Here’s why you need to become a better speaker.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher, a parent, a sales person, or simply called upon to deliver a eulogy or wedding toast, we all need the power to communicate clearly, with empathy, and a touch of humor.
When I first started speaking, I struggled. People criticized me as robotic, monotone, and tense. In order to fix my flaws, I had to do something that we all hate. I had to listen to the sound of my own voice. Worse, I had to watch myself speak.
I gathered the recording of my presentations and watched every painful minute, making notes on sentences where I stuttered, used a dreaded “um” or “uh”, and where there was a clear need to bring more energy, humor, and storytelling to the audience.
Now it was time to fix the flaws. The speech was re-written. It was practiced over and over again in empty hotel rooms and in front of my dog (he was a tough crowd, never once laughing at my jokes).
But practicing on my own could only get me so far. Eventually it was time to call in the professionals. That’s what the best of the best do.
Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart, and all of the top comedians take to the stage in small comedy clubs to test out new jokes and to get feedback from their peers.
If you want to become a better speaker, follow their lead and get feedback.
When you get professional feedback on your speaking, you can become a great speaker, even if you’re starting out with a stuttering problem, as my mentor Dan Kennedy did forty years ago. But he set himself about mastering the art of storytelling, and today he keeps audiences glued to their seats for hours – and sometimes days – on end at his events.
This approach works for improving any skill or overcoming any bad habit.
After being booked on a mini-speaking tour this fall, with stops including Phoenix, San Diego, Las Vegas, Orlando, Denver, San Francisco, and San Antonio, I recruited the help of legendary speaking coach Joel Weldon. He attended one event and gave me some valuable feedback to fix my 45-minute talk.
“Craig, you get a 9.2 out of 10,” Joel said in an email. “You just need to improve on five things.”
I thought he was being generous, so I begged for a no-holds barred critique. Here are the five most important changes Joel wants me to make.
“First, you had great clarity in your message, and I liked how you told them they would walk away with five rules and five pillars for their lives. But you should define the terms “Rules” and “Pillars”, so the audience can say, “A-ha, I see the difference and how this will make an impact on my life.”
“Second, you need to customize your speech to the audience. You were speaking to 250 financial advisors, and yet you didn’t have any mention of their industry until ten minutes into your talk. Customize your introduction and make it more relevant to the audience.
“Third, your dog joke is great. Big laugh. But you need even more humor so that you energize the audience and open their thinking to new ideas.
“Fourth, you need to pre-empt their objections with anticipatory statements. Say something like, “Now I know what you’re thinking. You think you can’t do it because you’re too busy. But let me show how someone with three kids and a full time job was able to use Rule #4…” Watch Pastor Joel Osteen. Watch or listen to any of his 28-minute sermons on his site or YouTube. He’s a master at anticipating audience’s objections.
“Fifth, stand strong, avoid wandering, plant your feet, move only with purpose, and add a WOW closing. This needs to be the high point of your message, and a summary of everything that came before it. The closing should be a powerful success story, a challenge or question to the audience, a startling statement, or something motivational.
“Craig, overall you were solid. You are such a nice person. You project class, quality, intelligence, kindness, caring, empathy and goodness. Your desire to help your audience is so crystal clear. You have a wonderful message and a great product in the Perfect Day Formula. Now go and practice and make your speaking message even better!”
Joel’s advice was helpful, and much of it echoes what Mark Ford taught me about writing and focusing on just “One Big Idea”.
A week after Joel’s review of my speech, I stepped on stage at another event with two new jokes in place, three customized stories weaved into my presentation for this specific audience, and a stronger WOW closing.
The results were immediately evident. There were more laughs, and a tighter close and call-to-action led to many more of my Perfect Day Formula books being sold. But what really mattered most to me was the feedback I found a few hours later in a private message sent through Facebook. One attendee wrote:
“Hi Craig. I just saw you speak at GKIC’s Info Summit. Your message really resonated with me and moved me almost to tears. I ordered your book and I am working on the worksheet you handed out right now. I just wanted to thank you for your message as I am currently battling with major stress issues and have had no idea what to do about it – it’s become so normal for me. So thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
That’s why we do what we do. It’s why we rehearse our speeches in isolation in empty hotel rooms, why we get constructive criticism, why we agonize over every word and example, and why we practice, review, and practice again.
Speaking is not about us, about getting laughs, or even a standing ovation. Speaking, and communicating your message, is about impact it has on the audience.
Successful speaking – and any type of performance – starts with you taking action, getting feedback, correcting course, asking for professional help, and constantly making improvements.
This approach has worked for me, it’s worked for Jerry Seinfeld, and it’ll help you become the best storyteller you can be.