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17 Storytelling Ideas to Breathe Life Into Every Speech

With a few audience members after sharing stories in Australia

With a few audience members after sharing stories in Australia

You saw the title so let’s jump right in with 17 storytelling ideas that will breathe life into your speeches and keep your audiences engaged.

Idea Number One: Start your stories in different places. You don’t have to start a story at the beginning. You can start it in the middle or even at the end. For example, I could start a story like this:

“There I was, standing on stage with the 1st place trophy at the 1999 World Championship of Public Speaking. Life as a speaker was great! However, it didn’t start out that way. In fact, back in 1995…”

You can give the end and then work your way back to how you got there. Mix it up with each story. Don’t start them all in the same place.


Idea Number Two: Keep your audience curious from the beginning. What questions can you plant in the minds of your audience members that they’ll want answered during the story? For example, I start off one of my stories with, “You might not have realized this but…I’m black. Hold on, let me tell you how I found this out!” Along with uncovering some humor, this line makes my audience curious as to what happened and, therefore, they’re happy to come on the journey with me.


Idea Number 3: Get to your stories quicker. There’s way too much set-up (what I call “pre-ramble”) for many of the stories I see. Get to the story quickly and then go rapidly into the conflict.


Idea Number 4: Take your time between your lines. That’s where the story lives…in the space between the lines. Don’t rush to get to your next line. Instead, find ways to milk the line you just gave. In several of my stories, the majority of the laughs come from the looks rather than the lines. However, you have to give yourself space for that.


Idea Number 5: Condense to connect. When you give a scene with two (or more) characters talking in dialogue, don’t tell us everything, just tell us something. Try not to go back and forth between characters with lines of dialogue more than 2-3 times. Otherwise, your audience will quickly grow tired. Instead, put all of the important statements in no more than a couple of lines of dialogue.


Idea Number 6: Use character dialogue (with a quick narration set-up) in order to shorten your stories and pump life into them. There’s far too much narration in many stories. Dialogue will shorten your stories.


Idea Number 7: Don’t just establish a conflict, escalate it.


Idea Number 8: Don’t be the Guru of your own story. Let us know who or what gave you the cure that changed your life for the better. You can be the hero (the person who overcame his conflict) but don’t be the Guru (the person who showed you how).


Idea Number 9: Show the emotional change in your character AFTER you overcome OR transcend your conflict. No change, no story.


Idea Number 10: Realize it’s the looks you give before, during, and/or after the lines that really tell the story. Or as my friend, Darren LaCroix, says, “Reactions tell the story.”


 Idea Number 11: Make sure you have a Foundational Phrase that your audience can easily remember and repeat. It should be rhythmic, you-focused (meaning audience-focused), and preferably fewer than 10 words. For example, one of my foundational phrases is, “Don’t get ready, stay ready.” My audiences can use that phrase as a guide moving forward.


Idea Number 12: When delivering the lines of your characters, use their posture, positioning, and a “slight” change in your voice (whether it’s pace, pitch, volume, etc.) to make that person come alive and be different from the other characters. For example, you might have a character that is stern and so he has a very stiff posture and possibly crosses his arms and frowns when he talks.


Idea Number 13: Be subtle with everything you do delivery-wise. For example, you don’t need to speak with a child’s voice when delivering the lines of a child. Instead, speak with your voice (with maybe a little higher pitch) but deliver it with the child’s expression. He or she can also look up to show that the child is talking to an adult.


Idea Number 14: Come out of your story to talk to the audience. Remember, you are NOT doing a stage-play. You’re supposed to be having a conversation with your audience. When you get into a story, you don’t have to lose that conversation. Instead, mix the story with the conversation. For example, I have a story that goes like this:

“You should have been with my wife and me 11 years ago as we took our 6 month-old daughter, Tori, to the doctors. Raise your hand if you have kids? Great, then YOU know the doctor is going to measure her length and her weight…” Even though I already started my story, I looked to find ways to keep bringing my audience members into it. I call these “You-focused check-ins.” They keep the audience on their toes because, instead of being passive spectators, they become active participants.


Idea Number 15: When your story is over and you’ve given your Foundational Phrase, you don’t need to ramble on about the point. First of all, the story actually makes the point. The Foundational Phrase makes the point memorable.  If you keep talking and trying to drive the point home, your audience will want the ride to end.


