How to become better as a speaker

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20 May 2015 – Oslo, Norway.

This post is about the importance of getting the right introduction before you go on stage.

I just got to see the final program for the conference that I was speaking at later today. In the draft of the program, I had been introduced as “Fredrik Haren – Author and Speaker”. But it turns out that they (without telling me) had changed it last minute and instead printed “Fredrik Haren – one of the best speakers in the world”.

Now, you might think I should be flattered by such a compliment, but overly positive descriptions of a speaker might actually have the opposite effect of what was intended. Instead of making the audience curious of you as a speaker, an introduction that is too positive makes the audience react with a “well, we will see about that” attitude.

I was once introduced as “Here comes Fredrik Haren, one of the most creative people in the world, let’s give him a big hand!”. It was up-hill from the start.

In the same way, I do not want to be introduced with the words “Fredrik Haren has been awarded ‘Speaker of The Year’ in Sweden…”, even if that is an award I have actually received.

In the first two examples, the description they used did not come from me. It was something the organisers decided to write about me, and something I would have preferred that they did not call me.

Now, lines like those above are great for when you or the organisers are SELLING you as a speaker. But when you are going up on stage, you should’t focus on selling yourself. You should focus on selling the message of your speech.

It is great if the emcee can build you up a little, so that the audience knows why they should listen to you, but ask the emcee to spend more time talking about the theme of your speech, and why it is relevant to the audience than talking about all the great things that you as a speaker have achieved.

For my speech in Norway today, I made sure that the emcee talked about the need for Norwegian companies to look outside Norway to have a more global mindset, and then I asked her to make a short connection to how I, the speaker, was right now in the middle of an around-the-world-speaking-tour.

That made a subtle build up of me as a speaker (“He must be good if he is asked to speak around the world”), while at the same time, keeping the focus of the introduction on the theme of the speech (“Why Norwegian companies need to have a more global outlook”).

Lesson: Make sure that the person who introduces you (in person or in the program) builds up an anticipation for your SPEECH – not for you as a SPEAKER.

P.S. And remember: “You never get a second chance to have the emcee give you a good impression.”

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4 May 2015, Singapore

Today, I had the great pleasure of having my dear friend Derek Sivers over for a visit. Derek has one of the sharpest and most curious minds of anyone I know, and he also is one of the best speakers I have met. Derek masters the art of making an interesting point in a simple way.

One of his most famous speeches is a three minute (!) speech that he gave at TED with the title “How to start a movement”. If you have NOT seen the speech I URGE you to look at it – it is nothing short of a master piece when it comes to how to give a short speech.

The speech can be seen here: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement?language=en

Now, Derek’s speech might LOOK simple – but I happen to know that there is nothing “simple” about making that speech look so simple. Derek spends a lot of time fine tuning his speeches until his point comes across in a simple way.

While sipping some coconut water in my living room, I asked him about his process of writing a good speech.

Derek told me that when he had written the speech down, he tested it on a few friends to get an “outsider’s perspective” to the message. As a speaker, you are so familiar with what you WANT to say that you might be blind to HOW to best get that message across.

In the case of the “How to start a movement” speech, Derek tested the speech on a friend who said: “That part of ‘the first Follower’ was a really interesting idea.” Before that comment, Derek had failed to fully grasp the power of the phrase “the first Follower”.

Derek: “That tiny line in the middle of the talk was what made all the difference.”

The rest is, as they say, browser history. Derek’s “How to start a movement” talk has created a movement of its own – the speech now has more than 4.6 million views!

Lesson: If you risk becoming blind to the message you are trying to get across, try your speech on a few people before hand to get a fresh perspective and an audience point of view.

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