When I get a big laugh, I call that a Power Laugh. Why? Because power is the ability to do more and big laughs give you the ability to do more with your audience. Getting hearty laughs allows you to create a memorable experience, slip in a profound message, and have a blast all at the same time.
The Humor Tools
I believe you can get at least a dozen laughs every 3-4 minutes if you understand and practice various humor tools. For example, listen to this 3 1/2 minute opening of one of my recent speeches and then look below for a few of the tools I used.
A Few Tools to Get 12 Power Laughs in 3 1/2 minutes
You’re most likely familiar with a Callback and that’s what I did with the line about “Those 25 people I beat…” It was a callback to something my introducer misread in my introduction. Therefore, I called back to a previous speaker. However, there are many other types of callbacks you can make including calling back to what I call PEST.
I can call back to my Preparation, something that happened at the Event, something said by another Speaker, and even something that happened during my Travel to the event. The key is to know how and when to call back and how to seamlessly bridge the gap between multiple callbacks.
When I gave the quick example of George Washington Carver, that was me using what I like to call Historical Humor. Some of the best humor can come from funny situations that happened to historical figures. Although this is not a tool I use often, I have even uncovered humor by telling a story about Harriet Tubman. The key is to make sure you can then tie that example into what you’re currently going through these days.
Of course the old-fashioned “twist” is another way to uncover humor. It’s when you take your audience down one road and then unexpectedly change directions. I did this with my daughter’s letter. However, one reason the twist works is because I “sell” that we’re going down one road before I change directions.
For example, when I read the note, I say, “Dear Daddy, I miss you.” After that I pause and let my audience feel my pain. That helps give them momentum down one road before I read that, “You’re the best daddy in my whole family.” The other key here is the twist should be visual and verbal. In this case, not only do the words change but so does my expression. With other twists I have, I actually walk in a direction on stage and then, at the twist line, I stop and look the other way (or look out at the audience). The visual with the verbal twist goes a long way and draws a major laugh.
My daughter’s letter used to end with the one laugh after I read, “…in my whole family.” However, over time I began using the Tag-on line of “I thought I was the only daddy in my family” and then eventually added “Maybe I should stay off the road and make sure no more daddies are coming through my family.”
A key to Tag-on lines is knowing where they should come from and how to develop them. It’s darn near scientific and surefire when you know where to look for them.
They’re so important because they can help you turn one laugh into 3, 4, or more. All of a sudden, instead of 15 laughs in your speech, you can have more than 45 just with this one tool. In my upcoming Humor Speaking Secrets Course, you’ll see how to develop them and where they should come from each time so that they can’t miss.
One key to humor is being able to transition from one humorous situation to the other without jumping around. A good transition line often does the trick. For example, I moved from my daughter’s letter to my son’s equestrian comments by using the line, “That’s just kids though…kids say the darndest things, don’t they. For example…”
Character to character dialogue
One of the most prolific tools you can use for humor is Character to Character Dialogue. I got a nice power laugh when my son looked up and said, “How old is the horse?!” To get laughs from character to character dialogue, it’s critical to actually briefly possess the persona of the person who said the line. For an instant, I have to become my son in expression, tone, posture, and even in the eyes. I’ve seen many speakers give funny lines but all the lines seem like they’re coming from the same person (themselves). Most of the funny lines should come from the other characters anyway.
I personally like to take advantage of 5 different kinds of spontaneous moments. However, with whatever kind you use, you can’t be afraid to use it. You must be willing to leave your mental script to jump on the magical moment. Of course, sometimes you can seed the spontaneity too but that’s going beyond the scope of this post.
In the audio you just heard, I was about to go into my Big Promise when I stepped on a part of the stage that felt like it was about to give way. Because I almost buckled, I decided to jump on the moment and that’s when instead of saying, “How do you get remarkable results in business AND in life?” I said, “How do you get from one side of the stage to the other?” Of course my look had to ride the line for it to be even more funny.
I cherish those spontaneous moments, because they automatically make the speech fresh. That’s the opposite of canned.
Over and Over Again
Hopefully you’ve found these ideas above valuable. Well, there’s a lot more where those came from. We haven’t even come close to scratching the surface.