Idea Number 16: Invite your audience members into your scene. For example, I might say, ”Imagine being in my passenger’s seat as I went through the KFC drive-thru.” My audience members are now in my passenger’s seat for that story.


Idea Number 17: With a few exceptions, keep your stories short. The longer you work on a story, the shorter it should get. I try to keep most of mine under 4 minutes.


There you have it…17 storytelling ideas that will breathe life into every speech.



What are some ideas you have that have helped with your stories?





15 Responses to “17 Storytelling Ideas to Breathe Life Into Every Speech”

  • Thanks for all the tips Craig!

    I see from the photo that you were in Australia sometime. Do you have plans to return? I’m in Sydney and would love to come to one of your talks.

  • Pete Kale:

    Craig, among dozens of gems I’ve gotten from your courses I still think the foundational phrase ranks at the top. The simplicity of a memorable, pithy phrase to underscore your points has been the most valuable tip, in part because it helps to tie the ideas up into a neat package. But in part because so few speakers do it. So simple, yet so powerful. Thanks for all the great insights over the years!

  • Matt McCarty:

    Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. If you’re telling a story about how your brother wouln’t wake up when his alarm went off, make the sound of the alarm to show how obnoxious it was.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thanks Matt. In that particular case, indeed, I would make the alarm sound as annoying as possible. Great idea.

  • When I tell a story, I sometimes include a line or two of my internal dialogue, sort of parenthetically or under my breath. The line might be funny or serious, but either way, it connects me to my audience and them to me.

    • Craig Valentine:

      That’s a great idea Gina. When you share your thoughts in inner dialogue, your audience can get very close to you. They get inside of your head and that’s a good thing.

  • Joe Schmitt:


    I’m cheating a little since i already own your Edges of There Seats program.
    I found #11, “foundation” phrase to be the most important of all to keep your speech development on track.
    I did a story about how a fire dept rescued my daughter and grandson who was prematurely born that night. It was about how they followed up after the episode (pretty amazing).
    After the story, the title, “Station 34″, also used as the ending was the foundation. Everyone knew who deserved heroic credit….

    And I have to say #12 is really important. I have seen too many very good speakers ruin the delivery by trying to adjust there voice to someone they are not.

    Thanks Craig

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thanks Joe. Wow, that looks like a very intense story you tell about your daughter and grandson. I hope everyone turned out okay. Thanks for your note!

  • Thank you for sharing such great concrete suggestions. I took notes! Don’t you find that when we know how engage the audience and generate their response, it really does become a genuine two way conversation? In my experience that does wonders for calming insecurity and stage fright and building freedom and confidence. AND, it’s more fun!

    • Craig Valentine:

      Hi Marti, thanks for your comment. Yes indeed I believe it does become a two-way conversation and that is my absolute favorite part about speaking. We can watch our watchers and listen to our listeners and really connect on a two-way street. The freedom and spontaneity this sparks is priceless.

  • My parents taught me so much and most audience members can relate to a story about elderly parents or grandparents. It is both a tribute to them and a way to pass their funny stories and wisdom on to an audience beyond family.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thanks Hazel. I agree completely. When I was in my 20s, I spoke to a group that was in a Senior Citizen’s home. I told stories about what my grandparents taught me and the audience loved them.

  • Balaji Nagabhushan:

    Thank you so much for this article. It is wonderful. One of the tricks which I use while speaking to an audience is to see if I know someone in the audience personally. If there is someone, then narrate a small part of their experience to the audience. In this way, audience start feeling that I am speaking to them and for them.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thanks Balaji for your suggestion. I love to use the audience members’ names when I speak as well. If I know a story about one of them, I might ask them ahead of time if I can share it. As long as it puts them in a positive light, it can be a great idea. Thanks!

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5 Rehearsal Rituals for a Remarkable Speech


Receiving the Arkansas Traveler award from the Arkansas Realtors Association in 2014 (I traveled so much I wrinkled my suit)

Receiving the Arkansas Traveler award from the Arkansas Realtors Association in 2014 (I traveled so much I wrinkled my suit)

Recently I have received many questions from my speaking students regarding rehearsal. They say, “Craig, how do you rehearse? It seems like you really feed off the audience but you must rehearse, right?”

