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Use Pocket Props to Make Your Audience TALL (Think, Act, Laugh, and Learn)

“You should use more visuals in your speeches.” What came to mind when you read that first sentence? Many speakers immediately think it means to use more PowerPoint or Keynote Slides.

While those may be valuable (when used well), you can also use other visuals to connect with your audience, uncover humor, and even evoke emotions.

I like to use pocket props, which are simply props that can fit into your pocket. I’ve seen speakers bring huge props onto the stage that take the attention away from the speaker. Pocket Props are good because you can use them and then hide them when you’re finished so that they no longer split your audience’s attention.

For example, take a look at the following video in which I used a small Pocket Prop that worked well in front of 4000 people at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina:

 The letter from my daughter was the pocket prop. Let me ask you a quick question. Don’t you think I know that letter by heart? Of course I do. It’s memorized. How could I forget it? So why do I still take it out and read it? It’s because the prop (the letter) benefits me in multiple ways:

  1. It makes my audience more curious for what my daughter wrote. Like I always say, “Tease them before you tell them.”
  1. It lends credibility to the story because the letter is real. In fact, I often flash the letter to people in my front rows.
  1. You can even turn your prop around on your audience. For example, although I started my speech with humor about my daughter’s letter, what if I ended my speech with emotion by pulling the letter out again and then asking, “If your loved one wrote you a note today, what would it say?” The possibilities are endless when you start thinking of some of the items you have that have back-stories.

The bottom line is that story would not work as well without the letter.


How Can You Get the Best use out of the Prop?

With props, I like to give what I call a “StoryWrap.” This means I simply wrap a story around the prop. This can be quite humorous. For example, here’s a video of me using a prop to tell a story (to an audience in Hong Kong) about something that happened to me in Vancouver, BC.

Once again, this prop helped make my audience curious because, when I walked up on the stage, I’m sure they were asking, “Why is he still wearing that name tag?” I teased them before I told them. Believe me, that story would not have worked very well without having the nametag as a prop.

I simply wrapped a story around the prop and it drew laughs. However, you can also use these Props to deepen your connection with your audience.


Emotional Connection Through Props

For example, I once spoke to Middle School kids and shared a story of how I was able to receive a pair of shoes from one of my basketball idols. I built the value and the importance of the shoes throughout the story. At the end of the speech, I gave one of the students that pair of shoes. It was an emotional moment because of the story that was wrapped around the shoes. Also, I REALLY wanted to keep the shoes!


My Main Man Manley

Recently, the speaker I’ve seen use visuals the best is Manley Feinberg. It helps that Manley is a mountain climber. I coached Manley recently and saw some of his props that went very well with his stories and slides. He had a rope, a bag, a locking carabiner, an anchor, and even an admittance wrist-band from when he was bitten by a snake and taken to the hospital. All of these props were worked seamlessly into his stories and each item gained value because of it.



What I like the most is that Manley gives away some of his locking carabiners to his audience after his speech. In fact, after I coached him, he gave me one. Guess what was written on the side? That’s right, a well-used prop can even become good marketing for Manley or for you.





Your Turn – What’s a Proven Process for using Pocket Props?


  1. Take an item that’s important to you that may be in your home or office.


  1. What’s the story behind it? Why is it important? What does it signify?


  1. How can you make its meaning universal?


Making It Universal

Let’s just touch on that last point. Manley gave me a locking carabiner but I’m sure, by now, he knows that I will never climb a mountain. However, he uses the carabiner, rope, and anchor as a metaphor to show how you can support other people during their climb in life and that’s why the message becomes universal. It’s not just for mountain climbers, it’s for anyone on any climb. That’s why I keep his locking carabiner on my desk. It’s a reminder for me to “Keep others on belay.”


Final Thoughts

When using visuals, it’s important to think beyond slides and to dig into your own life and find items that are meaningful to you and can become meaningful to others. If it changed your life then it can touch theirs. Whether it’s a letter or a carabiner, it’s really a reminder of your message.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Now it’s time to go back to being the best daddy in my whole family.



8 Responses to “Use Pocket Props to Make Your Audience TALL (Think, Act, Laugh, and Learn)”

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How to Keep Questions from Ruining Your Speech

Conducting a 3-hour Storytelling workshop to a small group in Hong Kong a few years ago.

Conducting a 3-hour Storytelling workshop to a small group in Hong Kong a few years ago.

Have you ever been advised to ask questions in your speeches?

It’s sound advice, because questions can benefit you and your audience in many ways. However, I’ve seen many speakers destroy their speeches because of how they asked their questions.


Are You Really Interested?

I’ve seen speakers ask questions only to have their audience members feel like the speaker isn’t really interested in their answers. They realize the speaker doesn’t intend to have a true dialogue and is simply asking questions because someone told him or her to do so.


Are you watching your watchers?

As a speaker, it’s critical to have your audience feel that you’re watching and listening to them while they’re watching and listening to you. That’s the exchange of energy. That’s the real connection.