What I love about the 33 tools you can pick up in my Humor Speaking Secrets Course (that’s coming soon) is that you can use them over and over again in every speech you give for the rest of your speaking life. As you can probably tell, I’m very excited about the release of this course. Why? It’s because not only can it change your life as a speaker, it can help brighten the lives of all your future audiences.
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Patricia Fripp once told me, “Craig, people won’t remember what you say as much as they’ll remember what they see when you say it.” In other words, you must make your speeches very visual.
I’ve often told people that speaking involves a series of scenes. You move from one story and scene into another. But these scenes must be visible and a great way to make them visible is to move with a purpose.
Two Major Reasons for Moving on Stage
There are several reasons for moving on stage but you’re about to pick up two of the most important.
Movement Tool Number 1 – Let the action in your story prompt your movement on stage
I have a story where I say the following:
I told my Vice President, “John, before I say yes to you, I have to go home to talk to my wife about this.” So I went home to my wife and said…
When I make that statement, I physically walk from where my VP’s office is represented on stage to where my home is represented on stage.
That’s an example of letting the action drive. Of course, when I go back the next day to my VP’s office, I walk back to where the office is represented on stage. That’s letting the action in my story prompt my movement on stage.
If you’re telling a story about standing in line, guess what? You should stand quite still throughout that scene.
When a speaker keeps moving at all times, his movements cease to matter. Even the important movements and gestures get lost in a whirlwind of movement.
Movement Tool Number 2 – Let Time Prompt your Movement on Stage
All stories involve the element of time, which means you can use the imaginary timeline on stage for greater impact. In North America (and in most countries where English is the first language) we read a timeline from the left to the right. The left is the past and the right is the future. Therefore, imagine how I might move when giving this part of my speech:
“Now fast-forward 14 years to today…2014. My re-hire rate has now reached…”
When I say the phrase “Fast forward 14 years to today,” I physically, yet subtly, walk from my audience’s left up the timeline to my audience’s right to symbolize the difference between the year 2000 and the year 2014. Again, this is subtle so it might only be a couple of steps. Why is this important for me to walk up the timeline? Two reasons:
- It makes the scene more clear for my audience
- It allows me to eventually do a visual AND verbal call back to places on the timeline.
For example, later in this message I say, “I’ll tell you what made the difference between my failure in 2000 and my success today [I walk back down the timeline to my audience’s left where the year 2000 is represented]. After my embarrassment in the year 2000, I re-dedicated myself to the art of public speaking…” and then I physically travel back up the timeline (from 2000-2014) when I explain the processes I learned during those years.
This call back is visual, verbal, emotional, and clear for my audience members all because I set the stage up as a timeline and walk it.
Three Caveats that make the difference between a connection and a rejection
Caveat #1: Please remember that you have to do the timeline backwards for you so that it’s right for your audience. In other words, your audience’s left is your right, etc. You’re like an aerobics instructor! So when you want to walk back in the past, move to your right, which is your audience’s left.
Caveat #2: Not all cultures view timelines from the left to the right. Therefore, if you’re traveling overseas or you do not live in a country where English is the primary language, it would behoove you to research how the culture views timelines. Otherwise you might walk from left to right when they might view time as front to back. In that case, you’ll only promote confusion not clarity.
Caveat #3: Much of speaking is about subtlety. If you’re being too obvious about what you’re doing, it will break your connection with your audience. Therefore, when you move, make it subtle. I’ve seen some speakers move the entire length of the stage for their timeline. That’s not necessary. A few steps in one direction should suffice when moving to the future or back to the past. The same goes for characters in dialogue. Don’t travel so far between characters. A subtle head turn (and maybe a change in posture) should suffice to allow us audience members to know which character is talking. Be subtle.
What you just picked up are two important reasons for moving on stage. Now let’s look at one reason for standing still.
When should I stand Still on Stage?
If you’ve studied my materials at all then you know the importance of having a Foundational Phrase to drive your memorable and repeatable message home to your audience. However, there is also an important delivery tool to use when delivering that phrase.
