7 Secrets for a Great Speech

7 secrets for a great speech

I’m watching a video of someone who has purportedly studied great speeches for 30 years and is sharing the 7 secrets of the greatest speakers in history. The video has over 1 million views.

He’s pacing like a caged animal. And he's using bad info.

He referenced the widely accepted wisdom that words only comprise 7% of a message's impact, while vocal tone accounts for 38%, and body language is responsible for a whopping 55% of a message's impact.

One problem: the study from which this information is taken and is most often cited as its source is so oft misrepresented that its author, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, has a disclaimer on his website that these equations only apply to messages regarding what a person likes and dislikes and said as much when he and I communicated on the subject several years ago. 

7 Secrets for a Great Speech microphone

While using this common, yet misguided application of the study, the speaker attempts to make the point that body language is much more important than words in delivering a great speech. Granting him the misuse of the study, I find myself wishing he would apply that idea to his pacing.

He also mentioned that bad speakers are so intent on pumping out their information that they miss connecting with the audience. Interestingly, I'm finding him doing that very thing as he’s rifling through references and talking at a pace to match his feet, which haven’t planted for more than 2 seconds.

I'm not telling you this to bag on another professional. 

No, I'm sharing it because as a truth seeker and truth teller I feel compelled to call this out. I'm disappointed in our worship of what we deem experts, many of whom trot out vapid and worn out information and platitudes with no regard for the integrity of the information (like the 7%, 38%, 55%). I'm tired of our consumer culture which is ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth. 

I’m sad that this is held up as an example of a “masterful speech” (that’s what the YouTube description says about it), yet the audience is given inaccurate information and there is dissonance between the information's intent and its application, as in it isn't being applied by the one giving it.

I guess what frustrates me most about it is that many people with a REAL message to share, a powerful story, aren't being heard because they aren't as flashy as those who know how to market something mediocre. I'm sad that many who could have a real impact are being drowned out by popular yet unvetted clichés and the self-adulatory bombasticism of others. 

7 Secrets for a Great Speech: Authenticity

Where the speaker is correct is that nothing can hold a candle to authentic passion. So though your feet may never stop moving during a speech, although I hope they will, and your mouth may move at 4,000 words per minute, although I hope they don't, if you focus on the audience and giving them value, from your HEART, you may be on the path to a great speech.

Let me share with you, from my own observations, training, and experience (thousands of hours), 7 secrets for a great speech.

1. Focus on the audience

Many studies report that public speaking is more feared than death for adults. That's because so often speakers are focused on their own perceived inadequacies, lack of knowledge, lack of speaking ability, or dislike for public speaking. If they would stop focusing on themselves and instead focus on what they know and how to give the audience value, they can relax. It all starts with wanting "to bless, not impress" as Stephen Covey put it. 

Study the topic, organize the information simply, and deliver it in your own unique voice. You were asked to give the speech to impart valuable information to the audience, not to hear yourself talk. In other words, you're not there for you, you're there for them. Focus on them.

A common misnomer when giving a talk is that you've got to be Jimmy Fallon funny. Indeed, a great speech is entertaining, but not always because the speaker has Tina Fey good looks and wit or this gentleman's down-home charm and humor. Most often it's because the speaker realizes what is most important to the audience and delivers it in a way that makes sense to them, while letting their natural passion shine through.

2. Connect with individuals

You've heard the popular advice that to avoid getting nervous when speaking in public you should imagine the audience in their underwear. I'm guessing the thought behind doing so is that it puts the audience in a more human light. Though I understand the supposed intent, it promotes the wrong focus.

Rather than reduce the audience, almost denigrate them as it were, why not imagine them as friends, as people who want your speech to go well? As people genuinely interested to hear something on the topic you're about to share.

Virtually no one, and certainly no one whose opinion matters, walks into a speech hoping the speaker will be boring or embarrass themselves. Most audiences arrive ready for the speaker to succeed and are willing to give them their attention (the other 6 secrets will allow you to hold that attention).

I received some excellent training years ago about connecting with individuals. I used to scan, not even look at, the audience at a pace to rival Usain Bolt's fastest times. I didn't look at people. I just scanned the audience at large. I'm sure that made audience members feel special and helped them connect with the material, just as I am sure a shark bite feels like a feather tickle. 

