Rethink public speaking: 5 ways to get off the stage

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Are you as good at public speaking as you think you are? Or do you on the other hand think you could never talk to crowds of people? Then this quick post is for you.

I am always looking out for great speakers to come and impart their expertise at Like Minds, and one of the ways that I do this is by reading a lot of blog posts by a range of different people. It’s easier to find an expert on an issue by searching for text than video. However more often that not – in fact, around 90% of the time – I find that the great writers I research turn out to be very poor at speaking.

The peculiar thing about this is that it isn’t just the writers. Even people who I talk to face-to-face and have engaging conversations with often end up being very poor when it comes to public speaking.

Here’s what I realised: both the great conversationalists and the great writers aren’t actually bad at communicating, and they aren’t bad at speaking and engaging – it’s just that when they get put on a stage, they go into presentation mode and loose all the charisma, passion and warmth that they had before they went on.

It’s a type of stage fright that turns interesting social people into boring broadcast people. But luckily, you can get out of it.

Learning how to get off the stage, when you’re on stage

As I said, I find most people to be very interesting in a one-on-one or small group conversation, and the reason why is because it is a conversation. We are used to giving not just words but non verbal communication, our attention, our passion, our sympathy, and more, within conversations. But put someone on stage and all of sudden it becomes a presentation to them.

So the trick is learning how to act off stage while you are on stage. And to help you do that, here’s five really easy quick musts for you to follow:

1. Make it a participation not a presentation. The moment you can free your mind from having to present, and instead can focus on having the pleasure to participate in an experience means it’s no longer about YOU. You realise that actually, it’s not about the quality of what you say, it’s the quality of how people feel. So don’t make it all about what you say – get some audience interaction – make it a conversation in which you are just one of the parties.

In fact, one of the first things you should always do when you begin a participation is to get people to participate by a show of hands, clap, or something similar. It makes people feel involved.

2. Tell stories. It’s funny how many people who go on about story telling in media don’t actually tell stories. Instead, they bore us with boring images of others telling a story. And if you think it’s about how well you tell the story, you’ve missed the point. Story telling is really about providing a clear example that someone plays out in their mind as you are telling it.

If I told you now that I spent yesterday eating bananas, what have you just thought of? That mental involvement – you actually picturing a banana – is far more valuable than me showing you a picture of a banana because it means that you mind is active not passive, and that means that you are participating.

3. Reveal your wounds. When someone talks about how they got it right all the time, we feel inferior. But when someone reveals how they failed a dozen times before they got there, it inspires us and endears us to the speaker.

Now don’t go trashing yourself – but the ability to use weakness once or twice in a talk to help people identify with you is incredibly powerful.

4. Be brief. The old speaker proverb goes, “blessed are the short winded, for they shall be invited back.” Being brief not only makes the organisers happy, but it shows you respect the minds of people enough to keep things precise and not laborious, and that you credit them as being intelligent enough for you to say things once, not a dozen times in the same talk.

Also remember that after 30 minutes people are hearing more from their bottoms than from you.

5. Rehearse. A lot. Whoever thought that rehearsal made something inauthentic wasn’t a good speaker themselves. We rehearse everything in our lives so a speech shouldn’t be different. Rehearsing means that you have got the speech so automated in your mind that you can let go of the notes and instead focus on the participants – because they are the ones that matter.

And if your eyes are off the notes, then it means they can be on the faces in the crowd. In fact, what I do is look at as many people as possible in the eye.

It’s not public speaking

Hopefully – if you can put these five practical tips together – then you’ll be able to get off the stage while being on stage. But that’s the practical part.

The deeper part is to realise that it’s not about public speaking at all. The phrase in fact reeks of broadcast. What I’m more interested in is personally imparting. Imparting means that I take something that is mine, and using the practical points above to be a selfless as possible, I impart what I have to others as personally as possib;le.

The masters of this – like many of our Like Minds Alumni – have the ability to talk to hundreds of people in a crowd, but make each one feel like they are talking to them.

Your Leading Thoughts

Before you go off and become a marvellous, awe-inspiring public speaker, take a moment to add to this list – what is your top public speaking tip?

Archived Comments

  • http://www.adrianswinscoe.com/blog/ Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Scott,
    I like the tips in this post. What I would suggest adding to this is apart from rehearsing is to give up your time for free a lot to speak to different types of audience. I do that quite a lot and find it has really helped me tell stories and engage an audience. It’s also helped me not be a professional public speaker if you know what I mean.

