Hey guys! It’s Dave Mac here from PresentationBlogger.com. Today, I’m talking with Dave Linehan. Dave is engineer, a speaker, a Toastmaster, a blogger, the list goes on. Dave runs the Communicate You Blog at CommunicateYouBlog.com. On the Communicate You Blog, Dave writes articles about public speaking. He has a huge collection of expert interviews with the likes of Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds.
DM: Welcome Dave, thanks for being with us today.
DL: Hi Dave. Great to be with you as well.
DM: Toastmasters. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
DL: Sure, Dave. I suppose I’ll take you back to the start and I joined Toastmasters late in 2014. I discovered he organization initially through my involvement with the Young Engineers’ Society which is a group of young engineering professionals here in Dublin where I’m based. And being an engineering graduate I spend a lot of time with my fellow peers and an opportunity came up where I was able to enroll in the Speech Craft course which was being given by the local branch of Toastmasters. And so I signed up to that and went along and attended. I found over the 3 weeks that I attended that I was really enjoying the public speaking aspect of it and so I decided to go along to the regular Toastmasters events. After a couple of meetings of that I realized that I was really enjoying it and wanted to become a full-time member of the club. So, I joined the club and worked my way through the initial 10 speeches of Toastmasters which is the basic tool and techniques of public speaking, step-by-step. They’ve got a very good structure about how you go from the very basics of just getting up there and introducing yourself in the club, right up to learning about vocal variety and how to use slides when you present. I worked through that manual over a number of years and right now I’m at the point where I’m on the advanced communcations stream of Toastmasters so looking at other more difficult aspects of the skill.
DM: And you can just continue with Toastmasters indefinitely? Continue to hone your skills?
DL: You can. There seems to be an endless supply of different levels of manuals you can do which all touch on different levels of public speaking. And just to bring it back a bit for people who aren’t familiar with Toastmasters… The organization itself has 350,000 members across the world in about 130 countries. It’s a worldwide organization that looks at helping people develop their public speaking and their leadership skills. It was setup way back in 1924 and every year there is a great opportunity to take part in the international speech contest which starts off at your own individual club and then goes right up to the finals every year where the world champion of public speaking crowned. So I suppose if you get bored of the manual you can always throw your hat into the race for the world title at some point.
DM: Do you have aspirations to be there one day?
DL: I think it’s a bit early for that. All I can say is that I’m really enjoying it and I’m entering the speech contest for the first time in March so I’m in the process of preparing for round 1.
DM: So tell us about that first presentation at Toastmasters. How did you feel at that point?
DL: I had the fortunate experience of being through the Speech Craft 3 week course before I joined the main Toastmasters, so I had those basic skills of being able to stand up in front of a crowd and give a basic icebreakers speech. So, I wouldn’t necessarily say I was particularly nervous. But, like any speaker there’s always going to be a certain amount of nerves before you get up and speak and so I suppose I’ve just learned over the years to embrace those nerves and to realize that they just come naturally and you can make use of those nerves to actually enhance your speech sometimes.
DM: Since you’ve become involved with Toastmasters you now also run presentation workshops for young engineers. What led you to start those?
DL: That’s right, Dave. So I guess you could that the engineers peaking workshop was almost a by-product of me being involved with Toastmasters. It’s all held in the same building. There’s really 2 parts to that and 2 reasons why I started the event in the first place. First of all, being an engineer myself and a recently graduated engineer I set the group up. I realized that more and more frequently I was being asked in the workplace to deliver presentations, and often presentations to a non-technical audience. And so, that’s a real skills that’s required to be able to convey your message to a non-technical audience in a way that they understand. And speaking with my peers I realized that this is a problem for engineers that they’re facing and they need to learn how to communicate. The feedback I was receiving from some people was that they were just quite ready for the formality of Toastmasters environment and they just wanted to be amongst friends, to just practice public speaking in a relaxed environment. So, I set about setting up what I called “The Speaking Group” which met every month, and it gave people the opportunity to just come along and some people came with prepared speeches and others just came and listened to others. And it was a real collective environment where people could provide feedback to others. The great thing about it was that we recorded all the speeches so people were given the opportunity to almost give feedback to themselves, to self-evaluate. I think that was, certainly for me, an invaluable tool as part of the initiative.
DM: Do you think that watching videos back of yourself actually presenting… That’s probably something that would make the fearful public speaker fear it even more… Do you think that it is really valuable for people to improve their presentation skills?
DL: I think there’s no question about it. I think the best way to learn is to actually watch yourself back. What I find is you can get feedback from individuals, every time at Toastmasters I get about 20 A4 sheets of paper with lots of different ways I could improve and what’s really interesting is, if you watch back yourself in parallel to reading that feedback you can actually say to yourself, “Yes! Now I get it. Now I get what they’re writing down for me. I can see myself making these mistakes.” And I think by watching yourself back you really learn to improve and I can say to myself, “Well if you can’t watch yourself, how do you expect others to watch you.” And that’s something I have in mind when I watch myself back.
DM: Myself, I found that when I was watching back on myself I say “Okay” so many times and it’s just one of those filler words, and it’s uncomfortable to watch yourself back, but you can really start to improve, right?
DL: Absolutely. And I think you just need to, the first or second time you do it, you just have to force yourself to watch. Sometimes it can be very cringey, especially if you are just starting off the journey to better public speaking, but I think bit by bit you improve and I suppose it becomes the point where you enjoy watching yourself back, hopefully.
DM: Yeah. I don’t know how you feel about this, but I always kind of, well I have started to look at it like no one’s ever going to be a perfect public speaker so it’s all about just making those incremental improvements to get better and better and better.
