How to Get More Comfortable Speaking in Front of People

How to Get More Comfortable Speaking in Front of People

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Mr. Biz Radio: How to Get More Comfortable Speaking in Front of People

Unedited transcription of the show is included below:


Welcome to Mr. Biz radio, Biz. Talk for Biz owners. If you're ready to stop faking the funk and take your business onward and upward, this show is for you. And now here's Mr. Biz, Ken Wentworth.


Alright, Welcome to another episode of Mr. Biz Radio with me, Mr. Biz Ken Wentworth. This week we are going to talk about something. We've talked about this topic before, but we've got a completely different angle. Uand we've got someone who's an absolute seasoned veteran. I'll say,at what we're gonna talk about, but we're gonna talk about speaking. So we've talked about public speaking and things like that before. We've had public speaking experts and TEDx people and all that kind of stuff. But I wanted to take a little bit of a different angle on this one, on how to get comfortable speaking and in this case, of our guests performing in front of people. So we're taking it to a whole another level, I guess. Speaking is a form of performing, but nothing like our guest this week,has done. Shaun Eli is our guest this week, and he's a standup comedian who has headline shows on five continents, not four, not three, not two, but five. His special, the Ivy League of Comedy Live from the Line Theater is available on Amazon. Shaun is gonna walk us through this. We're gonna learn about the Comedy biz, and we're gonna learn how to get comfortable speaking in front of people. Shaun, welcome to Mr. Biz Radio.


Thank you. You know, as soon this is the way the mind of a comedian works. As soon as you said we have a different angle on it or our, our, our guest has a different angle on it, I'm thinking, is there a button I can push that can turn my image sideways? But, but I don't know how to do that.


<Laugh>. Well, Shaun, before we start diving into all that kind of stuff, and you just absolutely drop a bunch of knowledge on us, which this will be knowledge as well, but I mean, tell us about your journey, your entrepreneur journey, your journey overall. How did you get into comedy? So, I know there's a plenty story behind this 'cause you're a comedian, so it's funny, and I know there's a woman involved


A woman and, and before that a man, so whoa,


Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. Shaun <laugh>


His name is Jay Leno. Perhaps you've heard of him


A little bit. Yeah, I may have heard of him once or twice. Yeah. So,


So when he first, I always, you know, thought of funny stuff and wrote it down and never did anything with it. And then when he got the Tonight Show, I'd be reading the newspaper on the train. I had a job and I was a banker, and I'd be reading the newspaper on a train and think of a funny, he, you know, something based on the headline. And that night he'd be doing a joke that's essentially the same thing. And I'm like, oh, I can do this. So I, I called and said, Hey, I'm a writer in New York, which was about this much true <laugh>, right? And, and I said, I, you know, I think we think similarly to use freelancers after a long conversation. To give you an idea how long ago this was, they gave me their fax number.


Oh, wow. Okay. And I started,


Started faxing in, started faxing in jokes. And then I was on a date many, many years later, probably a decade later, I was on a date with a woman and she said, you're funny, you should be a comedian. And I said, I have have no interest in ever performing. The last time I was on stage, it was the fifth grade play and I hated it. And she said, well, she had just taken a standup comedy class. Why don't I come see the people from her class perform? And they, I did. And they were funnier than I thought they'd be. And I'm like, maybe I should take the class. Took the class, started performing, and six years later I said, Adios.


So Shaun, let, let's, let's, let's cut to the chase here. When you say they were funnier than you thought they'd be, was it more so was the inner thinking of in your head more so like, wait a minute, I'm way funnier than these guys. Or, I can be way funnier than these guys.


Every every comedian goes to any kind of amateur comedy show and thinks the same thing. And looking back now, they probably weren't that funny. But here's, here's the thing that goes through the mind of a comedian. If I go to a show or I watch another comedian and they're getting a laugh every minute, that's terrible for a standup comedian. And I would say, unless that laugh lasts 10 or 15 seconds, they're not funny enough. But if you go to that show and you laugh once a minute, you're judging it not based on comparing it to other comedians. You're comparing it to, well, if I were home, you know, washing the dishes, I would, there would be zero lapse.