In the following coaching video, Isaak picks up some advice that can help him start off his speech with a connection rather than a rejection. See for yourself.

Note: Thanks to Lewis Roth for shooting this video.


3 Important Questions to Ask About Your Questions

-Are you splitting longer questions into shorter ones?

-Are you looking at different parts of the audience as you deliver each question?

-Are you waiting long enough for your audience to answer your question in their own minds?


Although Isaak’s questions were at the beginning of his speech, this lesson applies to wherever you decide to ask your questions. Shorter, punchier, clearer questions beat longer, junky, ambiguous ones all the time. Don’t you agree?


Your Turn

What are some short questions you ask during your speech?

How do you know how long to wait before you continue speaking?



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2 Characters That Make Your Stories And Speeches More Captivating

CrescendoPicIn our new Teleseminar entitled Storytelling: From Lackluster to Blockbuster (available on August 18th), Michael Hauge and I discussed 4 types of characters that can save your stories and make them MUCH more interesting.

In the following excerpt, you’ll hear about two of these characters and get a quick idea of the ways they can propel your stories to new heights. Once you listen to the 3-minute clip, feel free to reply to any or all of the questions below.



Questions About These Valuable Characters

Why do you think you shouldn’t be the Guru of your own story most of the time? There are exceptions of course.


When do you think it IS a GOOD time to be the Guru of your own story?


What are at least 2 ways the Reflection Character helps bring your story to life?


Even though you only heard a short part of our conversation about the Nemesis, how do you feel the Nemesis can make your story more intriguing?


Are you ready for August 18th?

Available on August 18th at a huge discount for the first 100 people.

Available on August 18th at a huge discount for the first 100 people.

On Tuesday August 18th, you’ll be able to pick up more than 35 storytelling tools, ideas, principles, and strategies that can make you a spellbinding storyteller whose message sticks. On that date, you’ll be able to access and download the Storytelling: From Lackluster to Blockbuster teleseminar replay (1 hour and 43 minutes long) that will likely change the way you see your stories and your speeches moving forward.

Note: I was going to wait until later this fall to release this teleseminar, but, when I went back and listened to it, I realized this content is too valuable to sit on and I felt compelled to release it sooner.

7 Responses to “2 Characters That Make Your Stories And Speeches More Captivating”

  • Harry Hobbs:

    Thanks as always Craig. As I’ve said when I’ve posted here before the crossover between speakng and writing is amazing. As a novelist you’ve caused me to reflect on my in progress book to see that I have both the reflective and guru character and these reflections are essential as I move towards polishing my work. Also very useful as I develop Toastmasters speeches.

  • Larry Schuster:

    Hi Craig,

    Thanks a lot for your detailed answer. That helps. Anyhow, I’d like to be one of the first 25 people to get the tele seminar. In fact, in Shanghai, China, it’s been August 18 all day. So I’ve been ready all day! Hope it becomes available before i go to sleep!


  • Can’t wait to hear the telesemiar … I am continually trying grow into a better speaker thanks you Craig

  • Larry Schuster:

    Hi Craig,

    Really appreciated the additional insight about the value of these two characters. Looking forward to learning about the other two character types.

    You asked the question about why the speaker should almost never be the guru of their own story. As you explained and we discussed in another of your platforms, speaker wants to appear similar to the audience. It’s the process that is special.

    So I feel stumped on trying to identify an exception. The only possibility might be when someone (David) overcomes amazing odds to beat their nemesis (Goliath), and there really wasn’t an external guru. But in that case, the speaker would have to carefully demonstrate how the speaker is still not special, and perhaps the audience members are likely to have even more advantages than the speaker did. And the audience can take each of the same steps as the speaker to achieve their version of success.

    Would that be the exception you are thinking of? Otherwise, I would love to know the exception you had in mind.

    Can you give us a hint?

    Meanwhile, looking forward to August 18 for the teleseminar replay.

    Thanks again for yet another fresh look at these very common public speaking challenges!


    • Craig Valentine:

      Hi Larry! You can be the guru of your story if you’re not the hero of the story. There’s a big difference between the guru and the hero and I can spell it all out here but I think it will be much clearer on the teleseminar. However, here’s an example. You could tell a story about how you helped a client become a better presenter. The client would be the hero and you’d be the guru that gives the client advice (or a process). That way it’s not you giving yourself advice and then succeeding with it. Instead, it’s you giving the hero advice so he or she can succeed. In the teleseminar, I suggest telling quick back-to-back stories about how you learned the advice and then how you gave it. That way you’d continue to remain similar and not special. It will be much clearer on the teleseminar. Thanks Larry.

  • Gary Bisaga:

    Craig, I cannot wait for this to become available. As you know, I have learned so much from you on the art of storytelling, and having Michael’s talents and knowledge added to yours is just amazing. I’m looking forward to having it be available!

