October 19, 1992, age 17
I didn’t know it yet, but I’d had a stroke. I wouldn’t find out for another 27 hours.
While I slept my basilar artery had hemorrhaged.
The basilar artery is at the base of the skull and supplies the brain and central nervous system with blood. Over the years an aneurysm, a bubble-shaped weakening, like a blowout in a tire, had formed on the artery and picked that morning, three months before my eighteenth birthday, to explode.
Knowing only that I had a headache and felt a bit tired and unsteady I got up and prepared for the day ahead.
My initial step out of bed was the first indication something was not quite right. My right foot failed to steady me and I took a tumble.
Picking myself up, I fixed something to eat, got dressed, and headed for the office — yes, I was already working in an office at age 17… long story.
My zombie walk to the train station was the second clue my body wasn’t as usual. Right hand dangling free and dragging my right leg behind me, I labored for the 10 (usually 5) minute walk to the station.
As I waited for Melbourne’s lightening-fast public transport system, I bought a paper from the newsstand on the platform. Here was my third clue. I sounded drunk when I thanked the old boy who sold me the paper. Not two drinks drunk either. Been mixing drinks all night and finished drinking at 6am drunk.
My train arrived only 13 minutes late (punctual by Melbourne standards).
To cut a long story short…
By the time I got to the office I could barely walk. My right side acting as an ineffective support to the functioning side of my body.
Fearing things were going to get worse I waited for the next delayed train and hightailed it home again. My left side did, anyway. Only to be slowed down the sack of potatoes and cement acting as my right side.
It was time to see a specialist. My mother bundled me into the car and drove me to the local clinic.
By the time I saw the doctor, my speech was similar to that of an old man who’d been drinking methylated spirits for 30 years. My right arm and leg weren’t functioning. The right side of face frozen — Drooping as though I just ate something distasteful with one side of my mouth.
After a thorough examination, “Doc” diagnoses gastroenteritis.
For the layperson, gastroenteritis has similar symptoms to those experienced after eating a bad curry. Most common of which is the inability to confidently exit the bathroom wearing the same pair of underwear you entered with.
The symptoms of gastro are: increased bathroom visits resulting in a loss of water, headache, stomach pain, low-grade fever, vomiting.
The symptoms I presented with were: face like a bad Picasso, inability to use the “dominant” side of my body, headache, slurred speech, confusion. Of course, looking back now, I can see the connection the Doc made was the headache 🙂
Doc hits my right knee a couple of times with a hammer and pronounces it to be “gastro”. What did my knee have to do with it? Take two aspirin, drink plenty of fluids, and rest for the remainder of the day. If it’s still an issue tomorrow I should come and see him again. He’s sure everything will be fine.
We thank him and I drag my sack of potatoes body out of the clinic.
By that evening I had not improved. My right side was slowly becoming more and more useless. We entertained the idea of going back to Doc that evening, and settled on visiting a different doctor for a second opinion.
In summary, Doc Number 2 (also known as “Real Doc”) listened to the situation and with no examination encouraged us to rush to the hospital immediately. It wasn’t my rear-end that was the problem, it was my top-end. Something had happened to my brain.
Confused that he could make this diagnosis without even once tapping my right knee with a hammer, we bundled back into the car and sped to the closest hospital.
What has all this got to do with public speaking? And how did I survive a brain hemorrhage in my sleep? In this article, I’m going to introduce you to a push-button, paint-by-numbers system. A fool-proof approach you can use to remember every part of your speech. The simple rules you need to follow to deliver your speech with confidence.
Later on I’ll show you some extension techniques to use to turn you confident speech into a confident and engaging one. The techniques I’ll show are related to the story I’ve just shared.
It’s the thing we fear more than death.
That’s right! Faced with the prospect of public speaking, people go to pieces. But more feared than death?
97 year-old John Citizen is lying on his death bed, his children gathered around trying to lift his spirits. One child asks, “Dad, what is the one thing you are most proud of?”
“Never having had to speak in public, son.”
Ridiculous, right? So, why is public speaking such a scary concept? Simply, it’s because people fear rejection.
Going back to our cave-dweller roots, survival meant not being rejected by the group. We still have that primal fear of being turned away and shunned. The odds of being rejected multiply when you have to stand up in front of a group, get their attention, and talk.
In this article you will learn the simple steps to remember your speech so you can stand in front of your audience and speak confidently. You will overcome the fear of public speaking, the fear of rejection.
Does the world really need another article about public speaking? Here’s the thing… Despite, thousands upon thousands of books and courses on becoming a better public speaker, most people still suck. Sad, but true.
If you can remember the last time you saw a good public speaker deliver a presentation at your office you are very lucky.
Say Bob’s boss asks him to deliver a speech at next week’s department meeting. Bob instantly panics. He has never had to do a presentation before and is not sure how he should approach it.
