Three Things I’ve Learned About Public Speaking

Posted 03.07.2016

If you’re in a leadership role of almost any type, the odds are high that you have to do some sort of public speaking on a semi-regular basis. It could be a staff meeting, a board presentation, a town-hall meeting or a conference keynote. Your public speaking possibilities are endless, really. Do you enjoy them or dread them? Nail them or muff them?

It seems like most people dread them and usually don’t feel like they’ve nailed it after speaking in public. As someone who delivers 40 or 50 speeches and presentations to clients every year, it’s a good thing that I actually enjoy speaking. I’ve worked hard over the years to get better and better as a speaker and take the feedback I get from audiences seriously. The feedback has gotten better and better over the years, so it seems like the work I’ve been doing is paying off. There are three things in particular that I’ve learned to focus on when speaking. They’re simple but powerful ideas. In the hopes that they’ll help you too, here they are:

Mindset: Several years ago, I was booked for my first keynote to a really big audience – more than a thousand people in a big hotel ballroom with super high production values. An intimidating set-up for sure. Fortunately, I was working with a well-known speaking coach, Dr. Nick Morgan, who had some great advice for me. He told me in the moments before I went on stage to be really intentional about what I was thinking. Instead of thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have to speak to all these people. I hope I do OK,” Nick wanted me to think, “Wow, I get to share my message with all of these people. How cool is that?” That shift from “have to” to “get to” made all the difference that day and it has ever since.

Energy: My normal energy level is pretty low-key. I actually hear “zen-like” a good bit. That may be a good way to go through life, but I’ve found that when I’m on stage, I need to be intentional about amping it up a bit. My energy has to fill the space. That means finishing sentences strong, more expressive body language, making eye contact and things like that. It doesn’t mean shouting, it just means that I need to remember to project more than I would in a one on one conversation with someone a few feet away. I’m still me, I’m just a bigger version of me. It takes some practice to get comfortable with that idea so I’d encourage you to practice and experiment with it when you have some low-stakes opportunities to do so.

Connection: This is my most recent lesson. For most of the past ten years, I’ve been out talking about the content in my first book, The Next Level. Those talks went well and I was asked by a lot of clients to keep coming back so the feedback was good. Then, in 2014, I released my second book, Overworked and Overwhelmed, and started giving speeches and presentations on that. I wouldn’t have written that book if I hadn’t learned some major life lessons about how to successfully manage my multiple sclerosis. So I wrote about that experience in the book and started talking about it in my speeches. A few months after I started sharing that story, I got my first standing ovation from a roomful of 500 people. It was like, “Where did that come from?” Then every time I spoke, I heard from people who wanted to talk about their own challenges and how my story was inspirational. I had never been comfortable talking about myself from the stage but once I did, I realized how much all of us value human connection. We all have things going on in our lives that connect us with others. What are yours? The next time you’re planning a talk, think about what your personal connection is to the topic, why it matters to you and consider sharing that with the audience.