Author: Fredrik Haren

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Being nervous before or during a speech is one of the biggest, and most common, fears of people around public speaking.

In this post I will try to give some advice on how to make that less of an issue.

First some background.

A few days ago I was in Chicago to speak at what is arguably the largest leadership conference in the world: The Global Leadership Summit

The numbers are staggering:

10 000 people live at the venue.
Broadcast live to150 000 people in 550 venues.
Translated to 60 languages and re-broadcast to an additional 250 000 people in 128 countries, bringing the total attendees to the summit to more than 400 000 people around the world.

The summit has grown every year since it was founded 20 years ago.

The line-up for the 2017 Global Leadership Summit was amazing, as you can see from below.

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All world star speakers. And me.

It was a big honor to be part of such a stellar list of speakers.

But as you can imagine, speaking for 400,000 people and sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in speaking, leadership and business can be a bit intimidating. (Imagine failing as a speaker with 400,000 people watching.)

So leading up to the conference, and during the conference I did a few things to reduce the likelihood of me getting nervous – and of me failing as a speaker. And now I will share with you what I did.

1) Prepare.

This might sound obvious, but the best way to not get nervous is to know that you have done everything you can to prepare (If you have done your best you have nothing to fear, but if you know you could have done better you will beat yourself up before, during and after the speech.)

– For this speech I went over my outline about a couple of times per months for over 8 months (I got the confirmation for the speech in December and dedicated myself to mentally go through the speech every other week to be comfortable with it.

– I sent the slides to the organisers in June (even though the conference was in August) just to force myself to be ready with my speech well ahead of the date of delivery.

– I flew in to Chicago 3 days before the event (partly to kill any jetlagg that I might have) and spent those three days in my hotel room, presenting infront of a mirror over and over again.

– I watched at least one YouTube video of every other speaker who was scheduled to speak at the Summit, to see what other speaking styles (and messages) the audience was likely to hear (I think this is a very effective way of preparing for a speech.)

– I made sure I ate, drank and slept very well (hiding the TV-remote in my hotel room, sleeping 10+ hours, taking long walks outdoor, meditating etc – all to be in a very calm and relaxed mindset.

2) Focus on your delivery – not your social media followers

– I made a conscious decision NOT to post any posts on social media like “Here I am getting ready to speak to 400,000 people.” I wanted to stay in the moment and not “in the future”, by not talking about what I was GOING to do, but focus on what I was doing (preparing or delivering a speech.)

3) Feel the room.

They had prepared a private green room for me as a speaker and a VIP seat, but I decided to sit in different places in the 10 000 people auditorium to watch the speakers before me to get a feeling of how the speeches were being perceived from the seats.

4) Understand what comes before and after you.

I made sure I got a few private minutes with the speaker who spoke just before me, “Michael JR”, and right after me, “Bryan Stevenson”, to find out what they were going to communicate so that I could make sure my message fitted well together with them.

5) Get into a state of being “Happitable”.

Happitable is a made up word that I have created.

It is a combination of “happy” and “comfortable”.

If the audience can feel that the person speaking is a) Happy to be delivering the message and b) confident in delivering the message then the audience will love the message, the speaker and the speech.

I find that the best way to get into a “happitable” state of mind is to:

– Watch YouTube videos of your favourite performers when they are “happitable”. (to be inspired)
– Read emails from people who have heard you speak earlier and who’s lives where changed by your speech (to remind you that you are a good speaker who can change lives.)
– Prepare (see above)
– Make it not about you. (Just before I go up on stage I hit myself on the head and repeatedly say: “It’s not about you, it’s about the message, it’s not about you , it’s about the message …” (When you remind yourself that the speech is about the message you are reminded that it is not about you and the reason to be nervous goes away.)
– Be in the moment. (When you are in the moment you are one with the audience which makes it very easy to read them and feel them, which in turn makes it easier to feel what you can and can not say to them.)

Happitble is also the opposite of nervous.

According to the Google “Nervous” means: “easily agitated or alarmed: a sensitive, nervous person. anxious or apprehensive.”

(Side note: the example they use to exemplify being nervous is: “he’s nervous of speaking in public.” …)
When I walked up on the huge stage to speak to 400,000 people I did not feel like I walked up on stage to talk to 400,000 people. I just felt happy and comfortable to share my message to the world.

So how did it go?

Once on stage I felt 0% nervousness. I was comfortable and happy to be there, and I did my best.

At the end of the day Bill Hybels (the founder of The Global Leadership Summit) went up on stage and said: “I think you will agree with me, that this might just have been the strongest opening day of the summit ever.”

Considering the list of speakers they have had over the years (Jimmy Carter, John Maxwell, Jim Collins, Carly Fiorina, Tony Blair, Daniel Pink, Jack Welch, Melinda Gates, and Brene Brown to name a few) that is no small feat.

And I have to agree. I cannot remember attending a conference with a higher degree of world class speakers in one day.

(I will leave out my own performance as I honestly cannot judge my own performance by itself, or in relation to the other speakers. But I think it is fair to say that I did not, at least screw up 😉

I hope learning from my experience will help you the next time you get a chance to speak to a large audience and feel that there is a risk that you might get nervous.

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If you want to get the really big keynote bookings you have to understand that these bookings more or less only go to three kinds of speakers:

a) The famous person. (to give some star quality to the event and draw a crowd)
b) The Industry Expert (to give credibility to the event)
c) The really, really good speaker. (to inspire and awe the audience)

If you are not a) Famous or b) THE Industry expert you HAVE to understand that the path to getting the big keynote bookings is that you have to be a really, really good speaker.

