Five Absolutely True Quotes About Public Speaking

Five Absolutely True Quotes About Public Speaking

Five Absolutely True Quotes About Public Speaking

Public speaking has always been, and always will be, one of the most effective ways of building influence, persuading others, and improving your personal and professional lives.

Becoming a more effective speaker is a goal we should all aspire to.

Here are some pieces of wisdom from others who have walked the path that I have found to be absolutely true.

1.  They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. – Carl W. Buechner

Regardless of the whether the objective of your speech is to inspire, entertain, educate, persuade, or to simply inform, you won’t achieve it if you don’t create an emotional connection.

Remember, the best speeches you’ve ever heard weren’t made by professional speakers. They were made by your relatives and friends at weddings, funerals, birthdays and special occasions. They spoke from the heart and you loved them for it.

2. No one ever complains about a speech being too short. – Ira Hayes

Going over your allotted time is disrespectful to the organiser who has invited you to speak, the other speakers/performers whose stage time you steal, and ultimately your audience.

I’ve never heard anybody say “You know, I really wish that speaker went fifteen minutes over time so I could be late for the rest of the day.”

Time limits are there for a reason. Respect them.

3. Speakers who claim to be as cool as a cucumber are usually about as interesting as one. – Dale Carnegie

Most people who seek help with public speaking do so because of their lack of confidence. However the biggest problem with speaking is people who DON’T seek help because they don’t realise what they don’t know.

They are very pleased with their public speaking prowess but the audience is subject to a very different experience.

4. 90% of how the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform. – Somers White

I always advocate preparation and practise for an important presentation. Even for a more informal occasion such as a social event, you should at least give some thought to what you are going to say and have a basic outline in mind (or written down if you can’t rely on your memory).

With the exception of a gifted few, most of speakers I’ve seen try to ‘wing it’ have just ended up dribbling pointlessly and the ultimate message to the audience has been “I didn’t respect you enough to do any preparation for this.”

But there is one other important thing that comes before preparation and practice.

If you haven’t earned the right to speak about the topic through putting in some hard work to develop your knowledge and experience, you’re probably speaking BS and have no right to feel confident.

5. A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt – long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest. – Winston Churchill

I doubt that Winston would get away with saying that these days but the premise still holds true. You can create interest and buzz without exposing all your secrets or trying to account for every possible scenario.

While you might know some of the basic things your audience has in common, you can’t possibly know all of their individual situations.

So the idea is to serve the needs of the audience and give them just enough that they can go and adapt what you’ve said to their individual situation, or seek more information.

Got any more great tips? Feel free to get in touch and let me know.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications

Content or Technique? The Best Way To Step-Up Your Speaking Game

Content or Technique? The Best Way To Step-Up Your Speaking Game

Content or Technique? The Best Way To Step-Up Your Speaking Game

What’s the first thing to work on if you want to improve your public speaking?

Short answer

It depends on what your current strengths and weaknesses are.

Long answer

If starting from scratch most people focus on things that relate to their delivery such as managing nerves, voice, gestures and other body language. Indeed, much of the public speaking and presentation training out there is focused on performance technique.

The problems with a technique-only approach are:

  • Most people don’t have the skills to properly apply the techniques
  • It ignores the substance of the message

When people ask me to evaluate their speech, they are often surprised if I start with how they can improve their content instead of their delivery.

Here’s why sometimes that’s where you need to start…

If there is a problem with WHAT you are saying, you have huge problems before you even get started. 

The most common problems with content are:

  • Trying to cram too much information into the time allowed
  • Too much ‘cold’ information such as facts and figures, not balanced out with ‘warm’ content such as stories and examples to illustrate points
  • Lack of structure
  • No organised material – trying to ‘wing it’ and either rambling aimlessly or getting completely lost for words
  • The presenter actually has little knowledge of what they are speaking about
  • There are large gaping holes in the presenter’s argument

When the wheels fall off a presentation, it’s more often than not because the speaker has not connected with the content themselves, they haven’t considered their content from an audience point of view, or they straight up have no authority on the topic.