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3 Storytelling Keys No Speaker Can Afford to Miss

A couple of weeks ago I recorded a storytelling Teleseminar with Michael Hauge, a highly-successful Hollywood Script Consultant and Story Expert. I expected to learn a few good tips but ended up being blown away by his content. My stories (and your stories when you heed his advice) will never be the same again. They’ll be much improved and make even more of an impact.

3 Quick Keys

Below are 3 very quick storytelling excerpts from the Teleseminar. I strongly suggest that you participate in this post. How? Listen to each audio and then answer the questions I have underneath. You can answer them just for yourself or post your answers in the comments section. Either way, your stories will thank you.

Oh, and this is just the very tip of the iceberg of the teleseminar (which includes more than 25 solid and sometimes rarely used storytelling tips) that will be available in early August.

Coming in mid-August!!!

Coming in mid-August!!!


Audio #1

This first audio is simply what Michael describes as THE primary objective of storytelling

Questions – what story elements do you believe help you meet the primary objective of storytelling that Michael mentioned? Which element(s) do you feel you do well? What do you think you could do better to achieve this primary objective?


 Audio #2

This next clip provides a fantastic piece of advice for describing your characters and making them real for your audience.

Question – What’s one example of a character in one of your stories that you can describe using Michael’s advice?


Audio #3

This final clip includes one key (one of dozens) that will help your story achieve the primary objective of storytelling mentioned in the first audio clip of this post.

Question – When does the EXACT moment of conflict happen in your story?


I look forward to hearing from you!

9 Responses to “3 Storytelling Keys No Speaker Can Afford to Miss”

  • Harry Hobbs:

    I am a writer as well aa a speaker and what you say is relevant to crafting short stories or novels as much as it is to writing a speech. Thanks for the refresher Craig, in any craft reminders help to fortify the skills inherit to that craft.

  • Linda:

    Greetings thank you for all the wonderful and valuable tips.
    Much appreciated.
    Please use the above email address.

    Linda Lourens

  • Wole:

    3 Valuable tips. I never really considered what my characters are wearing as part of their description. clothing has always been an add on to the description for me. But that has changed today after listening to Michael Hauge. Thats a big take away for me.
    As you’ve always taught Craig, conflict is key, introduce it early and then escalate it.

  • Dave:

    Excellent tips, easily implementable for a huge impact. I have already begun to use a tip from Michael’s blog to put some of the backstory details into character dialogue. This has helped me cut down on the blah, blah, blah narration and get right into the conflict. Looking forward to the full teleseminar.

  • A great combination: Michael Hauge and Craig Valentine. I’ve taken many of Michael’s workshops over the years and his simple and straight-forward approach to story resonates with me. And your approach to speaking, known or unknown, has always been in a similar Hollywood script format: clear and concise. I look forward to your future presentations now that you’ve gleaned some additional fine-tuning tips from Michael.

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40 Phrases to Guide You to Greatness in Speaking

Ready to let these phrases guide me while onstage in Elko, Nevada

Ready to let these phrases guide me while onstage in Elko, Nevada

Five years ago I sent out 25 phrases to guide you to greatness in speaking. Today, you get 40.

I strongly suggest that you keep these phrases where you can see them, because internalizing them can dramatically and automatically drive you to greatness in speaking. If you’re very serious about speaking, discuss the list with other speakers. This reflection exercise can lead to lots of breakthroughs in your speaking.

Note: Most of the phrases are mine but I’ve included a few guests phrase-makers as well.



  1. “Let your long road lead to their shortcut.”
  2. “You can’t rush and resonate.”
  3. “Don’t add humor; uncover it.”
  4. “Speak to one but look to all.”
  5. “Tease them before you tell them.”
  6. “Stories must be true but they don’t have to be factual.” Michael Hauge
  7. “Speak like you talk, not like you write.”
  8. “Put the process, not the person, on a pedestal.”
  9.  “When you lift yourself up, you let your audience down.”
  10. “Condense to connect.”
  11. “Come across as similar, not special.”
  12. “The phrase determines what stays.”
  13. “When you squeeze your information in, you squeeze your audience out.” Old speaker proverb
  14. “No phrase, no stage”
  15. “What’s loose is lost”
  16.  “If you take us through the problem, then take us through the payoff.”
  17. “Conflict is the hook and dialogue is the heart”
  18.  “Let your story become their story”
  19. “What you pick up in the Cure (the Cure scene), you hand them out the door”
  20. “Don’t tell; ask”
  21. “Sell the belief before the relief.”
  22. “The more specific and visible the goal, the stronger the story.” Michael Hauge
  23. “Don’t be the Guru of your own story.”
  24. “Don’t create a message without first creating a mess.”
  25. “What gets recorded gets rewarded.”
  26. “Too many speakers try to get across too much information in too little time.”
  27. “Never sell a product, always sell the result.”
  28. “Put the result before the resource (or request).”
  29.  “Never close your speech with the Q & A.”
  30. “Show it before you say it.”
  31. “People buy into what they help create.”
  32. “Give a hint and let your audience fill in the rest.”
  33. “It’s the look before and after the line that makes the line.”
  34. “Don’t just establish conflict, escalate it.”
  35. “Reactions tell the story.” Darren LaCroix
  36. “The bigger the obstacles, the more emotional your story.” Michael Hauge
  37. “Don’t tell us, take us.” Mark Brown
  38. “Don’t speak for standing ovations, speak for standing invitations.”
  39. “Check the VAKS.”
  40. “People remember best what they hear first and last.”


