How to become better as a speaker

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Today, I have decided to write a post about how one speaker, Immaculee Ilibagiza, was used as an example by another speaker, Shep Hyken, to teach another speaker, Me, something about speaking.

Shep Hyken is the Immediate Past President of the National Speaker Association of America (NSA). He is also a world class speaker on customer service.

He is in Singapore and this evening, I had the honor of spending 3+ hours with him and Andrew Bryant, the newly elected president of Asia Professional Speakers Singapore.

During our very interesting dinner, we discussed about everything from Donald Trump to Russia. But my post today will be about what one of the best speakers in the world has to say about the best speakers in the world, and what we can learn from them.

Shep is in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame, has been a professional speaker since 1983 (!), and is a world authority on customer service with something like more than 60,000 followers on Twitter.

When he was the President of NSA, he got the chance to go around the world and listen to some of the best speakers in the world.

I asked him to give me the names of some of the speakers that he had heard who, he thought, were the most valuable speakers for a speaker to hear.

Now, something very interesting happened.

Shep mentioned speakers who had been great at giving concrete advice on how to get return on investment, and then he mentioned Immaculee Ilibagiza.

If you do not know who Immaculee Ilibagiza is, know this: She is from Rwanda and survived hidden for 91 days with seven other women in a small bathroom with an area of 12 feet during the genocide.

She speaks about forgiveness, which is a very powerful message, especially when you learn that most of Ilibagiza’s family — her mother, her father, and her two brothers Damascene and Vianney — were killed by Hutu Interahamwe soldiers.

Her speech has nothing to do with getting a “return on investment” as a speaker. It is a totally different kind of speech.

And that is the message.

Some people think that you have to follow a “formula” to be a professional speaker, that you have to be funny, that you have to be charismatic, that you have to be a great story teller, or that you have to have a lot of facts, and so on.

The truth is that there is no formula.

You can be speaking on how to use social media to increase sales with slides full of charts, or be a funny speaker sharing what you learnt from climbing Mount Everest, or speak about the power of forgiveness after surviving a genocide.

As long as you tell YOUR story. The story you believe in, the story you know how to tell, in the way you know how to tell it.

Lesson: Shep’s message was so simple, yet so relevant —

Take every chance you can to listen to great speakers. Learn as much as you can from what makes their speeches great; but do not try to copy them, do not try to become them, do not change your style to be more like them.

Instead, use all that inspiration from other speakers to help you develop your own message. Your own style. Your own path.

Great speakers – and great speeches – can teach you so much about being a great speaker, or giving a great speech.  

The only thing they can not teach is how you are going to give yours.

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In a recent post, I wrote how I counted one hour of water gymnastics as work, and I got a few questions about how that could be regarded as work. So let me explain one of my routines.

As a writer and speaker, you tend to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, either researching, looking for inspiration, or writing down thoughts and ideas. Speaking is basically just repeating the very most interesting things you have learnt.

Sitting in front of a computer for hours is not a good thing for your body.

So I try to find ways to force myself to get my body to move.

And yes, it helps to be a father of two (soon three!) young kids who ignore the fact that you are an old man, and make you run around on all fours pretending to be a horse when they come back from school.

But my body needs more exercise than that.

So I have created an exercise routine that is perfect for me, that keeps my body working while my mind keeps thinking about work.

Almost every day that I am not travelling, I spend one hour in the pool doing water exercises while listening to a podcast. The podcast part is important, it makes the hour go by fast and also helps my mind wander in an organised manner.

I normally listen to podcasts that are from speeches so that I can:

a) Learn something interesting
b) Listen to how other speakers present

By listening to other speakers, I can also evaluate how I would have presented a similar story, or example, so it’s a good way to benchmark yourself against other great speakers.

So today, I listened to a one hour speech by Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind”. Daniel used to be a speechwriter of Vice President Al Gore, and I always find it interesting to listen to what speechwriters have to say about speeches.

In this podcast, Daniel said:

“Being a speechwriter, I have a certain philosophy about speeches. I believe that every good speech, every where, every time, no matter what your audience is, no matter how big the crowd is, no matter where you are in the world, every good speech has 3 ingredients: brevity, levity, and repetition…”

And then he adds:

“… Let’s say that again: brevity, levity, and repetition.”

Touché!

After one hour in the pool, I get up fit and inspired to go and do some work of my own.

I understand that not everyone has a pool in their house. Before, I used to do it on a treadmill. You can also just get out and walk while listening to something that interests you in your iPhone.

The point is to move your body and your mind at the same time. I find that as the best way to prime yourself for a good day’s work.

Now, if I want to exercise to get my mind OFF work, of course, I would not do this. Then I would play squash, play with my kids or do something that distracts me from work.

The routine I have described above is what I do in the morning to move me into a good mood before going to work, and to help me contemplate on the bigger picture so that I do not start the day getting crushed by small details and urgent emails that scream for my attention.

Lesson: Find your morning routine that gets you off to a great start for work. For me, it is one hour in the pool listening to a podcast to learn how other speakers speak and how other thought leaders think.

P.S.

So what is my routine when I am traveling? I guess I will write another post about that one day.

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FHCB

A couple of days ago, Friday to be exact, I wrote a blog post about the things I did during my off day as a speaker. Today’s post is an add-on to that post.

One of the people I wrote about meeting during my day off was Caspar Berry, a fellow speaker who is from the UK.

He said something that I found so very insightful that I decided to write a separate post about it.

Here is what he had to say about speakers spending time on developing their “social media selling”:

“The point of the whole ‘social media selling’ is that it is exponential – that is… you tell someone something and they tell a hundred people who tell a hundred people, etc.

But speakers who are obsessed with this are missing a very important thing: speaking is ITSELF exponential. That is, when you speak, you reach 100 or 1000 people – ALL of whom are probably potential buyers now or in the future as they’re promoted – and ALL of them know 100 or 1000 people who know 1000 people, etc.”

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

And just in line with my own thoughts about how a great speaker should spend more time studying how to be a great speaker, and spend less on selling.

Now, you might ask, “Is it not ironic that you are using social media to tell this story?”

But I am not writing these blog posts primarily to get more speaking gigs. If I wanted to use a blog to sell my speeches, I should be blogging about the themes of my speeches, not about speaking itself.

And who knows, I might also start blogging about the themes that I speak on. But then, it will be more because of how rewarding it is to write a little bit everyday about something that you are interested in.

I started this blog to force myself to write down my thoughts about speaking on a regular basis. I do that because I want to continue to think about how to develop myself as a speaker.

Today, I spent 30 minutes writing this blog about not spending time selling. I also spent about one hour replying and sending out emails. I spent 2.5 hours on a very nice lunch with a client going through their expectations for my speech next month. And one hour in the pool while listening to a podcast on the values of meditation. (Yes, I call that work.)

So 3.5 hours out of 5 that I worked today was around developing myself and my speeches. 1,5 hour was “work” not primarily dedicated to making me or my speeches better, including the 30 minutes it took to write this. I think that is a good balance to aim for, both in terms of hours worked in one day, and what the day was spent on.

Lesson: Do a great speech and the audience will do the viral marketing for you.

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