Normally, when you’re having a conversation with your audience, you scan the room and look individuals in their eyes. However, when you get to your most important phrase (often your Foundational Phrase) it creates quite an impact when you stand completely still, look directly at one individual in your audience, and hold his/her gaze for your entire foundational phrase.
For example, I scan the audience until I get to the phrase where I say, “Your dream is not for sale” and that’s when I look at one person and hold his/her gaze. Then, once I finish the phrase, I go back to scanning the room and moving if appropriate. In other words, hold their gaze for your entire phrase.
What’s a next step you can take to improve your delivery?
To learn more about delivery strategies that deepen the authentic connection you build with your audience, consider viewing my Dynamic Delivery Devices DVD set.
How do YOU use the stage to make your speech visual? What are some strategies that work for you?
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Can you become more likeable as a speaker?
Can you become more likeable as a speaker? I believe so. When I first started speaking in 1998, I don’t believe I was very likeable. Why? It’s because my goal was to finish the speech rather than to create an experience for my audience.
In fact, I could give my speech the same exact way whether I was alone or in front of an audience. That’s terrible, because it means I wasn’t feeding off of my audience or letting them feed off of me. There was no true exchange of energy.
Once I made the internal shift to focus more on my audience than on completing the speech, I immediately became more likeable and I connected on a deeper level.
Although the internal shift is critical, the following 6 ideas can also help you become more likeable so that your message travels deeper and you develop meaningful relationships along the way.
Note: Not every speaker wants to be likeable. Some speakers have actually built a niche by being hard on their audiences and giving them tough love. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even for those speakers, I believe the 6 keys below can be beneficial.
Likeable Tool #1 – Don’t tell, ask
People don’t like to be told about themselves. So often I see speakers make statements like, “We all have made bad decisions in life…” That turns people off and some actually think, “You don’t know me. How can you tell me I’ve made bad decisions?” Even though we KNOW they have, we can’t tell them they have. It’s much better to ask.
For example, I’d ask, “Have you ever made a bad decision?” Or I’d say, “Be honest, raise your hand if you’ve ever made a bad decision.” Once their hands go up, I’d say, “Me too.” Now I have permission to go down that road with them on board.
Likeable Tool #2 – Don’t come across as special
If all a speaker does is share his successes, what do you think the audience members will think? Eventually they’ll probably think, “This guy is arrogant.” However, they might also think, “This guy is special. Of course the tools he is sharing work for him…it’s because he’s special. But they won’t work for me.”
The key as a speaker is to take yourself off that pedestal and share your failures, flaws, and frustrations. When you do that, your audience will think, “Wow, he’s failed too? I have similar flaws.” In other words, they’ll realize you are similar rather than special. As a result, they’ll believe, “Hey, if HE can do it. I can do it too.” This leads to them following your advice or tools or recipe.
Oh, and remember, it’s completely okay to share your successes too. Just make sure to mix in some non-successful moments too. When you share your failures, your audience will end up rooting for you when you get to the successes.
When you lift yourself up, you let your audience down
Likeable Tool #3 – Have fun at your own expense
Be willing to poke fun at yourself. I often begin my speeches by poking fun at myself through the words of my daughter. I read a note she wrote when she was 6 years old that said, “You are the best daddy in my whole family.”
This lets my audience know that I’m not taking myself too seriously even if my message is serious. I’ve found that my audience members begin to laugh and speak up and connect with me because they know it’s all in fun. Poking fun at myself also allows me to poke good-natured fun at them too. This turns a speech into an experience that people can talk about long after I leave the stage.
Likeability Tool #4 – Embrace the environment
Two weeks ago I spoke at a conference in New York inside of an old mansion. It was an awesome environment. About 60 seconds into my speech, I noticed one of the camera operators was following me very closely. When I went out into the audience, he followed me and was literally one step away with the camera pointing at my face. So I stopped in mid-sentence and turned my head to stare at him in a lighthearted way. The audience broke into a huge laugh and that was the break-through moment that connected me with that audience for the rest of the day.