The answer is yes. I rehearse. In fact, the main reason why I rehearse is so I can feed off my audience while still staying on track with my message.

So instead of just explaining what I do to rehearse, I came up with another idea. I figured, “Why don’t I simply invite you to a behind-the-scenes peak at my rehearsal?”


Welcome to My Rehearsal

So here’s what I did. Five years ago I had a speech scheduled for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and I decided to record my rehearsal. Instead of sharing the entire rehearsal with you, I’m only going to share two quick 90-second segments. So here’s the layout of this post:

  • First you’ll hear a quick 90-second rehearsal of a piece of one of my stories
  • Then you’ll hear that same 90-second clip of me live in South Dakota doing that same part of the story
  • Then you’ll hear another 90-second rehearsal clip of another piece of that same story
  • Finally you’ll hear another 90-second clip of me live in South Dakota doing that same part of the story

When you listen to the clips, you’ll undoubtedly hear some differences. However, the message will be the same and the differences you hear will be me reacting and responding and feeding off of my audience. Click the play buttons below to hear the clips. Afterwards you’ll see 5 Guidelines you should consider following when it comes to rehearsing your speech.

Rehearsal piece #1


 Live piece #1


Rehearsal piece #2

Live piece #2


Ritual #1: Do not look into a mirror. Why? Because your speech is not about you. You wouldn’t look into a mirror when you’re actually speaking to your audience, would you? Then you shouldn’t do it during rehearsal. Rehearsal should mimic the actual performance, so make it as similar as possible. If you want to see what you look like, then record yourself on video and watch it once you finish.

Ritual #2: Imagine your audience is in front of you. It’s not enough to just practice knowing your words. It’s important to really see your future audience members. What are they doing? How are they reacting? How will you respond to their reactions? Who are you looking at and when? Where are you moving and when? This is what I call speaking your way into speaking. Believe it or not, some speakers think rehearsal is sitting down and memorizing your speech. My belief is that you should not sit down and memorize; you should stand up and internalize. You do that by rehearsing as if your audience is really there.

Ritual #3: Do at least one mental rehearsal. This, more than any other ritual, has been the most effective and meaningful to me. Here’s what I do. I close my eyes and go through the entire presentation in my mind. I see my audience and feel them around me. I mouth the words and make it as realistic as possible. This process is so powerful for one major reason: Once you arrive on stage, you’ll feel like you’re at home. Why? Because you’ve been there before.

Ritual #4: Don’t look for perfection; look for connection. If you stumble over words or do something that’s not 100% correct, don’t worry about it. It’s not about perfection, it’s about connection. Just keep moving on. Chances are you’re the only one who will notice anyway. Plus, perfection is boring. This guideline goes for the rehearsal and for the real speech.

Ritual #5: Exaggerate whatever needs work. For example, if you don’t pause long enough after making important statements, then really exaggerate the extended pause in rehearsal. Or if you constantly speak at the same energy level (or pace or volume, etc.), exaggerate your contrasts. If you exaggerate it in rehearsal, even though the adrenaline of the live performance has the tendency to make you revert to your old ways, you’ll be sufficiently stretched enough to fix the flaw.


Your Turn

What is one of your rehearsal rituals? I’m very interested to see the different ways people rehearse…IF they rehearse.


Final thoughts on Rehearsing for Remarkable Results

I have no doubt that you heard some differences between my rehearsal sessions and my live speech. They probably included a different energy, pace, and even slightly different content. This is because nothing can replace the live speech. However, you should try as hard as you can to make your rehearsal sessions as similar as possible to your live speech. That means pretend you really are with your audience. That way, once they do finally show up, they won’t have to pretend they’re really are with you.






16 Responses to “5 Rehearsal Rituals for a Remarkable Speech”

  • Jarno:

    Hi Craig,
    thank you for your great tips and insights. I really liked the recordings. You only mentioned briefly that it is better to record yourself on video than to speak into a mirror. Could you elaborate on how you use video? Do you fine tune all gestures and facial expressions based on video?

    Take care,

  • Sylvia Crew:

    Thank you Craig for your weekly inspirations!
    Recently I recorded a practice session. We are our worst critic! I found myself rocking back and forth, hands flying aimlessly and leaning against a wall with my hands in my pocket. However, in the “real” presentation which I also recorded all those “faux pas” gestures were eliminated!
    Craig you are amazing!