Fear and stress take hold and Bob even begins to have trouble sleeping. He will do almost anything to take the pain away. So he looks for an easy solution. A push-button solution.
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With the magic of slide design software Bob now feels more comfortable. His blood pressure starts to return to normal as he plays around with the software. He fools himself into believing he is preparing his speech by loading the slides up with bullet points.
You and I both know, he is setting himself up for failure. Bob is planning to fail.
He’s doing nothing to overcome the nerves he will feel when he’s on stage. He’s just creating slides which will become a crutch he’ll read from while the audience sits bored, checking their smartphones and wondering when they can go back to their desks.
Despite what hundreds of books on speaking and presenting will tell you, the solution doesn’t lie with software. You can deliver a truly awesome presentation with an average slide deck. But, a great slide deck will not turn you into an amazing presenter.
In this article I will give you a simple push-button solution for remembering your speech and delivering with confidence. That button, however, is not a software button. The button is one you can switch on within yourself. I’m going to show you how to unlock it.
The makings of a good public speaker
You just can’t seem to get it right.
No matter how much you practice. No matter how much time you spend in front of the mirror. When it comes time to stand in front of your audience you stutter, you stammer, you forget your place, your hands start shaking, your voice trails off at the end of sentences, and your face turns beetroot red.
When you check out TED videos, or watch a Steve Jobs’ keynote, the speaker always seem so natural. So well practiced. Their delivery is flawless. The speaker doesn’t forget their lines. They don’t tremble. Their voice is clear. They look confident and relaxed on the stage.
How do they do it? Why can’t you speak like this when you deliver a presentation at the office?
Before we talk about becoming an awesome speaker I think it is important that we set the record straight. For every awesome speaker you see deliver a speech on TED.com there are tens to hundreds more TED or TEDx speakers that never made it to video. Not everyone is an awesome speaker. Not everyone walks on the stage and speaks like a natural.
The truth is, you can become just as cool, calm, and collected as the best TED speakers when you deliver your speech. You just need take the same approach as they do. You need to get these fundamentals right.
Quality versus quantity
Which do you think is better? A four and a half minute speech where the audience gets exactly what they need. Or a fifteen minute speech filled with lots of “umms” and “aahhs”, empty spaces, and watch-checking.
Congratulations if you answered the four and a half minute speech. If you didn’t, well, I guess I need to work on my rhetoric 😉
Our education systems teach us to follow the rules and stay within the parameters given to us. When our boss or a conference organizer explains that we have 15 minutes to do our speech we try and fill that exact amount of time. Trying to fill the time creates the same problem as trying to pad out an essay to at least 5,000 words: we write as much filler and meaningless stuff as we need to in order to fulfill the requirements.
Next time you do a presentation, focus on quality instead of quantity. If you are told you have a time limit of 15 minutes, just treat that as the maximum time you can speak for. Don’t treat it as a minimum. Focus on saying what needs to be said to get the point across and get the audience to take the action required.
Something wonderful happens when you focus on the minimum information required to get your point across. The audience is more engaged, because they don’t feel their time is being wasted.
Natural visual communication
Public speaking trainers and coaches make a lot of money convincing their trainees that visual communication should be practiced. It makes sense as a business proposition, right? If it needs to be practiced and can be methodized there is money to be made from trainees fearful of doing the wrong body language.
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Practicing your visual communication, especially gestures, will make your speech delivery look un-natural. When you practice your visual communication you begin to relate gestures to particular keywords in your speech. Not only will the gestures look forced, and come across as practiced, they will appear far too exaggerated.
The best visual communication and gestures are not practiced, they are natural. Imagine meeting a close friend while you are at the shopping mall. You are both busy but you stop to chat for a few minutes. As you chat, and describe events or objects, you naturally gesture to subconsciously explain concepts such as time and size. The gestures are not overt, they just happen as you talk. They happen naturally because you are focused on what you are saying to the other person and talking from memory.
If you practice your gestures here’s what will happen. During your live speech you will need to split your time between remembering what you need to say and what gesture you want to do while you are speaking. How natural do you think this is going to look? What do you think trying to remember so much will do to your presentation style and overall confidence? Simply, your style, confidence, and the way your speech is received will all take a negative hit.
You can easily spot the differences between practiced and natural visual communication in the workplace. Ask someone in your team to deliver a presentation about a topic they know pretty well. Explain they must also handle questions from the audience at the end of their presentation.
Watch the difference between the presenter’s visual communication during presentation delivery and question handling.
Visual communication will dramatically improve during question handling because the presenter has no script or practiced visual communication to try and remember. Suddenly, they are talking naturally to the audience!
In this article I will show you how you can easily remember your speech. I will show you how you can talk confidently about your topic and engage your audience. As a result your visual communication will naturally improve.