    Adrian

  • http://www.adrianswinscoe.com/blog/ Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Scott,
    I like the tips in this post. What I would suggest adding to this is apart from rehearsing is to give up your time for free a lot to speak to different types of audience. I do that quite a lot and find it has really helped me tell stories and engage an audience. It’s also helped me not be a professional public speaker if you know what I mean.

    Adrian

  • http://www.mypropertymentor.co.uk/ Roberta Ward

    Really like this post Scott.Ive been asked to speak at various events and while Ive done a few, its not my favourite thing to do. However, I have noticed that when I get asked questions that’s when I do my best, so your comment about being interactive is very true.
    Many of these tips work for writing too- especially the ‘tell a story’ and being real, asking questions etc. Ive seen so many speakers on a variety of subjects and most are very dull and regurgitate the same information at every event. A great friend of mine always changes his speech for each event-even if its on a similar subject, and no matter how many times I hear him speak I always learn something, which to me is the mark of a great speaker.

  • http://stephenbateman.com/connect Anonymous

    Wellp, good stuff sir. Very good indeed.

    And I’ve noticed that too, where a great writer (Patrick Lencioni) stands up to speak and fails to deliver. I can’t wait to be a grumpy old grandfather, who when speaking in any context, only tells stories about the “good old days”

    :)

    But I’m with you on all of it. Love it.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Adrian

    Yes I agree. For me this isn’t really about professional speakers. I get very wary of them because their trade is entertainment. I’d far rather hear from people DOING IT who also are speakers.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Roberta

    Glad it helps!

    I find that if questions help you most – then make the participation about your answering questions that you’d already though of. It’s a good trick

    And very agreed that it makes for good writing – the point is that it is SOCIAL – it’s a conversation and engaging.

  • / Scott Gould

    Love it too. Are you well?

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    You know, I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a while now. I’ve never presented outside an academic capacity, but it seems like it could be an exciting way to grow. It’s one thing to share ideas from the relative safety of blogs and comments, but I bet it takes more than conviction to put it all on the line, standing in front of a full house.

    Prior to reading here, I’d been to a few seminar/presentation events before and they were all the same – hyperbole and BS designed to sell the books and programs conveniently available out in the lobby. There’s something inherently personal about Like Minds, so I’ve found myself checking out “Alumni” videos lately.

    It’s interesting considering the subtle differences between tone of voice on a blog and on-stage.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Brian

    Glad you’re enjoying our videos! The best ones are Robin Wight and Chris Brogan.

  • http://observations.johnwlewis.info John W Lewis

    Great post, Scott, on an important aspect of communication: the different skills required for different channels.

    Presumably, from the point of view of your speaker selection process, an even bigger difficulty might be that if works the other way too: the great presenters you seek are not necessarily great writers, in which case you might not even find them, let alone filter them out later.

    Actually, it may go further. Having spent many years teaching/instructing/presenting/delivering commercial training courses in IT, the best description of the role that I have heard is “industrial actor”. In many respects, it is a performance. And, as in other forms of acting, the best actors have often not written the material that they are presenting.

    Likewise, the best writers of material may be poor actors, which is your main point; so it comes “full circle”.

  • / Scott Gould

    thanks John

    That is indeed a problem – to find great speakers you need to find great speakers. And unfortunately, everyone thinks they are a great speaker when they aren’t! So inviting people to submit a proposal gets their hopes up – and then often they aren’t actually up to the task.

  • Alastair

    Great post Scott. Something a wise man told me a long time ago about public speaking resonates almost everytime I get up in front of others – That no one in the audience ‘wants you to fail’! It seems simple but when the nerves kick in, remembering this can be a life saver. Take your time, be cool and calm and remember that people are behind you – not out to get you.

  • Dylan Jones

    Awesome post, got a speaking slot next week and you’ve given me some excellent ideas to mix it up and do something new, the IT profession is terrible for broadcasting style presentations so this has set the bar for me.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Al

    That’s a good tip too. I learnt that one early on when I started speaking 10 years ago (although to be honest it didn’t take my ego much to get over the fear!)

    Trust you’re well

    :-)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Dylan

    I’m glad that you can use this right away!

    Scott

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