Most audiences don’t want to hear canned speeches. If you can use the environment to your advantage, it’s almost the same as customizing your message because your audience believes, “Well, this certainly has only happened here.” That’s crucial. So much of what I do in customizing and tailoring and using the environment is to get the audience to think, “This is fresh and has only happened here.” That makes the event special for them and for me.
Likeability Tool # 5 – Listen to your listeners
Always remember that your audience wants to be heard too. People buy- into what they help create. Some speakers give their speech like I used to…the same way whether the audience is there or not. It’s important not to think, “Speech,” but think, “Experience.” When you include them, they have an experience. Here’s a 60-second example of my audience and me feeding off of each other so that they are heard too.
Likeability Tool #6 – Be very approachable afterwards
I have a secret. I’m an introvert. That’s right, in my case I would rather be with a good book than with good people…much of the time.
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it’s important to remember that even when your speech is over, it’s not really over. You are still on stage. It doesn’t matter what you say on stage if, when you come down from it, you don’t give people the time of day. That’s what they’ll remember. Actions speak louder than words.
I often run into audience members in the airport on my way home. Guess what? If they have questions or want to chat, I do it. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s the decent thing to do. Also, you never want to destroy a connection you established with them. Finally, I truly believe in the importance of going above and beyond what we promise in terms of providing value.
What are some other ideas you have for becoming more likeable as a speaker?
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If you don’t have hooks strategically sprinkled throughout your speech, chances are your audience will bail mentally if not physically.
You have to find ways to keep hooking your audience so THEY don’t want to let go.
Below you’ll find 7 super hooks (in no particular order) that get your audience to say, “Tell me more” or “What happened next?”
Hook #1: Curiosity Hook
“After 15 years of trial and error, research, and blood, sweat, and tears, I’ve finally found out what makes the difference between a good presenter and a great one. It’s…”
That’s an example of a curiosity hook. You find ways to make your long road lead to their shortcut. However, you don’t tell them what they want to know…at least not immediately. Make them curious, tease them a little more, and then give them the tool (or solution, answer, or formula, etc.).
Hook #2 – Avoidance Hook
Here’s an example of an Avoidance Hook.
I tell a story about a speech I gave in Michigan when I failed miserably to the point where the meeting planner couldn’t even look me in the eyes. Then I say to my audience of speakers, “This is something you should not have to go through and you won’t if you listen closely.”
The Avoidance Hook focuses on something your audience wants to avoid. It’s important to use this type of hook because sometimes people are motivated by what they want to avoid more than they are by what they want to attain.
Hook #3 – Attainment Hook
I’ve said to an audience of speakers, “How would you like a tool to make a deeper connection than you’ve ever made before? If so, say yes.” They always yell, “YES!”
The Attainment Hook is just how it sounds. You simply let the audience know what they can attain if they pay attention to what’s coming next. Think results-based. I mention that they’ll be able to make a deeper connection than they ever have before. That’s certainly something they want, but I make sure to tease them before I tell them. Don’t give it up too soon. Make them wait for it and want it.
Hook #4 The “Most People” Hook
When speaking, always keep this in mind:
Most people don’t want to be most people”
When I used to watch the master presenters, I realized many of them made statements like, “Most people do this” or “Most people do that.” Whenever I heard those statements, I’d say to myself “I’m not going to be like most people. I don’t want to be average. I want to do something different.”
That’s the effect the words “most people” have on people. For example, I’ve said, “Most people live their lives on get-set. When it comes to pursuing their goals and dreams, they take their marks, they get-set, and they never go. They live and they die on get-set.”
Because “most people” are two of the most persuasive words in the English language, my audience members get very motivated to “go” rather than live on “get-set.”
Hook #5 – Conflict Hook
Good stories have a conflict that is established early. Great stories not only establish the conflict, they also escalate it. Think about the Titanic. One of the conflicts was when the Titanic hit the iceberg. However, the escalation of the conflict was when the water rose on the Titanic. If the water never rose on the Titanic, then that would have been a terrible movie. Always think, “How can I raise the water on the Titanic in my story?”
The conflict is the hook because your audience wants to see how you will overcome it and what tools you will use. Why? Because maybe they can use similar tools for similar situations. In that way, your speech has become very useful to them.