THE KEY TO DELIVERING A GREAT SPEECH
Being natural and conversational is the key to delivering a great speech. Your audience will respond to your genuineness. If you sound like you are just reciting a script your listeners will be repelled.
We need to look no further than an everyday office to find examples of what not to do when delivering a speech.
Barry Shields is an expert in his field. He had been working for the same company for almost 10 years and his can-do attitude had seen him rise from sales representative to director of company operations in a few short years.
Barry knew the company inside out. He knew the company’s great points and the things they didn’t do so well. He’d worked in most departments over the years, outside the book-balancing ones.
Barry had implemented both company-wide and team-specific process improvements. He had a good eye for looking at an inefficient workflow and removing redundancies.
When other directors and managers sought information and wanted to implement change, Barry was often called upon as an advisor. He had his ear to the ground and could find holes in proposed new systems and processes.
When the sales department considered implementing a new database, Barry pointed out the negative impact the new database would have on fulfillment. Another hole Barry helped plug. Another day the company lived to tell the tale.
Barry was known to be great.
Barry was also known to be boring.
He liked bullet points. When he was called upon to deliver a speech outlining an operational area he knew well he would arrive well-prepared with a full slide deck for his audience’s viewing pleasure.
Barry’s speeches and presentations were informative. The information he shared often prevented problematic change initiatives that could have left the company open to risk. It’s just that no one liked to be in the audience for his speeches because every bullet point on every slide received proper attention and care.
Barry meticulously read and elaborated on every hanging indent. He was well-prepared, after all.
Barry Shields is the perfect example of a person who delivers awful speeches. Barry is a subject matter expert, which is a good thing. The trouble is, Barry is such an expert he is more focused on the information than he is on his audience. Following every presentation, the audience needs to get a copy of his slides and review them to make sure they understand everything from his hour-long session.
Catherine Walsh is also a terrible speaker. She works in Barry’s department and sometimes stands in for Barry when he is very busy.
Catherine knows company operations well but isn’t quite as knowledgeable as Barry. As a result Catherine diligently does a lot of preparation prior to each presentation she delivers. As she prepares, and uncovers new information to be shared, Catherine adds it to her slide deck.
Once she has all the data she needs to share she reviews her slide deck and puts all the information in a logical and easy-to-understand order. She is able to organize the information into short, bulleted lines on her slides.
When delivering her speech, Catherine uses her slide deck to drive her talk. Not having the same in-depth knowledge as Barry, she is unable to talk from memory and so she carefully reads through her logically ordered bullets to the audience.
At the end of Catherine’s presentation the audience members who are still awake request a copy of her slides to review later.
As with Barry’s delivery, the audience has not only sat through an hour of drudgery but still have reading to do to get what they need out of the speech.
Barry and Catherine could save everyone time by simply emailing their slide decks to the audience. That way the audience could read the slides at their desks and wouldn’t have to waste time getting together in a meeting room just to have the slides read to them by a “presenter.”
Between them, Barry and Catherine have enough knowledge to power the whole firm. So what is it that makes them terrible public speakers?
The answer lies in their reliance on both technology and information.
Barry and Catherine both rely way too much on technology. Specifically, presentation software.
Any speech that uses slides as the centerpiece is going to go badly because it doesn’t allow for a connection with the audience.
The original purpose for slide software, such as PowerPoint and Keynote, was to replace the scribblings on transparent slides shown occasionally on overhead projectors. Presenters used these projected transparencies to support their speech.
With the advent of presentation software, and computer literacy, times have changed.
Now slide decks are used as reporting tools and to design client proposals. Suddenly everyone is a presenter. At least, everyone believes themselves to be a presenter.
The term presentation has become synonymous with a slide deck.
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Previously having meant the sharing of information, office workers now equate “presentation” with “slides”. With everyone having ready access to PowerPoint, Keynote, or some open source alternative, it’s easy to see why.
Now the slide deck is the driver. Where once the slides acted as support to what we told the audience, they are now the main event.
The speaker stands to the side, reading the slides to bored listeners as they check their watches and wonder what to eat for lunch.
Occasionally making eye contact and gesturing wildly, our presenter presses the audience to notice the amazing key points on the umpteenth slide.
One bullet point blends into the other and the audience members who had been able to maintain focus slowly drift away only to be jolted back to hell by, “Are there any questions?”
A few questions are asked and answered. The visually and audibly abused slowly file out of the conference room to freedom. Safe until the next organized assault goes down in meeting room number 3.
As long as we continue to rely on technology to drive presentations, the same war on eyes and ears will keep going down in meeting rooms and auditoriums across the globe every day.
To put a stop to this war, that no one can possibly win, we speakers need to change our approach to technology. We need to use technology as an assistant, not a master. This is simple to implement and as you go through the steps outlined in this article you will get better at it.
