More great public speaking advice from Nick Morgan

Nick Morgan keeps giving away solid advice about public speaking. If you speak in public ever, you really should be following his blog. (And his book, Give Your Speech, Change The World, has been required reading for my team.)

Today he posted an excellent list of twelve public speaking rules.

Rules three and four on his list particularly resonate with me:

3. By the end of the hour, you should be talking love. You get attention by identifying a problem and playing it up. Look at the current American presidential candidates; you’d be pardoned for thinking that Armageddon was around the corner if you took them seriously. But by the end of the talk, you should be covering what it is that you love and what’s working in your world. Long-term careers are based on positive trajectories, not negative ones.

4. You put your ideas out there; you can’t control what the audience does with them. It’s your job to present your case with passion. The audience has its own issues, and you have no control over the extent to which they take up your ideas or not. Success is making your case, not in getting the most votes – or even a standing ovation.

Indeed, “you should be talking love” as you make your call to action. What’s the point of standing in front of an audience if not to give them something you care about that can send them away transformed for the better?

It’s called “giving” a speech, right? Have a gift to offer. Talk about something you truly care about, that you love, and leave your audience with that gift, whether it’s awakening them to new possibilities or calling them to action in a worthwhile pursuit.

And Morgan’s fourth rule can be magical for not just your speaking events, but for all that you do.

Don’t be attached to the outcome. Focus on what you can control—your effort, your energy, your emotion, your authentic in-the-moment presence. The intrinsic rewards should take precedence over the extrinsic ones.

Give your speech with as much craftsmanship and energy as you can. Offer your gift. Then let it go.

Every audience is unique. Some may not give you the feedback you hope for or the smiling, engaged expressions that let you know they’re with you.

I’ve had audiences that seemed to just stare blankly at me only to find out later that several found the experience to be transformational.

Regardless, do your best. Give the audience all you have. If you don’t feel a bit drained when you finish, you probably didn’t summon enough energy or uncork enough emotion.

When in doubt, especially when facing an audience that’s not showing you the love, ramp up the awesome rather than scaling it back in self-defense.

Put out more energy, connect more intently, and be bigger on stage than seems reasonable to you.

Spread your love. Give your gift. And be content with that.


Presenting? Rehearse, out loud.

I gave a new presentation at a conference last weekend. I had been unsure about how it was going to be received. The topic was more esoteric than I usually do for a conference session. And in the days leading up to the session, I still wasn’t “feeling” it. My ideas and the narrative structure were not quite clicking into place.

But, the morning of my session I got up early, went out to breakfast with my iPad, and made a couple of tweaks to the structure that did begin to make it all click. It was a “Duh, why didn’t I see that before” moment. Weeks of stewing on a topic can have you just treading water, but the urgency of a shipping date can force clarity.

Then I found the meeting room where my presentation would take place later that morning. The projector was already set up and on for a session that was to start in the room an hour later. So I dicconnected the hotel PC, hooked up my iPad, and quietly rehearsed with my slides, working an empty room in my t-shirt and shorts. And I walked out finally “feeling” it, ready to go on just a couple of hours later. 

I used to scoff at the thought of rehearsing a presentation. But a college speech professor emphasized it so much I gave it a go for a speech in his class. And I was surprised at how transformational it was. Saying my presentation in advance, out loud, just as I would with an audience, helped smooth out the transitions and find flaws and opportunities and even good jokes that I wouldn’t have if I had just gone over the notes in my mind. 

And that happened last weekend again. I should have started talking this presentation out much earlier in the process, especially with new material. If I had rehearsed even a few days sooner, I doubt I would have struggled as much with having this talk click for me.

If you’re giving a talk or leading a meeting or performing for others in any way, make time to rehearse it, out loud. Find the room you’ll be in if you can. If not, any space will do where you can practice without feeling self-conscious.

