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Seeking public speaking perfection

Believe it or not, David Beckham wasn’t born with a golden right foot.

Tiger Woods didn’t drive a golf ball 300 yards at the age of four.

Serena Williams couldn’t land her first ever over arm serve anywhere within the court.

They all succeeded by working on one thing at a time, until they got the perfect kick, swing or serve.

And yet, when we first start speaking in public, giving that first big keynote, presentation or pitch, right from day one we expect ourselves to be as perfect as the speakers we see on TV; the trained professionals, experts and world leaders.

Our first attempt is often us trying to deliver a speech that is perfect in every way, and we fail on all of them.

If there’s anything that we as speakers can learn from the sporting gods of our time, it’s that a little focus goes a long way.

Don’t try to be the perfect speaker from the start. We must focus on just three things to improve with each speech that we do.

The result? Continuous, effective improvement, until you’re the David Beckham of public speaking (Three things at a time!)

Lessons from aboriginal culture on public speaking

AboriginesWhen you meet a traditional aboriginal person, the first thing that they will try to do is find a shared experience or common ground. Who do we know in common? Where have we both been? What have we both experienced? Tenuous links are fine, as long as they answer the big question: ‘how are we linked?’

Culturally, shared experiences are seen as vital to building rapport, not just within aboriginal culture, but cultures across the world too. Thousands of years of cultural development has led to one common outcome in cultures across the world – shared experiences always equal empathy, understanding and lay the groundwork for positive communication.

What does this mean for us when speaking in public, or delivering presentations?

Demonstrating that we have shared experience, that we are just like them, is key to building rapport with our audience and persuading them to believe our argument.

Next time you are struggling to find a way to build rapport or persuade your audience, simply look for a story to tell that shows exactly what it is that you both have in common – thousands of years of human cultural development can’t be wrong!

The first question when public speaking

Question mark made up of question marksThe first question we should be asking when writing a speech or presentation is: what do the audience want to hear?

If what they want to hear is what you want to tell them, then our second question is how do I convey the message to them in the clearest, most efficient way.

If what they want to hear isn’t what you have to tell them, you are speaking to persuade. Our second question is then what story do I need to tell to make them see it my way?

Persuading and inspiring is all about using stories, with a foundation of statistics, to move an audience from opinion A to opinion B.

Advice for increasing your volume when making presentations!

shoutloudly speakingSometimes we need to speak loudly to be heard.

Perhaps it’s the murmurings of a fidgety crowd that we have to overcome, or simply just a large venue with no microphone – there are just some days when we need to crank our vocal volume up.

The problem with turning the volume up, is that it becomes harder to keep the intonation in our voice, and as a result harder to build empathy with our audience. When volume increases, we quickly become seen as ‘just’ a preacher.

Subtle changes in pitch and pace are always more difficult to achieve at the limits of our vocal range as we are already straining just to achieve volume.

To overcome this we need to turn up the dial on the rest of our voice too, to ensure we keep our expressiveness.

When we’re speaking at louder volumes, our voice must become a caricature of itself. Every change of pitch must be greater, every pause longer and every change of pace more extreme.

Without this extra effort to make sure our voice matches our volume, we’re simply just shouting!

Not listening to the voices inside your head

The voices inside our head often lie to us. They tell us we are fat when we’re thin, ugly when we’re beautiful or wrong when we are right.

Often our inner voice exaggerates reality, sometimes positively, but often negatively.

So why do so many of us choose to practice our speeches using our inner voices – inside our head?

The very best form of speech rehearsal is speaking aloud. Nice an

d loud, to practice your intonation and your volume and most importantly, to hear yourself saying it right!

Don’t practice that speech using the voice in your head, because more

often than not, that voice is wrong (like that time when it said you were overweight!).

voices in my head image

The power of the smile when public speaking

Read this line aloud, without smiling.

“Today is a day you will never forget…”

Sounds a bit like a threat from a gangster movie, right?

Now try reading it with a smile on your face.

“Today is a day you will never forget…”

Now, it sounds like a celebration, something to be excited about.

Smiling when we speak can dramatically increase or decrease the intonation in our voice.