Bonus phrase (from my son Ace): “When the chips are down…eat them!”



I’d love to hear from you to see what are some of the phrases that guide you in speaking? Feel free to share some of your own phrases too!






18 Responses to “40 Phrases to Guide You to Greatness in Speaking”

  • Alex:

    This is an awesome list of treasure.
    Thank you Craig.

    “Don’t bite before you buy”

  • Mary Lynn McPherson:

    Okay – I’ll ask… what are VAKS?
    Craig – thank you for sharing this thought-full and insight-full list.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Mary Lynn, VAKS stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Smell. You want to include something your audience can see, hear, feel, and smell when you set your scenes. You don’t want to force any of them in, but even 3 out of 4 will do.

  • “Paint a Picture.”
    A speech creates a picture with its words. Like a picture, a great speech speaks volumes, evokes emotion and has the ability to create lasting memories. Craig, your information is always helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Bob Neaves:

    “Time is a long time coming, but it’s gone in a flash!”

    Regards to all
    Bob Neaves

  • Matt McCarty:

    One of my foundational phrases is: “Learning is the key to Longevity.”
    So if you haven’t updated your speech in a while, it may be time to give it a facelift.

  • Eric Outler:

    Never try to “tell someone else’s story” or experience.
    It will not be percieved as authentic.



    • Craig Valentine:

      Thank you Eric. I experienced that myself when another speaker was telling my story pretty much word for word. Even though he told it in countries outside of mine (USA), people in his audience knew the story was mine and so he lost all credibility with them.

  • These are great! Thanks for sharing, Craig. I especially like “You can’t rush and resonate.” So true!

    There’s such power in phrases like those, because they’re so “sticky” and shareable.

    You’ve inspired me to put together a list of my own. So here’s a start:
    “Simple is hard.”
    “Wisdom’s like money: You can’t take it with you when you die.”
    “You probably think your talk’s about your topic, right? Well you’re wrong! Your talk’s about your audience.” (after Carl Kwan)
    “Don’t open your speech; open their minds!”

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thank you Craig! I love what you have listed here. The simple is hard is so true and the one about opening their minds is a great mindset for us to have when we walk onstage. Thanks again!

  • Great phrases! I’ll keep these in mind for sure. I use another…”Hook with Humility”

  • KC:

    Use vivid and descriptive words.

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What Are Two of the Most Persuasive Words in Speaking?

Speaking to CEOs and Executives in Sri Lanka

Speaking to CEOs and Executives in Sri Lanka

Average speakers get a good response, but exceptional speakers get their audiences to take action. Exceptional speakers help change lives long after they have finished speaking and that’s why they get rehired time and time again.

How do speakers become exceptional? They learn the tools that prompt their audience members to go beyond listening and to take action. Here is one of my favorite tools to help you do just that.



Persuasive Tool: “Most People”

Listen to the following 1-minute audio (from very early on in my speaking career) where you’ll hear two of the most persuasive words in speaking.



The two most important words you heard were “Most people.” You can use the term “most people” to get your audience to take action because of the following truth:


Most people do not want to be most people”


The words “most people” are extremely influential because, if used correctly, they immediately create a comparison between something the audience does not want to be (or have) to something they do want to be (or have). For example, once they get the message about “most people living on get set,” they immediately want to avoid being placed in that category. Then the key is to give them a way to avoid it.


Compare and Contrast

One of the greatest ways to get people to take action is to use the compare and contrast method in many different ways. For example, for years Zig Ziglar compared being a “wandering generality” to being a “meaningful specific.” Once we realize that most people are wandering generalities, we immediately desire to become a meaningful specific.

This worked so well for Zig Ziglar because it simultaneously moved us away from what we did not want to be (a wandering generality) and moved us towards what we did want to be (a meaningful specific). This method pushes and pulls you at the same time.

Look back at the first sentence of this post. What does it compare? It compares average speakers to exceptional speakers and then gives you a way to be exceptional.


Be a Bridge-builder

In speaking, you want to create a bridge between what the audience doesn’t want (to be average) and what they do want (to be exceptional) and then let them know the way to cross that bridge (i.e. 3 keys, 4 steps, 5 Cs, etc.). This is a wonderful way to set up your message because you’re heeding the following valuable speaker advice:


Tease them before you tell them”



Questions for you for your next speech

Here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself as you prepare to give your next speech. These can help you use the “most people” line to get them to take action.