DL: That’s exactly it. I suppose, having spoken with a couple of people, you made reference to my expert interview series on the blog and I talked to lots of different people from world-leading speakers like Garr Reynolds or Nancy Duarte to other people, trainers like yourself, and that message comes through time and time again. It’s everybody that has nerves, there’s no perfect speaker and I’m reminded of the great quote by Mark Twain, he said, “There are two types of public speakers. Those who are nervous and those who are liars.” And I think it’s so true. I don’t think there exists a person that gets up on stage and doesn’t have nerves, it’s just a natural human instinct. I think we just have to learn to embrace those nerves.
DM: Yeah. So, jumping around a little bit, can you tell me what led you to start the Communicate You Blog?
DL: Sure, Dave. I’ll give you the full story. It really goes way back to 2013 when I developed my first site. The first site was just davelinehan.com, it was my name and it was the first domain name that I registered. It was really just setup as a way of learning a new skill, web development and also a way of showing off some of my work. And, at that point the blog functionality was there but it was lying idle, so there was no blog. Then I suppose I had always wanted to write a blog but I just didn’t know where to start. One day I read an article that said write about something you’re passionate about, otherwise you show no passion in your writing. And at this point in my life I was very much engaged in public speaking, in my real life I was a member of Toastmasters, I was developing the speaking group of young engineers, I was making presentations in the workplace, and I felt that a blog about public speaking would be the next step. So, March 2015, which is almost 2 years ago now, I published my first post on CommunicateYouBlog.com. And the goal back then, and still is very much is to capture the most important elements of public speaking as I had experienced them in my own life. I realized that I’m on journey myself, I’m not a perfect public speaker, and I will probably never will be. It’s a constant journey about learning to improve and really the blog for me is a way of expressing the key learnings from own journey as I experience them, and that’s really what the blog is all about.
DM: And the amazing thing is you’ve been able to grow that blog really well and get these fantastic interviews at the same time. Like some of the names you’ve got on your blog are Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte. How did you get interviews with those people?
DL: I think you just need to be courageous, to be perfectly honest with you, Dave. It’s just a matter of reaching out to these people, talking about why you’re passionate about their work. I read the wonderful books from Garr and Nancy. Presentation Zen, most people will probably… Anybody involved in public speaking has probably heard about Garr Reynolds and his book Presentation Zen, one of the best books I’ve read on public speaking. And then, likewise, Resonate is a great book by Nancy. And just, I suppose, reaching out to people and talking about why I’m so interested in their work… It’s amazing how generous people are with their time. I’m really, really fortunate people like them, those caliber of people, are prepared to come and speak with me, and I suppose it just went from there.
DM: Just to touch on “confidence”. There’s someone out there now sweating over their first presentation that they have to deliver at work today. What one piece of advice would you give them to help them with their presentation?
DL: I suppose, somebody that’s sweating, I suppose that’s the first thing to address… And that again comes back to that question of fear of public speaking and think that I’ve probably talked so far in this presentation quite a bit about the different strategies to overcome those nerves. So, maybe to move on a little bit and just talk about the person is there maybe an hour to go before their presentation… What are the key principles that they need to keep in mind when they are preparing their speech? And for me, I have developed a full e-book on this, How to Prepare a Speech, and it’s available for free on my website. But just, I suppose, to summarize it very briefly, I will always talk about a speech and preparing a speech as almost taking your audience on a journey. You’ve got to think about that by first of all choosing your destination. That’s about the objective or the purpose of your speech. So, that’s step one. Think about your destination. Step two is go and actually plot your route. That’s the message you want to deliver along the way. That will help accomplish your objective or reach your destination. And then the third point, and I think most important point of the entire speech preparation, is to take your passengers on the journey with you. And that’s the audience you’re bringing with you, so you’ve got the goal of bringing your audience from where they are at the start of your presentation, which is point A, and then bringing them to the end of your presentation, and your clear call to action. That’s your point B. So, just to summarize it all, it’s really a journey with a destination, a route, and passengers. Once you’ve nailed those three aspects I think you’re well on course to deliver an effective speech.
DM: Very nice. And, just to repeat, you have that e-book available for free on your website which will help people with that, right?
DL: Absolutely. It’s been available for about a year and I’m constantly updating it. I’m currently in the process of updating it for 2017. And, I suppose I try to keep it as brief but as useful and real-life as possible.
DM: Fantastic. Just one last question… You mentioned passengers. So, the passengers are your audience. How do you connect with the audience?
DL: There’s a couple of ways of thinking about this and there’s some very simple ways you can connect with the audience. The opening of your speech is probably the most important part. The first 15 to 30 seconds, where your audience are there looking at you, and you’ve got to grab their attention. There are a couple of ways of doing that. I find a great way of getting the audience bought in to your speech at the very start is simply to ask them a question, or ask them for a show of hands. Basically, just get the audience involved. I think it’s a great way of keeping them engaged. And the second point is the whole concept of visual aids and using powerful images on screen. There’s always, in business, the risk that you just bore your audience to death by using what we call “Death by PowerPoint” or slides full of text and totally disengaging slides that put your audience to sleep. I find that’s a big problem in business presentations, in particular. So I find if you can simplify the slides and instead shift the focus of the audience from the slides to the presenter — the presenter has the power — I think that’s a great way of connecting with the audience, and that’s really, really important.
DM: Awesome! Dave thanks very much for joining us today. Everyone, you can visit Dave at CommunicateYouBlog.com. On his blog you can download the free public speaking e-book, you can read articles and interviews about public speaking, and hone your presentation and public speaking skills. Dave, thanks again for joining us.
DL: Thanks, Dave. Pleasure talking with you. Thank you.