Category Archives: Speak With Passion

Layer Your Presentation: Performing

Layer Your Talk With Passion
(Photo by Sanctu)

In two previous articles I covered the basics for writing your presentation (“Layer Your Presentation: Research“) and practicing your presentation (“Layer Your Presentation: Practice“). In this final article in the series, I cover the details of actually giving a great presentation.

Dress for success. The rule of thumb is to dress slightly better than your audience is dressed. If you dress down, you run the risk of a bad first impression. If you dress too nicely, people might assume that you’re not “one of them”. Feel free to break the dress rule – but with awareness.

Bring backups. Technology snafus happen all the time – so plan for the worst:

  • Assume your slides are never sent to the right person for display.
  • Assume your printed speech may be wet, missing pages, out-of-order, or misplaced.
  • Assume your teleprompter text isn’t showing the most recent version of  your speech.
  • Assume your nice shirt or dress will have an obvious stain on it.
  • Assume you won’t have time to eat before your speech.
  • Assume you’ll get stuck in traffic or get lost in an unfamiliar city.
  • Assume the lights will be hot and the room’s temperature will be uncomfortable.
  • Assume your microphone’s volume won’t be set correctly.
  • Assume there won’t be a glass of water to quench your dry mouth.

Be humble. Yes, someone asked you to speak. But remember that it’s unlikely about you – it’s about what your speech can do to help the event. So, be sure to proactively thank everyone on the production team – no matter how lowly they might appear. The production team are the unsung heroes – and you want them to root for you to succeed.

Remember to smile. For me, it’s hard to smile during a talk when I’m thinking about the myriad of other details to get right. A genuinely happy smile will likewise make your audience smile (from mirror neuron patterning) – and they’ll remember your presentation as more enjoyable.

Trying to perfect all of these steps on your first presentation is likely to be overwhelming – at first. I encourage you to gradually add more of these steps to your performance as other presentation skills become more natural.

Layer Your Presentation: Practicing

Layer Your Talk With Passion
(Photo by Sanctu)

In last month’s article (“Layer Your Presentation: Research“) I covered the basics for getting ready to write your presentation. In this month’s article (part two of three) I cover the details for practicing your presentation in the comfort of your own home or office.

Get feedback. Before you go any further, find someone to read your draft and look at your supporting visuals. The reader should be someone who would be able to put themselves in the mindset of your audience member. If they can’t understand things now, fix it. Don’t assume that the power of your speaking voice will make things better.

Practice the speech as written. A speech on paper often doesn’t sound natural when read aloud. You’ll want to add natural word connectors (more formally called “discourse markers”) such as oh, well, like, and now. You might also find that certain phrases trip up your tongue too much. During this phase you’re subtly rewriting the speech to make it sound right to your ear.

Practice the speech as if you haven’t memorized it. The flip-side to memorizing your speech (or reading it from your notes) is that you’re more likely to give each word you speak equal weight and timing. This sounds mechanistic. In your natural speech pattern you speak at different speeds, different octaves, and even grasp for words. Practice adding these natural patterns to make your speech sound a bit less rehearsed.

Practice the speech while standing. Get used to standing comfortably (and naturally) for an extended period of time. The simple act of practicing your speech while upright will naturally adrenalize you, so standing can help you practice relaxing more.

Experiment with body dynamics. Your body dynamics can also be used to support your speech in similar ways to using visuals. Walk around a little when talking. Pay attention to what your hands could be doing. Lean forward. Research has shown we get as much meaning from watching body language as we get from listening to a speech (do you prefer to listen to a speech over the radio or watch the video?). On the day of your speech, you can always “dial down” the body dynamics. But if you need to infuse energy in your speech, and you haven’t practiced doing so, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to suddenly add it.

Practice with technology. Will you be reading from a dais or a teleprompter? Will you have a handheld microphone? Will there be camera people filming your talk? Technology can easily fluster you if you haven’t used it before. Borrow a friend’s gear to get familiar with how it works and what works best for your style.

Get fit. If you’re not in shape, start a small fitness regimen. Why? Treat your presentation as a marathon. By having a fitter body, you’ll be more able to handle the rigor of mental stress and physicality of standing (for hours on end, if you’re recording a video).

Next month I’ll cover how to actually perform your presentation.