The person coaching me suggested I pretend I'm pouring tea (or lemonade) into a person's cup. Look at that person for the length of time it would take to pour a cup of tea, or to complete a thought. Then move to the next person with your eyes, make eye contact, and fill their cup. Next person and so on (not moving down the row sequentially, but moving to another person in the audience). In this way, you are connecting with individuals, real people, one on one, which is what master teachers and speakers do. You are sharing a piece of you with them. It's the best way to be present in your talk.   

Focus on one person at a time. Fill their cup. Move to the next.

Focus on one person at a time. Fill their cup. Move to the next.

3. Stories

Stories are a perfect way to connect to people's imaginations and emotions. If you can tap into those thoughts and feelings that resonate most with the audience, the message will have a greater impact for a longer amount of time. 

Stories are so powerful because we can imagine ourselves there, in that moment, under those circumstances. It's the most effective way to feel the same feelings, experience the same things, and learn the same lessons as the one in the story.

Think about it, what is a movie or TV show? It's a story in which we can take a shared journey with the characters, experience their thoughts, feelings, and motivations and learn from what they encounter. We remember those experiences and feelings long after we forget the specific dialog of the moment. Indeed, the dialog only has meaning in the context of its connection to something that resonated with us. Stories tap into that emotion and reasoning. 

Ty Bennett does a nice job of discussing the power of stories and how to use them to connect in an impacting way and a friend recently recommended The Art of Storytelling by John Walsh.

Think about those experience you've had that meant something to you or taught you something. Think about funny experiences you've had. When you hear or read an impacting story, verify it and figure out how you can use it to teach something to others. For many years, Thomas Monson has kept clippings he's found interesting and has used them decades later.  

4. Appropriate use of humor

For the love of all things under heaven and earth, DO NOT tell a joke to start your speech simply because you've been told that it will put the audience at ease. Sure, if you have a humorous anecdote or story (see secret #3) that relates to your topic, DO use that.

But don't tell a joke completely unrelated to what you're talking about as your opener. All it does it set you up for failure if you can't deliver anything humorous related to the topic because that's the expectation you've set. It's a cheap laugh at your own expense and doesn't prep the audience for value, it only preps them for humor. 

Throughout your talk, interweave humorous or ironic thoughts. Use your natural sense of humor as a guide, keeping in mind that nothing is a distasteful or ruins your credibility as fast as an inappropriate joke. 

As Gina Schreck, past president of the Colorado Speakers Association once noted, you don't have to be funny so much as notice funny. Again, when you hear a funny story, note it. Or think of those funny experiences you've had that relate to your topic. Use them to reinforce the point you're making. 

5. Plant

Stop and stand in one place

Stop and stand in one place

I'm sure the reason that the above noted speaker's wandering feet grated on me so badly is that I was guilty of the same offense years ago and have since become hyper aware of how annoying it is. If I was looking around the audience as fast as a 100-meter dash sprinter, you can be certain I was pacing the floor like a gazelle. 

At the specific training during which I gained a testimony of one's desire for a fork to the eye when the speaker has happy feet, the coach taught me to plant, deliver a full thought, then move with purpose. Very few things will enhance the audience's ability to follow your message like that little trick there. Plant, deliver, move with purpose (don't wander), then plant again. Not even some of the 'top' professional speakers are disciplined enough to do this and once you notice them pacing, it becomes your focus and not the great value in their message or the entertaining story meant to teach you something meaningful. 

Stop in one place long enough to make the audience glad you did. You connect better when you are stationary, looking at individuals, then moving to the next spot and doing the same. 

6. Visual aids are just that

Powerpoint, flip charts, handouts, videos, any media or visual aid is there ONLY as an enhancement to the presentation; it is not the presentation! 

Don McMillan nails the misuse of Powerpoint in his hilarious presentation. Steve Jobs was a master at using visuals to paint a picture and not using them as a crutch. Guy Kawasaki has rules for using Powerpoint and while they don't apply to every presentation, they can serve as general guidelines.  

You are the great conveyer of the information. You are the delivery vehicle. There is no passion emanating from a bullet point and paragraphs are overwhelming and ineffective. Use pictures that evoke emotion and tell a story while remembering nothing can replace your ability to paint the picture with your words (see secret #3). Visual aids enhance, but don't replace that. Choose them wisely and your ability to connect to the audience multiplies. 

7. Be authentic

The most important of them all.

Your story, your insights, your research, your conclusions are what set you apart. Don't regurgitate or too closely emulate. Your natural passion for the topic and your ability to be you while delivering it are the most important elements to a great speech. 