Hook #6 Silence Hook
I tell a story about how excited I was to meet my speaking hero. The only problem was, when I approached him, he said nothing back to me. That silence in the story becomes a hook because my audience is anxious to hear what he is going to say and then, when he doesn’t say anything, they get ever hungrier to see what I’m going to do about it. The silent moment becomes the hook.
The problem with some speakers is they rush through the silence and make the potential hook much less effective. Take your time, dance in the silence, and watch your audience move to the edge of their seats.
Hook #7 Statement Hook
One of the first stories I ever told as a speaker started out like this:
“Nobody has ever died from a snakebite.”
My audience wonders, “What’s he talking about? People get bitten all the time and I’m sure some of them have died.”
I then go on to tell them it’s not the bite, it’s the venom that kills them.
The key is that the first statement hooked them in to want to know more. The rest of the story cleared it up and answered their question.
When all of your hooks are done, your speech is over.
Final Words on Hooks
As you can see, it’s important not only to have hooks at the beginning and end of your speeches, but to sprinkle them throughout. Remember, when you are in speaking, you are in sales. These hooks will sell your audience on listening to the next part of your presentation.
Oh, wait a minute! I almost forgot. There is an 8th hook and it’s more powerful than the other 7 combined. It’s…
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The quickest way to connect with your audience is to share your failures, flaws, frustrations, and firsts. Why is this?
Lots of people don’t care for motivational speakers because they are used to hearing the kind that think a motivational speech should consist of bragging about their successes and then telling their audience members, “You can do it too!”
Well guess what? If you just speak on your successes and not about your failures, they will not believe they can do it. They’ll simply believe you can do it.
Don’t come across as Special
The absolute last thing you ever want an audience to think is that you are special. The very first thing you want them to think is that you are similar; similar to them. When they think you are similar, they will automatically realize you must have a special process that helped you succeed.
As a result, they will want that same special process and that’s why you will be able to influence them to take the next step towards getting it. What I am saying is that when you lift yourself up, you let your audience down. Those who are driven by their ego when speaking will end up on a dead-end road.
Since I began to understand that there is power in pain, I started opening my speeches with various stories about my own failures. Here’s a quick story that I’ve shared with Toastmaster audiences over the years (94 seconds).
This works well because it throws my audience off and lets them think, “Hey, I can relate to that.” But here’s what else it does. When I finally share one of my success stories (which you should definitely eventually share in your speech), my audience actually cares! That’s right, when they know you’ve failed, they care when you’ve won. That’s the beauty behind sharing a failure story early in your speech.
My 4 Fs (Failures, Flaws, Frustrations, and Firsts)
Below are some examples of what I have shared over the years and hopefully they can help you search for situations in your own life that you can dig up, dust off, and share.
- I share my poor SAT score
- I share how I bombed during a high-paid engagement
- I share how I lost a humorous speech contest at the lowest possible level
- I share how I was hurt when my speaking idol ignored me
- I share how I almost let negativity stop me from writing The Nuts and Bolts of Public Speaking
- I share how I got speech coaching and realized I was not where I needed to be as a speaker
- I share how I was called Daffy Duck because of the enormous lisp I had as a child
- I share how I put a man out of the residential Employment Academy program I was directing and he was shot and killed on the streets of Baltimore later that night
- I share how I had been traveling so much that my 6-year old daughter wrote me a note that said, “You are the best daddy in my whole family.”
FYI – I have also seen my friend and fellow World Champion Darren LaCroix literally show his first time on stage doing comedy. Believe me, when people see that video clip and then realize he went from that to a World Champion of Public Speaking, it gives them hope. Mission accomplished.
Think about the times you’ve failed, felt flawed, been frustrated, or done something for the first time that wasn’t anything to write home about, and then be courageous enough to open up and share it. People will not think less of you. In fact, they will think more of your process (the bridge) for how you went from where you were to where you are. Plus, they’ll think more of their ability to do the same. Just think; your failure can lead to their success.
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The Table or the Trophy?
If I put a trophy on top of a table, what do you think I want you to see, the trophy or the table? Of course it’s the trophy. We can look at narration and dialogue the same way. Narration is the table and dialogue is the trophy. The narration is only there to set up the dialogue, which is what we really want to see (or hear).