Barry and Catherine have another problem… Their reliance on data, logic, and facts.
Of course, it’s important that every presentation is based on logical, factual, provable information, but that alone can’t sustain a presentation or the audience’s attention. There also needs to be a connection between speaker and listener.
To build a connection with the audience the speaker needs to treat the audience as humans. The speaker needs to empathize with the audience. Understanding their needs and empathizing with them is the key to success. The audience will respond to the speaker’s genuineness.
The day-to-day speaking example is that of a reluctant employee thrust in front of their peers and superiors to share information about a team issue, company product, or policy.
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In preparation for their speech the speaker does not think about their audience. They spend the whole time thinking about themselves! Why do I need to this? I don’t want to be embarrassed. How can I get through this as quickly as possible with the least amount of pain inflicted on me?
Not once does the speaker consider their audience.
If the audience is not considered at all, or at best, considered as an afterthought, how will the speaker ever be able to build rapport with them?
What if the reluctant presenter took their speaking skills to real life conversations?
Max is getting ready to leave the house. He has plans to catch up with his friend Fred. They have planned to catch up for a few drinks and dinner. Right now, Max is pacing back and forth in his living room, a look of sheer terror on his face.
It is almost time to leave to meet up with Fred, but Max can’t remember everything he is going to say!
He had it all laid out: First he was going to talk about his new promotion at work. Next, Max would transition to talking about the cancelled flights and tropical disasters he and his family experienced on their last vacation. His memory was failing him about what was next.
If Max couldn’t remember what to say he was sure there would be awkward silences and he would undoubtedly feel uncomfortable.
He glanced at his watch. 7pm!
He needed to leave. Max scribbled what he could remember on the back of his hand and headed out the door.
How do you think the conversation will go between Max and Fred during their evening out? Max will likely be a quivering mess for the most part. Bumbling from one “me” centered topic to the next to avoid awkward silences.
Fred will listen out of courtesy, occasionally asking some questions.
Max will sometimes catch himself and allow Fred to talk. While Fred is talking all Max can think about is “What am I going to say next?”
At the end of the evening they will part ways, Max finally able to relax; Fred wondering why he wasted his time and thinking about how to delay the next catchup indefinitely.
This is an extreme example, but this is how most presenters act on stage. The presentation is all about them. What the presenter wants to say, how the presenter feels, the presenter’s goals, the presenter’s comfort.
When we go into any social situation, including public speaking, with a “me” approach the results are never good. With a “me” approach a presentation isn’t a natural conversation with the audience, it is talking “at” rather than “with” them. The audience responds by tuning out.
To create a connection with the audience you must deliver your talk in a conversational way. In this article I’ll show you how to do just that.
THE 3-STEP PROCESS FOR REMEMBERING YOUR PRESENTATION
I suppose you are reading this article because you’ve tried to memorize your speech and you are struggling.
You are struggling to remember what you planned to say and you’re frustrated that it is taking up so much of your time with so little return.
Perhaps you have memorized your script in previous speeches and the results weren’t good. You stuttered, stammered, forgot what to say,and delivered a speech you weren’t happy with.
All of that is about to change.
All it takes is following the simple 3-step process that I call TOO3.
TOO3 stands for Topic – Outcome – Outline x 3
Topic, outcome, and outline are all parts of your preparation. And preparation is what will make your speech great.
Shortly, we are going to look at each of these preparation steps in detail, but first let’s take a look why traditional preparation sets you up for failure.
Suzanne is an everyday, all-round awesome employee. She’s been with her firm for three years. Two years in, she was promoted from her business analyst position to manager of her team. She’s well-respected because she manages her team as she would like to be managed. She’s fair, delegates authority, and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty when her team needs help on the ground.
As a manager, Suzanne often needs to deliver regular presentations. Her presentations range from simple department updates to mission critical change initiatives.
It’s at this presentation-time that Suzanne loses her shine.
Like Barry, Suzanne delivers long, boring speeches. During her talks she reads from her slides, using the laser pointer to highlight the line being read so the audience doesn’t miss a second of her riveting pronouncements.
As the audience keeps an eye on the clock, Suzanne drones on about the importance of Project X and change management and risk management and other topics which compare favorably to watching paint dry.
How does a model employee and manager get to this point? How can someone who is so good at managing their team and so good at all their other responsibilities be so bad at speaking to their peers?
Two points: Mindset and preparation.
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Suzanne has a mindset of just getting through her speech. She treats her speech like every other task she has to do. This is problematic because speaking is not a task like writing some code or completing a report.
Speaking should be treated as the same kind of task as managing people. It’s a relationship, people-based task. If Suzanne changes her mindset she’ll take more care about how she talks to her audience.
Suzanne’s larger problem is how she prepares for her presentation.
