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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.

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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?


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

  • 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.

  • 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…

14 Responses to “7 Super and Strategic Hooks In Speaking”

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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).

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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.

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

  • 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.


11 Responses to “Narration vs Dialogue in Speaking”

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How the 10 to 1 Rule of Thumb Can Save Your Speeches

Speaking to the Surgeons and researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada

Speaking to the Surgeons and researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada

The Problem

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you try to do too much, you’ll end up doing nothing at all.” Well…there is an old speaker’s proverb as well that states…

If you squeeze your information in, you’ll squeeze your audience out.”

There is no time to engage them, to jump on the spontaneous moments, or to really have a conversation with your audience. Most of the times I’ve failed in speaking can be linked to me ignoring the advice you are about to receive. 

I once heard Bill Gove (first President of the National Speakers Association) say that “Speaking is a dialog, not a monologue.” You will be giving a monologue if you squeeze your information in. Putting in too much information forces you to rush through your speech and that is disastrous. As I always say…

You can’t rush and resonate”


 My 10:1 Rule of Thumb Solution

So what’s the solution? Here’s a suggestion to consider. Come up with a rule of thumb. My 10:1 Rule of Thumb is simple. For every 10 minutes I speak, I feel I can make one major point, illustrate it effectively, and make it palatable for my audience.  Therefore, if I am called to do a 45- minute keynote, how many points will I make? Right, four.

A meeting planner might call and say, “Craig, we want you to do a 45-minute speech.” I’ll say, “Great, you’ll get the 4 Rs to Remarkable Results.” One might call and say, “Craig, we want you to do a 30-minute speech.” I’ll say, “Great, you’ll get the 3 Rs to Remarkable Results.” He might call back and say, “Craig, we just want you to give a 10 minute speech.” I’ll say, “Okay buddy but you’re down to an R…but it will be remarkable. I stick by this because I refuse to squeeze in my information. It’s too costly.


 Less Can Be More

I follow this rule of thumb to keep me from squeezing my information in. The hard part is that I know a lot about these topics and so to put more information in is ALWAYS tempting, but it’s also always trouble.

I have had several people submit 5-7 minute speeches where they’re trying to make 3-5 points. The key question to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to speak?” If it’s to change lives then it’s better to give 4 points and have them remember 3 then to give 15 points and have them walk away with nothing. With structure, less can be more.


 The Profitable Side Benefit

A side benefit to you not trying to squeeze in your information is that people will SENSE that what you taught them is only the tip of the iceberg for what you know about that topic. As a result, because they’ll know there’s more where that came from, and they’ll look to you for next steps including future presentations. I’d rather have standing invitations than standing ovations. Let them invite you back.

When you finish your speech, you don’t want you audience looking at you as if to say, “You want me to do all of this?!” Instead, you want them to say, “I can do this. I can handle that.” When they act on that message, you have acted on their life. Congratulations, you made a difference.


 Your Turn

Work on your own rule of thumb and drive your points home. It’s better to drive 3 points home than to leave 15 points stranded. So go out there and give less and accomplish more. Well…you know what I mean.


6 Responses to “How the 10 to 1 Rule of Thumb Can Save Your Speeches”

  • Craig, I wish that everyone in my industry knew this advice. I work in science and engineering and people just dumb data on people in a tsunami of information where they end up drowning their audience.

  • Mark Morden:

    Your rule of thumb fits in with Dr. John Medina’s “Brain Rules.” Dr. Medina states that our attention begins to wander after about 10 minutes. He suggests that every 10 minutes a speaker needs to break things up so that the audience can reset their “attention timers.” For every 10 minutes, speakers need to tell a story, show a video, introduce some interaction with the audience to keep them focused. 10:1 fits with this, since every 10 minutes you are changing the topic and creating an opportunity for a break.

  • Craig, I have been using this rule ever since I first heard you teach it, which was years ago. There is one more added benefit, and that is for the speaker; it is a far more relaxing, comfortable way to deliver a presentation. It enables you to be fully present and truly authentic, not in your head trying to remember all those points you wanted to squeeze in! This most powerful rule has transformed my speaking!

  • Craig you have gotten Public Speaking down to a science. You are so clear about what works and in my limited experience what you say is very sound. Thank you for sharing. Juanita Shell

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Why Every Speaker Should Have a Failure File

The quickest way to connect with your audience is to share your failures, flaws, frustrations, and firsts. Why? Because most people have failed, they have flaws, they’ve had frustrations, and they’ve attempted something for the first time. In other words, they can relate. Plus, your failure intrigues us because we want to see how you handled it and what tools you used to turn that failure into a success.