Or to say it another way: If you are not yet getting those big, keynote speeches (and you want to) you have to work on either a) becoming famous, b) becoming known as a global industry expert – or c) make sure you develop yourself to be a really, really good speaker.

Let me give you two recent examples from two big conferences where I was one of the speakers to show that this is how it works:

1) OpenText.

Early July: Toronto, Canada, OpenText Global customer conference. 5000 in the audience.

Three days,
Three keynote speakers.

Day one: Wayne Gretzky – “The Great One” Say not more. (Famous)
Day two: Me. (Unknown and not industry expert.)
Day three: Michele Romanow – serial IT-entreprenur from Canada who sits on Dragon’s Den and is the youngest Dragon ever. (Industry Expert)

(From the program:)

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2) Global Leadership Summit

Early August: Chicago, Global Leadership Summit, 10 000 live and 390 000 (!) people in 128 countries on video link.

First Speaker: Bill Hybels – Founder of Willow Creek and Global Leadership Summit (Industry Expert)
Second Speaker: Sheryl Sandberg – COO Facebook (Famous and Industry Expert)
Third Speaker: Marcus Lemonis – Billionaire and host of TV-show “The Profit”. (Famous and Industry Expert)
Fourth Speaker: Me (not an industry expert and not famous)
Fifth Speaker: Bryan Stevenson – New York Times #1 Bestseller and 3 million+ views on TED.com (famous)

As you can see, the other speakers are in category a) and/or b) (and sometimes a), b) and c)…)

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But I am not famous. (I have, for example, about 6000 Twitter followers (which is nothing) and I am not a “house hold name”. (When I was introduced to the gold sponsors of the Global Leadership Summit on the evening before the Summit not 1 out of the 100+ people in the audience raised their hand when the moderator asked how many knew about me …

And I am not an industry expert on either leadership or IT by any stretch of the imagination.

That means that the ONLY reason I got selected to speak at these two big conferences was because the organisers thought that my qualities as a SPEAKER qualified me (and that my qualities as a speaker MADE UP for the fact that I am not famous or an industry expert. And also that my qualities as a speaker made me get the speaking slot over other good speakers who are famous and/or industry experts (there are, of course, no shortage of those, so they have to think my qualities as a speaker are so good that they put me on the stage even if they know that no-one in the audience will know who I am before I go up.)

And let me be very clear: I (!) do not think I belong in the category of “great speakers” either … But it doesn’t matter what you think of yourself as a speaker – what matters is what the people booking speakers think – and they apparently put me in the “C-category” of great speakers.

(I am also totally ok, with the fact that no-one knows who I am when I go up as I only care about the audience knowing who I am AFTER I am done with my speech.)

Both these two conferences are perfect examples of how the speakers got selected to stand on the main stage as main keynote speakers.

And both of these conferences could literally have chosen any speaker in the world.

So to summarise: To get the big keynotes you have to be: famous, be a global thought leader/authority on the subject – or you have to be good. Really good.
If you ask me c) is the easiest way to get those bookings. But it means you have to commit yourself 100% to developing yourself to becoming the very best speaker that you could possibly be.

Are you doing that?

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Here is another common question I get from people who want to become keynote speakers: “What is the formula for a great keynote?”

I understand the question, but I do not really like it.

It is the same as you CAN ask: “What is the formula for a pop-song?”

And there IS a “correct” answer to it:

“Pop music in the pre-rock era was mostly AABA (verse, verse, bridge, verse). This structure persisted into the rock era. Lots of Beatles songs are AABA. (In the UK, they call the bridge the “middle eight”).

Pop music in the rock era (including R&B but before the rise of funk and then later hip-hop) was mostly verse/chorus or verse/chorus/bridge. So sort of a hybrid between the folk and “classic pop” styles, with the addition of the all-important chorus. The ubiquity and force of a hook-laden, energetic chorus seems to me to be the defining factor of these genres.”

And it true that many pop-songs seems to follow the same “formula” (which this very funny video shows):

 

But the greatest musicians do not try to “follow a formula”, they might know of the formula, but they make the music their own.

And I think it is the same for speaking.

There are some basic rhetorical “rules” for how to give a speech, but the power of a great speech is not in the formula – it’s in the authenticity of the message.

I recently did a speech for speakers where I talked about how I look at it. There I said that:

The STRUCTURE of a speech is important just as the structure of a house is important. But no-one walks into someone else’s house and proclaims “Oh, I love the structure of your house!”

Build a house with a BAD structure and you are in trouble. But just because you have a good structure on your house it does’t mean you have an impressive home.

No, people will remember the way you decorated your home, the furniture, the art, and so on.

And it is the same with a speech.

People will seldom come up and say: “I love the structure of your speech!”

They will come up and say: “I loved your message”, “I loved your stories”, “I love your humour” and so on

So study rhetorical techniques (for example here) or formulas for keynotes (here) if you want.

But personally I would advice you to spend much more time on developing your message, your stories and your delivery.

Because as much as there might be a formula for success – the truly great break all the rules and create their own formula.

I think the song Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is a great example of that. A song that doesn’t follow the formula of a pop song, but which despite that (or is it because of that) is one of the most powerful hit songs out there.

Do not miss to listen to this amazing performance by the AUDIENCE singing it here:

Craft a keynote the way you want your message communicated.

Even if you have to break all “rules” for speaking to get there.

A Bohemian Rhapsody speech. That is what I am dreaming if writing one day before I die.