What do MOST PEOPLE do that your audience should avoid doing?


What aren’t MOST PEOPLE doing that your audience should do?


You can also ask the same about how most people think or how most people are, etc.


NOTE: If you don’t feel comfortable saying, “Most people (because you haven’t conducted a scientific survey with slopes and standard deviations and percentages of failure, etc.),” you can say “Many people.” However, that will lose some of its power. Why? It’s because that sounds like something most people would say.





4 Responses to “What Are Two of the Most Persuasive Words in Speaking?”

  • Pete Kale:

    Craig, love your note at the end… “…because that sounds like something most people would say.” You really have a knack for the clever and insightful twist.

  • Great article! I started using these in speaking after hearing Les Brown do it and your article brings it home!

  • Thank you, Craig, for refreshing my memory about using the words “MOST PEOPLE” when giving a persuasive speech. I try to use the word “YOU” as well to directly include each person individually and not just the audience as a whole. This important tip of yours is one that “MOST PEOPLE” don’t follow… I hope to be a speaker that does! Thanks again.

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Speak to One and Look to All (a favorite secret to a deeper connection)

How would you like a tool to create a deeper connection with your audience than you’ve felt before? Take 6 minutes to listen to the following audio from one of my live workshops.

When you integrate this tool, no matter how many people are in your audience, each one of them will likely feel that you are speaking directly to him or her. Now THAT’S a connection!



The Hallway Test

Remember, if you can say it to one person in a hallway, you can take it up onstage. Just to spell it out for you (since you couldn’t SEE what we did with the activity), the key is to use your language so it sounds and feels like you are speaking to one person while you’re looking at everyone. So when Carlton asks, “Have you ever been to Baltimore,” he will be looking at the entire audience even though it will sound like he’s speaking to one person.


Note: This same concept applies to the stage and the page. For example, on this post, I wouldn’t write, “I want you all to go out and use this tool.” Instead, I’d say, “I want you to go out and use this tool.”


Your Turn

Feel free to reply to this post with how it feels to speak to one and look to all. I look forward to hearing from you. Oh, and don’t forget the “Look to all” part.


Featured Program of the Week

Click Here to Learn More


9 Responses to “Speak to One and Look to All (a favorite secret to a deeper connection)”

  • Phong Vo:

    Hi Craig,

    This page is a solid GOLD. You are my most favorite speakers. I learnt a lot from your page. I believe looking at to all is also a very important part. Could you please give us some tips about “Look” on the stage in order to have us engage more to audiences, whether it is in small venue, medium venue or world class venue?

    Thank you a lot!!!

    • Craig Valentine:

      Hi and thank you. Yes, when you connect with one person, you usually connect with most of them. Therefore, I suggest doing what I call “Hold the gaze for the entire phrase.” For example, you can look around the room as usual, but then, when you get to your most important phrase, look one person in the eyes and say the phrase. That will make the phrase stick better and stand out.

  • James:

    Hello, Craig,

    That was awesome. I am learning to become an effective public speaker and was searching for such-its GOLD, and I will use that-Speak to one and look to all.

    Thanks Craig for that

  • Joe Schmitt:


    Thanks for the tips reminder. I need to listen to my Edges of There Seats again for a tune up.
    Whenever we are having a conversation about the pros, I do remember to tell them that you
    are the Champ!


  • Akash Karia:

    Hi Craig,

    Great article and audio material Craig.

    I subscribed to your “52 Speaking Tips Audio Coaching” audio series years ago and I took notes with each recording which I still refer to today.

    “Speak to One, and Look to All.” is an important yet often neglecting technique to creating a connection with each audience member.


  • Kal:

    Hey Craig,

    I just wanted to say great article and thank you for posting these online for people like myself to read. I have been receiving your emails now for a long time and have found all of them very helpful, this one especially is a great tip on how to engage with an audience and I can say I have definitely been guilty of the “how many” phrase in the past!
    Thanks again and keep up the good work :)!


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20 Ways to Ruin a Speech

This year's class starts on June 8th so register now at

This year’s class starts on June 8th so register now at

This post has a strange title because, I’m sure your objective is not to ruin your speech. However, if you understand some of the ways we ruin our speeches, you can avoid making these mistakes and take your speeches to greater heights.

Here are 20 ways speakers ruin their speeches. Some of the points have explanations while some don’t. I strongly suggest that you find a speaker buddy and discuss at least a few of these mistakes.


Note: I’ve made absolutely all of these mistakes at times during my career. That’s how I know how damaging they can be.


Mistake #1: Rushing – most speakers know that rushing is bad for business. After all, “You can’t rush and resonate.” However, it’s important to understand WHY speakers rush. Most of the time it’s because the speaker is trying to say too much in too little time. The old speaker proverb says, “When you squeeze your information in, you squeeze your audience out.” There’s no time for connection when you’re rushing through your material. Remember, less is often more.


