How To Speak Like A Pro

Every business is show business. 

Especially when you're on stage, speaking, in front of large audiences

I have given more than 100 talks in the States and overseas in the last two years to promote my book, Design the Life You Love. In the process I have learned how to be a better speaker. 

Here are my insights and secrets to public speaking:

1. It is not about you.

The best advice I've been given on how to overcome stage fright came from my friend Scott Osman, Brand Strategist and Digital Innovator at Good Omen--your talk is not about you, it is about your audience.

Osman says--

"We all know that many people get anxious when they need to speak in front of a large audience. That's because they are thinking about themselves standing in front of an audience, worried about mistakes they might make, or whether or not they will be well received. In reality, it's really not about the speaker, it's about the audience who are attending hoping to hear something meaningful to them. They want the speaker to succeed. By shifting focus from yourself to your audience, you can gain the energy of their optimism, openness and release your fears."

2. There is no business like show business. 

A trick I learned from one of the best public speakers I know, Marshall Goldsmith, is to sing "There is no business like show business," from The Producers before you get ready to "perform". I am not kidding. Adopt this or any other ritual to get into your stage persona--the one that smiles, opens her arms,  and projects her voice.

Here is Tom Cruise singing in Risky Business in 1983, for some fun inspiration (start at 0:40 seconds) on warming up at home.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

For many years I was so scared of public speaking that I winged my talks. I have since learned that writing my lines and practicing, out-loud, in the plane, at home, in my hotel room, is the best and only strategy.

4. Go off-Broadway before you are on Broadway.

In addition to practicing, perform live in front of audiences, big and small. Go talk at schools. Give the same talk in another country. When I do this, I tell people that I have a big talk coming up and ask them to give me feedback. For more on this watch Dying Laughing, the great documentary on stand-up comics and how they get their routines right. 

5. Work with a story coach.

If you're not a natural-born story teller, work with a story coach. I find it incredibly hard to tell a good story. For years I had no idea how to get help or who to get it from, but there are great coaches out there.

6. Make it honest and personal.

People tell you to tell the hero's story. They actually mean the anti-hero story. Tell your failures, personal weaknesses, the havoc that happened. Be honest. This by the way is incredibly difficult because none of us wants to admit to our failures. But people want to know you're human, not that you're super human. 

Here is how I tell how I failed at TEDxCANNES

7. Google what you don't know.

I didn't know how to walk on stage so I googled "how to walk on stage with confidence" and found there are films and tutorials on this. An hour before one my biggest talks I learned that when you walk on stage you don't look on the floor because you're afraid of tripping but that you look directly towards the audience and smile, as if you're walking towards your friends. 

8. Don't stand behind the lectern.

Eliminate any barriers between you and the audience. The worst you can do is to stand behind the lectern. That is like putting a fence between you and the people you want to connect with. You don't want anything to stand between you and your audience. Leave your laptop on the lectern, ask for a clicker and move center stage. Open your arms and welcome your audience. 

9. An image is worth a thousand words.

Add images (still or moving) to your presentation. Images, especially a few well selected images, can help communicate what you're saying at a visceral level. If you're not a visual person, a graphic designer can help you translate your story into a visual narrative. Keep it clean and simple. 

Word of caution: don't show advertising films. This always rubbed me the wrong way. You're not there to do publicity, you're there to tell a story.

10. Don't go over your time.

Cardinal rule of good public speaking manners: don't go overtime. It is disrespectful. No matter how important your message is you're messing up the organizers time table and eating into someone else's time. Time yourself, ask for a count-down timer on stage and/or someone who will sit at the front row and will signal you your last 5, 1 and 0 minutes on large signs.

Next week, I will share tips and insights from a professional story coach, The Moth storyteller and podcaster and founder of The Listening Booth, Terence Mickey. For total transparency, I work with Mickey.

And many thanks to Selin Sonmez, designer and entrepreneur on our Birsel + Seck team for inspiring me to write about this topic.

This article first appeared on on November 10, 2017