It’s okay to dress up the table a bit to make the trophy even more attractive, but it’s ultimately the trophy that we should see.
Mix It to Fix It
Too many speakers use far too much narration. For example, they say lines like, “My wife came home and told me she wanted a divorce.” That’s narration…a report from the past. That dialogue would sound like this, “I want a divorce.” That’s much more powerful. However, an effective mix of narration would sound like this, “My wife came home, looked me directly in the eyes and said, ‘I want a divorce.’”
Do you see how narration and dialogue should work together? It’s important to mix the two. The narration was, “My wife came home, looked me directly in the eyes and said…” while the dialogue was, “I want a divorce.” The narration (table) sets up the dialogue (trophy) very well. What we end up remembering is the dialogue.
What happens when you go down the wrong road?
What happens when a speaker uses all dialogue without any narration? It comes off like a stage-play.
What happens when a speaker uses all narration and no dialogue? That’s when you have a CNN report.
The key is in the mix. We need a few, “He said…” and “She looked at me and said…” lines of narration to set up the dialogue so that it’s more conversational and natural.
Therefore, there is no Dialogue vs. Narration argument. Instead of being opponents, they should be teammates. They should work together to create powerful messages that stick and shine.
See For Yourself – Narration AND Dialogue Video Coaching
Below you will see a 4-minute video of me coaching a speaker on how to mix the narration and dialogue for the greatest impact. Enjoy! Oh, and I know there’s a typo in the beginning of the video.
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Have you ever heard the saying, “If you try to do too much, you’ll end up doing nothing at all.” Well…there is an old speaker’s proverb as well that states…
If you squeeze your information in, you’ll squeeze your audience out.”
There is no time to engage them, to jump on the spontaneous moments, or to really have a conversation with your audience. Most of the times I’ve failed in speaking can be linked to me ignoring the advice you are about to receive.
I once heard Bill Gove (first President of the National Speakers Association) say that “Speaking is a dialog, not a monologue.” You will be giving a monologue if you squeeze your information in. Putting in too much information forces you to rush through your speech and that is disastrous. As I always say…
You can’t rush and resonate”
My 10:1 Rule of Thumb Solution
So what’s the solution? Here’s a suggestion to consider. Come up with a rule of thumb. My 10:1 Rule of Thumb is simple. For every 10 minutes I speak, I feel I can make one major point, illustrate it effectively, and make it palatable for my audience. Therefore, if I am called to do a 45- minute keynote, how many points will I make? Right, four.
A meeting planner might call and say, “Craig, we want you to do a 45-minute speech.” I’ll say, “Great, you’ll get the 4 Rs to Remarkable Results.” One might call and say, “Craig, we want you to do a 30-minute speech.” I’ll say, “Great, you’ll get the 3 Rs to Remarkable Results.” He might call back and say, “Craig, we just want you to give a 10 minute speech.” I’ll say, “Okay buddy but you’re down to an R…but it will be remarkable. I stick by this because I refuse to squeeze in my information. It’s too costly.
Less Can Be More
I follow this rule of thumb to keep me from squeezing my information in. The hard part is that I know a lot about these topics and so to put more information in is ALWAYS tempting, but it’s also always trouble.
I have had several people submit 5-7 minute speeches where they’re trying to make 3-5 points. The key question to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to speak?” If it’s to change lives then it’s better to give 4 points and have them remember 3 then to give 15 points and have them walk away with nothing. With structure, less can be more.
The Profitable Side Benefit
A side benefit to you not trying to squeeze in your information is that people will SENSE that what you taught them is only the tip of the iceberg for what you know about that topic. As a result, because they’ll know there’s more where that came from, and they’ll look to you for next steps including future presentations. I’d rather have standing invitations than standing ovations. Let them invite you back.
When you finish your speech, you don’t want you audience looking at you as if to say, “You want me to do all of this?!” Instead, you want them to say, “I can do this. I can handle that.” When they act on that message, you have acted on their life. Congratulations, you made a difference.