Yeah, no, that's a good point. Good point. So, so I got asked Shaun, so you mentioned you're a banker. How in the heck, I mean, you, you talked a little bit about how you transitioned from it, but how did you even, were you funny in school? Like were you the class cutup? Were you the clown in, in class, in school?


I think there's a difference. Standup comedians typically, I don't think we're the class clown standup comedians were the people who were afraid, thought of something funny and were afraid to say it. The class clown is the guy, and it's usually a guy who, who says something funny. The class laughs, the teacher tells him to shut up. And after being beaten up by the teacher for years, he learned to keep his mouth shut. So he doesn't become the standup comedian. The guy who's afraid to talk becomes the standup comedian.


Okay, fair enough, fair enough. Good to know. So, so you, you go to school, become a banker. I mean, I gotta tell you, I I was a banker as well, banker to standup comedian. That's kind of a leap.


Well, you know what's weird is the shortest leap seems to be lawyer to standup comedians. I know a lot of comedians who are former lawyers.


Interesting. Okay.


But I think I'm the only banker I know that's a standup comedian. And as I say, as going from banking to standup comedy was the best trade I ever mean


<Laugh>. There you go. Well, so look, I I think we got a new tagline, Shaun. I mean, I can't believe it. I, you know, I did some show prep, but maybe you already do if you're the only banker, you know, I mean, I think you gotta, you gotta bill yourself as the funniest banker on the face of the earth.


Yeah. You know, it's, it's weird to me, there's something going around now, I think it's called the Board Teacher Comedy Tour, and they're selling tickets because there's a lot of teachers out there and they all wanna see a teacher who's a comedian. And it's a great marketing given for bankers. I don't think there's as many bankers as comedians. And I can't see bankers saying, gee, I wanna hear a guy talk about comedy and I mean, talk about banking. And the other thing is, even though I do bash my former employer on stage, which is one of my favorite things to do, it's not like there's a natural affinity for other bankers the way teachers feel like they have something in common.


Yeah, yeah. That's probably fair. It's, it's more of a, more of a, a a community or comradery, I think with teachers. Yeah. As opposed to, to bankers. There manner's. A lot of banker jokes I could throw in there as well being, I, I was at JP Morgan for 20 plus years. I actually wasn't a banker banker, probably the same way you were. I worked at the bank, so a lot of people say I was a banker, but I wasn't trading and things like that. I was doing more financial type things in, in regards to, you know, CFO type work and things like that. So a little bit different, but so, so you transitioned from banking, you, you're writing jokes for, for, for Leno you kind of finally decided to do it. How long did it take you to like get to where you could like quit the nine to five?


I probably quit too early. It was six years <laugh>. Okay. Well I had a business plan. The hardest part of quitting was to tell my parents, Hey, I'm not gonna be a banker anymore. And people would say, well, what's your, you know, people in banking were like, what's your plan B? Do you have a timeframe? If it doesn't work out, you're gonna come back. And I said, no, I have no plan B, I'm gonna burn every bridge on the way out of town <laugh>, because if I have a backup plan, I'm not gonna be a hundred percent dedicated to this. And I really have to be ready to say, this is what I do now. I'm not going back.


Well, and I like six,


It was six years to get to where I made that decision and left banking and still probably not ready to be a full-time comic. It takes a long time before you're good and comfortable on stage.


Oh, I'm sure, I'm sure. I thought that was my next question. 'cause You said maybe you did a little bit too early. Was it a couple more years? So maybe eight, you know, between the whole thing or


People say between takes between five and 10 years to, to not stink. And you know, you think about it, you start anything, you're terrible at it. It's just most people start stuff when they're kids. And if you're, you know, a little kid who's a terrible baseball player, your parents aren't judging you 'cause you're playing against other kids. As an adult, as a standup comedian, you're immediately judged against professional comedians.


Yeah. It's, it's interesting. Look, we've gone to a million shows at the Funny Bone here locally and you know, obviously the, the opener's always someone we almost always someone never heard of. But I have never seen someone, I, I shouldn't say that, maybe one or two. But over the years of that, I thought, oh my gosh, they're terrible. They're always hilarious. These people are professionals. They're really good. Shaun Eli, who's who we're talking to, we're gonna hit a break here. Come back and continue talking with Shaun about the comedy business.


