On June 8th, 2013 (my 31st birthday), I attempted to break the Guinness World Record for Longest Speech Marathon. Crazy, I know. This record is not to be confused with longest non-stop speech, which would definitely have been harder. This record consisted of giving back-to-back presentations for almost 37 hours straight (with a 5-minute break after every hour). I beat the previous record by about 15-30 minutes, and as you can imagine, I learned a few things. From the first day of preparation to holding up my fist in the air as the clock struck 36 hours and 30 minutes, I got some surprising insights about communication, higher purpose, and the effectiveness of hot tea. Here’s what I learned.
#1: Know that some people won’t get it
Before the event, every time I would tell people about my idea to break a world record, I always got one of two reactions. The first reaction was, “Oh cool, that sounds really interesting.” The second reaction—the most common—was a scrunched up face saying “WHY?” Why indeed. I struggled to answer that question. Beyond knowing that I wanted to do something unique, I didn’t exactly know why I wanted to do it. I mean, getting a Guinness World Record is on my list of things to do before I die, but that still didn’t seem like a complete reason. Was I just being vain? Was I doing it for the publicity? What was my true motivation?
I defaulted to a boilerplate answer about how I wanted to inspire people to do something unique in their lives, which is absolutely true, but I still felt like I was missing another chunk. After some silent introspection, I realized that I like the attention that comes with being the best at something. I like the feeling of getting to the top of the mountain. I like being the fastest, tallest, and strongest. I like being number 1, and that’s part of the reason why I attempted a world record.
#2: Preparation is the key that unlocks all doors
When you’re trying to accomplish something unique, preparation is the one aspect that’s completely under your control. There were several steps I took to make sure I had the highest chance of succeeding.
- I connected with previous winners. I reached out to previous Guinness record holders in the same category, but I only got a hold of one: Mike Frazier, a pastor from Florida. Mike was the first person to set this record in 2009 by giving back-to-back sermons for 28 hours. He was happy to help and gave me some fantastic tips, including telling me that I should speak in my normal speaking voice instead of lowering it or whispering, both of which are actually worse for your vocal cords. He also told me to eat cheese because you can chew it and keep talking. I didn’t have cheese handy. Instead, I ate bananas (see pic).
- I did a trial run (sort of). A few weeks before the record attempt, I stayed awake for as long as I could to get used to the feeling. I only managed to stay awake for 28 hours, but it was because I made the mistake of not giving myself something to do, so I got bored. You can only watch so many movies, you know? I also made the mistake of keeping the AC on high all night, which made the house cold and meant that I had an excuse to cozy up with a blanket. I had no chance.
- I outlined my entire presentation. According to Guinness World Record guidelines, I was not allowed to read a script, but I was allowed to have notes. I had a long list of bullet points about stories I could talk about for every hour of the attempt, plus an additional couple of pages in case I ran out of content. I used my birthday as the general theme and decided to tell stories about my entire life starting with my grandparents. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the fact that I would be delirious after 24 hours of speaking. As a result, my notes turned into indecipherable gibberish. Each bullet point was supposed to spark several stories I could tell in great detail, but because my brain was mush, I burned through all the bullet points—including the backups—and I still needed to fill about 8 hours with content to break the world record. That lead to a confusing few hours where I stumbled in and out of whatever story came to my mind—my poor brain was already having a hard time keeping the neurons firing. I also spent one hour talking about “the now,” as in, “We’re here in the now, and everything is happening right now.” I figured that talking about “the now” would give me an excuse to talk about anything. When my buddy Robbie saw me on the livestream attempting to tackle the eternity of the now, he cringed and said, “oh man, this is rough, I better get down there.”
As part of my preparation, I also planned to sip Throat Coat Tea pretty much the entire time, which worked out well because my voice held up almost perfectly until the end.
#3: It sucks trying to talk to people who are not listening
People came in and out of the room while I was speaking, and every time someone new came in, I got a burst of energy that would jolt me upright. I was very sensitive to the attention and energy of the audience. If I could tell that no one was paying attention, it was extremely difficult to keep talking. It felt like I was talking to myself, and the lack of visual feedback from the audience was de-energizing. At one point around 3 a.m., I heard snoring coming from the back, which made me laugh and gave me energy. I guess any feedback, even if it’s snoring, is better than no feedback.
#4: You are full of stories
Even though I ran out of content the day of the attempt, I was surprised by the amount of stories I could come up with when I was preparing. I wrote down every possible story I could tell and listed them in chronological order. It’s a fun exercise. You should try it! Most people think that they have nothing to talk about, but if you sit down and go through every year of your life writing down every story you remember, I promise you’ll find some amazing stuff.
#5: Events are a great way to get publicity
I’m a big fan of events for getting publicity and PR for your brand or product. Events happen at a place and time, so they stand out and command your attention—even if it’s just for a brief moment. By pitching an unique event happening at a specific place and time, I got featured in the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Univision, and through the local affiliate of ABC news. Of course, we also took the opportunity to promote it through iphonelife.com. As a bonus, I got tons of small mentions in different blogs and other sites.
#6: Reaching for the stars connects you to a higher purpose
John Lennon said that in the early days, when the Beatles would play at a really crappy venue, he would huddle them up right before going on stage and say, “Where are we going, fellas?” And they’d all go, “To the top, Johnny!” Then he would say, “Where’s that, fellas?” and they’d respond with, “To the toppermost of the poppermost!”
There’s immense value in reaching for something greater than yourself and trying to be the best. It’s one of the reasons why I love the Steve Martin quote that says, “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.” Attempting to break this record put me in all sorts of uncomfortable positions. I lost sleep, I was stressed out, I was cranky, and I had to fight not to lose my mind. But in the end, I gained the knowledge that I can do anything, and that’s a powerful truth to experience.