Work on your own rule of thumb and drive your points home. It’s better to drive 3 points home than to leave 15 points stranded. So go out there and give less and accomplish more. Well…you know what I mean.
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The quickest way to connect with your audience is to share your failures, flaws, frustrations, and firsts. Why? Because most people have failed, they have flaws, they’ve had frustrations, and they’ve attempted something for the first time. In other words, they can relate. Plus, your failure intrigues us because we want to see how you handled it and what tools you used to turn that failure into a success.
Keep a Failure File
For the reasons mentioned above, it’s important to have a Failure File. What’s that? It’s just what it looks like. Many speakers understand the concept of having a Story File (a file where they keep their developing and already-developed stories). Some speakers understand the importance of having a Foundational Phrase File (a file where you keep your sayings and takeaway phrases), but few of the speakers I’ve met over the years have a Failure File. However, you can start one now.
Start your Failure File
Instead of trying to bit off more than you can chew, I suggest starting your Failure File with three of the biggest let-downs or failures you’ve experienced in your life. These should be YOUR failures, not the failure of someone else. Here are some questions that can help spark some ideas:
– Did you fail a class in school?
– Did you get dumped by a significant other?
– Did you cost your team the game in a sporting event?
– Did you fail at something relating to fatherhood or motherhood?
– Did you give a bad speech?
– Did you lose a contest?
– Did you go into debt or fail with your finances?
– When have you ever felt embarrassed?
– When have you ever felt ashamed?
– What’s a flaw you tried to hide (i.e. my lisp)?
– What’s something you tried for the first time and failed?
– What frustrates you?
– Have you ever felt like you were going to fly off the handle? Why? What happened?
– Have you ever gone on a bad date? What happened?
– When is the last time you cried out of sadness?
– Have you ever been wronged by someone? What happened?
– Have you ever wronged someone? What happened?
– What is one of your biggest regrets?
Surely if you ask those questions and really ponder them, you will be able to come up with at least three stories that you can immediately put into your Failure File.
A Story from my Failure File
Here’s an example of a one-minute story that’s in my Failure File that I have not used much (and it is not developed yet) but I will develop and use in the future:
The Good News!
One fantastic advantage to being a speaker is that you won’t mind failing because you know it will turn into one heck of a story. Some of my best stories have come from my failures. In fact, whenever I am upset about something I’ve failed at, I make sure I write down what happened and how I’m feeling because I know, chances are, it will show up in my speech.
On October 12th of 2013, I was coaching my son’s travel basketball team for their first practice when I went up to demonstrate how to shoot a layup. As soon as I jumped, I heard my knee pop and I ended up falling flat on my back as all the 4th graders watched. I couldn’t move so the ambulance had to come take me to the hospital. Keep in mind this was their FIRST practice! On my way, as I rode in pain on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance, I remember thinking, “This will make a great story one day. Not today! But someday.” It has since gone into my Failure File.
What’s in Yours?
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Many speakers can get laughs with a humorous story. However, what about when you have a serious story? Is it still appropriate to use humor? The answer is, “Sure, but it shouldn’t feel forced.” It should not feel like the humor came out of left field. It should feel congruent. Below you will find one surefire process for uncovering humor in an organic, congruent way.
Why should you use humor in the midst of a serious story?
You probably already know this but the reason to use humor in the midst of a serious story is for levity. When you take your audience down a heavy road, eventually they will need to breathe. Humor gives them that air to breathe and prepares them for what’s to come.
How can you use humor in the midst of a serious story?
There is one tool I like to use several times per speech that gets a laugh in the middle of a serious story. In order to figure out what that tool is, listen to the following excerpts from two different serious stories. See if you can figure out what these excerpts have in common.
Welcome back. Are you ready for the process? Great. It’s simple.
If you’ve followed me, you know that a great way to uncover humor in a speech is through character dialogue. Well, here’s the key to finding humor in a serious speech.
Have another character (a character that is not you) give the funny line of dialogue?
For example, Scott said, “I don’t know, I don’t read” and the limo driver looked at me as if to say, “Man, I still have to take you back?!” Characters other than me were the ones to say the funny lines.
Why is it important for the line to come from someone else?
