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How to Be a Great Speaker

By Amanda Gore


I became a speaker after meeting Ron Tacchi at the first conference I ever presented.

He listened as the MC and when I had finished said "you should be a speaker" and I said "what's a speaker?"! Needless to say he had a lot of coaching to do and bless him - he did! For the next 5 years he taught me so many things I rarely hear now.

On top of that I have been studying with Michael Grinder who is an 'educators educator'; a master of non verbal communication and the process of delivering content so it's memorable and effective. (www.michaelgrinder.com) He is a must to study with if you are serious about being a great speaker.

So here we go with the 'rules'!

1. You must have fun!
Ron drilled into me that if I have fun, they will have fun. No matter how serious your content or how professional you need to be, you can always have fun. Even at a funeral - people love to laugh or have a good time and there are very few occasions where a bit of levity and humour is inappropriate. Find ways to inject a bit of fun into each few minutes of your conversation with the group.

2. It's a conversation NOT a speech or a keynote. The purpose is to connect! You to them and them to each other.
Think about the best speakers you have ever seen. They are the ones who seem to be talking directly to you - that's a conversation - not a speech. Too many times, we focus on our 'speech' and practice it and rehearse and re-craft it so the words are just right.

Although the words must be relevant, they are only one side of the equation! Think about how you have a conversation with another person or a small group. It's interactive - you speak, they listen, they speak, you listen etc. So it is with you on stage.

Think of it as a conversation - you are listening to their non verbals and watching them carefully to make sure they are engaged and listening to your side of the conversation. If they seem distracted - or unconscious! - then you need to do something to re engage them. Probably something like stop speaking! And get them to do something active - so they are part of the conversation.

Some people have such a powerful story (like Charlie Plumb an ex Vietnam prisoner of war) and the story is so compelling that he doesn't need to have a conversation - you are spellbound from the beginning! But few of us have a story so dramatic - Li Cunxin, the Chinese ballet dancer who escaped Mao's China is another amazing spellbinding story - so we have to use conversations!

3. People will remember how you made them feel.
This is truly the key - remember this and do all you can to make sure people feel great when you have finished speaking - and if you are delivering bad news make sure they feel that you have compassion for them and care!

People do not remember facts and figures nor does that make them change their behaviour or thinking. We need to touch their hearts with stories and experiences or memories that will make them feel some positive emotion.

Ron was a master at taking his audiences on an emotional roller coaster - he would take them emotionally up and down and then finish them up a big high - so they left feeling fabulous - and changed.

4. You are an experience creator!
We need to be creating experiences for people - not delivering a 'speech'.

If you can create an environment in which people can feel safe; they are given permission to do things they have never done before; they join in and interact (even if they are reluctant); in which they can learn and remember information that is packaged in a way that is memorable; in which they have fun and laugh, where they have an AH HA moment which inspires them to change - then you will be a successful speaker! Experiences are living, interactive emotion filled events which inspire people in some way. We are all in the experience together,.

5. It's never about you!
Too many people are so focused on what they are saying and where they are in the 'speech' sequence. If they are distracted in any way, they go blank cos they can't remember where they were in the 'speech'.

This sort of internal focus means that we are totally disconnected from the audience who will feel it; AND we forget that people are never thinking about us. They are too busy wondering what you are thinking about them to be thinking about you!!

So forget about how you look and how stupid you sound or if you just made a mistake or if you forgot something - just be real! The more authentic you are in this conversation, the more they will relate to you. Our work is to serve others and be useful to them; to give them what they need.

6. Have your focus on the audience or group - always!
Prepare yourself before you get on stage or in front so that when you stand up in front of a group, you can focus totally on the audience. Watch them carefully to monitor how engaged they are, what topics and issues they relate to most, to how fidgety they are, to what makes them laugh the most and do something to re engage them.

That 'doing something' may be inserting an interactive exercise as simple as 'turn to the person next to you and tell them one thing you have learned so far'; or creating an opportunity to laugh or asking a question or having them stand up and move to a different seat - anything that shakes their state and gets them listening again!

7. Be original.
Too many speakers take jokes or content from other people and make it their own material. This is a no no - you may find something on the internet you wish to use in which case, try to find the source and acknowledge them or say you could not find the source. Taking a joke and adapting it as if it's a real life story of yours is also fraught with danger if someone has heard the joke before!

Life is full of funny incidences and events; look at your life for the humour or lessons. Everything that happens to me is potential material to change a mindset.

Walking down a hotel corridor in Opryland, lost and frustrated, I ran into a family of Mum, Dad and 2 little girls. While all the adults were grumpy and lost, the little girls were excited and jumping up and down with joy!

This became the basis of a story I use to introduce the idea of how as adults we lose our sense of awe and wonder and reverence. People relate to it immediately and then I give them symbols to remember the content.

8. Tell stories to deliver your messages
Lou Gerstner said 'facts and figures will not change peoples behaviours", I added touching their hearts will. You can change someones behaviour in a heartbeat if you give them an "ah ha' moment or touch their hearts.