The way she prepares sets her up to deliver her speech in a mechanical style.
It all starts with Suzanne’s image of a good speech. To Suzanne, and to most people, a good talk is one delivered perfectly. Where every word is delivered flawlessly with the correct inflection.
Visual communication and gestures are a perfect match to what she says.
Timing is impeccable. Suzanne pauses at just the right times to add emphasis or to get a laugh from the audience. She walks off stage at the end of her presentation to massive applause and colleagues shake her hand afterwards in congratulations.
In the real world the image of how a good speech “should” play out is a killer.
Perfectionists start their preparation from the position of it being unacceptable to make any mistakes.
This is a risky position to begin with, because it is impossible not to make mistakes as a human.
While it could be argued that a speech containing no mistakes, perfectly spoken, visually communicated, and timed, is the result of good preparation, it is more likely the result of an experienced presenter, or luck.
For Suzanne, making a mistake in her speech is unacceptable to her, so she prepares in a way that will eradicate her mistakes. She begins preparation one of two ways. Suzanne either writes out her speech in long-hand, with a view to memorizing it later, or she starts by creating her slides and adding all the key bullet point information to the deck.
Both methods increase the likelihood that Suzanne will fail when she stands in front of her audience.
Trying to memorize a script is setting Suzanne up for failure. It is impossible to remember a script word-for-word perfect. Mistakes will happen. When those inevitable mistakes happen Suzanne will become flustered. Things aren’t going as she planned and suddenly she out of her scripted environment. This was an eventuality she hadn’t considered. Things start going badly, Suzanne makes a few more slip-ups, her confidence is shot. It’s all downhill from here.
Let’s face it. Everyone is busy.
These days in business, it is unrealistic to think that anyone has the time to practice their presentation word perfect. Even US presidents don’t speak from memory. They use auto-prompters. With everything else going on day-to-day, how would a president have the time to focus on memorizing a speech? The short answer is they don’t, so they don’t.
Starting with slide preparation will kill Suzanne’s speech. Starting by creating slides will put her into reading mode. As she creates her slides she will relax because she can put all the information she needs on the slide deck to remember what she needs to say.
The slide deck now gives Suzanne a false sense of security. She has all the information by her side, so she can’t make a mistake, right? Well, she may not make a mistake with the information she delivers, but she does make the mistake of using her slides as a prompting device. The slides become Suzanne’s auto-prompter.
So what happens to her eye contact and visual communication? It’s facing the projected slides as she reads to her audience. Which gives the audience plenty of time for daydreaming and watch-checking, unconcerned about the number of mistakes Suzanne is not making.
If we can accept that mistakes will happen. If we recognize that mistakes are part of being human, we can relax and more naturally deliver our talk.
Realizing that mistakes make us human also increases the likelihood we will make a connection with the audience. Allowing for mistakes helps us to speak more naturally and conversationally. As we relax and speak more naturally and conversationally, our visual communication improves and engages our audience. This is the domino-effect in public speaking that most people miss because they are so busy trying to be perfect.
Step 1 – Topic
You’ve been chosen to deliver a speech because you are perceived to be the subject matter expert. It is a rare boss who looks to their team and intentionally finds the least knowledgeable person to speak on a topic.
Here’s the thing, though: You might be the most knowledgeable about the topic in question, but that doesn’t mean you are an expert. Maybe you know a bit more about the topic than everyone else, but now you have to do a presentation about it you are shaking in your boots. People are going to expect you to know things and have answers. You are going to have to cope!
When you step in front of an audience to deliver a speech your listeners assume you will be well-versed in the subject-area of your talk. Imagine how easily they switch off when they realize you’re not all that informed about the content of your talk. It’s not that you don’t
know the subject, you just don’t know it well enough to talk confidently.
Here’s what usually happens when someone’s asked to deliver a speech or presentation.
Herman’s boss asks him to speak about a project he has been, or will be, working on.
Panic sets in.
Herman starts to think about everything that could possibly go wrong and how he will be embarrassed in front of his peers and superiors. With this negative mindset from the get-go Herman is setting himself up for a failure of a presentation.
With all the negative thoughts, panic, and doom-saying, Herman clings to the first pain relieving tools he can find, his slide deck.
Whether it’s PowerPoint, Keynote, OpenOffice, or some other software, Herman has taken his first step towards disaster. Ironically, in his effort to relieve pain, he will create even more.
Herman creates his presentation slides as part of his planning. He considers the topic and adds bullet points to his slides. Adding the bullets and laying out his presentation gives Herman the confidence boost he needs that he will get through his speech unharmed. All he needs to do is follow along with the slides and elaborate on each bullet.
When D-day arrives, Herman turns on his slide deck, faces his audience, and turns back towards the slides. He then goes over each meticulously typed bullet point. He occasionally glances at the audience to try and emphasize the importance of his points.