Mistake #2: They take too long to get to their stories


Mistake #3: They took too long to get to the conflict in the story


Mistake #4: They establish the conflict but don’t elevate it


Mistake #5: They don’t tease them (the audience) before they tell them


Mistake #6: There’s no emotional change in the story’s main character


Mistake #7: They add humor rather than uncovering it. There are numerous ways to uncover humor without having to go on a detour to do so. In fact, I developed an entire course called Humor Speaking Secrets that covers 33 ways to uncover humor and keep your audience laughing all the way through your speech.


Mistake #8: They don’t have a “Foundational Phrase” that’s fewer than 10 words and easy to remember and repeat


Mistake #9: They don’t use a mix of anchors (anecdotes, analogies, activities, acronyms, audio-visuals, etc.) to keep the energy high and help their audience members remember their points


Mistake #10: They speak to everybody instead of speaking to one and looking to all. For example, they say, “How many of you have been here before…” instead of saying, “Raise your hand if you’ve been here before” or “Have you ever been here before.” You should sound like you’re speaking to one person (grammatically) rather than speaking to 200. I wouldn’t walk up to one person and say, “How many of you have been to Baltimore?” Therefore, I shouldn’t say that onstage. If I can say it to one person, I can say it that same way onstage.



I love connecting with my audience members!

I love connecting with my audience members!


Mistake #11: They don’t give looks before, during, and after delivering their lines. Remember, like my friend Darren LaCroix says, “Reactions tell the story.”


Mistake #12: They don’t sell the results of heeding their message. For example, let’s say you speak on the topic of marketing.  Instead of selling them on creating a marketing plan, sell them on the opportunity to get new customers and THEN introduce the concept of the marketing plan. After all, their goal is not a marketing plan, it’s new customers.


Mistake #13: They don’t become the characters in their stories. I see many speakers who have characters that all look and sound alike. While being subtle, it’s important to use posture, positioning, facial expressions, and a slight change in your voice to differentiate one character from another.


Mistake #14: They’re not conversational. Remember, while in your story, you can be as wild and crazy as the story takes you. However, when you’re speaking directly to your audience, it should be conversational.


Mistake #15: They’re too theatrical. Remember, speaking is NOT a stage-play. It’s a dialogue with your audience. Speakers that get onstage and act like they’re in a Shakespearean play will usually not connect with their audience.


Mistake #16: They speak like they write. You don’t want to sound like you’re giving a spoken article. Instead, it’s important to speak like you talk, not like you write. For example, if you don’t usually use a word like “ponder” in your everyday conversations, why should you use it onstage? It’s not the authentic you. If you do use ponder on a regular basis, use it onstage too. The best speakers are themselves onstage.


Mistake #17: They give what I call “Slope speeches.” These are speeches that start off really well (on a very high level) and then go downhill. This is usually a result of one ineffective rehearsal problem that many speakers have. They always rehearse from the beginning of their speech.

Let’s say you have a 30-minute speech that is split up into 3 major points. What many speakers do is practice from the beginning (point #1) and then go through the rest. But what happens when they’re inevitably interrupted by life? They usually go back and start over again with point #1. So point #1 gets lots of attention while points 2 and 3 starve. I suggest that you practice one point (one module) at a time and don’t always do it in order. Then, when you actually get onstage, you can bring it all together for your audience and it will also still be fresh for you.


Mistake #18: They don’t provide their audience with a Roadmap. It’s important to let your audience know where they’re going on this journey. For example, I say, “These 4 R will lead you to get remarkable results in your business and in your life.” Now my audience knows we’re going from one R to the next R to the next R and so on. This makes is easy for them to follow along.

Be creative with your Roadmap (i.e. 4 Steps, 3 keys, 5 tools, etc.). You might also spell it out for them like I do when I say, “First you’ll pick up tools to CREATE your message, then tools for DELIVERING it, and finally, you’ll get tools to SELL your message so your audience takes the exact next step you want them to take.” This helps my audience can follow along with CRAFT, DELIVER, and SELL.


Mistake #19: They don’t give a Big Promise. Your audience needs to know WHY they are there. They should be excited about being there. For example, I say. “By the time you leave here today, you’ll have the tools to keep your audience on the edge of their seats and make them glad they came.”


Mistake #20: They don’t record their speeches. Each speech you give can get exponentially better if you record and listen to the ones you’ve already given. It’s not about looking for what you did wrong. It’s about seeing what you did right so you can do it more often. It’s about seeing there you can uncover more humor. It’s about taking out what might be considered boring. It’s about testing and tweaking so you can touch more lives.



Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but it’s something you can reference to make sure you stay away from these mistakes.

I wish you the absolute best in your upcoming speeches and I wish the same for your audiences.










4 Responses to “20 Ways to Ruin a Speech”

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Want a Surefire Way to Make Your Speech Stick?