It’s important for the line to come from another character because I (my character) am in not in the emotional state to be funny? It would feel forced and incongruent if, in the middle of my suffering, I just all of a sudden popped out and said something funny.
However, the limo driver is not in MY emotional state. He’s not suffering so it makes perfect sense for him to be able to say something funny. Scott was not in my emotional state so it makes perfect sense for him to say something funny. Give the funny lines to your other characters.
Do you have a serious story in which you went through a conflict or some sort of suffering? Was there someone else in the story who said something funny as you went through your situation? Who was it? What did he or she say? Perhaps someone just looked at you in a strange way. What did his or her expression say? Answer these questions and you’re likely to find some humor.
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Many speakers and speech coaches will provide you with ways to connect with your audience. However, sometimes the best way to connect is to avoid doing what disconnects you and your audience. Here are 4 reasons speakers lose their audiences and tips for how to avoid these mistakes.
Losing Way #1: They tell them about them
Have you ever heard a speaker say something like, “We all have problems and challenges that we need to overcome.”? What’s wrong with that statement? Here it is. Your audience members do not want to be told about themselves. A statement like that makes them think, “You don’t know me! How are you going to tell me I have a problem or a challenge? Speak for yourself.” This is how you lose them.
Now here’s the key. Of course they have problems and challenges but that’s not the point. The point is you shouldn’t tell them about themselves. The solution is to follow this creed:
Ask, don’t tell.
Instead of saying, “We all have problems and challenges that we need to overcome,” ask, “Have you ever had a problem or challenge that was difficult to overcome?” Or say, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a problem or challenge that was difficult to overcome.” Then, once their hands go up, you’ve just qualified them and now you can move on with your message by saying something like, “Me too. In fact, in 1999…”
Losing Way #2: They take too long to get to the story
Another reason we lose our audience is by rambling on too much before we get to our stories. I call it “Pre-rambling.” Make no mistake about it, stories are the hooks to our speeches. If you don’t get into the stories within the first few minutes of your presentation, you will likely lose your audience. In fact, a great way to begin a presentation is to jump right into a story that sets up the rest of your talk. The sooner you get to the story, the quicker you’ll connect with your audience.
Losing Way #3: They take too long to get to the conflict
What if the Titanic never hit the iceberg? That would have been a boring movie! Why? People are wired to see conflict, because we want to know how you will overcome the conflict and what tools you will use. Perhaps we can use these tools for our own conflicts in life. Just as stories are the hooks for your speeches, conflict is the hook for your stories. The problem with many speeches is the speaker does not get to the conflict early enough. Instead they go on and on setting up characters and situations when they should already be at the conflict. You can even start your story in the middle of a conflict and you’ll have your audience hooked right away!
As soon as you introduce your characters, make sure to immediately throw them into a conflict. If you’ve been telling a story for more than 60 seconds and you haven’t reached the conflict yet, chances are you’re losing your audience one by one. Write this down:
Establish your conflict early
Losing Way #4: They Don’t Tease
Finally, another reason for losing the audience is they don’t tease. To be an effective speaker, you must be a great tease. For example, instead of simply moving from point to point in your speech, it’s important to make your audience thirst for the next point. This is done through effective transitions. For example, here’s what I say in one of my speeches:
“If you get this next idea and put it to use in your life, you’ll find yourself moving towards your goals, dreams, and aspirations even while you’re asleep.”
Another tease I give is towards the end of one of my speeches called the 4 Rs to Remarkable Results. I say, “There is actually one final R. This R is the most important thing I’ve ever done for my own success and I can all but guarantee it will become the most important for yours as well. And it’s only one word. Ready? Okay…”
Now let me ask you, do you think I give them the final R immediately after saying that? Of course not. Instead, I invite them into my final story and let them uncover the R while they’re in it. The key is that they really want to know what that R is. Every time I get to it, I see their pens hit the paper and a look of satisfaction on their faces. This is partly because they got good information and partly because they’re happy to have solved the mystery.
When you avoid the four mistakes above and use the solutions, you not only connect with your audience but you deepen that connection throughout the speech.
So what about that final R? Well, I might as well tell you what it is. It’s…