I don’t know if my audience last Saturday left any better for having been in my presentation. (Surveys will come in later.) But I left feeling that I had given good energy and thoughtful insight, and it seemed I had made a genuine connection wtih the people in the room. 

Leaving with that feeling wouldn’t have been likely had I not walked in with the confidence that only solid preparation and rehearsal can provide.

My presentation today: Do less, better

I’m presenting at a conference today. I’m posting a PDF of my slides here for those in the session or for any who are interested. 

I use slides to support what I say, not to make what I say redundant. So, seeing my slides is not the same as seeing the presentation.

Conference organizers tend to ask presenters to send their “presentation” ahead of time. Well, that can’t really be done. A live presentation is the unique dynamic of the speaker and the audience. So, to satisfy the request for slides in advance, I did create a set of slides to serve as a sort of preview for this talk. These can stand on their own.

Showing my work: Analog color


I’m leading an educational session at a conference this week. It’s a first for this topic for me, and I don’t feel I’ve found my framework yet. It just hasn’t clicked.

I’ve floundered around with digital tools — Keynote, Mindnode, text editors — but the flow hasn’t come yet.

So, today I turned around to my desk, away from my Mac, and took my multi-colored pen to actual paper and mind-mapped my ideas. And they flowed better than at any time in my thinking on this topic.

Analog before digital. Why can’t I stick to that?

It’s still not there yet. I’m imagining people sitting in my session wondering why they chose it and what the heck I was trying to accomplish. But I’ve done this enough times to know that something at least partially intelligible and maybe even meaningful will come out of me.

Priming my creativity with a pen in hand, some color, and a big sheet of paper is a reliable way to force some flow. 

Now, I’ve got to gather up those thoughts and string them together in a way that sparks some kind of transformation in my audience. What’s the point otherwise?

“The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” –John F. Kennedy

Don’t hold back when you present

I gave a couple of presentations already this week. Both were somewhat informal. No slides. Fewer than 25 in each group. 

Today I was Skyped into a student staff meeting at Stanford. That was a first for me. It’s an odd experience to not be physically in the room with the audience. It was a challenge to read the room as I was staring at a fuzzy image on my computer screen while talking in a louder voice than normal, trying extra hard to be heard far away on the west coast. The faces were somewhat pixelated (or maybe that’s just how people in Palo Alto look), so I couldn’t rely on the subtle feedback cues of expressions and body language that I usually adjust my energy to during a talk.

I left both presentations this week, though, feeling satisfyingly drained. I don’t know if what I said connected, or if I made a difference in any way. There were no surveys to give me direct feedback. I seemed to be received warmly and thanked enthusiastically, but the satisfaction for me was intrinsic. I just enjoyed the experience and felt that I gave both audiences something worthwhile. 

If I finish a presentation and don’t immediately feel the need to sit and chill for a few minutes, then I know I probably didn’t give enough energy to the effort. And energy can make up for a lack of eloquence or clumsy structure or even lame slides. (But don’t make lame slides.)

Care enough to uncork enthusiasm and give your audience all you can. It takes courage. Enthusiasm and caring somehow seem risky and vulnerable. But it’s a low risk and one, unfortunately, too few presenters take. 

Don’t hold back next time you present. Don’t give in to caution and the inner voice of resistance that wants to keep you safely mediocre and forgettable. Be awesome instead.

Be the audience

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan (Inception, the Batman trilogy, Interstellar) had this response recently when asked how he thinks of the audience when creating films:

“Every stage in the process, I try to be the audience,” he answered. “I don’t think of the audience as someone else. We’re all a part of the audience.”

I’m in the process of putting together a presentation for an upcoming conference, and I’m stuck. Well, not really stuck. I just haven’t started.

I’ve been futzing around in my mind with what I want to say and coming up with little that excites me.

But who cares what I want to say? Instead, I should focus on the audience. What could I offer that would awaken possibility in them and send them out better and happier for our time together? If I were in the audience, what would delight and fascinate and challenge me?