This year's class starts on June 8th so register now at

This year’s class starts on June 8th so register now at

Making the Unknown Known

Would you like a surefire way to clarify your message, shorten it, and make it stick? One of the best ways to do this is to relate the unknown to the known. In textbook language this is referred to as activating prior knowledge. Analogies help tremendously in this area.

Webster’s New World Dictionary’s definition of analogy is “similarity in some ways.”

Let me give you an example of an analogy I used that was extremely effective when I used to deliver this particular message 15 years ago.




Remember: Analogies help people relate what they might not know to what they do know.


A Powerful Analogy

In one of my stories, I start off by saying, “Nobody has ever died from a snakebite.” After the audience tries to figure out what the Dickens I am talking about, I say, “It is the venom circulating throughout your body afterwards that kills you.” With the audience still a bit confused, I go into a story of how one of my ex-girlfriends wronged me, and I compare this to “being bitten.” To carry the analogy further I compare the “anger and hatred” I felt towards her to the venom circulating inside of me.

Finally I state that the only way to get rid of that anger, hatred, and venom is forgiveness. Why? “Because just as a snake will bite you and crawl back in its hole, so will a friend hurt you and go right on with his or her life leaving you to be hurt over and over again.” I then go into selling the benefits of forgiveness.


Why is an analogy important?

Analogies are so important because of the following scenario that occurs occasionally with me. Someone approaches me and says, “Craig, I saw you speak 15 years ago and you talked about the snakebite. Something happened to me and I remembered what you said about nobody ever dying from a snakebite. Man, I realized I had to forgive the person and it really helped me get through that situation.”


Analogies help your audience for days, months, and years after your speech is finished

Whether it is one year ago or 15 years ago, people remember your message more clearly if you provide an analogy. Whether you have ever seen a live snake or not, everybody knows what a snakebite is. But not everybody knows that anger and hatred can work the same as venom and be just as destructive.

I used to tell my audiences, “If you are holding a grudge, that grudge is also holding you.” Next time someone in my audience is bitten, hopefully that person will vividly recall how to get the venom out (forgiveness) and return to a grudge-free life.


Other examples:

I’ve heard speakers (including myself) relate the following:


  • Crabs in a barrel to negative people
  • Being hungry for food to being hungry for their dreams.
  • A malignant growth to slavery.
  • Not setting goals to drifting aimlessly on a raft.
  • Refusing to change to being stuck in the mud.
  • A beautiful symphony to racial harmony.
  • Opening holiday presents to using your gifts.
  • Never going for their goals to living life on get-set
  • A telephone call to your life’s calling.
  • A train coming to your purpose in life.
  • And many more



Here is a 3-Step Process for Developing your own Analogies:

  1. Take your main message and ask yourself, “What is this message similar to?”
  1. Make a list of all the ways the two things you are comparing are similar. For example, with a snakebite I might start my list with the following:


  • The bite is similar to being hurt by someone
  • The snake crawling back in its hole is similar to a person going away after they have hurt you
  • The way the venom destroys your body is similar to how a grudge destroys your mind and life
  • The freedom that comes from forgiveness is similar to the health you regain once the venom is out of you


  1. Once you make your list and draw out the analogy for several levels, then simply go back and pick the best one or two levels upon which you should focus. Don’t use all the levels because your audience will tire of it and say “Enough already.”


Another way to use the snake

(Personal note: In my early 20s, I had a Borneo Blood Python and a Columbian Boa constrictor so I thought of many analogies while staring at them. Actually, this leads to a solid point. If you look at something long enough, you’ll begin to see the similarities between it and something else).

Staying with the snake theme, I could use an analogy for change by comparing it to a snake shedding its skin. In that case I would make a list like the following:


  • A snake that is not shedding completely is similar to a person who is holding on to some old habits and ways
  • The temporary sight impairment a snake has during shedding is similar to the unknown zone we must go through during the change process
  • A snake’s inability to shed leads to death, which is similar to an organization’s inability to change which leads to closing up shop.


One last point to keep in mind

Check to make sure the analogy you use is appropriate for your specific audience. For example, it may not be a good idea to use hunting analogies when speaking to an animal rights organization.







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A Fantastic but Seldom-used Way to Bring Your Audience to You

Me with several awesome Certified World Class Speaking Coaches. This year's course begins on June 8th so register now at

Me with several awesome Certified World Class Speaking Coaches. This year’s course begins on June 8th so register now at

One of the best ways to stay connected and deepen your connection with your audience is to let them beat you to the punch. What does this mean?

Let’s use some examples. Listen to this audio (37 seconds) and think about what happens after I say, “…in 1998.”



I could have simply kept going on with my speech by saying, “I joined Toastmasters in 1998, got my CTM in 1999…” However, I know something very important about my audience. They know I am the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking. This means they are figuring out in their minds that it only took me one year before winning the World Championship.