Steven Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tells a story of one time he was catching a train at the end of a long day. Tired and wanting to relax, he was frustrated with a young man who had boarded with his 3 small chlldren. After a period of time when the children were running all over the carriage disrupting people, Covey leans over and asks the man to control his children.

The man is startled and comes out of a daze and apologises saying ' we have just come from the hospital where their mother died.' In a heartbeat, Covey changes. He becomes full of compassion rather than irritation and plays with the children rather than glaring angrily at them. That's the power of a story.

Tell stories to illustrate all your main points. Or give people an experience around them. Create characters and act out skits on the stage to make a point or tell a story.

By the way, what stories do you tell your self about your presenting? Are you telling yourself you are terrible at this stuff? That you are probably going to make a fool of yourself? That your mind will go blank? There are all going into your subconscious mind and you will program that behaviour in! Is that what you want?.

Do you judge yourself along the way as you are speaking? Which of course immediately disconnects you from the group and you disengage from them which makes them disengage from you! They have no choice.

9. Internalise your message and come from your heart.
I have heard so many young speakers talking about 'rehearsing' their 'keynote' in front of the mirror or other people and while this may be something useful to do a couple of times, it is not the best way to be a great speaker! Ron used to tell me to 'internalise' my messages - to find a way to have the concept resonate within me, to make sense to me and then I could deliver it to others without notes and with heart.

In the early days of my career, I would wake up the morning of a presentation and MENTALLY rehearse. I would imagine me delivering the content and the audience interacting, and see and hear and feel the positive outcome. I would picture the sequence of the content and them remember it- looking at my notes if I forgot the next point I was going to make in my imagination.

I would do this for an hour and then get up and exercise to integrate what I had memorized. Here is the key though. I would LET GO of that as soon as I went on stage! I had faith that what emerged from my mouth was in the right sequence for what this group needed - if I didn't follow my 'script' then it would be ok!
I would pray before I went on stage for God to give these people - through me - what they needed and that allowed me to be in my heart connecting with them, trusting that He would put the right words in my mouth!

If you go on stage with a spirit of serving - a desire to help these people in some way, to give them what they needed, they will notice! Remember - it's not about you - not even a tiny, weeny little bit!!

10. Preparation does not equal rehearsal!
Rehearsing in front of a mirror or others, crafting the perfectly worded keynote or attending a course on speaking does not constitute preparation!

In my opinion to prepare for a presentation you need to:


11. Room preparation
Where you can, have people sitting theatre style - it makes them connect much more. If you sit people at round tables, you split them into clumps or separate groups of 8 or 10 and the group dynamics is very different.

If you are trying to make people become more of a team - separate tables is the worst thing you can do - you will split them into teams of 10 or how many tables you have! If you must have a table then have them sit classroom style rather than rounds.

In my opinion, it's best to have them sit theatre style and give them clip boards and gather their chairs into circles if you really want people to connect!

Always have bright music playing fairly loudly as they walk in - if you play relaxing soothing music they will be in a coma before you start!! Van Morrison or disco music is always a good way to lift the mood! It sounds bad but it really works well! People will talk much more to each other when there is music playing at a reasonable volume in the background.

The lighting is critical as well - the brighter the lights they more the connect. Make sure you are well lit on the stage - it's very difficult to watch and listen to someone who is in the dark! Do not stand on the stage in a dark patch - this is where checking the room out at least an hour before you speak is an important first step!

And at that time check out the microphone and how it sounds - set up an audio visual check with the AV people during a break where there is plenty of time.

12. Always start with an activity, icebreaker or questions.
I think the most boring way to start a presentation is to say ' thank you' or 'I am glad to be here' or it's great to be here' etc. Anything in that genre is so ordinary!! Instead change the energy of the group from the minute you start by engaging them.

Ask them a question - or better still - 3 questions with the third one something that makes them laugh - for example, I sometimes start with this series of questions:
How many people wake up every morning full of energy and vitality? (raise your hand as you ask the question indicating to them that they need to raise their hand - if you don't do it, they won't either!).

How many people go home every night full of energy and vitality?.

Pause - laugh at how few people put their hands up and then ask.

How many people just want to remember what it was like to have energy and vitality?.

HAHAHAHAH (remember to raise your hand each time you ask the question and you want an answer).

Perhaps you can start by asking them to turn to the person next to them and introduce themselves or tell each other one thing they learned from the last presentation...or one thing they would like to learn from yours. And acknowledge them and then start with yours with a transition statement like "if I don't cover what you wanted to learn then feel free to connect with me afterwards so we can cover it then."

Buy a book on icebreakers and use one of those - there are millions of activities that work really well out there - and they set you apart, wake your audience up and engage them! In fact, you can keep doing icebreakers all the way through if you have very dry content - people will remember it much more!


Amanda is an Aussie (living in the U.S.) and an expert on joy and being connected. Her speaking, writing, and whole life is committed to helping people connect their hearts with other people's hearts, and reconnect their own hearts with their heads! In other words, Amanda speaks about the emotional intelligence that makes us more successful at work and at home. Sign up for Amanda's monthly newsletter, "The Endorphin Injection!" at www.amandagore.com


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