If you know what you are talking about and you have solid well-planned content, that in itself will give you more confidence when it comes to your delivery.

So, what about delivery?

Content and delivery are both important. However, so is the way you prioritise them…

If you are a paid professional speaker there is an expectation that you will deliver a polished performance. For everyone else, audiences will forgive a lot of flaws as long as you are giving them good information they can understand and relate to (content first got it?).

However if the flaws in delivery become a distraction from the message, then you have a problem.

The most common issues with delivery are:

  • Lacking enthusiasm – if you’re not interested in what you’re saying why would anyone else be?
  • Overly animated – trying too hard
  • Trying to imitate other speakers they have seen rather than being themselves
  • Speaking too fast
  • Speaking too loudly or too quietly
  • Excessive use of fillers – ums and ahs
  • The presenter talks to their PowerPoint slides instead of to the audience

Once we’ve dealt with those issues, we can then start looking at a range of basic tips that are within the abilities of the average person to help enhance your delivery and add impact to your well-structured message. These might include:

  • Using pauses for effect
  • Purposeful gestures
  • Varying the rate of speech and volume of your voice
  • Eye contact
  • Using visual aids, such as slides, for a purpose

These are simple things that can be very effective and that most people can master with a little practise – without being concerned with taking on a lot of performance techniques and trying to be someone they’re not.

So when it comes to effective public speaking, content and delivery are both important. However, so is the way you prioritise them…

Figure out what to say first, then concentrate on how best to say it as the best possible version of yourself – not like a bad actor trying to be someone else.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications


It’s Not Our Listening. It’s Your Tapping That’s Causing Confusion.

It’s Not Our Listening. It’s Your Tapping That’s Causing Confusion.

It’s Not Our Listening. It’s Your Tapping That’s Causing Confusion.

Have you ever had someone try to explain something to you but instead of feeling informed you just felt either more confused or none the wiser? Meanwhile, the other person thought they did a perfectly good job?

A study conducted by a lady called Elizabeth Newton at Stanford University in 1990 not only earned her a Ph.D, but also explains why listeners often feel this way.

Ms. Newton created a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tappers” or “listeners.” The tappers were given a list of  well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener by knocking on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song.

Over the course of the experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs. That’s 3 out of 120.

Here’s what makes that figure significant…

Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict how many songs the listeners would guess correctly. The prediction was 50 percent.

So the tappers thought they would get their message across 1 time in 2. In reality the message got through just 1 time in 40.

Why the huge difference?

Pick a well-known song and try tapping it out yourself. You’ll find you can clearly hear the tune in your own mind. Meanwhile, all anyone else listening can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps. Likewise, in the experiment, the tappers were amazed at how hard it was for the listeners to pick up the tune. They thought the song was obvious and became frustrated with the listeners if they couldn’t work it out.

Once we know something (in this case the song) it becomes almost impossible for us to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge. In the experiment, the tappers can’t imagine what it’s like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. 

What this means for us as communicators in the real world is that we can’t replicate our listeners’ state of mind in our own mind but we do need to be aware of it and allow for it. If we don’t, then we will be met with blank faces when we try to explain whatever it is we want to get across.

There are ‘tappers and listeners’ everywhere. The tappers and listeners are marketers and customers, experts and novices, parents and children, bosses and employees, trainers and students, and many more relationships where one side holds most of the knowledge.

In order to communicate our knowledge or ‘have our song heard’ we need to think carefully about how we can recreate the tune in our listeners’ minds rather than assuming they are hearing it just as well as we are.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications


How To Avoid Crashing & Burning When Using Humour

How To Avoid Crashing & Burning When Using Humour

How To Avoid Crashing & Burning When Using Humour

So three public speakers walk into a bar right…

In my opinion the bravest speakers of all are stand-up comedians. They go out on stage usually armed with nothing but a microphone and their wit. No music. No props. No second chances. They are expected to be funny and if they aren’t, the audience is quick to let them know.

