Michael Bay & the Terrible, Horrible Very Bad Speech Fright Day

Speech fright can be painful to watch, and this video certainly proves it. However, it seems to be painful in an entertaining sort of way except perhaps for its subject, the Hollywood director Michael Bay. How else do you explain the more than one million views the YouTube video of the incident has attracted?

It was apparently meant to be a well-scripted moment staged for the press at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It ran off the rails almost as soon as it started, though. Bay stood before a crowd of reporters with Samsung VP Joe Stinziano to tout the company’s new curved screen televisions.

Nervous from the start

You can tell that Bay is nervous from the start. You hear his shallow breathing and the slight tremor in his voice. He’s also physically ill at ease and avoids looking at the audience.

We’ve all been there at one time or another, one way or another, haven’t we? You feel for the guy. Bay looks more like a nervous high schooler than the director of the popular Transformers movies. It certainly shows that successful experience behind the camera doesn’t automatically translate into ease in front of it.

Bay might have made it through the presentation if the technology had cooperated maybe, but he apparently discombobulated the guy running the teleprompter by skipping ahead in the script. In fact, he tells the audience, “The type is all off, but I’ll wing this.” He didn’t get far in doing so, however.

He starts to freeze up

Stinziano tries to prompt Bay by saying, “Tell us what you think.” The director only gets out, “I try to take people on an emotional ride…” before he starts to freeze up. You can see Bay panicking. The Samsung VP tries to prompt him again. Before he can finish, though, Bay wheels around, head down, and scurries off stage, stammering, “Excuse me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Later that day, Bay wrote on his personal blog:

Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off.

Learning from speech fright

What can we learn from Bay’s speech fright?

First, we see not one, but two aspects of the classic fight, flight or freeze response at play. First, Bay freezes, then he flees. As Wikipedia points out, fight, flight or freeze “is the physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.”

A human moment

The second thing we can learn from Michael Bay and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad speech fright day came out in an interview he did on the TMZ television program. About the incident, Bay said, “Look, it was a human moment.” He hits the nails right on the head with these words. In experiencing performance anxiety, Bay made it abundantly clear that he is perfect, perfectly human—like we all are.

The third thing we can learn about performance anxiety from the incident also comes from Bay’s TMZ interview, “I was like, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to improve my way out of this, because this room looks so serious.” There are two criteria that determine when performance anxiety strikes. One, you do something in front of others. Two, you’re judged on it, or at least feel you’re being judged.


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