Category Archives: Speak With Passion

Speak With Passion: Information Overload?

Drinking from firehose

(Photo by MITCHELL)

In your quest to share information with your audience, how much should you share with them? Is it better to overwhelm them with stories and facts or just dole out a few tidbits?

If you provide not enough, then people won’t be convinced. The skeptics in the audience will want proof of what you’re trying to tell them. Your words alone won’t suffice, and the result is likely to be a “thin” talk.

If you provide too much information, you’re likely to lose the audience. They’ll be spending so much time trying to remember or record all the details, that they’ll be focused on what you just said, rather than what you’re saying now. And at some point, their concentration will waver, and they’ll be lost. They’ll have to decide whether it’s hopeless to try to keep up with you, or if the sheer volume of information somehow is covering up some lack of confidence (quantity of data, rather than quality of data).

So, what’s just right? It depends upon your audience. If you’re talking to people who need to see the data (scientists, for example), then the proof’s more in your data than your words. You need to convince them beyond the shadow of a doubt of your point. Otherwise, you want to keep everyone on the edge of their seats. You need to pace the stories and facts so that they “get it”, and then tease them with what’s coming. And then you “wow” them with another, giving a sufficient pause for them to digest the last story.

If you’re unsure if your pacing is right, have a friend or colleague sit in the audience and have them watch your audience. When do they start fidgeting or pulling out their cell phones? Keeping connected with the audience is a beautiful dance. Make sure that when you’re leading crowd, that they’re following. Otherwise, no one wins.

Speak With Passion: Your Introduction

Introducing Yourself On Stage

(Photo by JUCCE)

Imagine you’re about to take the stage to give your short talk and you’re not (yet) a household name. Should you have someone else introduce you onstage or should you introduce yourself?

The “safe” way is to have the moderator or a friend introduce you, perhaps using a short biography you’ve written to help guide them. It’s safe because the audience already knows the person introducing you, and therefore presumably trusts them. The person introducing you can also lavish praise on you that would look egotistical if you did it yourself. But this introduction comes with serious costs: you’re not in control of the content, the delivery, nor the tone. And more importantly – it robs you of the opportunity to make your own first impression. Someone else has defined who you are and the content of your speech. In a way, they’ve stolen some of your “thunder” by sharing the limelight with you for these first critical minutes.

The “usual” way to introduce yourself is to recite the litany of your achievements. The idea is once people see your expert credentials, they’ll trust what you say to be backed by experience (and not simply opinion). This is also safe, because it’s what people expect. But this usual way also has major flaw: you’ve robbed yourself of the opportunity to make a dynamic first impression. You’ve taken the first minutes talking about you and not about what the audience is there to hear – something about them.

The Speak With Passion way is to start with a story that frames you. Let’s say you’re an expert on a radical new way to manufacture widgets. People have been building the widgets the same way for decades. It’s tried and true. In fact, it’s the industry standard and seen as a best practice by all the experts in the field. But you discovered something that wasn’t obvious at first glance, and spent the last five years re-inventing the process. You have some modest success, but all the leaders in the field see what you’re doing as either stupid or reckless. They don’t see what you see. So instead of introducing yourself with credentials, tell your audience about your “Aha!” moment five years ago:

“I’m a true believer in best practices, but I know one of ours is flat-out wrong. I need to share my insights with you because otherwise we’re soon all going to be dinosaurs. You see, five years ago I knew, like you know, how to build great widgets. I studied with the best and even won some notoriety. Business was good, but something bugged me about the process. I didn’t want to believe that I saw a mistake – because who am I to contradict the established way? But this is what I discovered…”

This format of self-introduction has some key points:

  • You make yourself an “everyman” instead of a “superman”. We’re used to hierarchy – the smarter, more powerful, richer, better looking people are at the top, and generally the rest of us look up to them. Instead of putting yourself on a pedestal, give your audience the opportunity to do so.
  • You make the focus your passion and not yourself. By focusing on what you’re interested in, your audience will naturally feel your passion and be excited by it. Remember that the audience doesn’t really care about you – they care about themselves. Take care of that need early on.
  • You share your epiphany as a personal story. You could tell people what they need to do differently, but that lecture format can come across as dry and boring. By sharing a story, you give your audience the gift of seeing the world through your eyes. They may reject your “aha”, but they won’t reject you as a person. Your personal story is also more memorable than facts or processes.

Instead of trying to sell people from the stage, share yourself with the audience in a way that they care about. The end result is something that benefits everyone.

Speak With Passion: Reboot Your Old Presentation

Rebooting Old Presentation

(Photo by Scott)

If you’ve been giving the same one or two speeches for awhile, how can you reboot your old presentation into something more passionate? It starts with 2 questions.