For the rest of us, while some humour can help make our speeches and presentations more entertaining and engaging, it’s not expected.

Hang on a minute! But we’ve all heard that humour is the best way to win over an audience, right?

A few months ago I was at a conference and the organisers had flown one of the speakers in from Canada for the occasion. During the first part of his presentation he made a joke about jet lag and coffee which under most circumstances would be a throw away line that would elicit a smile and a nod from most people.

However he made two mistakes with it.

Firstly he built the joke up to be a lot funnier than it actually was. Secondly, he broadcast his punchline as a bullet point on a PowerPoint slide for about five minutes before he actually delivered it (HINT: the unexpected element is kind of important when it comes to humour).

When he finally got to the punchline, it was clear from his own actions that he was expecting a significant reaction from the audience. What he got was silence and it was obvious for the next ten minutes or so that he was completely rattled and you could feel the audience was uncomfortable as a result of watching him climb from the wreckage.

Yes, humour can help, but there’s always the risk that your audience won’t appreciate the joke. If you are already nervous, that’s not exactly going to make things easier.

Play To Your Strengths Rather Than Trying Too Hard

We all have certain strengths and weaknesses when it comes to humour. The first step is knowing what they are rather than trying too hard to be funny.

For example, I rarely ever tell pre-prepared jokes because I’m simply not a joke teller – I’ve figured that out the hard way having crashed and burned a couple of times myself. On the other hand I am fortunate that I can often see a situation and make a wry observation, deliver a mildly amusing one-liner, or recount a short anecdote that I’m reminded of.

So rather than try to stage something, I stay alert and look for those opportunities to do something ‘off-the-cuff’ because that suits my style.

What if I can’t do ‘off-the-cuff’ humour? Shouldn’t I still have some jokes up my sleeve?

I’m sure at some point most of us would have been to a wedding where ‘Uncle Bob’ has been appointed as MC and he has taken the opportunity to unleash his full repertoire of tired mother-in-law jokes that have left guests squirming in their seats.

In reality, simply being positive and enthusiastic is often all you need to do. A good mood is infectious and will soon spread throughout the room.

Apart from that, you can always tell an interesting story or express something heartfelt. These things are appreciated by people just as much as humour and are usually far less risky.

If doing a business presentation, making sure your content is actually interesting and relevant should be your first concern before you even start thinking about what jokes you’ll use.

The best advice I can offer is to know yourself and know your audience. If anything you are thinking of doing feels like it might be uncomfortable for either, leave it out.      

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications


How I Learnt My Most Valuable Public Speaking Lessons

How I Learnt My Most Valuable Public Speaking Lessons

How I Learnt My Most Valuable Public Speaking Lessons

During my years as a member of Toastmasters International I reached a point where I needed a new challenge. That challenge became the International Speech Competition which involves making a seven-minute inspirational speech and proceeds through six stages with the final being the World Championship of Public Speaking.

My plan (ie. fantasy) was much the same as many of the 30 000 or so people who enter each year – become World Champion and find fame and fortune as a professional speaker. I didn’t become World Champion but what I learned in the process of trying has been invaluable.

Here are a few of those lessons – the big one is at the end:

1. I didn’t know what real fear of public speaking was before

Part of the reason many people have a fear of public speaking is they are aware that to some extent they are being judged by the audience. However for the most part audiences are looking for good points, not things to critique.

In a competition, there is no denying the confronting reality that the reason for you being there is to be judged on your performance. Not only by the official judges, but by everyone in the room.

The gut wrenching fear I felt at times was sickening but the feeling of achievement and confidence that came from getting through it was even more powerful and was one of the best personal growth experiences I could have had.

Want to conquer a fear of something? The only real way is to do that thing that you fear.