The result is a terrible experience for both Herman and the audience.
Many audience-members will leave his presentation none-the-wiser.
Herman focused entirely on himself throughout his delivery; How he could get through it as painlessly as possible.
A good or bad delivery always comes down to preparation. Knowing your topic deeply is an essential part of prepping.
To overcome Herman-itis we have to start preparation by understanding our topic well.
Too often, in business, we say “yes, sure, I can do that” without really considering much about it. We are, after all, eager to please in a
competitive job market.
We accept tasks too easily.
Once accepted, we work on them with the bare information provided to us at the time of the request. We quickly “complete” the task and turn it in to our boss hoping for lavish praise. After all, we took the extra task on and finished it in record time. Often, we are surprised to not receive said lavish praise, but instead be questioned on the things we didn’t consider.
We soon find out the task is not complete because there was more to it than we thought.
We acted solely on the information given at the time of task allocation. Now we’ll pay for it through an angry boss and hours of re-work.
The same thing happens when we are asked to deliver a speech. Our boss asks us to deliver an update presentation on Project X. A project we’ve been working on. We accept the challenge. We start getting our slides ready updating the status as we know it.
Our presentation delivery falls flat.
No one pays attention.
When the questions start it becomes a nightmare. We don’t know the answers to most of the questions and the audience expects us to talk about detail outside our scope of responsibility.
Thirty minutes later, bruised and battered, we thank the audience for their time and promise to be in touch about the unanswered points. Head down, we begin packing up our equipment as the audience files out.
We didn’t really understand our topic. We didn’t understand what we should talk about.
Step 1 is to ensure we understand our topic in detail. Understand everything about your topic, including potential objections.
Step 2 – Outcome
What is the point of your speech?
For your talk to go well it is important to have a purpose. Having a purpose allows you to drive a message home to the audience, and stay on point. Having a purpose allows you to focus on getting the audience to take the desired action at the conclusion of your speech.
When you don’t have a purpose your words are, at best, information sharing. And there are far more efficient and morale-maintaining methods to share information than reading bullet points to bored individuals for an hour.
Instead of boring the pants of your audience, email them the bullet points you were going to read to them and ask if they have any
Here is a simple method for deciding the outcome of your presentation…
Decide what you need the audience to do.
Perhaps you need the audience to start using a new piece of software.
Maybe you would like everyone to submit their time sheets one day early next month.
You could be rolling out a new sales process and you need all reps to start calling their old leads with campaign pricing.
Whatever it is, decide what you need the audience to do. Work out what it is you want the audience to understand their next action should be following your speech.
Next, put yourself in the audience’s shoes.
Empathize with your audience.
When you are worried about delivering your speech and fearful of making mistakes your focus often goes one way. The focus goes solely on yourself. Worrying about how to avoid mistakes, how not to embarrass yourself, how to appear cool, calm, and collected. When we get so wrapped in ourselves we often forget the most important people attending our speech:
Think about the action you require from your audience’s perspective.
What are your audience’s concerns? What objections are your audience likely to raise? If you were in your audience’s shoes and being asked to take the action you are about to ask of them, how would you feel? Would you feel frustrated at the amount of extra work? Would you feel elated? Would you feel apathetic?
By thinking about the audience’s potential feelings, objections, and needs you help set yourself up for framing your outcome from the best possible angle. Let’s take, for example, a presentation about a new software system which your audience needs to use. List up your audience’s feelings, objections, and needs.
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When considering feelings, objections, and needs treat it as a mini brainstorming session. Divide a sheet of paper into three columns and list as many items as you can for each. The purpose of this quick brainstorm is to form a positive, well-framed outcome.
When asked to use new software your audience could experience a range of feelings and emotions.
You will be asking them to take on the additional workload of learning and using a new system. They are likely already under pressure and will therefore experience some instant reactions to your news of the new software awaiting them.
Resistance, frustration, apathy, anger, stress, anxiety, fear, to name a few.
Identifying these feelings and emotions helps us to take on the perspective of the audience.
It is impossible to broach the subject of increased workload with employees without hearing some objections.
These days there is no end to the amount of work employees are expected to do. Breaking the news that there is more to be done is unlikely to have anyone jumping for joy.
Think about what you are asking your audience to do and consider what they could reasonably object to. In the case of the new software some major objections could be the additional work, the learning curve, the reliability of the software.
What does your audience want to hear?
They probably don’t want to hear that you have a bunch of new work for them to do. However, if you can frame this extra work as time-saving your audience will be more receptive to your message.
Let’s look at an example.
Barry needs to deliver a presentation about the new timesheet software system which will be in use from next month.