Keep a Failure File

For the reasons mentioned above, it’s important to have a Failure File. What’s that? It’s just what it looks like. Many speakers understand the concept of having a Story File (a file where they keep their developing and already-developed stories). Some speakers understand the importance of having a Foundational Phrase File (a file where you keep your sayings and takeaway phrases), but few of the speakers I’ve met over the years have a Failure File. However, you can start one now.


Start your Failure File

Instead of trying to bit off more than you can chew, I suggest starting your Failure File with three of the biggest let-downs or failures you’ve experienced in your life. These should be YOUR failures, not the failure of someone else. Here are some questions that can help spark some ideas:

–          Did you fail a class in school?

–          Did you get dumped by a significant other?

–          Did you cost your team the game in a sporting event?

–          Did you fail at something relating to fatherhood or motherhood?

–          Did you give a bad speech?

–          Did you lose a contest?

–          Did you go into debt or fail with your finances?

–          When have you ever felt embarrassed?

–          When have you ever felt ashamed?

–          What’s a flaw you tried to hide (i.e. my lisp)?

–          What’s something you tried for the first time and failed?

–          What frustrates you?

–          Have you ever felt like you were going to fly off the handle? Why? What happened?

–          Have you ever gone on a bad date? What happened?

–          When is the last time you cried out of sadness?

–          Have you ever been wronged by someone? What happened?

–          Have you ever wronged someone? What happened?

–          What is one of your biggest regrets?


Surely if you ask those questions and really ponder them, you will be able to come up with at least three stories that you can immediately put into your Failure File.


A Story from my Failure File

Here’s an example of a one-minute story that’s in my Failure File that I have not used much (and it is not developed yet) but I will develop and use in the future:

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 The Good News!

One fantastic advantage to being a speaker is that you won’t mind failing because you know it will turn into one heck of a story. Some of my best stories have come from my failures. In fact, whenever I am upset about something I’ve failed at, I make sure I write down what happened and how I’m feeling because I know, chances are, it will show up in my speech.

On October 12th of 2013, I was coaching my son’s travel basketball team for their first practice when I went up to demonstrate how to shoot a layup. As soon as I jumped, I heard my knee pop and I ended up falling flat on my back as all the 4th graders watched. I couldn’t move so the ambulance had to come take me to the hospital. Keep in mind this was their FIRST practice! On my way, as I rode in pain on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance, I remember thinking, “This will make a great story one day. Not today! But someday.” It has since gone into my Failure File.

What’s in Yours?



3 Responses to “Why Every Speaker Should Have a Failure File”

  • What a great idea Craig. I have a story file (and a quote file), but I don’t have a failure file – yet!

    I’m sure some other pro speakers are reading your post and taking note!

    I also love Rashid’s perspective, above, of making people’s attitudes (even our own) much more positive by turning complaints into lessons to share. Win-win!

  • Rashid N Kapadia:

    Hello Craig:

    As always, fabulous advise! Never thought of making a file for failure before.

    I recall telling (casually commenting actually) a few fellow Toastmasters (specially at my company club) when they are complaining, even whining, “This is great material for your next speech. I want to hear this in your speech at our meetings” The comment always elicits a smile and effectively makes for a transition to more positive conversation.

    Love your work and ideas, and the generosity with which you share.

    BR … Rashid

  • MiKO:

    I entered a Toastmasters contest, and misunderstood the timing rules for a 5-7 minute speech.
    The speech was good, but I went over time. I felt good about what happened, except that I went over the time limit. I learned my lesson!

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How to Use Humor in a Serious Speech

Many speakers can get laughs with a humorous story. However, what about when you have a serious story? Is it still appropriate to use humor?  The answer is, “Sure, but it shouldn’t feel forced.” It should not feel like the humor came out of left field. It should feel congruent. Below you will find one surefire process for uncovering humor in an organic, congruent way.


Why should you use humor in the midst of a serious story?

You probably already know this but the reason to use humor in the midst of a serious story is for levity. When you take your audience down a heavy road, eventually they will need to breathe. Humor gives them that air to breathe and prepares them for what’s to come.


How can you use humor in the midst of a serious story?

There is one tool I like to use several times per speech that gets a laugh in the middle of a serious story. In order to figure out what that tool is, listen to the following excerpts from two different serious stories. See if you can figure out what these excerpts have in common.

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(64 Seconds)

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(103 seconds)


Welcome back. Are you ready for the process? Great. It’s simple.

If you’ve followed me, you know that a great way to uncover humor in a speech is through character dialogue. Well, here’s the key to finding humor in a serious speech.

Have another character (a character that is not you) give the funny line of dialogue?

For example, Scott said, “I don’t know, I don’t read” and the limo driver looked at me as if to say, “Man, I still have to take you back?!” Characters other than me were the ones to say the funny lines.


Why is it important for the line to come from someone else?

It’s important for the line to come from another character because I (my character) am in not in the emotional state to be funny? It would feel forced and incongruent if, in the middle of my suffering, I just all of a sudden popped out and said something funny.

However, the limo driver is not in MY emotional state. He’s not suffering so it makes perfect sense for him to be able to say something funny. Scott was not in my emotional state so it makes perfect sense for him to say something funny. Give the funny lines to your other characters.


Your Turn

Do you have a serious story in which you went through a conflict or some sort of suffering? Was there someone else in the story who said something funny as you went through your situation? Who was it? What did he or she say? Perhaps someone just looked at you in a strange way. What did his or her expression say? Answer these questions and you’re likely to find some humor.



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4 Mistakes That Make You Lose Your Audience

Many speakers and speech coaches will provide you with ways to connect with your audience. However, sometimes the best way to connect is to avoid doing what disconnects you and your audience. Here are 4 reasons speakers lose their audiences and tips for how to avoid these mistakes.

 Losing Way #1: They tell them about them

Have you ever heard a speaker say something like, “We all have problems and challenges that we need to overcome.”? What’s wrong with that statement? Here it is. Your audience members do not want to be told about themselves. A statement like that makes them think, “You don’t know me! How are you going to tell me I have a problem or a challenge? Speak for yourself.” This is how you lose them.

Now here’s the key. Of course they have problems and challenges but that’s not the point. The point is you shouldn’t tell them about themselves. The solution is to follow this creed:

Ask, don’t tell.

Instead of saying, “We all have problems and challenges that we need to overcome,” ask, “Have you ever had a problem or challenge that was difficult to overcome?” Or say, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a problem or challenge that was difficult to overcome.” Then, once their hands go up, you’ve just qualified them and now you can move on with your message by saying something like, “Me too. In fact, in 1999…”


Losing Way #2: They take too long to get to the story

Another reason we lose our audience is by rambling on too much before we get to our stories. I call it “Pre-rambling.” Make no mistake about it, stories are the hooks to our speeches. If you don’t get into the stories within the first few minutes of your presentation, you will likely lose your audience. In fact, a great way to begin a presentation is to jump right into a story that sets up the rest of your talk. The sooner you get to the story, the quicker you’ll connect with your audience.


Losing Way #3: They take too long to get to the conflict

What if the Titanic never hit the iceberg? That would have been a boring movie! Why? People are wired to see conflict, because we want to know how you  will overcome the conflict and what tools you will use. Perhaps we can use these tools for our own conflicts in life. Just as stories are the hooks for your speeches, conflict is the hook for your stories. The problem with many speeches is the speaker does not get to the conflict early enough. Instead they go on and on setting up characters and situations when they should already be at the conflict. You can even start your story in the middle of a conflict and you’ll have your audience hooked right away!

As soon as you introduce your characters, make sure to immediately throw them into a conflict. If you’ve been telling a story for more than 60 seconds and you haven’t reached the conflict yet, chances are you’re losing your audience one by one. Write this down:

Establish your conflict early


Losing Way #4: They Don’t Tease

Finally, another reason for losing the audience is they don’t tease. To be an effective speaker, you must be a great tease. For example, instead of simply moving from point to point in your speech, it’s important to make your audience thirst for the next point. This is done through effective transitions. For example, here’s what I say in one of my speeches:

“If you get this next idea and put it to use in your life, you’ll find yourself moving towards your goals, dreams, and aspirations even while you’re asleep.”

Another tease I give is towards the end of one of my speeches called the 4 Rs to Remarkable Results. I say, “There is actually one final R. This R is the most important thing I’ve ever done for my own success and I can all but guarantee it will become the most important for yours as well. And it’s only one word. Ready? Okay…”

Now let me ask you, do you think I give them the final R immediately after saying that? Of course not. Instead, I invite them into my final story and let them uncover the R while they’re in it. The key is that they really want to know what that R is. Every time I get to it, I see their pens hit the paper and a look of satisfaction on their faces. This is partly because they got good information and partly because they’re happy to have solved the mystery.


Final thoughts:

When you avoid the four mistakes above and use the solutions, you not only connect with your audience but you deepen that connection throughout the speech.

So what about that final R? Well, I might as well tell you what it is. It’s…




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21 Ways to Energize Your Workshops and Seminars

With an amazing group of students at Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan

With an amazing group of students at Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan

Workshops and seminars are often longer than keynote speeches and this means you have to find innovative ways to keep your audience’s energy high. Below are 10 ways.

However, in order to raise their energy, it’s important to also have a workshop environment that’s conducive to a successful learning process. Therefore, before you read about the 10 ways to master the energy, take a look at 11 ways to master the environment.




Mastering the Environment

How to set the stage and the mind for Optimal Learning

1. Welcome them and tell them exactly what to do first

For example, you can have it say on your visual (PowerPoint, chalk board, or even on a flip chart) to “Choose a partner and turn to page 3 in your workbook.” They will do this before you even say your first word.


2. Do not have products in the front of the room

Having products in the front of the room will put them in a defensive mode before you even begin.


3. Get them involved within the first 3 minutes

The beginning flavors what they feel the rest of the workshop will be like. If you lecture, they will feel like the entire program will be one big lecture. Get them involved early.


4. Set a tone of trust

For example, I used to say, “What happens in this room, stays in this room.”


5. Set a theme within the first five minutes

I have told a story with the Foundational Phrase of “Speak up.” The story gets them to buy into the belief that speaking up will help them get the most out of the workshop.


6. Have handouts with lots of white space and without fill-in-the-blanks

Filling in the blanks only gets them to write down what they hear. White space gets them to write down what they hear and also what they think while they’re hearing it. They can even write down actions they’ll take as a result of the workshop.


7. Consider using music to set the mood as they enter the room

Music can energize people and help them get ready to learn


8. Ask them what they hope to get from the program (before you start)

Doing this quietly one on one lets the attendee know you’re looking out for her and lets you know which content to emphasize.


9. Never train for more than 90 minutes straight without a break

In the afternoon, go no more than 75 minutes without a break. People are generally more energized and alert in the morning.


10. Have water, candy, and perhaps even donuts in the room

Water helps them stay alert and food is festive


11. Let them realize that the “Answers are seated.” 

I learned this from Ed Tate (2000 World Champion of Public Speaking). Instead of pretending you (the one who is standing) have all of the answers, let them know that you know many of them have the answers as well. This encourages them to speak up and share what they know.


Now that you’ve picked up some tools to master the workshop environment, let’s look at mastering the all-important energy of your workshop.


Mastering the Energy

Keep the momentum of the learning and excitement going


1. Change modalities every 10-15 minutes

If you tell a story, move to an activity. If you finish an activity, move to a slide, etc. Just don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s important to reach the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.


2. Have them regularly switch partners 

This gives them the opportunity to stretch beyond their comfort zone and get many perspectives on their own situation.


3. Do “Discuss and Debrief” at least once per section

 Instead of simply asking, “What is your biggest challenge when it comes to leadership (or whatever your topic is),” say, “Turn to a neighbor and discuss your 2 greatest challenges as a leader.” Once they DISCUSS it, you can say, “Let’s DEBRIEF. What did you come up with?” This gives them time to think and get validated from the neighbor before shouting out their responses.


 4. Lead one person through an activity before you have them try it in groups

 This often uncovers humor and gives the participants greater clarity on the activity they are going to do.


5. Select different people to lead their teams throughout the workshop

This gives everyone the opportunity to lead and it makes them stretch.


6. Ask attendees to come teach what they’ve been taught

Remember the old saying, “Teach that which you need to learn.” This stamps the learning.


7. Encourage attendees to share their own related stories and experiences with the group

Even though you have your own examples and stories, make sure they can tell theirs too. Other audience members might even relate to their stories more than they do to your own. People buy-into what they help create. Having them share their stories makes them part of the creation process.


8. Model the behaviors you are teaching

For example, if you teach someone how to handle an employee who is regularly tardy to work or to meetings, model that with someone who comes back late from the break. Do it in good fun and also make sure you let them know, at the beginning of the workshop, that you’ll model the behavior with anyone who comes back late from break. My participants (including the tardy ones) find lots of humor in those interactions.


9. Keep teasing about what’s to come

Before each break, make sure you tease them for what they are going to get after the break. For example, I might say to a group of supervisors, “Have you ever felt overwhelmed with too much to do and too little time to do it? Well, when you come back from break, you’ll get a 5-step formula for freeing up more time than you’ll know what to do with. I’ll see you in 14 minutes!”

By the way, notice I said, “14 minutes.” I rarely say “15 minutes” or 20″ minutes because those numbers are too round. When I say, “13 and a half minutes” they know I’m serious.


10. Create rituals and stick with them

This is effective with physical and virtual workshops. For example, in our World Class Speaking Coach Certification teleseminar classes, we start each week off with “Check-ins.” Check-ins include anything our participants want to share from the previous week and they can include successes, challenges, questions related to that week’s content, etc.

Another ritual we have for that course is at the end of each call, we do “Takeaways.” These include anything the participants picked up in the call. Rituals give your participants a sense of routine which leads to a higher, safer comfort level with you.

In many of my physical workshops, we’ll share our “Keepers” each time we come back from break. These include anything the participants have found very helpful, from the previous module, that they feel they’ll use.


Your Turn

What is one suggestion you have for energizing your workshops and/or mastering the environment for optimal learning.


3 Responses to “21 Ways to Energize Your Workshops and Seminars”

  • A terrific collection of strategies. Just the information I need as I begin to prepare for lengthier seminars. Thanks, Craig.

  • Fantastic post, Craig! Thank you for this one on Workshops!

    I have found it helpful to start with tables pushed together as islands, with maybe 4 or 5 at each group. This makes it easier to move about among them, and also for participants to stand up and share comments from each table with the whole group.

    You can also have participants brainstorm with key words and phrases on Post It Notes, and them have them all post tgeir notes on a common flip chart or white board, to get them out of their seats and shft perspective.

    I tried this yesterday at a seminar in Hiroshima Prefecture, and the participants were overflowing with ideas and enthusiasm.

  • These are really good points for presentations. I especially like the music in the room. It works. When I gave a workshop on Japanese Flower arranging, Ikebana, we had Japanese music playing as the participants came in. It really set the tone. This is easy to do when there is thematic music that relates to the topic, not so easy when the topic is more general.

    Although they all were good ideas, this one stuck with me and I’ll try to do it more regularly.

    As usual, I thank you for excellent, useful information.

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Seeded Spontaneity – A Speaker’s Secret Weapon for Humor

Whenever I speak to the youth, I end up being the one who gets inspired! Tulsa, Oklahoma

Whenever I speak to the youth, I end up being the one who gets inspired! Tulsa, Oklahoma

What is seeded spontaneity? It’s a way to uncover humor by creating a seemingly spontaneous moment that is actually planned. Here’s how I do it. I plant a question or statement that I know will get my audience members to reply in a certain way. Once they reply, I simply reply with my planned funny line.

The best way to understand this is to listen to a quick example from the middle of one of my stories. Click the player below.


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The question is the seed and I know someone is going to eventually reply with, “Where are you going?” because that’s what people always ask on planes. My reply is prepared and it works everywhere. Once I hear “Where ya goin?” I say, “Hopefully we’re going to the same place.” It seems spontaneous but I planted that seed with the question and knew it would blossom with their reply.

Then I added two tag-on lines about dropping me off over Santa Clara and got two more softer laughs. I love this type of “Seeded Spontaneity” humor because my audience is involved in generating the laugh. People buy-into what they help create.


Here’s another example of planting a question (seed), knowing the response I will eventually get, and replying with a humorous line.


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Did you catch what I planted there? I was waiting for someone to say “Procrastination” so I could reply with, “Yes, procrastination…it took you a while to answer.” Usually this happens sooner but what happened in this particular audience? They weren’t saying it! Finally I baited them into saying it by starting the word “Pro…” and they finished with “Procrastination.” They still laughed but it works better when I don’t have to bait them.

So why did I share that particular clip? Because there’s a secret here. This is the dirtiest little secret I have in speaking and, frankly, I should be ashamed…but I’m not. Ready. Here it is.

I don’t have to wait for someone to say procrastination, because I know someone is thinking it.

If they think it, I say it

So nowadays, if nobody says it, I just say, “Did someone say, ‘Procrastination?’ Wow, it took you a while to answer.”


Make Sure It Makes Sense

There’s one situation in which this particular seed will not grow into humor. Can you guess what that is? It’s when someone yells “Procrastination” right away. That won’t work because I can’t say, “It took you a while to answer” when they answer immediately. Get it? So all of these calculations go into what I’ll do and when I’ll do it. It generates lots of laughs when you use seeded spontaneity and it makes your audience a co-creator of your speech. The good news is you can do it 10 times during a speech and it won’t get old. Remember, people buy into what they help create.



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