  • Ken:

    Craig, I fairly new to public speaking on the level your at. However, I was involved in sales in the real estate and mortgage business. I have joined toastmasters to enhance my speaking skill set. My question to you is? Should one use note cards when giving a speech at the toastmasters level?

  • Sue Amin:

    Thank you Craig!
    You are not only a gold mine of ideas but you have a way of explaining things that remains with your audience/readers. And, we appreciate that…
    We are grateful for the tips!
    I practice old fashion way!!…For me, writing my speech first roughly and then taking time to write it nicely before I begin my actual practice, helps me remember the points easily. I mentally visualize the three parts (Beginning, Body and Conclusion) and where it fell on that paper! The process of writing it out helps me not to internalize it but, also to think-through each sentence thoroughly. Then, I do a mental internalization of the entire speech with eyes closed, like your tip # 3 and finally I do verbal practice. I have never tried the video, but seem like a good idea and highly recommended. Perhaps next time!

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thank you Sue. That looks like a very effective sequence of rehearsal that you go through. Thanks for sharing!

  • Paul:

    Thanks Craig! This is great content, as always.

    One ritual I would add is to actually practice in front of someone. Other people have a way of picking up on the little idiosyncrasies that we tend to overlook as speakers. Thankfully my wife and I are in Toastmasters together so we can give each other very detailed feedback on our speech rehearsals, but any external feedback (from someone you trust) will be better than none. And of course, if you have a speech to give to the public, Toastmasters is the perfect place to rehearse!

    • Craig Valentine:

      Paul, that’s great advice. Thank you! The only way to find if something works is to test it out. Then you can test it and tweak it. Thanks again.

  • P.S. I evaluated a TEDx talk on body language, and would immensely value your thoughts, if you’d like to share them, and have a moment some time:

  • Thanks for sharing the pairs of recordings for comparison, Craig, and your process.

    To me, it was surprising how little variation there was between your recorded rehearsal and the live event. Nice!

    I really value the explanation about why not to practise in front of a mirror, too. That makes total sense, yet I’ve never heard it explained like that before.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thanks Craig. I find that, when I visualize my audience during my rehearsal, I tend to deliver it in rehearsal pretty much the same way I do in front of my audience.

  • Steve Howard:

    Thank you so much for those tips, Craig. I was particularly interested in Ritual #1. Here’s what I do:
    * Stage 1: Rehearse paragraph by paragraph (or idea by idea) as if I was in front of the audience. Continue until I roughly know the entire presentation.
    * Stage 2: Rehearse the entire presentation as if I was in front of the audience.
    * Stage 3: Present in front of the mirror to identify and correct any annoying or incongruous movements.
    * Stage 4: Present the presentation with the imaginary audience in front of me, looking and doing as if I was on stage.
    It is interesting that you say avoid looking in the mirror. I agree that if this is the only rehearsal, it would be counter-productive, but I find that as a step in the entire process, it is useful to me because I have used the method to correct some annoying habits. I also review videos if they are available but I find that the mirror method gives me immediate feedback.
    I really did like Ritual #4. I have always strived for perfection in rehearsal but I can see exactly where you are coming from. If I do make a mistake on stage, however, I keep on going as if nothing untoward happened – unless the mistake was leaving out vital information.
    I really appreciate your weekly tips.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thank you Steve for your process. What I like is that it’s the opposite of “winging it.” Too many speakers wing it and that’s not going to be effective. I also like that you start with paper but then you leave that as you continue to rehearse. Thanks for this helpful process.

  • my tip for rehearsing: i call the venue in advance and find out the orientation (north, south, east, west) of the podium. if i’m going to be facing west during the talk, i rehearse it facing west. this might sound new-age-y, but it really makes a difference. if i rehearse facing the opposite way, then when i get to the venue i feel all turned around inside. if i rehearse with the same orientation i’m going to use at the venue, there’s a visceral sense that “i’ve been here before!”which makes the talk flow more easily and feel more familiar.

