10 Steps to Better Speaking (or how to get out of your own way and connect with your audience)

I have been launching myself into the world of public speaking, which was one of my "learning edges" for 2010. I wanted to share the work of Learning as Leadership to a wider group of people who may not be able to attend our training programs in California. And, as always, discover the subtle aspects of my ego along the way... Here are some lessons learned from a recent keynote speech I gave in Houston to an audience of 300 (my largest yet!)

  1. Question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: Practice, Practice Practice. I hate to practice, this is why I dropped piano lessons in first grade and have pretty much dropped every instrument since (violin, guitar, to name a few). I just wanted to PLAY the darned instrument! But if you want to get up in front of 300 (or 10 or 3) people and not look like a donkey's rear end, you better be prepared.
  2. Own it. I needed to find personal examples that spoke to me and that I could share vulnerably with meaning in order to connect with the audience. I kept trying to adapt my boss's talk to fit me and it just wasn’t clicking. Until I forced myself to turn off all distractions and sit down with a blank sheet of paper, I could not put the pieces together. When I was finally able to think about what I really wanted to communicate, from my heart, the talk unfolded in a more authentic way.
  3. Say it out loud. I practiced several times out loud, first with Arina Isaacson, my presentation coach, then with Ariel, my marketing assistant. I didn’t want to. I felt like an idiot. It was embarrassing. I made mistakes. But it was the only thing that helped me break through the discomfort and see the gaps in the talk.
  4. Put your energy in the room. When we got to the conference center I went directly to the hall where I was speaking. I walked around the room and put my energy into it. I looked at the stage from each perspective.  I got up on stage and ran through the whole speech, without slides, just to make sure I really owned it. (Yes it was a bit uncomfortable as the wait staff set the tables, but if I couldn't feel confident in front of them, how could I feel confident in front of the entire conference?) I got a sense of what it was like to stand on the stage, to project to the far corners of the room without a microphone, to look at the sea of tables and chairs and not be afraid.
  5. Work the floor. This was key. After rehearsing the speech, we went out and met the folks who invited us, asked them what their challenges were, what the industry was struggling with. I then walked the exhibit hall floor and connected with the vendors. Ariel and I joked with them, we invited them to the talk, we winked, nudged and cajoled people to come listen to the talk. I took note of their names and this proved useful for the next step.
  6. Make it personal to the audience. I named names, I called people out, I told funny stories, and the audience felt a part of the talk, they felt included and valued and not just talked at. It made it so much easier for me having made contact with people, in the hall, at my table before the speech started, I felt like I had built allies who were cheering me on, smiling at me, laughing at my jokes, wanting me to be successful. (not to mention having an ally in the front row, with Ariel planted in a place where I could see her and she could encourage me). I tried really hard not to focus on (what I perceived to be)  the disengaged faces when I saw them. Or the people who had to leave. I knew the vendors had to pack up, so I didn't take it personally. I have given too much energy to these people in the past. I stuck with those who were interested and it made me feel more confident.
  7. Take time to connect at the end. I spent two hours after the talk walking around, connecting with people, shaking hands, schmoozing, many of the vendors were packing up their boxes, the conference organizers were wrapping everything up to go home, but no one really wanted to leave right away, they were relaxed and that was the time when I had the best connections with the people I met and created the most interesting opportunities for the future.
  8. Be grateful.  These people have invited you into their world, and they could have chosen others to do what you did, so be grateful, thank them, tell them how great they are, how great their organization is, what a great time you had. It goes a long way. Tell them you want to come back next year. Tell them you want to speak at the International conference next time. I already had someone recommend me for that because I was genuinely glad to be there and be of service.
  9. Give away free stuff. We sent LaL pens, free CD's, a brochure, so 300 conference attendees bags had LaL stuff in it. I also always do a handout for them to answer questions I bring up, but it is also a great marketing giveaway because it has our name and number on it.
  10. Don't assume because you nailed it this time you are done. I love the expression "Pride cometh before the fall." It's so sobering. Because this is my real weakness: To think that because I was successful at something once, I am done. I have gone on countless diets and regained the weight because I achieved my ideal goal and thought I was "done." Each engagement requires us to be fully present and engaged as if it were the first. Don't short change the steps and hope to remain a valuable asset.

I hope this will inspire those of you with a story to tell to get out and allow your voice to be heard. We all have something to contribute, and now, more than ever, the planet needs us to step up!