BARFING During A Motivational Speech?
A Day of Firsts As A Motivational Speaker
I Vomited DURING One of My Programs. How I Got Away With It.
As a funny motivational speaker, I frequently am asked about times when things go wrong. To be honest, something goes wrong in EVERY program… But usually the problems are small and I can get though it without the audience knowing anything went awry.
But yup, there have also been a few programs where something big has happened, I’ve made a mistake, or whatever… And there’s no hiding it from the audience.
Many years ago something so unusual occurred during one of my presentations that it still amazes me to think about it. I threw up during a program.
It was years ago. I was hired by the US Navy to hold a full day training for a couple hundred of their people in a giant and mysterious office building/bunker type place in Maryland. It was apparently a top-secret facility. I signed a bunch of paperwork promising not to go anywhere alone, or reveal anything I saw inside. I was escorted into the place past servicemen holding automatic assault weapons, and was told I would never ever learn what was really happening in that building.
They gave me a massive fluorescent name badge to wear around my neck loudly proclaiming that I was an outsider and needed to be escorted everywhere. They told me that I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without an escort standing outside of the door. These folks were serious about security. And this lack of freedom in the building would play an important role later.
This was the first time I was ever asked to do a full day program. I got started as a magician. Magic shows are 20 to 45 minutes. I transitioned to being a speaker, and the common length of most keynote speeches was about an hour, sometimes 90 minutes. So making the leap to a full day program was a really big deal. I worked my butt off, and was as ready as I could have been. But honestly I wasn’t really ready for a full day. I didn’t know what I was doing.
I didn’t feel well in the morning. I thought it was just nerves and lack of sleep. After all I was on the East Coast from Colorado, the program started early anyway, and because of the time change it felt like it was extremely early.
My “handler” (isn’t that a great word—handler—like I’m a Supreme Court nominee being escorted around the Capitol) took me to a café inside the building where I faked small talk and forced myself to eat. “I must be hungry,” I thought. I’ll need the calories to get through the day. But part of me knew something was more wrong than just a lack of sleep and a lack of calories. Very wrong. But I was in full denial mode. “I’ve got this!” I weakly said to myself.
A Really Bad Afternoon for a Speaker
Early in the afternoon portion of my program, as my mouth was moving talking about this and that, I started having a conversation with myself. It went something like, “You’re going to barf, Brad.”
“No, I won’t, I’ll be fine.”
“Yup, you’re gonna…it’s a matter of time.”
“Uh, no, I won’t.”
“That time is getting darn close!”
“Nope, I’m fine.”
All along I’m still talking to the audience.
Eventually reality forced its way from my stomach to the front of my brain. I was extremely nauseous, had to vomit and knew I had to get to a bathroom quickly.
So, super casually, I said to the audience, “Turn to your neighbor and talk about what you’ve learned so far and how you will implement it.” And then I strolled from the room.
Remember, because it was a secure building I had signed paperwork to the effect that I would never go anywhere without my escort. But I needed to get to the bathroom fast. As soon as I cleared the conference room, I bolted down the hall like a hungry horse headed for a barnful of hay.
Time seemed to stop. I was nearly at the bathroom when it became clear to me that I might not make it. I panicked and picked up the pace. Instead of a galloping horse, I was a cheetah after prey. All along I wondered if those guys with guns would see me running on some camera and be calling in a Code Red.
I was almost in when I met an obstacle. As I opened the bathroom door, a man was coming out and we sort of got in each other’s way. It slowed me down just enough to matter. That 1 or 2 second delay was enough.
I threw up. I tried to block it with my hands, but dang if I didn’t accidentally nail some of his pants near his calfs. He looked at me. I looked back. I had nothing to say.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t done. More wanted out of my stomach. So I just blinked and ran into the bathroom without ever saying a single word to the poor, vomit-splattered guy.
Let’s recap: During my first full day program, I left the room during the program, I illegally ran alone down the hall of a scary, secret and secure US Military building, and threw up ON a total stranger. I know. Even though it happened to me I still can barely believe it.
For whatever reason, that guy didn’t follow me back into the restroom. He must have known he’d prefer to clean up in a different spot, far from the place where a vomit-spewing speaker was kneeling before one of a row of toilets. Can’t really blame him.
