How to become better as a speaker

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A man I had never seen before came up to me today and said, “Thanks for a very interesting conversation.”

How is that possible?

He had just heard me speak as one of 850+ (!) participants at the conference of Singapore Institute of Directors. He had seen me on stage, but I had not seen him.

As one of the hundreds of people in the conference room, he felt like we were having a private conversation — just me and him — instead of him listening to my speech like the rest of the audience.

Here is the funny thing, JUST before I went up on stage (literally two minutes before going up!), I took a notepad and wrote: Talk, do not ‘speak’. Have a happy conversation.

I guess it worked.

The more speeches I give, the more I am convinced that the key to a great speech is that the speaker “breaks” the “wall” that exists between the stage and the audience.

 

How To Break The Wall Between The Stage and The Audience

1. Ask Questions

2. Laugh with the Audience

3. Tell a story about a person in the room whom you talked to before the speech

But perhaps, the easiest and best way of doing it is to look at the whole delivery of your speech as if you are going to have a conversation with the audience.

Some people give the advice that you should pick a person in the audience and speak to him or her.

I think there is a risk of doing that, and the risk is that the audience can feel that you are talking to that person – and not to the rest.

Instead, practice the skill of having a conversation with the whole group.

 

How To Have a Conversation With a Whole Group

I actually feel that a group of people have a “personality” just like individuals do. When you “read” the group while speaking, you can get a sense of the group’s “personality” – or let’s call it “grouponality”.

What do they laugh at?
What mood are they in?
How interested are they in the subject?

and so on.

The more you “feel” them, the better you are able to deliver your speech at a frequency that they are willing to connect to.

And when you are able to connect to your audience, they will feel like you just had a one-on-one conversation with them – even if there are 850 people in the room.

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“How many speeches do you do in a year?”

I get that question a lot.

As if the number of speeches would somehow be a testament of the quality or success of a speaker.

It is NOT.

Bill Clinton has “only” done 93 speeches in the last 2 years.

But he charged between 150,000 USD to 700,000 USD (!) per speech, has had a revenue from speaking of over 13,000,000 USD per year (!) and he spoke at some of the biggest companies in the world. (With fees like that, you will speak at some cool conferences.)

Yet he “only” does less than 50 speeches per year.

On a different scale, let’s look at me.

There was a year when I did 199 speeches. This year, I will be happy if I pass 80. My wife is giving birth to our 3rd child in two weeks and I am on semi-paternity leave this year. Still, I would rank myself a better, more professional and more successful speaker this year than the year I did 199 speeches.

I have stopped focusing on counting the number of speeches I do.
I do make an effort to try to increase the number of speeches that I hear though.

Like what I did one Sunday.

One Sunday, I attended a one-day course on Autism by Gerd Winkler from the Autism Treatment Center of America.

I primarily did it to learn more about Autism, of course.

But as a bonus, I got to watch a speaker/teacher speak/teach for a day.

One of Gerd’s messages on how to deal with children with autism was also applicable on speaking.

He said something like:

“Wake up in the morning and ask yourself, ‘What is so fascinating with my child?’ If you ever get tired of seemingly endless hours of work with your autistic child that doesn’t seem to bare fruit, then try to come at it from the viewpoint of ‘Fascination.’.”

If you approach the child with fascination, it will be so much less stressful and so much more interesting.

This approach works great not only on autism, but also on speaking (and on everything else in the world, I guess).

It doesn’t matter if it is how you watch others speak. Just make sure you do.

Today, I watched the winning speech from the Toastmasters World Championship in speaking. (You can watch it HERE). It’s an 8 minute speech about the power of words. I learnt something about facial expressions and delivering jokes.

Lesson: It doesn’t matter if it is via video, audio or live. If it is a big or small group. If it is a speaker, a teacher, a priest, or a stand-up-comic. As long as you constantly ensure that you are being exposed to other people speaking and you learn from them in the process.

If you came to me for advice on speaking, I would be less concerned about the number of talks you give, and more focused on the number of talks you listen to.

And no, that does NOT mean that you become a great speaker just by listening to others, just like you do not become a great singer by just listening to others sing.

My message in this post is not to say that you do not have to speak!

You have to speak, speak, speak and speak.

What I mean is that you do not have to chase the speeches as if the number of speeches is the only thing that matters. 😉 It is more important that your FOCUS is on speaking.

Speak if you can. And if you can not, then watch a speech, evaluate a speech, get coaching from a speaker.

Be fascinated with the art of speaking. Not fascinated with the number of speeches that you do.

That is the cool thing with this job — that you can spend a Sunday learning about autism and at the same time, pick up a few things that make you better at your job.

 

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Malmö, Sweden.

 

Question: What does a great speech do?
Answer: It moves the audience. It takes them from one state of mind to another. It gets them to change their opinion of something.

When you think about it, that is not a small feat.

It’s impressive when a speaker is able to get a group of people to let go of a belief that they have spent their lifetime building up, and in effect, the audience starts to see the world from a new perspective presented to them.

Imagine, this impact can be achieved by the use of words in only an hour or so.

Realising the power of one speech in changing the views of others can be intimidating for a speaker, but do not let that hold you back.

After all, if you go up on that stage without the conviction that you are going to get the audience to let go of their belief, and instead start accepting and embracing your message, then why bother going up at all?

Today, I decided to take that goal of moving the audience to the test.

In front of a few hundred Swedish CEOs that I spoke to today, I began my speech by asking them to write down what they thought a “truly global company” meant to them.

I, then, boldly – or foolishly – told them that I was now going to try to get them to change their minds about what they thought about this topic in the two hours that I had been allotted. And then I set off giving my speech.

At the end of my speech, the moderator came up on the stage and said: “Oh, so Fredrik, should we ask the audience if you were able to move their thoughts?”

More than 80% raised their hands.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous when she asked the question because it takes guts for a person to raise his or her hand to agree to have had their opinions on a topic changed by the words of someone else.

But when I saw the hands go up, I got surprisingly happy. The result was proof of the power of a speech. And I was extra happy that I was able to get them to change their mind about this specific topic which was about the value of thinking in a more global, human way.

Lesson: Mind you, a great speech can get people to change their minds. Aim to do that. Go for nothing less.

P.S.

Above is a photo of me and the other speaker of the day, David Polfeldt, CEO of Massive Entertainment (a massively impressive computer game company that has worked on mega hits like: Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Far Cry 3 and Ground Control.) David did an equally impressive speech about the history of the 400-man strong studio that he runs.

 

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