  1. Why are you talking about this topic? What’s the goal of giving this speech? What are you trying to achieve? Who specifically do you want to hear your thoughts? What action do you want them to take after hearing you talk? What’s the benefit to them for taking this action?
  2. What personally got you interested in this topic? You could be giving presentations on a number of topics, but somehow you’ve locked into this topic. What sparked your interest? Who first influenced you? What was your life prior to understanding this topic? What was your life afterwards? Who did you share this passion with? What did they think?

Question #2 will help provide you with some stories that your audience will be able to relate to. Remember, they don’t have the knowledge/experience you do, so you need to show them through your senses your “awakening”. The right story will help them see the before/during/after experience and give them a concrete story to remember.

Question #1 will help you tailor your message to your speaking goals. Knowing what you want to impart will help you select the right stories, the right words, and the right imagery. If you want the listener to actively do something, tell them exactly what you want them to do (and why). If this is a speech about learning, ensure you have a succinct summary to make it easy for people to remember and retell the gist of your speech.

No doubt rebooting your old/safe presentation won’t be easy and may feel awkward to you. Be patient. It’s worth it.

Speak With Passion: Start To Write Your Speech

Writing a Speech

(Photo by Leah Jones)

Now that you’ve clearly identified the goals of your talk (3 questions) and clearly articulated your audience’s “message”, how do you start writing your speech? Since your audience is only likely to remember the beginning and end of a speech in detail, focus 75% of your efforts on the opening/closing of your talk.

The opening will set the expectation for the audience, so don’t waste your opening time thanking people, cracking a joke, or even a brief self-introduction. Hook your audience with an exciting story that they can relate to, that they can envision themselves experiencing first hand. Once people are captivated, then take them on a journey with you (and let them know where you’re heading with your presentation, so they don’t have to guess).

The middle of the speech should continue the opening’s promise of tone/direction. Support your speech with appropriate simple graphics. Slides of images or single words. These images should reinforce your message and give an opportunity to make your abstract words into something visually concrete.

The end of the speech should arrive gently. You want your audience to feel that the “end is near” and that they need to pay attention to your summary/conclusion. It’s disheartening to see a speech end (what feels like) suddenly and the audience scrambling to ask each other for what the speaker just said. Recap the journey you took and remind them of some of the highlights. If you can, provide a final image to lock your presentation around.

Remember that’s it’s better to leave your audience asking for more. Share your best stories. Your best images. Your humanity. Your passion.

Speak With Passion: Slides

Writing a Speech

(Photo by Beate)

Whether you use Keynote, PowerPoint, Prezi, or your own favorite presentation tool, it’s vital that you think about the effect your slides will likely have on your audience.

When a new slide is flashed on the screen, people’s eyes will naturally gravitate to it. That means for a split second they’re likely not to be listening to you – they’ll be looking at the slide. In your presentation, give them time to absorb the new image/text, otherwise your words are likely to missed.

If your slide contains text, you need to give your audience time extra time to read the words. You can draw their attention to some key points (hint: don’t read the slide to them!), but realize that if they’re reading it’s hard for them to simultaneously listen to you. So, plan out how you wish to make your point – visually or aurally.

If you’re trying to make an emotional point, use few or no words on your slides – use emotional images instead. The images are easily “absorbed” by your audience and your speech will become more like a movie narration (an intimate experience) rather than a professional speech. In fact the movie analogy is quite appropriate – you want to script what you want your audience to see/do at each step in your presentation. When you move your hands or body, people follow your motions. If you’re looking away from the audience, they’ll follow your gaze. If you’re handing out paper, they’re looking for the handout.

Imagine if people tuned out your voice when talking and only looked at your slides (which naturally does happen when people shift their attention) – what would they remember about your message? To give a speech with passion, guide your audience on a journey, rather than tell them information.

Speak With Passion: Using Props & Slides

Speaking On Stage

(Photo by US Embassy Sweden)

Before you start spending lots of time creating slides or shipping your props across the country for your speech, you need to do your technology homework first and know what the audience will be seeing when you’re on stage.

What does the backdrop look like? A simple black curtain with perhaps a slash of color, elaborate colored curtains, or perhaps even a built-up “set”? Your beautiful piece of artwork (or even choice of clothing) that you want to showcase on stage might simply disappear if the colors are too similar. Will there be a screen that images can be projected onto? Where is it located relative to where you’ll be talking?

How will the stage be lit? You might be squinting through bright lights (and unable to see your audience), or staring into a spotlight (that follows you around the stage), or perhaps the house lights will be up and little or no additional dramatic lighting will be added. The lighting affects not only how you look, but also how visible your slides and/or props will be. If you’re depending upon some dramatic lighting during your presentation, you need to give your show’s producer ample notice to see if your vision and their lighting abilities are a match.