The Military Police never came. I threw up two or three more times, cleaned up, and sauntered back into the training room, where I smoothly picked up the microphone and asked, “OK, everybody, what did you come up with for that?” Nobody seemed to notice or care that I left. My handler didn’t question me. Inside I was rejoicing: I got away with it! (Though I felt horrible for that poor man near the restroom exit.)
I was home free. It was one of those times where you feel horrible, throw up and then magically are cured. Whatever was bad is gone — everything’s all better…. For about an hour.
That voice came back.
“Uh, oh, it’s gonna happen again,” it said.
“Nope, you threw up and you feel better. You’re fine.”
“Uh… It’s gonna happen quick. Don’t wait until the last minute, think of that poor man.”
“No I’m …..”
Then I said as casually as I could into the microphone, “Ok, time to turn to your neighbor again and talk about what you’ve learned so far.”
And again I’m casually leaving the room (without the escort), then breaking into a sprint, worrying about my fluorescent badge that says in big letters, “Must be accompanied!” It wasn’t a short trip, so I had plenty of time to think, “Oh dang…you’re cutting it too close….go faster.”
And of course, there she was: another person blocking the way into the restrooms. Now that I’d had the experience once, you think I’d have been a little more prepared. Maybe have grabbed a trash can on my way out the door. Or found a handy potted plant. Nope. I threw up right in front of her. I covered my mouth but this vomiting event was clearly in the “projectile” realm. It splattered everywhere, with a significant (very significant!) amount of it going squarely on her skirt.
Same song, second verse. I looked her in the eyes. She looked back at me with a combination of wonder and horror. I knew I wasn’t done and just dashed into the men’s room to hurl a few more times.
How about another catch up? It was a day of firsts.
• First time presenting a full-day session
• First time in a secure military building.
• First time I left the room DURING the program I was giving.
• First time I barfed during a program.
* First time I barfed ON an actual person.
And now I was having some weird “seconds.”
• Second time barfing during a program.
• Second time I barfed on a person ….you get the idea.
After I finished my business I knew things were worse. Because I tried to block this second version projectile vomit lots of it splattered back on both my shirt and pants. Had I been lucky I would’ve been wearing a dark shirt and pants. But in this case it was the opposite. I was wearing a pastel green shirt and khaki pants. (Don’t get ahead of me.)
This means of course that after I cleaned myself up, there were dark moisture spots all over my body. I looked horrible. Like maybe I had just thrown up.
What would you do? Do you walk back in front of the audience looking like this? Do you wait for your military handler to come find you? Do you explain to your audience that you’re sick (and maybe infectious?) How would I explain this weird liquid shrapnel on my clothes? I couldn’t possibly pretend like nothing happened, could I?
I got an idea: decoy water! I put my hands back under the faucet and started splashing all of my pants with water, and all of my shirt. The dark water spots grew in number and density. For good measure I put some on my face. Don’t forget: I was wearing a pastel green shirt and khakis. The bits of water were SUPER obvious.
Maybe they would believe the faucet exploded, or a four-year-old attacked me with a super soaker? My decoy water idea seemed like a good idea, but seeing myself in the mirror made me realize I just looked like a complete weirdo. How does anybody get this wet in an office building?
But guess what? Nobody said a thing. I got back in the training room, started right up as though nothing happened, slowly dried out, while being totally distracted by panicked thoughts. Why the heck isn’t somebody in this audience questioning me about why I left, why I left my escort, and why I looked like I took a shower in my clothes?
The session ended eventually. I got on a plane that afternoon and made it home without further incidents. And in what had to be the most remarkable and surprising feedback, my client loved me and wanted to book me back in six months.
So yeah. It happened. I barfed. Twice. During a program. On two different people. And got hired back.
Ever had a rough day at the office that was so weird that you can barely believe it yourself? Leave it in the comments.
Bio of a Motivational Speaker
Funny Motivational Keynote Speaker Brad Montgomery is an award-winning speaker. He speaks to audiences across the globe (and across the USA), and is based in Denver, Colorado.
Although he speaks to audiences in nearly every industry, he is known as a funny health care speaker, a education speaker for teachers, a real estate speaker, and a sales speaker. He got his start as a magician & comedian, but now is known almost exclusively as keynote speaker.
He speaks both at live, in-person events, as well as online and virtually as a zoom speaker. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish with your audience, if you’re ready to invest in your people, give us a call now.