Make the audience the hero of the story. It’s not about you. You’re not the focus, even though it’s you standing on stage. The point is the potential transformation and the heroic potential of those in the room that you’re serving.

Put yourself in the audience. Be the audience. And see if that unsticks you.

TED inspired speaking advice

It seems the fundamental advice about how to give a good speech is pretty obvious by now. How often can you repeat the basics of effective public speaking?

But I saw two articles recently that had fresh takes worth reading, both inspired by the TED Talk experience.

5 Secrets of a Successful TED Talk highlights solid evidence that how you say what you say trumps even the most meaningful content in its impact on an audience. In a survey of viewers watching TED Talks with the sound turned off, those talks that had the most animated, confident looking speakers rated the highest. And that actually correlated with the popularity of those talks when the sound was on as well.

Smile, use your hands, turn your physical energy up, don’t come across as scripted, and you will have the best chance of connecting with your audience. And it starts immediately. The audience is making a judgment about you and your message in just the first few seconds.

And this article, A TED speaker coach shares 11 tips for right before you go on stage, is filled with thoughtful tips about the mental and physical approach the most successful speakers adopt.

Here’s tip #3 from the list:

Use your body’s nervous energy for good. Don’t try to contain all your nervous energy. Let it move through you and energize you for your talk. Do isometrics while you waiting backstage if it helps. Shake your hands out. Barnett remembers one TED speaker who found a private corner backstage to put on headphones and dance — and that speaker walked onstage feeling like a rockstar. And, if nothing else, always remember TED star Amy Cuddy and how to power pose.

I remain convinced that anyone can have charisma in front of an audience. Care about something enough to have the courage to fully express just how much you do care, and you will be charismatic.

Notes to myself

These are the notes I wrote on the board for our student staff meeting today.

I was reminding them of what I think are some key principles when connecting with all the visitors we encounter every day.

  • Make the audience the hero – It’s not about you. Put yourself in the mindset of those you’re speaking to. How can they come out of this encounter better and happier?
  • Style & substance – Offer more than charm and wit. Your style needs to support meaningful content, not just entertain superficially.
  • What’s your gift? – Don’t stand before an audience wondering what you can get from them – laughs, applause, approval.  Instead, focus on what you can give to your audience. What value can you add to those you encounter?
  • Do less, better – Focus on the essentials. Cut the excess, even good stuff, to shine a brighter light on what’s most important.
  • Be impeccable – Aim for perfection. Be careful with even small details. Get it right. Keep pushing yourself to constantly improve.
  • Shine! – Don’t be afraid to be awesome. Be bold and confident.

These are notes to my staff, but they’re just as much notes to myself. I need to be reminded regularly to not be content with good enough. Why not be extraordinary?

Be The Punchline: Focus on what you can give, not what you can get

ht Presentation Zen

So good.

This comedian’s career flipped when he realized he should focus on what he could give the audience, not on what he hoped to get from them.

It’s called giving a speech, right? So, if you’re called on to speak, consider this an opportunity to give something to your audience. What gift would be worthwhile and meaningful? Don’t apologize or half-heart it. Be solid and come strong with your gift.

Don’t be like so many who start a talk with “I’m sorry to be taking your time” or otherwise apologize for standing in front of them. If you’ve got a meaningful gift to share, be confident and bold.

I do like getting a great response from an audience – laughs, smiles, applause, questions. But if I focus on what I have to give, I’m more likely to get a response that matters.

Beyond public speaking and stand-up comedy, this question just works. “What can I give that would be valuable to someone?”

Speech season

Someone tweeted this photo of me on stage a couple of weeks ago

I’ve given six presentations on three different topics over the past two weeks. I’m always a bit surprised when I get an invitation to speak. How do these groups find me, and why do they want me on their meeting agenda?

I’m not exactly hustling to get gigs. But do enough gigs and word spreads. Groups need speakers. And, well, I work cheap.