How many people are likely to be in the audience? If there are hundreds (or thousands) of people, will the cute prop you’re bringing onstage be visible by more than the people in the first few rows? If not, will a camera be able to zoom in on what you’re holding and show it to your audience or recorded for later playback? If your personal goal is to have a great presentation for video for example, then it doesn’t matter if the audience can see your prop.


Speaking On Stage

Photo by Miriam Olsson

Slides or not? For many presenters, it’s not a question – it’s an assumption that they’ll show their latest PowerPoint deck. From your audience’s perspective, why do they need to see the slide? Is it to show proof of what you’re talking about? Is it visual “eye candy” – something to break up the talk? Is it a requirement that they read along with what you’re saying?

If you do decide to use slides (and/or video), ensure that either: 1) you can bring your laptop (and associated cables) to connect to the projection system or 2) that your show producer has a version of the software that you used to create the slides on-site. If you’re going to use the producer’s software, then ensure that you have version compatibility (their software can read your files). Next, use slides that fit your audience size. The bigger the audience, the simpler the slides should be – since not everyone will be able to read the slide – just get a “gist” of what you’re trying to point out. But just because smaller audiences can read words on your slide, doesn’t give you permission to write down more than a few key thoughts. Be sure that if you use slides, you leave ample time to practice running your slides in the venue with show-like lighting. You might find that your slides don’t stand out nearly as well they did on your computer’s screen.

The microphone. Will your presentation be amplified? Will your presentation be recorded? If there is a microphone – will it be a handheld, on a stand, a lapel mic clipped to your shirt, or a headset mic that hooks on to your ear. Whatever the system, get comfortable with it so you’re not adjusting it during your talk. Also – if there is a microphone, don’t choose to ignore it. The audio might be vital for a video recording, and if you’ve wandered out of range, the video will suffer dramatically.

Remember that your speech is ultimately a live performance. You don’t want to add unnecessary complexity to your performance (that might be a distraction). But if you do choose to make things more complex, practice your presentation as much as your speech.

Speak With Passion: Your Storytelling Structure

Storytelling Structure

Photo by Alan Levine

When you consider how to tell your story, you’d do well to follow some of the more popular storytelling formats. Using these age-old formats helps to shape expectations and therefore easily have people know how to receive your speech.

The sales speech is basically a long advertisement for a product or service. It’s goal is to have the listener take a specific action. Sales speeches generally showcase the risks of not buying and the rewards for buying your offering. These may combine elements of biographical speeches, but instead of simply connecting with the listener’s emotion, you want to connect with the listener’s wallet.

A lecture demonstrates how to solve a problem. A college lecture, for example, will start with a question, and offer best practices for solving the question. A cooking demonstration shows how to make something delicious. The format of the lecture is a “cookbook” for solving the problem so that you can go home and reliably reproduce their results.

The inspirational speech is best exemplified by Martin Luther King’, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Inspirational speeches are ideal for when you want your audience to share your vision. The format is a series of short contrasts: this is what life is like today, but this is what life can be like. The contrasts showcase the divide, and your speech can focus on the steps the listener can take to obtain your vision. These speeches need to be kept relatively short, otherwise they become sermons that people will tire of (too many contrasts become repetitive and few speakers can enthrall their audience for a long time).

The biographical speech shares your personal history with the audience, using specific anecdotes to highlight key points you wish to make. Biographical speeches are great for showcasing how a series of events contributed to the learning you’re imparting, and the stories help the audience remember your “teachable moments”. These speeches can be much longer, but can suffer from the “Yeah, that was your experience – and it doesn’t relate to me at all” feeling. It’s important to somehow take your specific story and generalize it for others to learn from.

The fairy tale is the most ingrained form of storytelling, since these are the stories we heard when we were young. Fairy tales have both a specific format (every day…until…and because of that…and because of that…and ever since then…) and an underlying moral. A fairy tale is a powerful storytelling structure since it allows you to combine fantasy and reality in a simple package with a powerful punch. Crafting a fairy tale is hard – since you really need to distill the characters, their actions, and reactions to their essence to make it truly fairy tale-like. Otherwise, you story becomes a biographical speech, which doesn’t pack the childhood innocence-like feeling you’re trying to evoke.

While it might be tempting to mix-and-match the structures (a fairy tale that’s also a sales speech), be very careful doing so. Your audience won’t know what you’re trying to convey, and are likely to internally have resistance to enjoying your story. Instead, if you want two structures, put them back-to-back, creating a separate “chapter” of your speech.

By matching your speech goals with the right storytelling structure, you make it easier for your audience to “get” your message.

For some great examples of some of the speech structures, I suggest watching Nancy Duarte’s TEDxEast talk:

Speak With Passion: Start With the End

Start At The End

Photo by tableatny

When you start crafting your speech, start with the end result you wish to achieve. Your audience is likely to only remember 3 things about your speech: the beginning, the ending, and how it made them feel.