Does that mean you can't give a great speech about something about which you are not passionate? To a degree, yes. The best, most impacting speeches come from a place so deep within the speaker, a place so integrally connected with who they are, that when they speak it creates a visceral reaction within the audience. It's as if spirit is speaking to spirit, soul is communicating with soul.

Authenticity also means telling the story like it is, no embellishment. Authenticity is honesty, vulnerability, and sharing of self. It's that sharing of self in a speech that connects the audience to the message in a way that can't be replicated in any other setting. It's the sharing of self that defines a great speech. The speaker giving unselfishly to educate, inspire, motivate, or invite. 

Not manipulation. Not appealing to ethos, pathos, and logos simply to get what you want. Authentically sharing your experience, wisdom, thoughts, and heart so the audience will be better for it. Now that's a great speech.

By implementing the 7 secrets of a great speech you can move audiences to experience things they never have before or only remember in some fleeting corner of their soul and wish to experience again. You can raise awareness for something about which you care deeply. You can inspire others to take actions that lead to self-improvement, bless others, and create a better world for you and them. Most importantly, you can share yourself in a way like no other to help shape and change others, the reward of which is inestimable. 

7 Secrets of a Great Speech impacting lives

How to Make the Olympics: Hannah Hardaway

More truth and insight from my interview with Olympic mogul skier Hannah Hardaway.

BP: When did you know that you wanted to be an Olympian?

HH: For me it wasn’t really about the Olympics. It was always about performing my best and being the best that I could be and then it just kept leading to the next level. 

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What's all this talk about you have to have an end goal in mind? A goal not written down is only a dream? Hannah's line upon line experience is VERY consistent with many other successful people I've interviewed. Without an end goal in sight and without writing it down that she wanted to be in the Olympics, she made it there. Guess there really is more than one way to skin a cat.

Not Reaching Your Goals? Read This...

A few years ago, I was playing around with my food intake because I was getting migraines more frequently than I cared for (because getting migraines at all is pleasant?). My migraines started when I was 12, at my aunt and uncle’s wedding reception. I remember not feeling well so I walked home. On the way home, I had a visual aura and felt nauseous.

The migraines continued in similar fashion for many years and for several of those I took a preventative medicine. It was somewhat effective, yet didn’t wipe them out, and I had to wear sunglasses in physics class (and boy did I look hot) since the florescent lights seemed to trigger migraines. The classic pattern for the migraines was 20-30 minutes of visual aura—looks like dancing splotches in my field of vision—followed by intense pain in my head. The next day I would usually start the day with a residual dull ache. Many times I was nauseous.

About 17 years ago, I figured out that if I take 2 ibuprofen at the onset of the visual aura I could short circuit the rest of the process so that all that would happen is a dull headache for the rest of the day or often just a few hours. I was still wasn’t happy about getting them as often as I was, so I tried herbal supplements, to no avail. That’s when I started playing with my food intake.

I wondered if the migraines had something to do with what I was eating. I know, you’re so smart that if you were in my life earlier you would have suggested that when I first started getting them, but you weren’t so it wasn’t until later that something clicked that it might be food related. Pat yourself on the back for how smart you are and keep reading.

Trying to figure out what was causing them, I stopped eating breakfast, the ‘most important meal of the day.’  The result? I dropped 15-20 pounds without trying, I felt better, and poof, virtually no migraines.

What?! Skipping the most important meal of the day all these health benefits accrued? How can that be?? Well, a few important things happened. Since I was only eating two meals a day and there was only so much I could stuff in at a time, I was eating about 1600 calories or so (without even tracking it). In other words, I began getting the right amount of calories for my body. Also, something about skipping breakfast must have reset my metabolism, allowing me to process the foods I was eating better so those foods responsible for the migraines were having less effect.

I want you to follow me here – I didn’t set a goal to lose the weight. I didn’t set a goal to eliminate the migraines since I didn’t even know if that was possible. I was simply tired of the migraines and was willing to try things to figure it out. And what I did flew in the face of the so-called experts and the conventional wisdom that we all throw around.

Fast-forward a few years, I was in school as an adult learner with several kids and a full-time job. I didn’t have time to workout. Or at least I didn’t take the time. The result? Carrying around more weight than I wanted.

Once I was finished with school, I had time to work out and a travel schedule that was amenable to doing so several times a week. In combination with that, I was in a rough emotional spot, had access to a great gym at no cost, and was receiving a per diem for meal expenses when I traveled so anything I didn’t spend I got to keep. The combination was potent.

