. But what I am left with, what I am most relieved to learn and what I am most excited to say, is that I no longer need Jack to muster the courage to take on that crowd.

This means 'Good Morning' in Nashville

This means ‘Good Morning’ in Nashville


For who needs Jack, when you have a Dickel.


dickel jack marketing