This is great when we’re delivering a speech or presentation as this simple change can instantly give us a voice that conveys a positive or negative emotion. It changes the whole mood of our talk.

How are you going to use your smile in your next presentation?

Use the microphone

If we’re offered a microphone to speak with it’s wise to use it.

Generally if a microphone is present on stage, it has been setup by a trained professional. Someone with years of experience in helping voices like ours to reach the back of the room. However confident we might feel about our mighty voice, we mustn’t let overconfidence push us to decline the microphone. Confidence doesn’t make us good at someone else’s job, sorry.

The history of the world is littered with the remains of speakers that refused to use the microphone. We just don’t know about them, because nobody heard them.

These speakers thought that their voice was strong enough to reach the back of the room, or that the room was small enough to enclose their voice. They were wrong, and whatever they had to say, no one heard.

Who knows what life changing messages have gone unheard, just because someone thought they knew better than a trained sound professional…!

A microphone is a gift to help us convey your message, we must use it.

Do unto other speakers…

According to Greg M. Epstein, ‘do unto others’ … is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely.

Greg is a Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and his point not only applies to religion, but public speaking too.

Imagine you’re in the audience and there are three speakers on stage. When one stands up to speak, the other two are constantly glancing around or whispering to each other, not listening to what he has to say.

If the other speakers can’t be bothered to listen to the current speaker, why should we? In fact, why should we listen to what they have to say either?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, show interest, attentiveness and positivity towards the presentations of others is the golden rule, in life and as a speaker.

Big fear vs little fear when public speaking

No fear is the worst possible thing we can have when public speaking.

No fear means we don’t see the consequences of giving a bad presentation or speech. If we believe nothing can go wrong, then we also start to believe that we need less rehearsal, less effort and less energy when we’re speaking. No fear means gung-ho speaking. We rush, lose sight of the value of our speech, increase the likelihood of mistakes and as a result, the value we give to our audience decreases.

Big fear when speaking is pretty bad too. Big fear means stun gun style paralysis, forgotten words, mumbling and shaking. Big fear is the fear that stops us totally from speaking. Big fear is as bad as no fear, because both ruin our message.

The best fear is little fear.

Just enough to keep us on our toes, to make us realise the value of what we’re about to do when we stand up and speak and to give us that little bit of adrenaline that shows our audience we really care about what it is we have to say.

Embrace little fear. It motivates us all to better speaking.

The challenge of wind when speaking – tips on speaking outdoors

Despite the title this isn’t a post on flatulence and the modern speaker, sorry, I’ll write that post some time in the future!

‘Wind’ comes up a lot in many of the greatest speeches of our time: ‘winds of change’, winds of time’ ‘winds of fury’.

However, wind is most influential on our speaking when we’re outdoors – a wind blowing in the wrong direction can leave us mute, our audience straining to hear us and our message lost in the breeze!

It’s a little thing, but one that you might not have thought of – always check which way the wind is blowing before you start speaking – is it carrying your message, or pushing against it?

What makes you so special?

We all have a special quality – something that our friends remark on – “Oh, I love the way you always…”

What’s your special quality? And more importantly, how can you use it to strengthen the way you deliver your speeches and presentations?

We’re all more comfortable being our natural selves, and so if you’re playing to your natural strengths when speaking, everything becomes much easier to do.

Are you a joker, a conversationalist, a considered speaker or something else altogether?

Whatever you are, embrace it, and craft your next speech or presentation around it. We don’t have to all mimic the uptight politicians and public figures of today when we’re speaking.

More often than not, real rapport is built when we’re just being ourselves. (N.B. Unless of course your true inner self is a fur-wearing, kitten slaying maniac, then maybe try and be someone else, or see a doctor)

Find what makes you so special and the result will be a speech that is so much more ‘you’ and therefore so much more effective at building a real rapport with your audience!

The power of the metaphor

Explaining things isn’t always easy.

When Steve Jobs pitched the Apple Mac computer, he might as well have been trying to explain electricity to cavemen – his audience had no point of reference for what it was he was trying to explain.

The solution for Steve, and for us too, is to make use of metaphors*. To compare what we are trying to explain to our audience to a relevant point in their lives.