It is important that all employees familiarize themselves with this system now so that support queries are minimized in the lead-up to the first timesheet submission date. Barry does a quick brainstorming session and identifies the following general points about his audience:
“I am tired of change initiatives that never get fully implemented. Management announces these changes and then nothing happens. I feel that upper management are just wasting my time with constant change projects.”
“I don’t want to change. I am familiar with the current system now and don’t have time to learn something new just so payroll’s job is easier.”
“I need more time. I need less pressure.”
After Barry has brainstormed some feelings, objections, and needs it is pretty clear that employees are lacking time and there is a perception that management are wasting the valuable time they do have. From this brainstorming Barry can better frame his outcome. Instead of the outcome being simply “Log in to the system and practice”, Barry can frame his outcome in an audience-focused manner:
“Log in and familiarize yourself with the system which will give you back an extra 60 minutes every week.”
Once Barry has a framed outcome he can now confidently move on and outline his speech.
Step 3 – Outline x 3
Typically Barry plans his speeches in essay form. Writing everything he needs to say line by line.
Planning his speech this way helps Barry feel he won’t miss a single point in his delivery. It gives him comfort that he will cover everything.
Prior to his speaking engagement Barry has to transpose his essay into bullet point notes on a set of cue cards.
On stage, with a memorized script and cue cards, Barry runs into trouble. He speaks. He tries to remember he next line. He gets out the next line but doesn’t quite remember what comes next. Barry panics and checks his cue cards. He shuffles the cards, gets them out of order. More panic. How long since he’s said anything?
Things go downhill from there.
Having a memorized script sets speakers up for failure.
It is impossible to remember a script word-for-word. As a result, when a speaker like Barry is on stage, remembering the script makes him look robotic. Additionally, when he inevitably makes mistakes or forgets something it throws him off his game. His delivery gets progressively worse.
Instead of trying to memorize your next speech, outline the speech in threes.
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You know the outcome you require and you know your topic, so now come up with the three main points that you will discuss in your speech and write them down. You know your topic really well, so if you write down the main objective of your speech plus your three talking points it will be easy to remember.
“But,” you say, “I can’t remember exactly what to say based only on the topic!”
That’s okay, you don’t have to.
Whether you have a memorized script or you are just speaking about the topic you know well, you will make mistakes. When you’ve memorized a script the mistakes become a big deal. It causes panic.
When you make a mistake as you are speaking about something you know well, it’s no big deal.
Let’s look at how you can outline your speech so that it is easy to remember:
Outcome required: Audience to adopt new selling practices
Point 1: Our firm’s bad sales performance last year
Point 2: New practices to help close sales more quickly
Point 3: Sales forecasts for the coming year
Follow the rule of threes for the best way to memorize your speech:
- Understand your topic deeply
- Understand what outcome is required
- Create an outline
- Topic -> Outcome -> Outline (3 main outline points) = TOO3
Take the focus off yourself
The biggest problem with public speaking?
Here’s a simple trick to overcome your fear, engage your audience, and buy yourself some time on stage.
Next time you deliver a speech, don’t start with a formal greeting.
Instead, ask the audience a question.
When you ask a question you take the focus off yourself, you “push” to audience. Especially if you suffering from fear and anxiety this is a fantastic technique to calm yourself before you start delivering.
Let’s say that your talk is about the new marketing plan your department will implement.
This change is happening due to a slump in sales but you know everyone is resistant to change so you’re nervous.
Here’s a rhetorical question to start with, plus a follow-up question:
“What is the biggest issue facing our firm this year? If you guessed a slowdown in sales you’re right. With such a sharp dive in sales how can we recover?”
The above is an example of something easy to remember that buys you a bit of time to get comfortable on stage.
Use stories to engage your audience
No matter what you are speaking about, if you can start with a story you have a strong chance of capturing, and maintaining, audience attention.
Looking back to the beginning of this article I used a story.
As you were reading you were probably wondering why I was telling you such a story at the start of an article about public speaking. The fact you are thinking about that and wondering why I’m telling you the story means you were engaged.
Long story short, however, it is used simply as an example of how stories can work.
To illustrate the power of stories, let’s look an important business and social skill, active listening:
“I used to make my wife very, very angry, and I’m about to tell you why. But first, I want to tell you about active listening.
Active listening is an essential skill. Trouble is, most people treat ‘regular’ listening as simply waiting to talk.
You’ve probably found yourself in this place before. While someone is talking to you, telling you about the project they’re working on, complaining about their boss, or describing their weekend, you are thinking ‘What am I going to say when it’s my turn to talk?’ You’re not listening to much of what the other person is saying, just focused on ‘When will it be my turn?’
Active listening involves asking questions.
When you are listening actively you are trying to best to understand the other person and give them the chance to share their story in depth.
When you do active listening, you should not be thinking about what you are going to say next, how you are going to respond to someone, or what you are going to cook for dinner tomorrow evening.
