10 public speaking hacks to do before you hit the stage

In my line of work I do my fair share of keynote speeches. Now, I’ll preface this by saying I’ve never been formally trained, but I’m fortunate enough that I do get paid for it. So, I have a few ideas on how to do it well. I’ve practiced this craft for over 20 years and have developed my own set of things to do before the speech itself. This is not a how to ‘do the speech’, but what to do in the moments leading up as preparation. There’s some good hacks in this list that anyone can use immediately to make their stage time a bit more effective.

  1. Read through your notes the night before. It has to be the night before so your mind has time to digest while you sleep.
  2. Assess the room you’ll be presenting in while no one is there. Imagine yourself walking around and engaging the audience. Get the feel of the space.
  3. Ensure the tech is working. The best way to do this is not to have any tech. You are the technology they came to see – a human giving a human performance.
  4. Do some pushups or other powering posing 5 mins before you go on stage (even hide in a toilet to do it) to create a winning feeling in your mind.
  5. Talk to at least 3 people from the audience to go on stage. Be nice and intro yourself to them. Tell them one cool thing you’ll be mentioning and why it matters. Like you’re letting them in on a secret. These people are now ‘barracking’ for you like a football supporter. Others around them catch their positive vibe.
  6. Tell these 3 people you’ll look for them specifically during the talk – they’ll think you do even when you simply look in their general direction – this takes it to next level personal delivery.
  7. Go through your killer funny bits or poignant moments pausing after each one, imagining the audience reaction you desire. Believe it has already happened, and then it will.
  8. Drink some water immediately before you go on stage to ensure your throat doesn’t dry out, especially if you like coffee.
  9. Brush your teeth, rinse with mouthwash or have something fresh and minty in your mouth. A fresh mouth creates a confident mind.
  10. Finally, remember the audience wants you to do well. They have invested their most scarce asset, ‘their time’, and they’ll be looking for your signals to engage with you. Presenting is always a team effort with the audience.

Oh, how did I learn to do speeches? Simply by paying close attention to others I thought did it well. I take the best of what they do, and incorporate their pieces into my natural ‘Stevie’ style. And let’s be honest, the best way to do anything is to learn from ‘them’ so you can be the best ‘you’.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

How small changes in where we work can change everything

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I’m going to tell you quite a personal story about how changing one simple thing last year changed my earnings and work life dramatically. It starts with a story I heard from an old 1960’s business coach called Bob Proctor. I was listening to a podcast of his where he described the following situation. A gentleman was the owner of a medium sized, $10 million dollar enterprise. He was the sole owner of the business and employed a large number of staff for the time. It was during the 1980’s. Unfortunately he passed away unexpectedly and all of the staff members and senior management were worried about what his wife (who inherited the business) would do now that the founder and CEO was gone. Some thought they’d lose their jobs, some thought she’d sell the company, some even rubbed their hands together and hoped for a management buyout. What she did do, no one expected. She had never had anything to do with the business before his death, but came in for the first official meeting to tell the staff and board of directors what was going to happen. This is what she did.

She asked all of the Directors to tell her the following 3 things:

  1. What are you doing in your division at the moment.
  2. What is working well.
  3. What is not working well.

She went around the room and let all of them tell those 3 simple stories. After that was done she gave them all a very simple instruction. She said. “I want you to stop doing all of the things that are not working. I don’t care if we lose revenue, or what happens as a result of this. I want you to only do the things that are working. Anyone who doesn’t follow this rule when I come back and ask the same questions in three months, will be dismissed.” She then told them she wasn’t selling the business, and the benefits of any growth will be shared accordingly.

One year after she undertook this strategy the business had grown from a $10 million enterprise to a $30 million enterprise.

It got me thinking at the time I heard this about what I was doing with work. What parts was I doing that were actually working well, and which bits were not working out so well. I came to the conclusion that the things that always worked out best for me were Writing and Speaking. I was doing a portion of that as part of my work at the time. I was working in advertising and in some startups on the side. Whenever I did a keynote speech or did a pitch I smashed it. My writing for journals and blogs was getting good credence. It was probably about 20% of my time on the average week. So I wondered what would happen if I only did those two things. Even for the startups I work with – only write and speak about them to help them grow. I wondered what kind of an income I would earn as a kind of ‘thought freelancer’ on technology, startups and business strategy. So instead of just wondering about it, I decided to do it. My new mantra would be to ‘Think, Write and Speak’ for a living.

Since this decision – which was around a year ago – I’ve published a book and started doing keynote speeches through an agent. And this is the personal bit. After about some months getting organised (pitching the book & getting an agent for speaking), I’ve earned well over what I earned for the entire previous year in just 5 months. What is super cool about this, is that I’m managing to do this in only a small portion of my week. It then forms a kind of underwriting strategy, so that I can invest more time in some killer startup ideas I’ve got, but haven’t had the capacity to get done. I say this not to impress you, but to impress upon you. I’m pretty sure all of us have a muse like this. That small portion of what we do in our company, job or startup which we excel in. A muse we have natural talent for, and naturally put more effort into. I’m pretty sure if we all focused on this, we’d get the same results that I am seeing. Remembering of course that this is not some passion fantasy, but real work we already get paid to do.

Another thing which is really telling with this story is this simple fact: I am no better at these things than I was 1 year ago or even 3 years ago. I am the same person, with the same capacity. I simply sowed my seed in more fertile soil. Which also makes me wonder why we all act like trees, waiting for the environment around us to change and help us flourish. When we can instead choose to change our environment. Unlike trees, we don’t have roots, we have legs, we can use them to go elsewhere and change where we do our work for a more fruitful return. I think the biggest determinant of our income is taking the work we do to a place where that is valued at its highest.