In the end Steve got his message across and made millions (many millions) selling a product that no one originally understood. If you’d like an example, take a look at any of Steve Jobs’ product launches – a metaphor masterclass!

If Steve can sell a computer with a metaphor, what can we achieve by bringing metaphors to our hard to explain concept?

*A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.

The Voice of Public Speaking Survey 2013

I spend a lot of my time looking for insight into how the world feels about public speaking, how we do it, what we say and why (oh why?) do so many people fear it?

The Web is awash with lots of anecdotal evidence, but very few statistics on the subject.

It’s time to change that and I’m looking to do it with the very first ‘public speaking census’ – a short survey (10 questions) on how we feel about public speaking.

If you could take two minutes to complete the survey at the link below, I promise to share the results for us all to use and learn from!

Take the full public speaking survey here.

I hope this will be the first of many annual ‘state of public speaking surveys’ to come, giving us more and more public speaking insight as we go!



Dealing with nerves when public speaking – beyond breathing


I was asked the other day about my top tips to avoid nerves when public speaking. A lot of the people that I work with on their public speaking are beyond the simple recommendations of ‘take deep breaths’ and ‘imagine everyone naked’ and so more often than not my recommendations for dealing with nerves are more about ‘visualisation’.

HEALTH WARNING: The suggestions below might sound a lot like Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), but I actually have no training in that area. Instead, my recommendations are built on common sense, logic and experience. Can’t beat that, can you?
Generally, when it comes to public speaking, we are all great at visualising the worst possible outcome. It’s very rare that you’ll meet a nervous speaker who tells you they are imagining it all going well!

If negative visualisations can make us nervous, then surely positive visualisations can make us more confident. Next time you’re feeling nervous, lie back, close your eyes, breathe (yes, I know!) and visualise the scenes below. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make to your mindset, attitude and the results that you get from your public speaking!

1. Visualise a confident speaker. Visualise exactly what they look like, how they sound and how they move. What makes them appear so confident? How do the audience react to them? Are they silent with anticipation, are they applauding, are they smiling?

2. Visualise yourself speaking confidently. Visualise exactly how you will stand, how you will move and how you will deliver every line. Visualise and imagine your voice ringing out loud and confidently. Visualise that audience smiling at you, and the sound of their applause.

Feel better?

Thoughts on writing a conference talk

At the moment I’m working on my talk for the Soton Digital conference, entitled ‘Isn’t Ajax a football team? How Developers and Non-Developers can work together more effectively’.

It’s thrown up some interesting ideas on the nature of speeches, presentations and conference ‘talks’.

I want to give my audience something of value. It’s unlikely that I am the biggest or best expert on any one area of Web marketing in the room and so by simply preaching the facts on a topic I won’t provide anything that my audience couldn’t read or learn about themselves online.

So what should I look to give my audience?

I’ve settled on the idea of ‘food for thought’.

When it comes to speeches, presentations (and it appears conference talks too), it’s natural to look to inform, or preach about what you know and prove what an expert you are.

This is great if you really are a world-renowned expert, and if your audience are willing to be taught. But surely, giving your audience the tools, ideas and theories to do their own thinking is much more valuable to them in the long-run?

After all, an audience is much likely to accept an opinion or theory if they can conclude or produce it for themselves, using the tools and evidence that the speaker provides. An opinion or theory that is simply stated to an audience by the speaker holds less substance, less foundation and less weight.

Based on this thinking, what will I be providing for my audience at Soton Digital?

I’ll be demonstrating the key players in the developer/non-developer relationship…providing theories on the types of motivations they may have…looking at how similar relationships have worked throughout history…how those relationships have been resolved…and then… I’ll be asking the audience to take all of the information that I have provided and produce their own thoughts, ideas and theories to discuss in the bar afterwards.

This might seem lazy, but I’m happy to admit that 100 people in a room will come up with better ideas than just me alone, and I am sure that ultimately, it will provide more value for everyone, including me!

So, the next time that you speak, look to empower rather than preach and see how much more engaged your audience are when they are being asked to use their brains, rather than just their ears!