Think about a recent movie you enjoyed watching. Now, imagine trying to share the movie with someone who hasn’t seen it. Can you remember the plot’s twists and turns? Can you remember the feeling of the movie? Can you concisely review the movie to encourage others to see the movie?

You want your speech to be like a well-recommended movie. You don’t want someone in your audience to tell about this great speech that moved them – but forget why they were moved. If your audience can’t remember the point of the speech (because did remember they were entertained) – you’ve missed a key chance to spread your message.

What is it you want your audience to feel? Empathy with your story? Anger at a situation? Hope with their life struggle? Excitement through vicarious exploits? A talk without feeling is called a lecture. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with lectures, by their nature they tend to be dry and unremarkable. Remember that people came to hear you talk because they want to feel something new. What feeling can you share to both entertain and inform?

What is your repeatable message? Think about that movie recommendation. If you enjoyed the movie, but can’t put words to specifically why you enjoyed it, the person you’re talking to is unlikely to see the movie (despite your enthusiasm). Each listener needs to know what the point of the movie (or speech) is to decide for themselves whether they also want to experience what you had. So, if you can’t succinctly state your message before you write your speech, how will your audience be able to spread the word (and create “buzz” for you)?

By ensuring your speech is designed around a heartfelt and repeatable message, you’re making it easier for your audience to both remember your speech and to share it with their community.


Speak With Passion: It Starts With 3 Questions

3 Targets For Speaking Goals

Photo by R e t o

You’ve just been asked to give a speech for an upcoming event. How do you prepare to give the speech for maximum benefit? You start by asking yourself these 3 questions.

What is it you want from your speech? Besides giving a speech that everyone loves, what are your underlying goals for giving the speech? Is it to get booked for other speaking opportunities, sell your latest video or book, get over a fear of public speaking, or impress someone? These goals can be as selfish as you wish. For example, if you’re trying to sell something, you’ll want to refer to it in your talk. Or, if you’re trying to look good for a publicity video, you’ll want to ensure that you’re comfortable talking into microphone.

What is it you want your audience to get from the speech? What specific piece of knowledge are you trying to impart? If you can’t concisely state this goal in a sentence (or two), then you don’t have a coherent message to share. Don’t assume your audience will figure out what you’re trying to share, or fall back and say, “everyone will get something from my speech”. If you can’t concisely articulate your message, how will you be able to tell if you’ve succeeded? By figuring out your clear message, you’ll be able to create both a powerful title and abstract for your speech that sets the stage for your presentation.

What is it you want the organizer to get from the speech? Speakers often forget to incorporate the organizer’s needs into their speech planning. Questions to ask the organizer: Is my speech part of a larger event? From the audience’s perspective, what will come before and after my speech (how can you smoothly transition to what came before to what follows)? What topics will other speakers be covering (you don’t want to repeat, but you may wish to echo their message)? What is the experience you want your attendees to get from the “larger” event? By incorporating the organizer into your goals, you’ll be making the organizer look good, which will later be helpful in getting referrals and future bookings.

When building your speech, refer to these 3 questions often. If you’re not satisfying these three goals, then rewrite you speech to incorporate them. As a speaker, you want to present a clear message, easily repeated, that creates synergy with your audience.

Speak With Passion: Become Super Human

Be a Super Human Business Speaker

Photo by JD Hancock

If you’re giving an instructional talk, you need to position yourself as an guru, someone who knows all and sees all to make your audience trust in you. But positioning yourself in this way will limit your ability to give a speech with passion, something that is remarked upon, remembered, and shared.

When you first start speaking in public, you’ll likely to feel comfortable talking more about what you know (your self) and less about what your audience is interested in (your content). You’ll soon realize that people invested their time and money to listen to your wisdom, and you’ll quickly remove your personal stories from your presentation to get to the “next level” of speaking.

The next level of speaking is all about your information. It’s packed with great tips and techniques that you’ve learned by doing and researching. You’ve got a lot of great set of slides that highlight your points. Perhaps you’ve even taken an extra step of finding stories about people who followed your advice and seen the results of your wisdom for them selves. This type of speech is likely to be fundamentally useful, but not memorable (except for those that came to learn specific academic techniques).

The highest level of speaking is about sharing your information, but in a way that’s memorable. And to do this, you need to go back to your roots. Why is what you’re sharing personally interesting to you? What excites you day-to-day in doing this work? What personal challenges have you faced trying to implement these ideas (both failure and success)?

Ultimately, people aren’t really interested in learning something new. People crave vicarious experiences. They want to see the world through others’ eyes and be excited to feel what they feel. To speak with passion, you need to be vulnerable. Don’t try to be a superhuman speaker (with no flaws). Be a super human speaker (who is believable). Share your passion, and let feeling imbue your presentation.