Maybe the thing we need to change, isn’t ourselves, but where we do our work.


What to do when someone falls asleep during your presentation

I do a lot of public speaking. When I am presenting to a large audience there isn’t a presentation where I don’t spot a person who has actually fallen asleep. Now you might think I am crazy admitting it here, but I know it has nothing to do with me. In fact, I’ve had people fall asleep and after the talk others come up and tell me it was the best presentation they’ve ever seen. Every experienced public speaker also knows this to be an inevitable reality when they hit the stage – even during the performance of a life time. The weird thing is that anyone speaking always spots the sleeper – we must have some kind of genetic disposition to finding closed eyes, even in a sea of people.

So, what to do about it when someone does fall asleep during your presentation?

Rule Number 1: Remember it has nothing to do with your talk.

We need to remember the the reason people fall asleep when sitting, standing and not lying down is because they are exhausted, not bored. Some things to remember on this point: They have probably had young kids screaming late at night and didn’t get any sleep. They might have had to catch an early flight to get there for the day. They might have been up socialising at the conference to the wee hours of the morning. They probably haven’t had any fresh air all day being stuck in hotel conference rooms. They have a stomach full of heavy food. The venture capitalist has probably sat through 24 other pitches back to back that day. And they probably had some other factor which made them exhausted. Boredom leads to imagination, distraction and people talking among themselves, not sleep. The evidence will most often be the 99% of people loving your talk, while at the same time this person sleeps. I can remember 2 times I fell alseep while listening to two of my favourite public speakers; Steven Wright the comedian who I absolutely love and Will Ferrell during his broadway show on George W Bush – You’re Welcome America. Which both were absolutely hilarious. But both times I happened to have jet lag, and the jet lag won.

Rule Number 2: Don’t obsess over them – ignore it.

No it won’t go away if you ignore it. But your performance will go away if you don’t ignore it. Remember it is not their fault, or yours, it just is. The presentation is for the person nodding their head, looking you in the eye, the person on the edge of their seat. They deserve your full attention and continued focus on the job at hand.

In the end, what we need to focus on is what we can control, and rarely is this issue something in our control. Sure, if an entire room disengages, go back and work on your speaking craft, get better. But the most important thing we can realise when dealing with people and audiences is this: we are not the only force impacting peoples reactions to immediate world around them.


The Power Flip – Update

Guys – this link was made private by the Arts council while they get other stuff ready – they promise me it will be available shortly and I will advise.

Here’s a talk I did for the Arts Australia Council Marketing Conference. It’s kinda long – around 30 minutes, but it might have a few useful ideas for my readers in the entrepreneurial and marketing space.

(I apologise for making up the word ‘decomplexify’ during the talk. My mouth was moving faster than my brain at that stage)


Don’t do your homework

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the most important thing I have ever not done, is my homework at school. Most of grade school and high school, I basically didn’t do my homework. I knew it was due the next day. I worried a little, but not enough to actually do it.

While other kids were doing their homework after school, I was out playing with the other kids, getting up to mischief. Riding my BMX, playing games (footy, cricket, building tree houses etc). I can home late, often. Mum would yell at me and I had to think of an excuse as to why I was late. I would have to provide at least some kind of creative response. Then after dinner I’d be too tired to do my homework. So I’d promise myself I’d get up early and do it in the morning. When morning arrived I’d be too tired to do it then either… In short the homework would rarely get done. Almost never. When I got to school, the same charade would occur. That is, me thinking of creative reasons why my homework was not getting done. Firstly to the teachers to try and avoid an after school detention. Again later, explaining to my mother why I ‘had’ an after school detention. In hindsight it was all a little stressful. Thinking on my feet for answer. Answers I didn’t have at such a young age, with little fast thinking experience.

Turns out this was a pretty good career move, or even ‘life skill’.

In the end, years of being naughty, taught me how to do something far more valuable than having high grades in senior school. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to present to an audience that wants answers. But it also did a lot more than that. Eventually it showed me how to read the play on different peoples reactions to bad news, that rules could be broken if you could sell an alternative.

It even goes a little deeper when I think it through….

I wasn’t just watching TV when I wasn’t doing said homework. I was out in the street playing. Building things with other kids. Under taking projects, playing games and interacting. Doing real things with real people. Operating in ‘live’ human environments, where the results, in this case the ‘fun’, was based on my ability to motivate other kids and organize them. All this, rather than spending my after school day light hours memorizing a bunch I’ve crap that someone had deemed it important for me to regurgitate in some test.

And now as the years have passed I’m reasonably certain that the key to any success I’ve had in life has been due to my ability to influence people. I’m also pretty sure that not doing my homework was where it all started.


The truth about confidence

Some one said these words to me the other day:

“It’s easy for you. You are confident being in front of people and speaking in public…”

I thought for a second and then told him the truth about confidence. Which isn’t verbatim, but it went something like this.

Confidence isn’t something people are born with. In fact, it doesn’t really exist. Confident people are those who are prepared to make themselves ‘uncomfortable’. People who are prepared to risk pain and or embarrassment to get something done. They embrace the risk of failure and get so used to failure, that people believe it comes easily for them. They assume it is ‘confidence’. But it’s just that these people accept the tension of being uncomfortable, as well as the potential for failure. And this is the truth about being confident.


How to pitch

There is more good than bad in these hilarious Ali G pitches to Venture Capitalists.

What to look for:

  • His tone of voice and pausing when speaking.
  • His reliance on talking. There is no powerpoint.
  • Taking them on a journey. Story telling.
  • Simple visuals. Having samples / props.
  • Supreme confidence

I’d seriously recommend this video on how to pitch versus most other examples we see on the web so long as we understand the context.