    I follow all your suggestions and the audiences are always surprised, and then thrilled and excited. i love that feeling when the whole audience takes a breath in at the same time or the laugh lines build – and they come back for more and they request me at the conferences.
    i recommend your program to anyone who asks. i learned about you from my good friend who’s been in toastmasters for years.
    thank you, you have helped me so much. God bless you. J.J

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thank you Janice for your rehearsal process. I love the point about calling the venue in advance. It’s very important to understand the environment in which you will speak. Thanks!

  • Travis Dent:

    Hey Craig,

    Great tips! One thing that I do is turn up the television or stereo while I practice my speech. If I can deliver my speech with all that noise in the background, it prepares me to deal with distractions when I give my speech live.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Travis, that’s a great idea! I hadn’t thought about that. Now, if you can turn the to a cooking channel or something with forks, spoons, and knives constantly banging against plates, then that can prepare you for a lunchtime keynote! Seriously, thanks for the fantastic advice.

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A Storytelling Mistake that Destroys Audience Buy-In

What are Speakers Neglecting to do?

So often I’ll coach a speaker who does everything right with his story until the end of it. He establishes the conflict, escalates it, and gets the cure or revelation. But guess what happens then? He ends the story!

Hello, do you mean to tell me you’re going to take us down to the depths of your struggle and make us relive those down times with you and then, when you get to the big payoff part of your journey, we’re not invited?

If you take us through the problem, make sure you take us through the payoff

Payoff Example

One payoff I have involves a Vice-President of a company trying to offer me more money so that I won’t leave the organization to pursue my dream. It was a struggle (problem) because I felt like I couldn’t leave.  My wife then told me, “Craig, your dream is not for sale.”

So I went back to the Vice President of the company and told him, “My wife said my dream is not for sale.” With the help of my wife, I overcame the conflict. After overcoming the conflict, you can listen below to hear what I gave as the payoff (the Change).

That’s a heck of a payoff isn’t it? It encourages other people to not let the good get in the way of the best in their lives too and not to sell out their dreams. They’re 80% across the bridge to buying into my message and I haven’t even driven home the point yet.

Don’t take us through a problem without taking us through the payoff.

In fact, I strongly suggest that you make the payoff at least equal to (and hopefully greater than) the problem in terms of your emotions.  That’s why I intentionally say, “…and I’m HAPPY to say I’ve been running my mouth ever since.”

Happy is the emotion. Keep in mind, I also have to show “happy” on my face and in my body and in my energy. Remember Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What you ARE speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” Show it while you say it.


Why is the Payoff Important?

This payoff is very important to your audience because it pushes them 80% across the bridge to heeding your message (i.e. chasing your dream) before you even begin to drive the message home. In other words, when you take them through your emotional payoff, the story gets their buy-in.

So many speeches are ruined by neglecting to have a payoff that is at least equal (and hopefully greater than) the problem in terms of your emotions.

Remember, people make decisions with emotion backed up by logic. Therefore, you can’t simply tell them the payoff. You need to show them the payoff through your own emotional victory. Relive it.

How can you make sure have an effective Payoff?

The questions to ask yourself to help clarity and emphasize your payoff are the following:

  • What was my payoff?
  • What happened to me after I transcended my conflict?
  • How did my life change for the better?
  • How did I feel after I overcame that conflict?
  • How can I express that feeling to my audience so they’ll know how much the payoff meant to me and how much a similar payoff can mean to them?
  • How can I SHOW THE PAYOFF on my face, through my body language, and in my newfound energy?


The stronger your payoff, the easier it will be for people to buy-into your message even before you drive it home.

Post the following statement somewhere you can see it:

If you take us through the problem, take us through the payoff


Receive $100 off until January 18th, 2015

Receive $100 off until January 18th, 2015

Note: If you’d like help with your payoff or any other part of your story, click here to access my best-selling program called the Edge Of Their Seats Storytelling Home-Study Course for Speakers. You’ll be glad you did.

In fact, to thank you for being a loyal reader of my newsletter, you can use the following COUPON CODE to get a $100 discount on the program: 11815. Make sure you hit APPLY after you enter the code. This offer lasts until January 18th, 2015 (hence the code).


Your Turn

What is one payoff you share with your audience? What’s the emotion?




8 Responses to “A Storytelling Mistake that Destroys Audience Buy-In”

  • Hi Mr. Valentine,

    In the post, here, you mentioned “overcoming the conflict.” Just a few lines later you mentioned “transcending the conflict.” I don’t know if it’s me just being picky, but I believe that those are two different situations.

