Phacing Phears in Philly

Lisbet Byler

September 16, 2018

You know we couldn’t help using a ‘Ph’illy pun!

Earlier this month, Derek, CEO and Creative Director at MAKE films, stepped out of his comfort zone and spoke at the Philadelphia Digital Summit about how his journey this past year helped him become a better storyteller. While he’s definitely more comfortable behind the camera, this experience opened his eyes to what can happen when you open up and allow yourself to be vulnerable. After the event, I spoke with Derek about his first public speaking experience since his cancer diagnosis last August, and to find out what’s next.


Never having spoke to an audience of this size, Derek experienced a whirlwind of emotions leading up to his presentation. “At first I was extremely excited, but then a mixture of fear and nerves started to creep in. To silence those feelings, I reached out to Michael Barber, a fellow creative and seasoned speaker, for advice. Michael was kind enough to help coach me in the weeks leading up to the summit by sending tips on how to prepare, how to carry myself on stage, and how to be as effective as possible during my 30 minute slot. That’s the part that really terrified me. I had so many things I wanted to share, but only 30 minutes to do it, and anyone who knows me knows I’m not the most concise speaker! So the time constraint really forced me to rehearse and have clear takeaways for the audience.”

To help ease this fear, Michael suggested Derek do a read through in front of a group of people he trusts will give honest feedback. Instantly, Derek thought of the perfect group: the MAKE Team. “I knew my team at MAKE would be honest…and boy was I right. They were constructive, supportive, and helped me figure things out that I never could have on my own. They reminded me to focus on clarity and helped me hone in on the why of my presentation.”

MAKE films - Digital Summit - Derek DiennerAs a speaker, Derek got to enjoy the VIP lounge and had the opportunity to meet Scott Dikkers, Founder of The Onion.


The night before his presentation, Derek followed Michael’s suggestion of giving rehearsals a rest. Instead of practicing, Derek read through the numerous supportive messages his family, the MAKE Team, and his friends sent him, and got a good night’s sleep. Derek woke up excited and ready to go, but the realization of what he was about to do quickly turned his excitement into nerves.

“When we were at breakfast that morning, I felt like I didn’t even know what to say. Like I had forgotten how to have a conversation. And for me of all people to have nothing to say…it’s very out of character! My nerves were getting the best of me, and I knew I needed to take some time alone before I got on stage to refocus.”

MAKE films - Digital Summit - Derek DiennerBefore heading on stage, we grabbed a delicious breakfast at Aqimero.

“In this moment I decided to change my mentality from, ‘I’m speaking to a large crowd,’ to, ‘I’m speaking to individuals one-on-one.’ I focused on being an effective communicator to one person as opposed to a room full of people, and relaxed instantly since that’s what I do everyday at MAKE!”

And then it was time. The room filled up, thirty minutes appeared on the clock, and Derek was introduced on stage. “I was so excited and when I got up on stage. All my nerves went away. When I started talking, I felt calm. And man did those 30 minutes go by FAST. When I did the read through with the MAKE Team, it felt like the longest 30 minutes of my life. But when I was in front of that crowd, those same 30 minutes felt like 30 seconds. And just like that, it was over!”

MAKE films | Derek Dienner | Digital SummitDerek on stage during his presentation at the Philadelphia Digital Summit.


For Derek, hearing that he impacted one person in the audience would have been a win. So when he saw there was a line of people waiting to talk with him as he walked off stage, he was overcome with relief.

“We all have a level of insecurity to us, and this situation made me feel extremely vulnerable. Before my presentation, I questioned if what I was going to say would be relevant to anyone in the audience. So to have people waiting to talk to me and wanting to share their story with me was an awesome feeling. I got to interact with those individuals one-on-one, which is exactly how I approached my presentation: I’m not talking to a group of people; I’m talking to individuals and building a relationship with each individually.”


I asked Derek if he has any advice for people looking to face a fear of their own. Knowing I have a few fears I’d like to face, I was eager to hear his answer. “Step on that metaphorical stage and do it! Commit. And commit heavy. Commit to something that scares you. And don’t have an exit strategy. Many times we sit in bed at night and tell ourselves, ‘I can do it!’, but as whatever ‘it’ is approaches, our brain gets in our way and we start to doubt ourselves. In those moments, remember that initial ‘I can do it!’ feeling you had in bed. That’s the you you should listen to.”


Having had the pleasure of watching his presentation firsthand at the conference, it was no surprise to me that Derek received rave reviews from the audience through the Digital Summit’s anonymous online review program. Because of this, the Digital Summit asked him to speak at a content and social media marketing conference in Atlanta in October.

In the future, Derek hopes to continue facing his fears and sharing his story with others.

MAKE films | Derek Dienner | Digital SummitDerek on stage during his presentation at the Philadelphia Digital Summit.

Interested in having Derek speak at an event? Contact