But the truth is I enjoy the opportunity to put together a talk and think through what would be worth saying to a particular audience. Preparing to express myself in public focuses my mind in a unique way and summons ideas that otherwise would never appear on their own.

And then, there’s the rush of being in front of an audience of live human beings. I still feel a twinge of fear before beginning. Public speaking makes you vulnerable in a very, well, public way. Giving a speech will heighten your senses and quicken your pulse. It’s a thrill ride of fear and excitement and will tax you physically and mentally and emotionally. We all need more of that in our too safe and mundane lives.

My usual routine at the beginning of a presentation is to greet the audience, smile, and then pause for a long two seconds, centering myself in the moment and taking the measure of the audience as they do the same of me. That tends to calm me and settle me into a more relaxed and confident groove. Often, I get into a zone, a sort of flow state, even, that’s hard to replicate off stage. I draw energy from shining eyes in the crowd and from those that seem especially engaged. Seeing those in an audience who actively energize me makes me want to be a better, more encouraging, smiling, nodding audience member when it’s my turn to sit instead of stand.

My aim in speaking to a group is to awaken possibility, to spark something that wasn’t present before I spoke, and to change the world by possibly changing even just one audience member’s perspective.

Most people seem to generally have low expectations for public speakers. Unfortunately, considering all the bad lectures and sermons and speeches and meetings we’ve all had to endure, mediocrity, or worse, is what we’ve come to expect when a speaker stands before an audience.

There’s a low bar for what most consider a successful speech. If you’re in front of an audience, then, it’s easier than you imagine to surprise and delight by preparing thoughtfully and by just putting some genuine emotion into the effort. Unleash your charisma. Let them see that you care. Have the courage to uncork some energy and passion and give the audience the gift of your fully engaged presence.

I don’t know if the audiences I’ve spoken to in the last two weeks have benefitted much from hearing me, but I certainly am better for having stood before them.

Four thoughts

This has been speech week for me. Three speaking gigs in four days, each on a different topic. My final one of the week is tomorrow morning as keynote for a student leadership honor society event.

I don’t actively pursue speaking opportunities. They just come to me, mostly through word of mouth and groups I’ve spoken to previously. I rarely decline an invitation. I’m not so much in demand that it becomes overwhelming. Three speeches in a week is more than usual, though.

I find a lot of value in having to think through what I want to say to a particular audience. Kind of like how writing on this site forces reflection and pursuit of insight that otherwise wouldn’t happen, regularly preparing for speeches has the same effect.

And the actual experience of standing before an audience of fellow human beings and capturing their attention is a rush. It’s this scary thing that most people avoid. I still feel the fear, even after a couple of decades of regular public speaking. But it’s more like riding a roller coaster fear. I know I’m going to be alright, but I’m braced for the unexpected and the potential, however remote, for everything to fall apart.

When you truly connect with an audience, though, and see their eyes alight with new possibility, it is so, so good. If I’m physically drained at the end of a talk, I know I’ve put out quality energy and done something worthwhile.

Here’s the light table view of my slides for tomorrow morning’s talk, Four Thoughts:

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Speak to spark change

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I was a guest lecturer in a class on campus today. I spoke about how to make effective presentations. A presentation about presentations. So meta.

I get excited talking to groups about effective presentations. So few people seem to relish the opportunity to speak publicly. Yet it’s such a worthwhile way to force yourself to think more clearly about a subject and to spark the possibility for action and new perspectives in others.

The JFK quote above is audacious. And it’s a worthwhile challenge to consider whenever you have to stand before fellow humans. If your aim in speaking is not to cause some sort of change, then what’s the point?

How many times, though, have you sat through a lecture, a meeting, a sermon, or a class and left feeling that your time and attention had been wasted?

But if even one person can be affected by what you have to say with a changed perspective or a new possibility awakened or the impetus to take action, mission accomplished.