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Alright, welcome back to it's time for the Mr. Biz Tip of the week. As we always do, it's the outset of the second segment. This one hits a little close to home for me. And the tip this week is if you get, if you create a budget, and of course you do create a budget as a business owner, right? 'cause You, if you talk about that, it's one of my three pillars. You gotta have a budget if you do a budget, but it's created solely by the CFO sitting in his office like a little numbers nerd that he is like me and creates this budget. It is doomed for failure. Now you might say, well, that doesn't make any sense. You're telling me I gotta have a budget and you're telling me my CFO does it, it's gonna stink.


It's gonna stink. It has to be a collaborative effort. If the CFO is just doing things in a tunnel, in a vacuum, it's not talking to the business, not talking to business owner, not talking to the people who are running different aspects of the business, not understanding the operations, et cetera. It's doomed for failure. Probably gonna set goals that are unrealistic up or down, whatever it might be. Not gonna get the results you want out of a budget. It's gotta be a collaborative effort. Super, super important when creating a budget. Make sure it's a collaborative effort. So that is the Mr. Biz tip of the week this week. Real quick, just wanna mention this. I've got an upcoming speaking gig. And the only reason I don't usually talk about these on the show, but this one's actually a friend of the show, John D Hanssen.


He's been on the show a couple times. He's actually launching doing a book launch on November 7th. And it's gonna be, oh my gosh, he's, it is a, like a three or four hour different event. It's gonna be crazy. But you can attend in person if you're in the Columbus, Ohio area, or you can attend virtually as well. The tickets are free, but he's gonna have giveaways and all kind of cool stuff. I've never seen a book launch like this. I'm, I'm pretty pretty excited to be part of it. But you can find out more information or sign up to, for a virtual ticket or, or even an in-person ticket at winning Secrets Info. That's Winning Secrets Info. That's the name of his book Winning Secrets. So just real quick plug for John on that. Again, I'm talking with Shaun Eli this week.


You can find out more on his website, We'll put all this stuff in his show notes as well. Or Follow him on LinkedIn. He's got a YouTube channel. And of course, on the gram, you gotta be on the gram. Bring champagne on latter two. So Shaun, tell me a little bit about the Comedy Biz. So we, we've, you know, we've had some people that are kind to comedians, but I don't think we've ever had, honestly, in, in almost seven years of doing the show a, a professional standup comedian on the show. You know I guess first my first question is, how did you get that, that that break that really start booking gigs and things like that? I mean, were you able to use the, the, the Leno thing as like a little bit of a, you know, kind of a, a a a something for your resume to sort of build on that a little bit?


Well, I, I have to say, first we have a problem because I'm the CFO of my company.


<Laugh> Well, you're talking to people in the business though, right? I mean, you know Yeah,


<Laugh>, but I mean, I'm also the CEO the writer, the stage manager as you can't tell the wardrobe guy,<laugh>,I, I would say I got started and used writing for Jay Leno as sort of a marketing hook at the beginning. And then a booker took me aside and said, you know, they're gonna expect you to be that funny. You know, they expect you to be as funny as the guy. So just survive on your own. And when you start as a standup comedian, you're working, at least in New York, you're working with professional and comedians who have major TV credits. They've been on The Tonight Show, they've been on Letterman, they've had comedy specials. And so comedians, the mc will say, how do you want me to introduce you? And there's, I don't have a TV credit, what am I supposed to say?


But I remember when I was MCing a show at a comedy club a few years in, I asked, 'cause Mc should say something about the next comment. I asked a young lady what she wanted me to say, and she burst out crying and said, I don't know. I don't know what I, I have nothing. And I said, well, tell me what do you do for a living? She said, I'm a student. And I said, that's okay. I got this. And I went on stage and all I said was, our next comedian is so hardworking. She's a comedian and a student, or a student and a comedian. I forget which. And she was so happy that somebody had something to say about her when she took the stage.


Yeah. So I, I can imagine though, it's so difficult. You know, again, I, again, I don't know a whole lot about it. I've got a, a a friend of a friend who was kind, not certainly as, as accomplished as you, but has done a lot of comedy things over the years. And I had never left a full-time job. So kind of was just doing it as a side side hustle, side gig kind of thing. And hearing some of the stories from, from her on the difficulties of just getting gigs here and there and being able to get on stage. You know, at first when you were doing that, did you hire a manager? Were you were own manager? No. Did you kind of make a connection and get a mentor, a comedic mentor? I,


I had a couple of people guide me along the way who were more senior. You know, they, one of the things they teach comedians is basically don't be a jerk. Because if you're nasty to somebody today, they may be in a position to make your life miserable. And I remember I went to a, a comedy club to audition, and I went to the bartender and I said, could I just have a club soda, please? You know, what do I owe you? And he said, oh, don't worry about it. And I left a couple of bucks on the bar and it turns out he wasn't the bartender, he was the owner of the comedy club, and the bartender had called in sick and he was bartending, but he was the guy who was auditioning people. And I think I was the only one who left money on the bar.


And that, you know, leaves an impression. But mainly I built my business and I do shows, I do shows at theaters. My company is the leading independent producer of standup comedy for theaters in the us, the Ivy League of Comedy. And I built that business a little bit through word of mouth a little bit through having a good website and having a good web presence and a lot through cold call. And it's basically calling, emailing and direct mailing theaters to say, Hey, this is what I have to offer. And it's 20 years later I have a business.


I love it. I love it. So I have to ask, so again, kind of leaning into sort of the, the payoff we're gonna have in a third segment of talking about getting comfortable speaking in front of people and performing in front of people. But how did you learn how to deal with, with different types of audiences, whether, and I don't mean, you know, the heckler and things like that, I guess that's part of it, but even, you know, shifting gears of talking to a corporate audience versus being at a funny bone nightclub kind of thing. And I'm sure that's a, a much different audience. So how did you learn how to sort of deal with those different types of audiences?


Trial and error and also really paying attention going home and saying, well, that, that sucked. What do you know what went wrong? <Laugh>? I remember I was at a comedy club and the audience in New York, we get a lot of people from other countries and the audience was mostly foreigners. And I watched three or four comedians in a row go up and just eat it. They got no low laughs or few laughs. And I realized the problem was they tell a joke, they wouldn't get a laugh, and then they'd start telling the next joke. And they call this stepping on your laughter. The people's first language wasn't English. It took 'em a little time to get the joke. And so I went out and I spoke a little more slowly, I hit my, hit a punchline and I just shut up. And two seconds later I had laughter.


And that's how you deal with that kind of audience. And that came in very handy doing Zoom shows. Because part of what happens if you tell a joke in a comedy club and somebody laughs and then the laughter spreads. It's not like joke boom, everybody's laughing, it takes, you know, a little time. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> and hearing other people laugh is what prompts the laughter. But in Zoom there's a delay. So you have a half a second or a second before they hear you. And then there's more time for the, for somebody to laugh and then for the other people to hear the laughter, for the laughter spread. So on Zoom shows the way to do it is the same thing. Tell a joke, shut up, wait for the laughter. You just have to be confident that you're gonna get it.


What about cultures? So I, I, you know, I, I'm certainly not a professional comedian, but you know, I've got a, a a presence, a global presence with social media and things like that. And I know one of the things I think of consciously a lot, and I know, you know, we mentioned you've, you've been on five continents. How do you deal with that? You do do some research and I know I'm cutting you short here. We don't have much time. Maybe we actually, you know what Shaun, let's pick that up in the next one. 'cause I'm, I'm cutting you way short. I don't mean, I didn't mean to do that in the evening. Check the time here. But think about that one. Let's start the next segment talking about that and how to deal with different cultures that you do the research ahead of time. I know I've done it a couple of times. If I was specifically speaking to an audience and a a specific culture, I would do that. So again, talking with she, Shaun Eli he's got two different websites, or you can go to, follow him on LinkedIn. He's got YouTube and Instagram, the Gram brain champagne as well on there. Come back after the break, we're gonna talk about different cultures and dealing with those audiences as well as how to become more comfortable speaking in front of people.