When you are active listening you should not be considering how you are going to solve the speaker’s problem.
Which brings me to my problem…
How did I make my wife so angry?
Here are few pieces of background information…
First, I have an Information Technology background. I’m a software developer. When I’m presented with a problem I instantly go into solution-mode. Bring an issue to me and I’ll debug the living daylights out of it until a solution’s found.
Second, I’m a man. Being a man exacerbates the first issue. If you need a serial problem-solver then look no further!
So, I would come home from a day at work, and my wife and I would be watching TV. She would turn to me and say, ‘I had a problem today. This happened…’
I would listen to the problem, think about it, consider potential options, and say, ‘You should do this…’
And my wife would get really angry.
I could never understand why she got so angry.
I thought to myself, ‘You came to me with a problem. I listened. I gave you a solution. Now it’s finished, let’s talk about something else.’
But she would get angry and it always had me stumped…
Until I realized: She didn’t want me to give her a solution. She wanted me to LISTEN to her.
If I had been ACTIVE listening our conversations would have been higher quality and I wouldn’t have had to worry about solutions. Additionally, I’d probably have gotten a better understanding of the issue she was having.”
Anyway, this is a story I use when I am delivering presentations where I introduce the concept of active listening. The story is embellished, but it gets the point across about the what active listening is and how important it is to use it.
Now, active listening is a pretty boring topic…
It’s a topic that most people assume they do well and so when it is introduced the likelihood is most of the audience switch off. When I tell this story the audience is always engaged, despite the mundane nature of the topic.
The audience get so engaged that they often finish sentences for me. For example, when I say, “She didn’t want me to give her a solution. She wanted me to LISTEN to her.” I can often stop after here: “She didn’t want me to give her a solution. She…” and the audience will finish the sentence for me.
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Use open loops
So, you’ve got a public speaking opportunity, you want the audience to pay attention, you want to put together a story to engage them from the get go. Here’s how you can do it:
- Create an open loop at the beginning of your story
- Build your story
- Close the loop with a lead in to your topic
1. Create an open loop at the beginning of your story
Start with an open loop.
It is this which will keep your audience listening and engaged until the very end.
Humans have a natural tendency to want to resolve, or close, things which have been started. This includes stories that they hear. This is why novels become page-turners.
Good books have just enough open loops that the reader just can’t seem to put it down. They want to keep reading to find out what happens and what eventually closes the open loops.
You don’t need to think too hard about this.
Your open loop does not need to directly be related to your topic. It must allow you to tell some sort of story. It must let you resolve the story (close the loop) so that you can lead in to your main point.
For example, my story at the beginning of this article began with the open loop about me having had a stroke (unfortunately this story is not embellished).
In my active listening story, my open loop is the line “I used to make my wife very, very angry.” I promise to explain why, but don’t do it right away.
The loop stays open and keeps the audience listening.
When you are reading the loop is closed quite quickly, but on stage things move slower. I pause more often and there is more time taken for reactions from the audience.
The loop stays open longer and keeps the audience engaged longer.
This engagement then continues on even after the loop is closed.
2. Build your story
Your story should build up a picture. Your story should give enough background information and context that your audience doesn’t need to work to understand. In my active listening story, I followed this process:
- Open the loop, “I used to make my wife very, very angry.”
- Relevant context, “Who am I? What is my background?”
- Situation, “What caused the problem/open loop?”
3. Close the loop with a lead in to your topic
The final part of the story line is to close the loop and lead into your topic.
If you’ve presented a problem in your story then it would be good if you lead in to a solution to the problem.
In my active listening example, I lead in to the topic/solution of active listening with this line:
“She didn’t want me to give her a solution. She wanted me to LISTEN to her.”
At the this point the audience are now engaged. They are sold on the benefits of active listening and understand the issues with not doing it. They are primed and ready for my speech.
Had I gone straight into to how to do active listening without telling the audience the story they would be resistant and disengaged. By telling them a story I’ve put them in an open and accepting frame of mind.
CLOSING THE LOOP
At the start of this article I opened a few loops that I’d like to now close for you.
The first one was how did I survive a brain hemorrhage in my sleep and the second was what happened to me after I saw Doc Number 2.
I survived the brain hemorrhage because I have unusually thick blood. When the aneurysm burst some blood escaped. Quickly, however, the blood clotted, which allowed me to wake up, get ready for work, catch a train, and, initially, not realize anything was seriously wrong.
After I visited Doc Number 2 we sped to the nearest hospital with a neurology department. Following several CAT scans, and with no sign of a cat, I got the bad news… Despite the aneurysm proving inoperable when surgeons tried to clip it, they were able to occlude the aneurysm by filling it with little metal coils.
I hope you’ve found this information useful.
I’d love to hear your feedback. Let’s chat in the comments below.
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