Talk with, not at


Note to self:

Even if it’s a speech, talk with, not at. It’s a stance, a tone, a shift in perspective that can make an audience of hundreds feel like the speaker is with them, connecting directly and personally.

Ask questions. Move. Make eye contact. Feel what they are feeling. Be with the audience.

And how much more important this is in dialogue, with your friend, a colleague, your boss, your spouse, your child. Talk with, not at.

The truth about art

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth. –Pablo Picasso

Jason Silva keeps making good stuff. I appreciate his effusive expressiveness. He’s got charisma, and I love how he’s using video to convey in short bursts his passion for ideas and feelings that awaken possibility and shine a light on what could be.

This Paradox of Art video is a good reminder of the value of art and the power of effective art to communicate truth beyond its own form.

I remember as a teenager being frustrated reading poetry in high school English class.

“What does it mean?” “I don’t get it.” “What’s the point?”

I was trying to read poetry as if it were prose. I grew to understand that art could point to something far from its explicit expression. As I grew in my own depth, the beauty of art began to reveal itself to me.

I don’t have to get stuck to the words in a poem. Those words should send me to an understanding or insight or emotion that I otherwise wouldn’t experience were it handed to me directly.

And when I try to express myself, I need to remember to embrace the freedom offered by metaphor and mystery. I don’t have to serve it up straight and cold and direct. In fact, allowing and encouraging the audience to ponder and search and discover is preferable. As Kubrick said, giving your audience “the thrill of discovery” will allow your art to connect even more deeply than if your truth was just handed over.

Of course, art is infection, as Tolstoy explained. So, don’t make your work so impenetrable that it has no effect.

And all of us are artists, we all can create and offer something of value. Get busy creating and trying to express your truths as artfully as you can.

Presenters: Prepare for AV to fail

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I did a talk to a student group last night and the AV didn’t work. It was in the main classroom building on campus where I’ve never had any AV problems before.* I had just created a new version of this presentation earlier in the day and hadn’t taken the time to rehearse, so when I didn’t have the slides to guide me I was a bit lost. But I winged it and jumped in with enthusiasm. I knew my stories and points well. I wasn’t solid on the new structure and flow, though. It was an audience eager to engage and smile, so they were very forgiving of my somewhat disorganized delivery.

A presentation is not about the slides, of course. It’s about the interaction, the connection between the presenter and the audience. And seeing an audience like last night’s was so encouraging. It makes me want to make the effort to be the kind of audience member who gives presenters engaged attention and smiling eyes.

About halfway through last night, one of my brilliant friends in attendance (Thanks, Sheryar!) got a version of my slides to work, so I shuffled through the deck and made them fit where I was in my talk.

This experience reminded me to walk into every presentation with the assumption the AV won’t work and to be prepared to go without any visuals at all. I let this audience down by not being ready to give my best no matter what happened with the AV.

Here is a PDF of the slides that I didn’t get to fully use. Next time, I’ll be ready to roll with or without them.


*I present using Keynote on an iPad mini connected by a VGA adapter to the projector. My remote control to advance the slides is Keynote on an iPhone. Usually, connecting the iPad to a VGA input works perfectly. Not this time.

Showing my work: FAB 4

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Showing my work helps remind me what a rewardingly messy process creation is. An audience typically only sees the well honed final creation, but it’s worthwhile to share openly the process that creates the product. I take heart when I see an artist show the rough drafts and discarded wrong steps.

I’m remixing a presentation for tonight. I’m speaking to a group of college freshmen and sharing wisdom I’ve learned from a career working with campus superstars. I’ve got a handful of ideas and stories I rely on for these kinds of talks, but this morning I decided to scrap a version of the talk I’ve used recently and rethink the structure and design.

I turned my chair around, away from the computer, and took some markers to the jumbo scratch pad on my desk. I mapped out the most important ideas and rearranged the flow before turning back around and designing the slides in Keynote.