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Alright, welcome back to the show again, talking with Mr. Shaun Eli, professional standup comedian. So let's pick up I'm sorry, I almost didn't, I was gonna leave you not much time to answer that question. I don't want to cut you off the end. But you know, the cultures, you had mentioned a little bit about learning that lesson being what, you know, recognizing that some of the audience were foreign and English wasn't their first language. Do you make any other adjustments when you're talking to different cultures? Do you research that? How, how do you deal with that, Shaun? Well,


There's a couple of things. If you're doing a corporate show, my act is clean, but some jokes go better with a corporate audience. So making fun of a former employer is actually okay at a corporate event because I'm not performing for them. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, but making fun of myself. The self-deprecating humor doesn't go over quite as well at a corporate event as it does, let's say, at a, at a theater or a comedy club. Because at a theater or comedy club, if you wanna be the schlub, they're fine with it. But at a corporate show, they sort of wanna look up to you. They want to think of you as, you know, somebody that, that has something they don't have. And then if you go out there and you say, gee, I'm a loser, and here's why you get laughs, but it's not the same sort of thing.


Now as far as performing overseas, the first country other than the US that I performed in was South Africa. And that was a shock because I was thinking Western country English speakers, not a problem. And I have a joke about, you know, the obnoxious Christmas letters some people send out that are all bragging. And I took that, you know, we've had a great year, here's all this stuff our family did, aren't we better than you kind of letters? And I take that story and exaggerate it, and the people just gave me blank stares. They're like, we don't brag here. It's not in our culture that we wouldn't get a letter like that. Nobody's gonna brag about where their kids went to college or the promotions somebody got, or, you know, being rich or buying a fancy car. We don't do that here. And so you you learn the hard way, I guess.


Yeah, well that's the reason I was asking is I'm always concerned about saying something that's, you know, in their culture means something different. The real quick example Sarah Blakely, who founded Spanx, she tells this story and I've heard her tell her a couple times, it's hilarious. But the very short version of the story is she was expanding into the uk she was talking to the B B C in the UK and she's doing the interview and they said, well, what are Spanx? We don't know what this is. It's a brand new product, blah, blah, blah. And she said, it's all about the fanny. It smooths your fanny, it pumps up your fanny, blah, blah, blah. And she said they went to commercial right away they come. And during the commercial breaks, she said it was a male host. She said, he got, you know, red-faced and whatever. And they, a producer came over to her during the commercial break and said, in the uk, Fannie means vagina. And she said, oh my gosh, I had no idea. And I always think of that story and I'm thinking, am I gonna stick my foot in my mouth? You know, speaking to an audience that maybe doesn't, doesn't get it, or, you know, things mean things, you know, dialects, different things like that.


Yeah, I I didn't know that story specifically, but I knew, I knew you were going with the reference and you know, I think you, if you're a comedian, you're forgiven, I think a little bit for screwing up. But South Africa was, was a tough struggle. But Ireland, the uk, the Netherlands, I performed in Thailand, I performed in South Africa, New Zealand there, everybody understood stuff. What I did learn overseas though, during the Trump administration, I don't do any political comedy in the US because I learned, you, you, you off at least a third of the audience, right?


At least A third. It's, yeah, it's great if you can establish yourself as a political comedian, like say Louis Black, but when you're starting out, it's a mistake. Just a, it's a bad business decision. So I didn't do that, but overseas, during the Trump administration, they wanted to hear what I thought because they're like, oh, he is an American. Is he a Trump supporter? So I had to address it up front, get it out of the way just with one joke and then I could do my set. But before, as soon as they heard I was an American, they were curious about my politics.


Yeah. Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure. So I guess let's get into this whole thing here of, of how did you become, like you had mentioned, you know, you were the, you were the kid that had the jokes in your head in school, but you just didn't, you were introverted or whatever and didn't, didn't have the guts to say them. How did you get comfortable speaking and performing in front of people?


It took years. I mean, I'd done some public speaking as a banker, but no, you know, no pressure to be funny. I just knew what I was talking about. And I talked to some conferences and every week as a banker I was presenting to a committee, but it was people I worked with, so I wasn't nervous about that. Surprisingly, there's somebody I worked with for 10 years and I could hear, I don't think anybody else could hear it, but I was attuned to it. I could hear in her voice that every time she presented to the committee she was a little bit nervous. And to me it was like, what are you nervous about? You know, these people, they say yes or no, it has no bearing on what you do. But as far as a comedian, when I first started out, there were times I would hope the show would be canceled.