I was eating the right amount of food for what I needed without eating out so I wasn’t consuming too many calories and was saving extra money. I was working out 4-5 days a week, cardio and weights. I had time to make the workout as long as I wanted. Since I was in an emotionally tough spot I was working out to work things out mentally and emotionally.

The result? Best shape of my life. Six-pack. Stronger than ever.

Follow me here. I didn’t set a goal to get a six-pack. I didn’t set a goal to get stronger. I was just trying to use my time wisely and take care of my mind, body, and spirit.

Fast-forward to now, July 2017. I want my six-pack back (I let it go during the divorce and the lead up to it by eating handfuls of Fruit Loops at 11 pm). For 4 years now I’ve told myself I’m going to get it back. For 4 years I’ve said hundreds of times, “Today is the day I start,” only to find myself eating 600 extra calories after dinner. For 4 summers I’ve said, “This is the summer I’ll get my six-pack back,” only to find I still have a little extra padding. For 48 months I’ve said something like, “By this date I want to have it back,” only to find the cookies at the hotel front desk more appealing.

I’ve set the goal to get my six-pack back dozens of times and I’ve failed each time. I even wrote it down and told others so I was accountable. Still failure.

What is my point?

Of the 21 millionaires I interviewed, 3 of them consistently operated with goals to become successful. Only 3. Of the 12 Olympians I have interviewed, each has goals during Olympic training, yet not all of them had a goal to become an Olympian.

Goals as we currently understand them don’t work for everyone.

I lost weight trying to resolve my migraines. I got a six-pack trying to use my time wisely. I get nowhere trying to lose weight and get my six-pack. 19 entrepreneurs became millionaires not really trying to be.

Photo credit Nick Youngson

Photo credit Nick Youngson

I’m sharing this because I get so frustrated with the common success literature that claims to have the ‘right way’ to do everything, including reach your wildest dreams. And goals are almost always a big part of that. What if they weren’t though? Not at least in the way we understand them? What if we operated better another way, as the experience of these Olympians, millionaires, and my own path demonstrate?

What do you really want in life? Sure, set that as your ultimate goal and path. But maybe, just maybe, aside from setting SMART goals in a business setting where you have to be aligned on what needs to be done and when, YOU might be like the millionaires, Olympians, and other successful people I’ve interviewed and you might operate a little better another way.

That other way might be to set an intention and focus and let it guide your decisions. That other way might be as Matt Given put it, following the next logical step. That other way might be to set plans then play your hunches, trusting your gut. Here's the thing; I don't know what way you operate best, but you do. I simply want you to have the truth about my own and others' experience that flies the face of the 'undisputed experts' and conventional wisdom.

What you do with it is up to you...

Looking for Happiness? Be Present

Of all the lessons Vicki, a wise and patient counselor, taught me, being authentic and present is high on the list.

The best experiences in my life this last year, especially those involving my children, have come as I’ve put the phone away and just been in the moment.

Backpacking with my son. Playing a silly game with the kids. Hanging on the beach. Floating along in the ocean waves next to my daughter with our faces buried in the water looking at the creatures. And this past weekend.

Oh The Places You'll Go

First, I get to meet and connect with phenomenal people. Every time I'm with a group I feel fortunate. 

Second, I get to talk about things that matter. Communication. Helping others find solutions. Leadership. Team work. Being the best version of yourself. Finding success. Things that help you live a better life and improve the quality of your life

What I Learned from TED Speaker John Tarnoff

This week I connected with reinvention career coach and TED speaker John Tarnoff to discuss gaining some traction for my books and speaking. I appreciated the wisdom and insight he shared. Here’s what I took away from our discussion:

The Myth of Goals?

The Myth of Goals?

I interview a lot of successful people. Almost always I want to know about their dreams, goals, and plans in life. What I’ve found is that most people’s lives don’t follow the path they lay out and instead we are gifted with opportunities to change course and try something completely different.

One of the key things I wanted to understand from the millionaires I interviewed was their perspective on and use of goals. So much is said, written, and made of goals I wanted to know their thoughts.

Here are some excerpts from my book, “21 Questions for 21 Millionaires” with their insights. See for yourself and form your own conclusions about goals. I certainly was surprised by what I found.

How Millionaires Succeed: Part 4

How Millionaires Succeed: Part 4

This is the fourth and final post in a series in which I've shared what entrepreneurial millionaires do to create success. The first post can be found here

I've pulled out key questions and answers from our interviews to give you a snapshot of their path to success. You can read the full stories and interviews in my book, 21 Questions for 21 Millionaires: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Success