    So often, we’re told that we must overcome this thing or that thing. Quite often, people do not feel as if they’ve overcome anything at all, and that they may not. Just my opinion here, but I think “overcoming” is an extroverted way of thinking. I’m an introvert, so I try to see things a bit differently.

    When I talk with people, one payoff that I share is to not look to overcome, but to simply come to understand. Coming to understand helps one to transcend a problem or conflict (the second point I mentioned above)… to simply get beyond it, regardless of success or failure. How often do we “fail” in matters of life, only to learn a greater lesson through the failure than through a success? How often do we have minor successes that prevent us from going on to greater things? I believe you spoke to this (success getting in our way, and we settle), once before. What can I give my audience, not in regard to success or failure, but in simply coming to understand a situation? If “success” does come, what then? When failure comes, what then?

    Depending on the type of speech I give, my ultimate payoff will be different. I’ve found out that, sometimes, humor gets in the way of a deeper understanding of matters, but I’m just as happy, myself, to see smiling faces, as I am generally smiling afterward. It allows for nice banter, after the talk. Nothing too deep. But, like I said earlier, I’m an introvert, so banter is not one of my strong suits.

    The greatest payoff I’ve been able to give to an audience is when I am rather serious about a life matter (with humor sprinkled throughout). Showing intensity, sincerity, and vulnerability, I go through the situation with the audience. I take them on my own journey, and toward the end, I share my emotional victory, as you mentioned. Quite often, the emotional victory (the payoff for me, as well as the audience), as I mentioned above, is not in the overcoming, but is simply in coming to understand.

    I’ve had so many “failures” in my life. I’ve also had great gifts given to me. Sometimes, the gift was in the failure, and I was only able to understand it when I stood back to see more clearly. Those gifts, those matters of understanding, is what I try to convey to others. The body language comes naturally. The energy (not always bright and happy) follows. The speech, after preparation, almost takes care of itself, if I only have the courage to stand and deliver.

    Payoff for me = coming to understand.

    Payoff for the audience = helping them to possibly come to understand matters in their own lives that they may not have thought about, before.

    I hope I didn’t ramble too awful much.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Tim, this is a beautiful distinction between overcoming and transcending. As an introvert, I can certainly relate. It reminds me of a story the speaker, Willie Jolley, told in a church service I once attended. It was a parable about a man trying to move a huge boulder that was blocking his front door. He tried and tried and tried but couldn’t move it. People thought he had failed until they looked at his arms and saw how strong he had become. He then came to understand what he got out of the situation. He transcended the conflict rather than overcoming it. Thanks again for you thoughtful post!

  • Brice Mandaville:

    Thanks Craig. As a pastor, I was working on a message on God’s call when I received your weekly email. I was beginning with God’s call on my own life, but alas, had not included the payoff in the story of how knowing God had called me has been the rock to stand on during some of the tough times in my life and how every believer can have that rock as they are all called. Your advice will make it a much better message.

  • Joyce Teal:

    Love your storytelling tips!!
    I truly do try to make my stories include the payoff at the end. I see it as the “take away” feeling from living through my story.
    See you in Vegas!

  • Chuck Rose:

    Thanks Craig. I already have your Storytelling program and it’s wonderful. I guess it’s time to go back and do it again because I had forgotten this great tip.

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The “Right vs Ridiculous” Humor Speaking Secret

A quick and easy way to uncover humor is to compare and contrast two stories, examples, statistics, methods, or pretty much anything else. I like this tool because the audience tends to laugh AND learn at the same time. You can use it for dramatic impact (like I do in many of my stories) or you can use it for humor. I call it the “Right vs. Ridiculous” Process. Let’s explore two examples (in audio).

First let’s look at how you can use it for humor and then see how you can use it for dramatic impact.

Listen to this quick 64-second clip of me contrasting the way I get my in-person audiences to subscribe to my site.


Welcome back. Basically this comes down to describing the right way vs. the ridiculous way so that the ridiculous way seems even more ridiculous. You see, if I never demonstrated the right way (i.e. putting the result before the resource) and I only mentioned the ridiculous way, it would NOT have been funny.