Layer Your Presentation: Research

Layer Your Talk With Passion
(Photo by Sanctu)

A great presentation is layered with many subtle details. Based on my own speaking style and coaching, I use the following steps to develop a layered passionate speech:

Research the audience. Even if someone tells me what they want me to speak about, it’s important to understand who’s likely to hear your talk and why they’d likely be in your audience. Knowing who I’m talking to will allow me to use the right terminology, examples, and tone.

Research the context. Who else will be speaking that day? What are they speaking about? Whose speech will follow yours? Whose speech will precede yours? Knowing about the context will help you to reiterate concepts from previous speakers and give subsequent speakers adequate opportunities to connect with your speech.

Research the content. When being asked to give a speech, this is the first step most people think about. But you need to find the content that best matches your audience and your context. There’s no use sharing complex material with audiences who aren’t deeply familiar with your topic, nor insulting a learned audience by sharing information that’s too simplistic.

Write the draft. Don’t start writing until you’ve done your research. While you can always change your draft later, the more comfortable you are seeing your new paragraphs on the page, the less likely you’ll want to change them. Don’t get too attached to your words and be willing to throw it all away and start again (remember: when you’re restarting, you’re not back at square one).

Find supporting visuals. No matter how good looking you are or fascinating your speech is, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get your audience’s full attention for the entire length of your speech. That’s especially true these days – when people are bored, they won’t hesitate to pick up their smart phone and see what’s interesting elsewhere in the world. Visuals shouldn’t simply reiterate what you’re saying (the worst: reading the slide from the screen). Visuals should add emotional punch. If your visual is too good, it may upstage you!

Next month I’ll cover how to practice your presentation.

Elevator Speech For Solo Travel Business

I need help with an elevator speech.  This is what I came up with so far: “At Travel Solo No More, we help the solo traveler get out there and see the world by reconnecting them with old friends or by establishing new ones in a warm and friendly group setting while building lasting vacation memories.”

I am a travel consultant and my ideal client is the person that does not have anyone to travel with for whatever reason. My ideal clients are 35+ mainly women, not well traveled, interested in meeting people, traveling together and making new friendships. I would love to eventually build the group to include men; maybe do a couple of events involving them. I know so many people that would like to travel but they don’t have a partner and don’t want to go on vacation with couples. This group will cater to them.


Jay’s Answer:  What you wrote is too long, and unfortunately not very memorable.

I previously wrote the article “Is Your Elevator Pitch a Monologue or a Dialogue?“. Using these principles, you could change your speech to:

I help the single traveler explore the world
I plan friendly group trips for people who want to travel together
Where in the world have you always wanted to visit?

If you’re trying to craft a speech for a networking group, you’re likely better off sharing a tiny story about a recent solo traveller: “Jane had always wanted to see Ireland. But her husband didn’t want to go and she didn’t want to do it alone. I helped set up a friendly group trip, matching her with other solo travelers. She had the time of her life.”

Speak With Passion: Slowing it Down

Slow Your Speech Down

(Photo by LaserGuided)

After spending a lot of time memorizing your speech, the last thing you’ll probably think about is your speech’s pacing.

It’ll be hard for to remember that just because you know what you’re saying, your audience won’t likewise quickly understand your message and fall in love with you. When you start talking, you’ll likely get a big spike of adrenalin, which will naturally cause you to talk faster than you intended, and faster than your audience can process your words.

Your audience is also likely to perceive that a speaker whose words are racing as nervous, afraid, and insecure. They may try to keep up with the too-fast speech, and realize that it’s simply too hard. And then they’ll tune out your speech. Your hope for success has effectively landed on deaf ears.

When you start your speech, pretend the audience isn’t full of native English (or whatever language you’re speaking in) speakers. Speak slowly so they can understand what you’re saying, using words that are familiar to them. If you’re unsure if you have the right pacing, keep track of how many words per minute (wpm) you speak. If you speak consistently too slowly (under 120 wpm), your audience may think you’re stupid or are talking “down” to them.  So, use as your starting point 130 wpm.

Tip: Use your pacing to infuse your speech with passion.

Speak With Passion: Passionate & Scatter-Brained?

Passionate & Scatter-Brained?