It helps to change tools and switch from digital to analog to jump start a fresh approach. And it’s worthwhile to take something you’ve got down pat and jumble it up and start over. New possibilities appear that otherwise would have been hidden behind old, safe patterns.




Hero Quest

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I’m tweaking the slides for a presentation I’m giving tonight to a group of business students. This is my “HeroQuest” talk.

If I had to tweet the purpose of this talk, it would be this:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 5.06.10 PM


I want these college students to walk away tonight with new possibilities for the future and knowing it is in their power to craft a remarkable and meaningful life, a life worth talking about.

I welcome these speaking invitations. Preparing a talk for a group compels me to think in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have to. And the best way to understand truth or beauty or what it means to live a good life is to try to express it. Even if my talk tonight connects with no one in the audience, it’s been worthwhile to think through these ideas and try to understand them myself.


The elevator pitch, the tweet, and clarity of purpose

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Can you pitch your idea or make your point in the length of an elevator ride? That’s been a long-standing and effective thought experiment to help determine if you’ve thought clearly enough about your plan and can articulate it simply and quickly.

So, if you’re working on a speech or a business idea or a movie script or trying to start a movement to change the world, consider the elevator test.

Imagine you’re giving a talk at a conference. A fellow attendee gets on the elevator with you and sees the “Presenter” ribbon on your name badge. He lets you know he’s tempted to escape the conference during your session and go play golf or take a nap and asks what he would miss from your talk. What would be your response? What will your talk accomplish that would be of value to this wayward golfer? What will offer him enough value to make him delay his escape and stay for your presentation?

If you can’t come up with a short simple statement of your intended purpose and one that offers something of value to the prospective audience member, you need to go back to the beginning and rethink just why it is you’re doing this presentation. Or starting a business. Or writing a screenplay. Or starting a movement.

Or, instead of an elevator pitch, my 21st-century, connected friends, consider the challenge of tweeting, in 140 characters or less, your purpose, your mission, your goal. Can you say in just a few words, within the constraints of a tweet, what you hope to accomplish? If not, get busy asking “Why?” and hone and sharpen your thinking to come up with as clear and simple a statement as you can.

Here, for example, in tweet form (and exactly 140 characters thanks to the added hashtag and a stray space, because I’m just OCD enough), is my aim for a talk I’m giving this week to a couple of college classes:
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So many companies and organizations have some committee created mission statement that is either unknown and ignored or is so unwieldy as to be meaningless. What if your mission statement was tweetable and so direct and clear that everyone in the organization knew it and connected with it?

Imagine tweeting your own life’s purpose or the values and goals of your family. Not that you need to actually get on Twitter and post these things, but the effort to zero in on a crystal clear statement on the key “Why’s” in your life potentially can lead you to unparalleled clarity and action.

Talk with, not at

Even when standing before an audience, no matter the size, make it feel like a conversation. Talk with people, not at them. Ask questions. Even rhetorical questions feel conversational without actually needing a response. Make eye contact. Connect and respond to the vibe of the room.

And in interpersonal communication, master the nuance of listening with the intent to understand. Probe and question and clarify. See if you can articulate the other’s perspective effectively. When they get that you get them, they will then be open to getting you.

The best conversationalists I know don’t actually impress with what they say. It’s what they ask and how they listen that makes them shine and makes me value their presence.

Conversations aren’t contests. They are about connection and understanding and shared meaning. Talk with others, not at them.

Hear, forget. See, remember. Do, understand.

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If you want something to stick, you’ve got to take action. Thinking about it or learning about it probably won’t be enough to make meaningful change. Doing something, though, could make all the difference.

Listening to a lecture on cooking won’t make you a chef. Watching the Food Network won’t either. But, crack some eggs and add some heat and you’ll at least be taking the first step on the path.

Choose the active over the passive. Action can make magic happen.

And if you’re trying to teach people or spark some kind of change with a presentation, know that what you say will only go in so deep. What you show them will matter more, and what you get them to do or figure out for themselves could lead to true understanding.