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.

The 1 question we must ask before we ever send a business proposal

Business Proposal

If you’re in the business of selling, and you’re in the business to business game there is no doubt you’ve had someone ask you this:

Can you send me a proposal?

Happy days, right? No. In fact, this is the time that we must ask the question before we send them anything. And in case you’re are wondering, this is the question:

Sure. What has to be in it for it to be a ‘Yes‘? 

The reason we have to ask this, is that the proposal question is very often a friendly way of saying, go away, not right now, or we don’t have the budget. It is a nice way to say ‘No’. But let’s be honest that it is just a waste of time and resources for both sides. But if we ask the question instead, we can circumvent a lot of pain for both parties. After the question is asked, one of two things generally happens:

Situation 1: ‘Well, we can’t promise anything…..’ or any other number of excuses arrive. This tells us if they are serious about doing business with us. It forces them to tell the truth now. This is a good thing, very quickly we know where we are at. It informs the work to be done, or it cuts down a dead lead. Any good sales dog or startup entrepreneur hates wasting time on a false positive.

Situation 2: They open up with their real needs, tells us about some internal constraints, disclose budget parameters, or that there is a lot of work to be done to get their boss to approve it. It creates forward momentum, and a collaborative approach. It builds truth and trust which leads to transactions.

Time is our most precious resource. It’s better to live in the real world and have the courage to uncover the truth early.

You were born to pitch

baby pitching

Pitching is one of those things that some of us love and and some of us hate. But, we all know it is a necessary part of startups and economic life in general. Here’s something many people don’t know – everyone is good at pitching, everyone is doing it everyday, and in fact, it was the very first thing we did the moment we were born. Yep, the first thing you did as a human being was pitch. Here’s how it went:

You were born into the world scared and alone as you exited the womb. You desperately wanted to stay alive, and immediately went into pitch mode. You cried for your mother to hold you, cuddle and warm you, to provide your first taste of breast milk. You put on your most adorable sad face, and used the only assets you had at your disposal – facial expressions and noise. You didn’t even have any words, but you made an immediate connection through passion and fear and hope – you connected. And it worked – you are here.

It goes further than that. You probably pitched a few times already today – proposing what to have for dinner, which movie to watch with your partner, or what to do on the weekend. You may have pitched to a work colleague on which place to get a coffee in the morning or what time to go and why. Proposing ideas, suggesting activities, it’s all a manner of pitching. And once we start to pay attention to the fact we are constantly pitching, then we can start to understand our own technique and bring it into the more formal circumstances. The best type of pitching we can do, is to bring our casual daily approach – the same approach that helped us survive in life up until now – into our business life. We need to take our natural style into those formal pitch moments. When we do this we become more endearing, believable and affable. The trick is that we need to be our natural selves. We need to embrace our natural style and personality – that same one that helped you make friends.

If you want to learn to pitch, then the best thing you can do is pay attention to the pitches you’re already doing. Take note of yourself and then take your existing informal method  to places where it matters formally. You’re already a gun pitcher, you just need bring your subconscious behaviour to a conscious level.

Counter intuition, deal cutting and commissions

I really like sharing my ideas with groups of people – so much so that I often get up on stage in front of large groups of people to to do this. After doing it for the best part of 10 years (usually in local startup events & for friend who work at large corporates) I started to get offered money to speak at events. Which is quite exciting. It’s a classic example of the wood chips generating a significant revenue stream on their own.  I’ve recently starting working with an agency to help me manage my speaking engagements. Again, these guys came to me through others who recommended me as a potential source of revenue to them – apparently I give good voice.

When we talked about how the agency thing works for their speakers the issue of commission came up. Surprisingly I was advised that I could pick my preferred commission to give to them. I could chose to give the agency a lower percentage commission if I wanted. I could give a commission of 10, 20 or 30 percent. I chose 30 percent. My dad once told me the easiest way to make money is to help other people do the same. To create a deal where there is enough in it for the other guy that they go to work for you. So I took his advice.

The principal of the agency then told me it was a good decision and that most people take more and but end up with less.


How to lose a customer

I’ve been using a certain weather app on my phone for some time. It is called Pocket Weather AU – Lite. It is the free version. A few times when I have clicked in to check the weather, it has given me this pop up screen below:

Pocket Weather

This time in good faith, I thought I’d click through and see what the offer was. To my disappointment, it was a simple ‘buy our paid version‘ of the app. No benefit, no exclusivity, nothing had been unlocked, no reason, no thanks for using. Just their way of asking me to upgrade. Now if you ask me there cannot be a more insulting way to incentivise a customer to upgrade. Tell them they are a cheapskate, pretend to offer something better, and then give them nothing for using the service for a few years.

Here’s what I did. I deleted their app – got another equally good free weather app, and wrote this blog entry about what I think might not be the best way to engage an audience your doing business with. Some things these guys might want to consider:

  1. If you don’t want your app to be free, then make it a paid version.
  2. Insulting people is not a very effective way to get them to upgrade financially to a software or web service.
  3. Making promises of exclusivity and non existent benefits is generally not a good idea.
  4. Understand the economics of excess supply. There are a zillion other free weather apps and my cost of moving to another service is close to zero.
  5. But mostly respect people, and maybe make them some kind of offer or reward for loyalty if employing a fermium business model.

I prefer to be positive in life, and have not even enjoyed writing this entry. Maybe that’s the over riding lesson. Don’t lie, treat people with respect and  positivity and they just might give you more money.


Simple sales hack

When selling anything we need to know where to focus our energy. Often there are two different realms we need to sell against.

  1. Convincing or demonstrating to the person that the product or service is good or better than the alternative.
  2. Convincing the person to exchange the thing in question for their money.

Most good sales people know how to do both of these tasks, but sometimes it’s tricky to know which one is the focus question of the moment. A simple way of finding out is to go ahead and ask. It’s worth remembering that selling isn’t a guessing game it’s a service game.


Can I help you? Why retail customers always say no

These are the four worst words anyone can utter to a customer in retail. We all know they answer it gets 99% of the time – because we all give it.

“No thanks – just looking”

These 4 words are revenue stoppers, barrier creators, and empathy evaporators. It just says to the potential customer – I’m too bored and uninterested to even use a sentence that isn’t expected, practiced or considerate of the fact that you are the person who pays my wage. But rather than simply pointing out that it doesn’t work, let’s discuss a couple of simple and effective alternatives. And I’ll do this by giving you an example and a retail sales person who gets it.

I was recently shopping for some new jeans in a Myer store in Melbourne. When the sales guy approached me he asked me a simple question:

“Are you after pants or tops today?”

A very smart move. Either answer starts a conversation we he can ‘be help’ instead of simply asking if I need it. If I answer ‘pants’ – we can start narrowing down the selection. Same if I answer ‘tops’. Or he might even get lucky and I say ‘both’. If I say ‘neither’ I just look like a fool, and we can both wonder why the hell I walked into the store in the first place. Needless to say, I told him and he helped me find a nice pair of jeans.

blue jeans

The trick is simple:

First – never ask an open ended question. They don’t solve problems or lead to results.

Second – ask two pronged choice questions for which both answers are good for the sales person.

Third – don’t feel guilty or pushy doing it. People wouldn’t (especially men) enter a store just for the sake of it, they want help.

So next time you go into a store with sales assistants, pay attention to the language they use and you’ll start to notice those who get it and those who don’t. This example might also serve as a good question or test when recruiting business development staff for your startup.