(Photo by Rob DiCaterino)

One of the keys to giving a great speech is to share your passion. Your passion is infectious, and your audience gets to vicariously experience your story. But if your speech isn’t well thought out, your talk may become rambling, and make your audience very frustrated. They can feel your passion. They know you have something exciting to tell them, but they can’t “get it”. And they want to. Here are some tips to keep you on-target:

  • Start at the ending. What is the key one or two points you want to leave your audience with? What is your call-to-action (what you want them to do afterwards)?
  • Start at the beginning. Where in the landscape of your story do you want to start? Why there? How does this starting point related to both your ending and your audience?
  • Build a bridge. Scattered-brained people get distracted on their journeys – often going on a lot of side-trips that somehow turn into digressions. Stay on the highway of your talk’s focus. If you do take a side-trip, it must be informative, and come back to the highway for a good reason. Too many side trips and the audience loses the feel of the highway. There are great storytellers that can string together a number of side trips into a journey (Malcolm Gladwell, for example), but it’s a rare skill. Keep your message clear so your audience will remember your story.
  • Refer to your notes. If you get nervously distracted during your talk, have some notes to remind you of the key landmarks you want to visit. Don’t do any extemporaneous speaking. It’s likely to get you in trouble.

Give your audience the gift of a clear, well-understood speech. They’ll likely want to come back to you for more information later.

Speak With Passion: An Opportunity For Personal Growth


(Photo by Joanna Penn)

If you’re like most speakers, when you’re preparing to give a speech you’re focused on memorizing your speech and your delivery. You  know that a great speech is a gift to your audience. But there’s also a way to give yourself a huge gift as a side-effect of your speech.

Before you take the stage, think of a single word that conveys an personally important aspirational meaning to you, for example: confidence, joy, breathe, smile, or success. It’s important that it’s a single word, since you literally only have a second for this technique. Choose a word with a positive connotation that’s truly important – something that you want more of in your life, or a feeling that you want to convey to your audience. Got your word?

As you come onto the stage, remember your word fondly. Don’t force the word through mentally gritted teeth. Smile inwardly. Think of the experience of having more of this word in your life. Now begin your speech.

As your speech has natural breaks for you to breathe or for people to applaud to show slides, remember your word again.

As you end your speech (or even, after you give your speech and before you leave the stage), remember the word again. Don’t force this drill. Remember, it’s a gift you’re giving to yourself.

So, how can remembering a single word change your life? While you’re onstage, your audience has given you a huge gift – their attention. This attention is a sea of opportunity for you energetically. Everyone wants to hear a great speech, so they’re sending you positive hopeful thoughts. By using an affirmation, you’re using helping to ground their energy in your personal growth.

If you’re not a “new-agey” person, who thinks this is all silly mumbo-jumbo, I encourage you to suspend your disbelief. Consider this story:

An American scientist once visited the offices of the great Nobel prize-winning physicist, Niels Bohr, in Copenhagen. He was amazed to find that over Bohr’s desk was a horseshoe, securely nailed to the wall, with the open end up in the approved manner (so it would catch the good luck and not let it spill out). The American said with a nervous laugh, “Surely you don’t believe the horseshoe will bring you good luck, do you, Professor Bohr? After all, as a scientist –”

Bohr chuckled.

“I believe no such thing, my good friend. Not at all. I am scarcely likely to believe in such foolish nonsense. However, I am told that a horseshoe will bring you good luck whether you believe in it or not.”


Speak With Passion: How To Establish Your Guru-ness

How to Become a Speaking Guru

(Photo by John Haslam)

Whether you’re starting out or have been giving speeches for a while, you’re likely want to have people in your audience take note of what you say. And people pay extra-attention to people who are experts in their field. So how can you establish your own guru-ness in your talk?

There are 3 basic ways to show you’re the expert:

1. Say “I’m the expert and here’s why…” This borders on boasting and requires the most confidence in you as a speaker. The key is to pick one or two expert credentials that your audience cares about, and not bore your audience with a recitation of your professional resumé.

2. Have others say “You’re the expert and here’s why…” This is the most familiar way people are introduced onto stage, “So-and-so has won multiple awards, been to the White House many times, consults with heads of state, etc.”. Even if this introduction was written by the speaker (for the emcee) it comes across as more humble. By leaving the bragging for others to do, you save valuable time in your speech to convey your big idea.