For example, if I started that module by saying, “Raise your hand if you’d like to receive 52 emails from me,” there would have been some confusion and probably some nervous chatter/laughter. However, because I mentioned the right way first (putting the result before the resource – “becoming 3 times better…”), my audience understood just how ridiculous that second way (putting the resource before the result – “52 e-mails from me”) really was.


Pricing also works this way

This is similar to the law of contrast in pricing that I mentioned in my Back of the Room Sales Home-Study Course. When you put two prices against each other, the higher price makes the lower price seem even lower. Let’s say I first mention that my program (with all the bonuses) is worth $397 but today you get it for $197. Well the $197 now seems lower than it would have had I not first mentioned the $397. The right vs. the Rdiculous has the same effect. It makes the ridiculous seem even more ridiculous and that’s funny.


Contrasting for Dramatic Impact

Like I mentioned, contrasting can also work for drama or an escalation of your conflict. Listen to this quick 76-second audio of how I put two numbers side by side for dramatic effect. This is a short section of a story of when I was hired to give a speech and how excited I was to finally get a nice payday.


Here’s the key to why the drama worked. It’s because I put the numbers right next to each other. I said, “She tucked into my jacket pocket a check for $3,500.” Then I immediately told them I gave the audience a “$150 speech” and you could hear their reaction.

If I never mentioned the $3,500, they would not have thought anything was wrong but, since I mentioned it, they could easily realize I blew the engagement badly.

Quick never-before-told secret: I believe in this side by side contrast so much that I reworked that sentence (“She tucked into my jacket pocket a check for $3,500”) many times just so I could place the actual dollar amount at the very end of the sentence. Why? This is so the $3,500 would be closer to (and fresh in my audience’s mind) when I mentioned the $150. I want those two numbers as close together (time-wise) as I can get so that they’re essentially side by side for effect. Very shortly after I mention the $3,500, I mention the $150.

This just goes to show you that contrasting can be used for humor and drama. But let’s get back to humor.


Your Turn for Right vs. Ridiculous Humor (3 steps)

Step 1: Think about a “right” process that you have.

Step 2:  What would be the wrong process that some people might use?

Step 3: Put them next to each other but make sure you mention the right way first.

I believe you’ll surprise yourself by how much humor you can uncover there. It’s quick and easy.


 Coming on December 4th – 9th

Back in 1998, the first 10 speeches I gave had absolutely no humor. Today I get booked because of my ability to mix a message with amusement. How did I start adding humor to my speeches? I didn’t. Instead of adding humor, I uncovered it.

If you’ve ever wanted to keep your audience laughing throughout your speech, then you will want to access the 33 humor tools in my newest course called Humor Speaking Secrets. You’ll uncover more humor than you ever knew you could! Stay tuned for an e-mail announcing how to access it on December 4th 

Limited Offer coming on December 4th - 9th

Limited Offer coming on December 4th – 9th

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How to Get a Dozen Laughs Every 3-4 Minutes

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


The Callback

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.


Historical humor

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.


Tag-on Lines

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.


 Transition lines

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.

Coming very soon!

Coming very soon!


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How to Move on the Stage for Maximum Impact

Coming in November 2014!

Coming in November 2014!

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:

  1. It makes the scene more clear for my audience
  2. 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.


Your Turn

How do YOU use the stage to make your speech visual? What are some strategies that work for you?

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6 Ways to Be More Likeable as a Speaker

Coming in November of 2014!

Coming in November of 2014!

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.

Your turn

What are some other ideas you have for becoming more likeable as a speaker?


22 Responses to “6 Ways to Be More Likeable as a Speaker”

  • I love Your Foundational Phrases Craig.
    When You Lift Yourself up, You Let Your Audience Down!
    Thank You Craig

  • Maurice Cuffie:


    Thanks for your wisdom, tips and generosity, I too am an introvert but have become more confident since I have to preach in church and teach a night class in college.

    My goal use to be to just finish the presentation, but you are right it should be to share an experience with my audience.


  • Steve Piet:

    Learn to pronounce names – key people, organization, city, state. With a family name like Piet, I know that the odds of a stranger getting my name right is less than 50%. Although this helps in screening out telemarkers (friends and family get name right, telemarketers get it wrong), if a speaker gets my name right, I warm to her. Similarly, if relevant know the gender of key people. My wife’s name is Robin, if her name gets called and the person assumes she is he, it proves the speaker doesn’t have a clue who they are talking about.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Great points Steve Peit (kidding…Piet). Lacking the necessary research of our audience ahead of time can tear our connection apart.