So I didn't have to go on stage. I wanted to be a comedian, but I didn't wanna go through what was necessary to become a comedian. So I was scared. And you get, when I started, I had an advantage, I think over other new comics. I knew my material was funny, I knew my material was good 'cause I've been writing jokes for a long time and I also knew I'd be a terrible performer. So my only fear really was forgetting my material. Other than that, I knew my performance wasn't gonna be good. I was gonna be stiff and sound like I was reciting and it would take a while to get past that. But I just, you know, you keep getting on stage and you keep getting on stage and you practice and you get better at it. And eventually, you know, the idea is you wanna sound like you're just up there talking spontaneous, and that's the illusion of being a standup comedian. But, you know, we do our best to, to sound like it's not rehearsed when it's rehearsed and that makes practice. So it really is, they say the key to comedy is stage time, stage time, stage time. We just gotta keep getting up in front of an audience. Eventually you get better. And I've had people say to me, your job is really hard. You have to be funny. And I'm like, money's easy. Other public speakers have to be interesting. I don't have to be interesting. I just have to get laugh. <Laugh>.


Yeah, it, it is interesting. And I think there's just so much of a dichotomy between, you know, if you're up just giving, you're a lecturing at a at a college, you just have to know the material, right? People don't even necessarily expect you to be funny if you are charismatic or funny at all. It's like a huge cherry on the, on top of the, the on top of the cake or the ice cream. But you know, as a comedian, you have to be funny and, you know, as a, as a, as a motivational speaker or anything like that, you know, you gotta you gotta be both. You gotta know the material, it's gotta be engaging, it's gotta be enlightening. People have to sort of buy into it, realize that you're an expert in whatever you're talking about. So I think, you know, I think that changes sort of the element of it a little bit.


And I, for me, I think with a lot of pressure, but I personally, I love getting up on stage. I didn't realize how much I missed it until my first speaking engagement, a post covid, you know, I'd done the zooms and things like that. But getting up on stage in a physical location, and man, I, you know, when they announced me and I went up there, I was just, I felt like I was 10 feet tall. I'm like, I, I just forgot how much I missed being on stage. I just, I just really, really enjoy it.


Well, you were 10 feet tall, you're six feet tall on a four foot stage that makes you 10 feet tall. That's


A great, that's a great point. <Laugh>.


Now I realize when we talked about South Africa, I also had a joke that that didn't go over there where I have a joke where I say, you know, I went on a date last night. The, the wine bar was full. So instead I took her across the street to the thrift shop for the cost of two, two drinks and a shared appetizer. I bought her an end table, two lamps, half an encyclopedia


<Laugh>, and,


And they just stared at me like, that doesn't make any sense to us. But a New York audience is like, well that makes sense. If you're gonna spend money on somebody, they should have something for it. Yeah, of course America understands that. Other countrys just thought it was weird.


Well, I gotta ask you, Shaun, so do you have it now that you're, you're, you're, you're the seasoned, grizzled veteran now as far as before you go on stage, do you have any sort of like pre-game rituals? Do you I, I heard if you follow the N F L at all, Marshawn Linzer used to play football for the Seahawks primarily, but he famously, about a year or so ago, he said he used he do shots of Hennessy before he every game. Oh,




<Laugh>. That's, that's crazy. I've had people say to me, oh, you should have a couple of drinks before, before you go on stage, loosen up. And I'm like, would you say that to Tiger Woods about to sink a putt or a lawyer, you know, per, you know, arguing before the Supreme Court. There is a word, there's a term we have for people who need a couple of drinks to do their job and that word is alcoholic, right? <Laugh> like, I gotta have my witts about me. Something could go on in the room and I've gotta be prepared to deal with it. I can't do that after a couple weeks. But


Yeah. So do you have anything you do?


I actually say a prayer and it's stupid 'cause I'm not that religious, but I heard that having a ritual helps even if you don't believe it. And I'm like, okay, this is fine.


There you go. There you go. Well, there, there's a, there's a trick. You gotta have, have some steps in that. A little bit of ritual before you go on, John, thanks so much for coming on. We're out of time, but I really appreciate you coming on, learned a ton of stuff. I'm sure people are gonna love this one.


All right, thank you very much. Great to be here.


Yeah, absolutely. We'll put all Shaun's contact information, website and all that stuff in the show notes. Thanks for watching. Thanks for listening guys. Have a great rest of your week. And don't forget, as always, cashflow is king


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