3. Show you’re the expert at something else entirely. Let’s say you’re giving a speech on designing buildings. While you’ve been an architect for 20 years, won multiple awards, and are highly sought after, what many people don’t know is that you’re also a quilter, who has (quietly) made and donated quilts to homeless people for years. If your speech can connect quilting to architecture, you’ve pulled off a double-win: you’ve both humanized your speech (sharing something special) and made your speech more memorable (if everyone else is talking about architecture, and your speech begins with quilting, you’ve got an immediate edge). By talking about something that you’re also passionate about, you clearly articulate your multiple talents.

For your next speech, if you will be an unfamiliar face, carefully consider how you want to be introduced and remembered.

Speak With Passion: But What If You’re Shy?

Speaking For Introverts

(Photo by Ollie Crafoord)

If you’re naturally an extrovert, then public speaking feels easy. Sharing your passion with others makes you feel more alive. But what if you’re naturally shy – how can you get over your natural desire to be alone (or with a few trusted friends) and confidently share your story with strangers?

The preparation to give a great speech is the same: a great story, heartfelt emotions, appropriate details, and a clear story arc. But the mechanics for shy people needs to be different, since shy people get drained by interacting in public. The key is to not think about the hundred (or thousand) of individual people in your audience – it’s to think of them as a just a few people that are listening in.

Visually you begin by using a technique called “soft eyes”. Imagine that the lighting is good in your presentation hall and that you could, if you wished, see each of your listeners clearly. As you look from face-to-face, you can feel your energy drop because each person is looking at you. Instead, soften your gaze to not see the faces of people, but see the audience as just a few groups or regions. When you have a softer gaze, you feel like you can engage your peripheral vision better, and can’t see as clearly forward. You naturally use a soft gaze when you walk around a busy city street to avoid bumping into the crowd. You use a hard/focused gaze when you read a book or talk to people in a small dinner party. So, if you’re shy, visually switch to a soft gaze. Perhaps you might pick a person in different regions to act as your “representative” – this person is who you’ll focus on, and keep soft eyes on everyone else in the area.

Physically you’ll need to open your body posture. Shy people naturally try to make themselves invisible. When speaking with passion, you want your actions to be congruent with your story. If you’re excited about something you’re talking about, your body (and voice) needs to underscore this. Otherwise, you’ll be confusing your audience (they won’t know if you’re shy or if you’re being sarcastic). Ensure your posture is upright and feet are splayed. This will naturally open up your body. Talk slower. Not r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, but slower than you think. Adrenaline will naturally distort your sense of time and space, so by consciously slowing down your speech, you’ll come across more “centered”.

Before your speech, sequester yourself if you need to. Take time to do whatever relaxes you. After your speech, be available to chat, but mentally prepare to take a few minutes for yourself again (a planned bathroom break might be a helpful excuse).

Public speaking is not natural for shy people, but it’s a skill worth learning so you can share your expertise and passion with larger audiences.

Speak With Passion: Ending Your Talk

Ending your talk

(Photo by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget)

Imagine you’ve just given an amazing talk. It was well-paced, full of great stories, with no technical difficulties, and you received standing ovation. But if you didn’t built in a call to action, your talk will be relegated at most to “something entertaining” instead of “something life changing”. Why?

A call to action is the one step you want the listener to take after hearing your talk. The mistake most presenters make is assuming the audience will know what to do after hearing their talk (go to their website, buy their book, join their support group, volunteer for a new non-profit, donate to a named charity, or make a lifestyle adjustment). But unless you spell it out, people won’t make the leap. Since people are used to being entertained, if you want your talk to be life-changing, you need to tell people how to change their lives. It doesn’t have to be a big next step – in fact, the smaller the call to action is, the more likely people will take the first step painlessly.

Without a call to action, people are unlikely to remember your talk for more than a day or so (no matter how great it was). With no built-in way to keep the “thinking going”, you’ve given a one-way presentation, and not started a dialogue. A dialogue requires active participation of two (or more) and moves people from passive listeners to active participants.

A call to action also has the bonus of measuring how inspiring your presentation was. If you get 50% of your audience to join with you in doing something new, you’ve achieved a great deal. To build a movement, you need troops. With measured results, you’re both able to gauge your effectiveness and provide data showing that what you’re doing matters.

If the goal of your talk is to change lives, tell people exactly how to start their own life-changing experience with a call to action.