Let them Beat You To the Punch

My job as a speaker is to let them figure this out and beat me to the punch. In other words, instead of saying it, I let them think it first. Their thoughts beat my words to the punch. Then and only then do I finish what I’m going to say, but guess what? My audience is already there! That’s why they laughed and became vocal immediately after I said, “I joined Toastmasters in 1998.”

Let’s listen to another example (34 seconds) from a different story and experience what happens after I say the words, “Okay daddy.”



I could have simply kept going on with my speech by saying, “’Okay daddy.’ I got home the next and where was he?” However, I decided to let my audience beat me to the punch. I paused, gave them a look that expressed a sarcastic, “Yeah, right” and let my audience think, “Oh, I’m sure Ace climbed up there again.”

Nowadays, after Ace says, “Okay Daddy,” I turn to the audience and say, “Raise your hand if you’re a parent.” They laugh because they understand where I’m going with this and they’ve beaten me to the punch. Then and only then do I confirm what my audience is already thinking by letting them know he climbed up there again.

If you really listen closely to the audio, you’ll find something very interesting. I NEVER actually said he climbed back up there. I let my audience say it! In a way, they filled in that part of the story without me having to actually say it. Then I simply picked up my story at the point where I said, “Ace what are you doing up there?”


Dialogue not Monologue

This is what I love about speaking. I learned from Bill Gove that speaking should be a dialogue and not a monologue. People buy into what they help create. Letting your audience beat you to the punch at strategic times during your speech makes them feel like they’re creating part of your speech, which deepens their involvement.


Let’s listen to one more quick example (47 seconds) of me letting my audience beat me to the punch. Experience what happens after I say the words, “Get lucky.”


I could have simply kept going on with my speech by saying, “Do you want to get lucky? Then stay ready.” However, I decided to let my audience beat me to the punch.

I looked one audience member in the eyes when I said, “Do you want to get lucky?” In this case, this person happened to be dressed in a costume (complete with a wig and a Marilyn Monroe-type outfit) for an event later that night. I let my audience beat me to the punch before I confirmed their thoughts by saying, “I’m looking at the wrong person…” This audience member got a real kick out of it and so did the audience.

Make no mistake about it, my audience beat me to the punch with their thoughts and then I confirmed it with my words.


How can you apply this “Let them beat you to the punch” strategy?

You can follow these 2 steps to use this seldom-used strategy.

1. Find the place

2. Give it space



Find the Place

First, you’ll have to come to an understanding of where in your speech you can use this strategy. You don’t choose the place; your audience does. Over time you’ll see where they beat you to the punch because you’ll be able to hear them wanting to chime in or be vocal.

But here’s the problem: you’ll never know this unless you record your speeches. You can’t monitor yourself on the spot, but you can certainly monitor yourself afterwards IF you’ve recorded your speech. That’s why I always say

What gets recorded gets rewarded

Whenever you begin to see where your audience is anticipating your next words, those are some of the places where you want to let them beat you to the punch.


Give it Space

Next, one thing you heard me do in every audio clip was to pause and let it happen. You must give space to let your audience think and beat you to the punch. You audience will take a cue from you and you can accomplish this with a facial expression like I used with my son’s story. The audience will take that cue and chime in.


Final thoughts:

Is it critical that you use this strategy? No. Will it deepen your connection when you do? Absolutely. Will it separate you from the pack of other speakers? Definitely.

When you partner like this with your audience throughout your entire presentation, you’ll find yourself connected at the core with them, time will fly by, and everyone will have a blast. So let them beat you to…

5 Responses to “A Fantastic but Seldom-used Way to Bring Your Audience to You”

  • Deb Olejownik:


    I love this strategy, let them beat you to the punch, what a great way to…


  • Balaji Nagabhushan:

    Dear Craig,

    I follow your nuts and bolts tips regularly. This one is really good. I had heard a part of this when you were in India (I was there for your key note speech though I reside in Dubai). Great tips to keep audience involved throughout the presentation. Thank you.

    Balaji Nagabhushan, DTM

  • Ron:

    Very nice. I am impressed with the coaching content given out to all who can use it. I have utilized your suggestions and have improved my confidence to address an audience and am much more relaxed, which allows free flow of thought and delivery.



  • Dan Dubin:

    Craig, I’m competing in D28 District Speech contest tomorrow night. Since being in TM since 1973 (with several 2-3 yr absences to be with my kids), this is by far the most challenging and difficult speech I ever gave. And that says a lot having competed in many district contests. In short, it’s about nearly taking my own life after the woman of my dreams told me she didn’t love me anymore and asked me to leave on the night I proposed marriage to her. It concludes with a strong positive message on how to believe in yourself, Your thoughts here are both profound and timely for me. There are 2 key spots in the speech where I pause and let the audience go to where I want them to go before I say it. I hope that your words ring true for other TMs. It really works. Keep up the great work. I read all your emails but this one warranted a special thank you!! (We met several years ago in a D28 evaluation contest where you were the keynote speaker.) Dan

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