  • Lilly fromsouthJersey:

    Thanks for the great information Craig! I would also like to add I do my best to always respond to any emails I receive. I like to open with “Hello Jo! It’s great to hear from you…” continuing the good feelings by the connection made. Those good feelings go both ways since they thought enough of me to sit down and write which makes me feel good too.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Great point Lilly. It’s so easy to stay connected with audience members now and it’s important for them to know you value them.

  • I love your comment about being introverted, yet making an effort to reach past your natural inclination to connect with others. That’s what it’s all about. No response from introverts isn’t an option if you want to connect … and clearly, you got that lesson. Bravo!

  • Joyce Teal:


    I am working on my speech for the District level Humorous Speech Contest. Tip #1, ask don’t tell, is just what I needed to be reminded of. I have rewritten the introduction and two other passages to meet this tip. It will improve my speech!

    As always, great information.

    Joyce Teal

  • Priya:

    Thanks Criag for all your tips. The last tip you mentioned is very true as far as I am concerned. I am an introvert too but I am a teacher. Previously I just used to give lectures an feel that my job was done after I get off the stage. But then I realized my mistake. You have to be approachable!! That’s what makes a more likeable speaker.

  • Paul:

    One of the strategies that I use is to facilitate a funny activity. In this way I brake the ice and it gest me closer to my audience

    Useful article (as usual) :)

  • Remember to smile! Smile and feel the smile bubble up from within and radiate into the hearts of the people listening. Simple, but powerful… and sometimes I have forgotten to take a smile break… especially in the midst of a more serious message. But I feel better and so does the audience when I remember. I also find they like me more when I give them space, time and an exercise to talk about themselves, share with a partner, and integrate what I am talking about.
    Thanks for all of your wonderful tips, Craig… and for your smiling face!

    • Craig Valentine:

      Thanks Maggie. That’s a great reminder. I know so many people who lose their smile as soon as they get up on stage. The smile can connect you with your audience before you even say your first word. Thanks again.

  • Sandra:

    Thank you Craig for some great tips. What came to mind when I read #3 was that I would love to hear from you on how to turn an audience around if they are not participating as much even when you ask questions and trying to get them involved. Thank you.

    • Craig Valentine:

      Hi Sandra. Thanks for your question. One thing I like to do (in a playful way) when my audience is not responding to a question is to look at one side of the audience and say, “This is an English speaking side of the audience too, right?” They laugh and get the point that I want a response. However, I obviously do NOT do this when speaking to audiences where English is not their first language because that will turn them off.

      The other strategy I use is what I call “Discuss and Debrief.” Instead of simply asking them a question, I will have them turn to a neighbor and discuss the question (or their answers to it) for 30-45 seconds. Once the time is up, I say, “Okay, what did you come up with?” We debrief. I LOVE this strategy because it gives the audience time to loosen up their minds, validate their responses with their partner, and feel confident in speaking up when we debrief. Try it.

  • Kwesi:

    Love this article! Your articles and products have helped immensely! Thanks!

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7 Super and Strategic Hooks In Speaking

Recent speech at an education conference to 500 educators but many more showed up!

Recent speech at an education conference to 500 educators but many more showed up!

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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What Is The Quickest Way To Connect With Your Audience?

Getting ready to speak to 3,500 people in Tulsa, OK

Getting ready to speak to 3,500 people in Tulsa, OK

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.

Fail First

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.

 Your Turn

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.

4 Responses to “What Is The Quickest Way To Connect With Your Audience?”

  • Sometimes just stating the obvious works. For example, once I was speaking to a group and asking them if they’d seen certain movies… like The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, you know, movies that everyone has seen. But nobody was responding at all. I finally said “You guys don’t get out much, do you?” But in a friendly way. That cut the tension and made a connection.

  • Trish Nicol:

    I have the courage but not the confidence to “Speak and Prosper”. I took your online course to learn strategies to uncover confidence. But something is blocking me. Any suggestions? Thank you for bring an inspiration to so many people.

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Narration vs Dialogue in Speaking

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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