2. Make what you say count

When you have half an hour to do a presentation or speech you can include a substantial amount of content – often way more than is needed. Trying to convey an inspirational message in just seven minutes means you have to learn to cull everything but the most relevant material and make that limited material have the most impact possible.

3. Stories rule.

The best way to do the above is with a great story.

4. You can rehearse too much

I am a firm believer in practising before a big speech or presentation. However there were times before competitions when I rehearsed so much that I had every word memorised and every single gesture and movement choreographed.

This actually raises one of the conflicts I have with what is advocated by some people in Toastmasters. Being ‘staged’ to this level was at times a very successful strategy for meeting the judging criteria in competitions as well as getting good evaluations for speeches in regular club meetings. However sometimes it comes across more like really bad acting than speaking. Be careful with this – acting and speaking are different things.

5. Most Importantly – What it really takes to be a ‘winner’ with your audience

In my most successful shot at the competition, I reached the stage where I was one win away from heading off to the USA to compete in the semi-finals.

That day I came up against the gentleman who would later go on to become the World Champion of Public Speaking that year. It was a day that I got ‘schooled’ big time in the art of competitive speaking. His speech was well written, brilliantly delivered, thoroughly entertaining, and deserving of sending him on to the next stage.

Myself, having invested very heavily emotionally in the experience, all I wanted to do in the break afterwards was retreat to some privacy and have some time for personal reflection. However, I couldn’t because of a constant flow of people coming up to tell me that even though I didn’t win, they enjoyed my speech the most out of the six contenders.

The message of my speech that day was not to let the things that keep us busy crowd out the most important things in our lives. I told a story about how I had been doing exactly that and as a result, I was missing out on my young daughter’s childhood. It resonated with a lot of people in the audience and a couple of them actually had tears in their eyes afterward when they thanked me for telling the story.

It wasn’t until I was tackling the 8-hour drive home the next day and got to thinking about what some of these people had said, that I fully appreciated the real lesson I had learned from the experience…

Fulfilling the judging criteria for a competition is one thing, but it’s how you make people feel that ultimately determines your value as a speaker.

Even well over a year later, people who were in the audience that day were stilling telling me how that speech had impacted them.

One day I will return to Toastmasters as I have unfinished business with that competition. But in the meantime, I know that saying something that matters is way more important than a perfectly polished performance.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications


How To Make Your PowerPoint Slides Objects Of Beauty Instead Of Despair

How To Make Your PowerPoint Slides Objects Of Beauty Instead Of Despair

How To Make Your PowerPoint Slides Objects Of Beauty Instead Of Despair

Boring business presentations are not hard to come by. That’s because most go to the pack the second the would-be presenter turns on their computer and starts writing their presentation directly onto PowerPoint slides (or insert your favourite slide weapon here). They don’t question what they are doing or why they are doing it.

So, why are they doing it?

There are three main reasons:

1. Everyone else does it.

PowerPoint is now so overused that it has become embedded in the culture of business that if you are doing a presentation you must have slides.

2. They use the slides as a guide for their presentation.

However stacks of bullet points or paragraphs of text on a slide serve only one person and that is the presenter themselves. As for the rest of us in the audience, if you stop reading your slides and talk to us, we’ll be much better off thanks.

3. They think it makes their presentation more engaging.

Well…PowerPoint and similar tools certainly can make presentations more engaging, but they usually don’t. That’s because of the way they are used – see point 2. Instead of using their slides for rich content that supports what they are saying, most presenters use them for text simply to keep track of what they are saying leaving their audience in despair and ready to clutch onto anything remotely more interesting.

Want to really connect with your audience?

Think of someone making a movie. The director doesn’t shoot the movie at the same time as the script writers are writing. The story comes first and then the visual and sound elements are added to bring the story to life.

So write your presentation first and ensure that it has a sound structure, then start thinking about what other elements you need to add impact to what you are saying. Sometimes slides will do that job, sometimes they won’t. Maybe some other prop, example, or demonstration will serve the purpose a lot better. Just don’t assume you have to do slides just because everyone else does.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications