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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”

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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!

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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.



2 Responses to “How to Use Humor in a Serious Speech”

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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”

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

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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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A Must for Speakers – How to Create Unforgettable Scenes

Speaking in Japan

Speaking in Japan

Speaking involves a series of scenes that you create for your audience to experience. The better you establish these scenes, the better your audience connection will be.

If you grasp the process in this lesson, your audience members will have no choice but to be wrapped up in your stories feeling like they were there when the stories took place.


The Importance of the Senses

When you create a scene, it is important to engage your audience members’ senses. Why? Because you want them to feel like they were there…like they saw what you saw, heard what you heard, and felt what you felt. Many speakers understand this but even many of those speakers violate this process one way or another. I know I used to.


Check the VAKS

The process is called Checking the VAKS and there are certainly some dos and don’ts when it comes to using this process. Let’s explore the process and then look at the mistake many speakers make when using it…or should I say abusing it.

VAKS stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Smell. When you invite your audience members into your scene, you want to make sure that at least some of these VAKS are present. Listen closely to this 18-second audio clip and see if you can point out the VAKS.

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What could you see in that scene?

Answer: The black sofa.

What could you hear in that scene?
Answer: You could hear my wife. That is why I specifically used the word heard so that I could reach the auditory learners.

What could you feel in that scene?
Answer: My audiences usually say, “I could feel the leather.” Sometimes they say, “I could feel the love.” Either way, they are feeling something, right?

What could you smell in my scene?
Answer: The cookies. In fact, you might even have been able to taste them, which of course is another sense. I checked the VAKS in this story. Make sure you do the same with your scenes.


Why Should You Check the VAKS?

One of the reasons checking the VAKS is so important is because your audience members learn in different ways. Some are primarily visual learners. Some are primarily auditory. Some are more kinesthetic, meaning they need to feel like they’re experiencing it. Also, the sense of smell brings back memories more effectively than any other sense. So check the VAKS but…


Here are 3 Important Caveats about Checking the VAKS

Caveat Number 1

What did you notice about the time it took me to check the VAKS in my scene? It was short, wasn’t it? We’re talking about fewer than 10-15 seconds to set that scene and invite my audience into it.

Make sure you set your scene quickly so you do not take away from your story. If you drone on and on about the VAKS, you will lose your audience because you will not get to the conflict (the hook) of the story fast enough.

I’ve seen speakers check the VAKS way too long by saying things like, “As I traversed across the countryside and the leaves crumpled under my feet and the flowers blossomed and touched the tip of my nostril tendons…” I’m like, “That’s not a speech, that’s a novel!”

Speak like you talk; not like you write”


This is just my opinion but I don’t think you should use words in your speeches that you don’t use in your everyday conversations. Why? Because it’s inauthentic. It’s not you. Speak like you talk.

Caveat number one is to check the VAKS quickly so you can move on with the story and keep your audience’s interest.


Caveat number 2

In addition to the length, also try not to make the VAKS too poetic. In a speech, your language should once again reflect the language you would use when talking to a friend.


Caveat number 3

Don’t force the VAKS. Even if you only give 3 of the 4 VAKS when you set your scene, you should be in good shape. Don’t force it.

For example, if there’s no distinct smell, don’t force the smell. After all, sometimes the other cues will provide clues and you won’t have to specifically refer to the smell. For example, if I said, “It was in the middle of a horse farm,” a smell will probably already pop into your mind. Don’t force any of these VAKS.


Your Turn to Share a Scene

Do you have a scene you’ve created? If so, please feel free to share it here. People remember what they see so I look forward to being brought into your visual scene.



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What is the Biggest Tease in Speaking?

Tease them before you tell them.

That’s a phrase I came up with that reminds me (and others) to not simply deliver information but to make your audience hungry for it. Why? Because they’ll value it more and probably digest it better.


There are several ways to tease them before you tell them.

Attain Tease

For example, before you go into a point, you can tease your audience by letting them know what they can attain (achieve or become) by heeding the upcoming point. Here’s an example:

“If you get this next point…I mean if you REALLY grasp it, you’ll find yourself moving towards your goals and dreams even while you’re asleep.”

Here’s another example:

“How would you like a tool to make a deeper connection with your audience than you’ve ever felt before?”


Avoid Tease

Similarly, you can let your audience know what they can avoid by grabbing hold of your next point. Here’s an example:

“Have you ever given a speech you wish you could take back? Me too. Well, I promise you that will happen much less often after today because you’re about to pick up tools to help you keep your audience on the edge of their seats and make them glad they came.”

As you can see, this type of tease shows them what they can avoid (i.e. giving a speech they wish they could take back).


Tease Throughout

The “Attain” and “Avoid” teases work best when you’re transitioning from one point to the other. However, there is something you can do while making your point that will keep your audience hungry for the message. You can do this throughout your entire speech each time you actually make your point and you’ll be able to hear a pin drop during the process.

Before we dive into it, click the player below to listen to this very quick story and see if you can pick up what I did immediately before making my point.

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The Biggest Tease

Oftentimes the biggest tease is silence. If you noticed, after the last line in my story, I said, “My son taught me something very important about self-development…about being remarkable.” Then I just went silent for a few beats before I said, “Never stop asking questions.”

Years ago I wouldn’t have delivered the line that way (of course I didn’t have this particular story years ago so I’m referring to any of my stories). Instead, I would have tried to set it up even more by saying, “My son taught me something very important about self-development…about being remarkable. What he taught me was to to never stop asking questions.”

The problem with doing it that way is it lessens the tease. Why? Because there’s no silence. There’s no waiting for it. Plus, let’s be honest. What happens when we go silent during our speech? Everyone looks up and stops what they’re doing to see what you’re going to say next. So instead of trying to set it up with words, set it up with silence.

Silence is the set up


Silence is often the biggest tease

Haven’t you ever seen a movie where something happens that temporarily renders one of the characters speechless? In those instances, I find myself enthralled with what that character is going to do or say next. It’s the same with speakers. We can use silence to our advantage on a regular basis as we move from our story (or activity) to our point.


Your Turn

Try it out. The next time you move from your story to your point, instead of setting the point up with words, just be silent. I believe you’ll see how powerful it is when you finally (make them wait for it) state your point. Let me know how it works for you. I’ll be waiting.

Let your silence speak.

The Speak and Prosper Course begins on December 5th! Register now at

The Speak and Prosper Course begins on December 5th! Register now at

2 Responses to “What is the Biggest Tease in Speaking?”

  • Sanjiv:

    Thank you for this Craig. It’s brilliant. I’ve already got some ideas about exactly where in my next speech I’m going to use Silence, to tease.

  • Paul:

    Hello Craig,

    Fabulous article. Are there any other ways of teasing an audience?

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My Biggest Speaking Mistake and Two Tools That Fixed It

Having fun with my audience in South Africa

Having fun with my audience in South Africa

Can Being Content-Rich Make Your Speaking Poor?

I’ve always prided myself in being a content-rich speaker so imagine my surprise when I had the following conversation after a speech. A couple ladies cornered me and said, “You had a lot of content in your speech.” I said, “Thank you.” Then they said, “We mean you had too much content.”

At first I thought, “Too much content? I’ve spent all this time striving to be a content-rich speaker and now they’re telling me I have too much content?” Guess what? They were right.

The problem with having too much content is just what one of the ladies told me. She said, “As soon as I’d begin writing something down, you’d say something else worth remembering and I wouldn’t catch it. Because you shared so many points, I’m afraid I won’t recall any of them.”


Here’s the problem many speakers will face if we are not careful

When we start to know more and more about our topic, inevitably that “more” ends up finding its way into our speech. What’s important to realize about speaking is that oftentimes less is more. Just because you know more doesn’t mean you have to show more within that particular speech.


When you say everything, you say nothing


After providing great value, it’s okay to leave them wanting more especially if you put that “more” into a next step such as a book, blog, or even a follow-up speech.


Here are two great solutions to keep your audience from feeling lost or overwhelmed

 Tool # 1:Call Back Before Your Move Forward

Tighten up your structure by calling back to each major point before you move onto the next point. For example, once I finish making my point about “Selling the Results,” I’ll transition into the next point by saying something like, “Never sell a product, always sell the result. Always put the result before the resource. Always put the result before the request.” Then, and only then, will I move onto my next R, which is about Relationships.

Then, every time I finish my other points, I make sure to call back to every single one of the points I already covered. This becomes almost like a chorus in a song that your audience starts to remember and sometimes even sing along (so to speak). For one of my speeches, I’ll call back to Selling the Results, building remarkable Relationships, and Reforming to a better way. Regularly calling back before moving forward makes your message very clear and prevents your audience members from getting lost.


Tool #2: Use my “10 to 1 Rule of Thumb.”

Part of my mistake was that I tried to fit too many points into too little time. Now I use my “10 to 1 Rule of Thumb.” For every 10 minutes I speak, I feel I can make an average of one point that I can illustrate effectively and make palatable for my audience.

Therefore, if I’m asked to speak for 45 minutes, I’ll often do my 4 Rs to Remarkable Results speech. If I’m asked to speak for 30 minutes, I often do my 3 Rs to Remarkable Results speech. The key is to heed the old speaker proverb that, “When you squeeze your information in, you squeeze your audience out.” By using a similar formula to my “10 to 1 Rule of Thumb,” you’ll move towards much greater clarity and your message will be easily digested.


So What Can We Learn from This?

Being content-rich should not include filling your audience up with content until they overflow. Instead, it should be about giving them a few solid, memorable, and actionable ideas that they can use to improve their lives. Indeed less is more. I’ll leave it at that.

16 Responses to “My Biggest Speaking Mistake and Two Tools That Fixed It”

  • Hi Craig, as always your advice is great. In the afternoon I will start a trainer-training here in Salzburg – and your two rules will be exactly what I will teach them :)
    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Arno Fischbacher

  • Dennis Carlsen:

    Thanks Craig: I appreciate your transparency/candidness/humility. You share how things didn’t go so well for you and how we can learn from it. These are great teaching moments.

  • I find your advise really really valuable. I am a member of the Toastmasters Club and still learning all the time.


  • MiKO:

    It’s true. I work in retail beauty and these days, less is more is in fashion.
    I recently gave a speech about the 2013-14 TM president, George Yen interview on the TM podcast.
    I found that even though I had cut back on some of the info,
    my little 5-7 minute speech, still had a lot of content, and as interested as I was,
    I realized that if I shorten it again, it will be a great PR vehicle.

  • Thanks Craig. I’ve let this rule slip recently as I feel the urge to include “just one more thought”…then another. All so “important”! Writing a speech is easy. Editing it is the hard part for me. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Linda Cohran:

    I just evaluated a speaker on giving details on each of his points, rather than selecting 2 or 3 points to address in detail. We all got lost in his speech and were waiting for it to end. So thanks for making it even more clear to me as to why we shouldn’t attempt to jam pack our speech. Best of all, I like your point about requesting to return to cover more points. Now that’s a winner & creates more opportunities to speak and more income!

  • Craig,

    You are the best! I’ve been receiving your “52 Tips” ever since you spoke at NSA DC last year. Content rich? Yes. It was very smart of you to stretch the info you shared over 52 weeks instead of packing everything into just a couple of emails!

    Balancing content so that it’s “Goldilocks right” (not to much, not too little) is an art you seem to have mastered.

    Warm regards,

    Fran Ponick
    NSA member

  • Hi Craig,

    once again you deliver your failure and therefore become more authentic and credible. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    Michael Geerdts

  • Sanjiv Banerji:

    Craig, I heard you speak at the Infosys campus in Mysore. I stood by you for a photo. But here the important fact: Eight months later, at 48, I left my ‘good job’ that was holding me back. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

    You sparked that decision. I thank you.

    I have read / heard almost everything you’ve put out. But reading stuff like this again, made me realize there more work to be done. Keep sending, I’m reading. I’m listening. I’m also buying :-)

  • craig:

    Sanjiv, congratulations on your decision! I am glad it’s working out for you and I’d love to see how you’re doing as you move forward with your goals and dreams. Stay in touch!

  • craig:

    Thanks Michael!

  • craig:

    Thanks so much Fran!

  • craig:

    Thanks Linda. That’s absolutely right!

  • craig:

    You’re welcome Kathy. I’m constantly reminding myself as well.

  • craig:

    Thanks Miko for your input.

  • craig:

    You’re welcome Susan.

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15 Delivery Tools to Make a Greater Impact with Your Audiences

418528_10150724801873982_716797800_nA great message delivered poorly becomes a poor message. Here are 15 delivery-related ideas that can help you connect with your audience deeper than you’ve felt before.


15 Delivery Tools

ONE: Take a Deep Breath. Believe it or not, taking a deep breath when you speak gives your audience time to digest what you’ve been saying and makes them anticipate what you’re about to say. Think about it. In a normal conversation, if someone takes a deep breath before saying something, what do you think? Usually you feel that something heavy is coming, right? Well, you can use that to your advantage onstage. I’ve used it regularly and it almost becomes its own transition between a point I’m leaving to a point I’m about to begin.

TWO: Put Your Face in the Space. Your facial expressions are more important than all of your arm and hand movements combined. The eyes are indeed the windows to the soul. What you do with them can make or break your entire speech. After all, it’s not the line, but the look before and after the line, that makes the line work. Use the space between your lines. Put your face in the space.

 THREE: Use your character’s gestures. Keep in mind that speaking involves utilizing captivating stories to make your unforgettable points. Each story has its own characters and each character probably has his or her own way of gesturing. When you take on the role and persona of that character, you should use his or her gestures…not your own. While rehearsing and remembering your story, consistently ask yourself, “How did this character say this?” Feel free to exaggerate a bit to bring the character to life.

 FOUR: Don’t Travel Too Far Between Your Characters. I see many speakers give a line of dialogue from one character to another and then take a step or two all the way to a completely different spot on the floor to give the response from the other character. That’s not necessary. If you turn your head slightly, that indicates that the second character is now talking. Of course, it helps to use a bit of narration such as, “…and he looked at me and said, “Get outta here” when you pivot or turn your head.

 FIVE: Let the emotions drive your gestures. The emotions in your story and in your points will drive your gestures. If you are under the influence of your own emotions (as Dale Carnegie said) while telling your story or making your point, the appropriate gestures will come. It will be effortless. Think about it. When you’re really angry at someone or something, do you have to think about what gestures to use? No, they come automatically. If you build the emotion, the gestures will come.

 SIX: Gesture 360 Degrees. Many speakers gesture in front of themselves and on the side. Effective speakers realize there is an entire area around them and they utilize it. Feel free to gesture down for the lower dimension. For example

  • When I speak about a swamp tour my wife and I took, I talk about the alligators that surrounded the boat. At that point I gesture downwards with the open hand.
  • Then I describe the trees that were hanging down as if they were trying to grab onto us. At that point I gesture upwards to the upper dimension using my hands to emulate how the trees hung and swayed.
  • At times I point behind me to the back of the stage or in front of me out into the audience.
  • I might point to my right to signify the past and point to my left to signify the future as I use the stage as a timeline. The key is to go up, down, back, forth, and side to side in order to paint a whole (surround-sense) scene for your audience in order to invite them into it.

SEVEN: Scan and Stop. When I’m having a conversation with my audience (and I’m not in one of my stories), I like to scan the room with my eyes until I come to my Foundational Phrase or something else that’s very important. At that time I stop and look directly at one person and give a phrase such as, “Put the result before the request.” I hold that person’s gaze for the entire phrase and then I move back to scanning.

EIGHT: Take Off the Spice. One of the most powerful tools I learned late in my career (when I was more than a decade into it) is to take off the spice. In my case I had to unlearn what I learned when it came to projecting my voice. I thought you always had to project and have high energy. The reality is that gets tiring for your audience. Instead, there are several times in a speech where it’s important to stop projecting and stop being dynamic. Instead, just speak monotone (yes monotone) to let that space breathe. Then, after a bit of this, you can get back into a compelling story and your audience will be right there with you.

NINE: Don’t use the same gesture over and over again. This is evidence of a habit and most likely distracts from your presentation. One of the best ways to fix this is to video record your presentation and watch it with the sound off and in fast motion. I learned this from Ed Tate, the 2000 World Champion of Public Speaking. If there is any repeating gesture, you will definitely see it when you watch the video in this manner.

TEN: Look, Leave, and Lean. It’s very effective to be inside of one of your stories and then look at the audience and temporarily leave your scene by leaning out of that story’s space on the floor. I like to do this when I ask a question. For example, I have a story where I say, “The doctor walked in with his white coat and glasses…[taking my eyes off the scene and looking into the eyes of my audience, I physically lean out of the scene a bit towards my audience as I continue]…now raise your hand if you have kids? Great, then you know the doctor is going to measure what?” Once they answer, I step right back into my scene and my eyes go back the character I’m speaking to and not to my audience.

 ELEVEN: Watch out for your resting position. This is the position your hands fall to when you’re not using a gesture. For example, my hands used to fall together in front of me with my fingers interlocking. It was distracting.

 TWELVE: Don’t move all the time. If you are always moving then no movement will be meaningful. Your audience will never know what’s most important. Move with a purpose. When there is no reason to move, don’t. Let the action in your story prompt your movement on stage. If the character bends down to pick something up, go ahead and bend down to pick something up.

THIRTEEN: Use an open hand. It’s better to point to your audience with an open hand rather than an index finger. It’s less threatening and more inviting. The open hand is also effective when calling back to spots on the floor as you revisit the points, characters, and stories you previously used.

 FOURTEEN: Match the size of your gestures with the size of your audience. Use bigger gestures for bigger audiences. There’s rarely a reason to use a very wide gesture in front of 10 people.



Your Turn

What have you found to be important and effective regarding delivery?

2 Responses to “15 Delivery Tools to Make a Greater Impact with Your Audiences”

  • Juanita Shell:

    Thank you for this detailed analysis of the layout of an effective keynote. I noted that you left no stone unturned. You captured when to breathe, use one’s emotions, gestures, dialogue between characters, descriptions, pauses
    projecting your voice, when to speak in a monotone, use open hand gestures, revisit points, characters and stories, match the size of gestures to the size of the audience, pay attention the position of your hands and smile. Thank you for your generosity and for caring and sharing. I found all of information that you mentioned important and it was a lesson in refining one’s delivery to the nth degree.

  • Thank you, Craig for your valuable tips on how to keep audiences engaged and interested. When I watch old videos of the famous pianist and entertainer, Liberace, he does your “Delivery Tip # 15 in every one of his shows… he SMILES.
    Thanks you for sharing your knowledge with us. You are a fantastic mentor to me! :)

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Make Your Speeches More Visual and Memorable with 3 Tools

Speaking at the Lady and the Champs Conference. Join us for the next one at

Speaking at the Lady and the Champs Conference. Join us for the next one at

Patricia Fripp once said to me, “Craig, people will not remember what you say as much as they will remember what they see when you say it.” In other words, we have to make our speeches very visual in order to have the deepest impact. Here are 3 ways to accomplish this:

Tool # 1: Put Your Audience Members Somewhere In Your Scene

Storytelling is not about re-stating what happened. It is about reliving what happened and inviting your audience into your “re-living room.” For example, listen to the following excerpt from one of my speeches:

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Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: You are sitting on the sofa beside my wife and me.

I set the scene up so that you are actually in it, hearing what was said and re-living it with me. Re-stating (narrating) always puts your speech in the past. However, when you put your audience into your re-living room, it is as if they are actually in the present as the story unfolds. Here are some other ways I bring audience members into my scene:

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Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: In my passenger’s seat


Here’s another one.

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Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: On my telephone


Yet another one

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Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: Walking into the doctor’s office with my wife, my daughter, and me


 One final example

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Question: Where are you in my scene?

Answer: Walking towards me in the Chicago Airport


 Important note:

You do not always have to make bringing them into the scene the first thing you do in the story. Sometimes I introduce characters and tap into my audience with a question before I actually bring them into my scene. However, when you put a story together, always ask, “Where in my scene will I place my audience members?”


One Caveat about putting your audience members in your scene

Recently I have seen many speakers say something like this, “If you had been sitting next to me…” This is fine. However, later in the same speech they say, “If you had been standing next to me…” That’s not fine. When you bring your audience members into your scene, you have to find ways to mix it up. Don’t bring them in the same way each time. Be creative with it.



Tool #2: Check The VAKS

When you create a scene, it is important to engage your audience members’ senses. VAKS stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Smell. When you invite your audience members into your scene, you want to make sure these VAKS are present. Here is the same excerpt from my sofa speech. Listen to it again and then answer the questions below it.

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Visual question: What could you see in that scene?

Answer: The black sofa.


Auditory question: What could you hear?

Answer: You could hear my wife. That is why I specifically used the word “heard” so that I could reach the auditory learners.


Kinesthetic question: What could you feel?

Answer: My audiences usually say, “I could feel the leather.” Sometimes they say, “I could feel the love.” I usually respond with, “Love and leather always go together.”


Smell question: What could you smell in my scene?

Answer: The cookies. In fact, you might even been able to taste them, which of course is another sense. So I checked the VAKS in this story. Make sure you do the same with your scenes.


Two Important Caveats about Checking the VAKS

Make sure you set your scene quickly so you do not take away from your story. If you drone on and on about the VAKS, then you will lose your audience because you will not get to the conflict (the hook) of the story fast enough. I try to set my scenes and check the VAKS within about 10 seconds (15 at the most).

Also, try not to make the VAKS too poetic. Poetic is fine for a novel, but a speech needs to sound more realistic. In other words, use words you would use in everyday conversation, as if you are talking to a friend.

Speak like you talk, not like you write



Tool #3 Give Your Characters a Hint

Your characters are the stars of your speech and it is difficult for an audience to connect with characters they cannot envision. The key as a speaker is to just give a hint to what your characters look and act like. For example, check out the following excerpt from one of my stories:

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How do you see her in your mind? Petite and pink are just small hints that give the audience momentum to start filling in the rest of her. That is the key. In order for your audience to own a piece of your character, they need to create part of that character.

If you give too much descriptive information, you take away your audience’s ownership. People buy into what they create, so let them buy into your characters by creating them. On the other hand, if you provide little information (i.e. no hint) your audience will not have much to go on and so they probably will not see anyone in their mind.


Here are several creative ways to give a hint


Give it in dialog: You can have one character say, “Oh wow, I like the new look. When did you become a blonde?”

Give it in posture: Give your character a certain posture or specific gestures while he or she speaks. For example, for the old homeless lady I have in one of my stories, I take a posture that is slightly bent at the waste and speak almost as if I am lecturing in a grandmotherly way. Your audience will remember what they see so make sure you take on the physical characteristics of your character.

Give it in the voice: The way your character sounds will help your audience see him or her. For example, I have a story about when I am 10 years old and I run into a man I call Mr. H. Mr. H is a father of one of my friends and I give his lines in a slightly raspier voice than normal. Of course he also takes a posture of an authority figure in my life at that time.

Later on in the story, as I fast-forward 18 years, it becomes rather amusing that I now take the authority stance as I tower over him when I speak. The voice I give him helps my audience picture him because they probably have people in their lives who speak like him. I do not care exactly how they see him; I just care that they see him.

The key is to understand that you can give more than verbal hints in order to help your audience see your characters.

FYI – For Mr. H., I also use dialog to give a hint of his description but it is way more subtle than “How did you become a blonde.” For example, I have him say to me, “I saw you in the newspaper. Brother, that is wonderful what you were able to accomplish.” The key word in that sentence is brother. The combination of the word brother and Mr. H’s voice and dialect gives my audience the impression that he is an African-American man about 25-30 years my senior. My audience is right.


One Caveat Regarding Posture and Voice

Do not go overboard with the posture or with the voice. It is distracting and annoying when a speaker takes on the character of a child and speaks in the child’s high-pitched voice. Instead, make everything subtle. You can speak in a slightly higher pitch and you can look up slightly too as a child would when speaking to a standing adult. The actual use of words and expressions in your eyes can be that of the child but there is no need to take on that child’s actual voice.


Your Turn

Do you put your audience members somewhere inside of your scene? If so, what the phrase you use to get them there?


 Final thoughts

If you use these three tools, not only will your speeches become more visual, but you will become more visible because more and more audiences will want to see you speak. As always, keep speaking up.

12 Responses to “Make Your Speeches More Visual and Memorable with 3 Tools”

  • “Do not go overboard with the posture or with the voice”, spot on! I see many
    people doing it, the “speech” almost becomes a “theater play”. Some speakers take the Project 5 body language and Proj 6 Vocal Variety, of Competent Comm. Manual, far too seriously…

  • I love what you do and have so much respect and admiration for not only how well you do it but also for how effective you are as a teacher of your craft.

    Being a subscriber of your 52 Tips I’m amazed at how every time I get a new one I feel like you have been with me at all the seminars and workshops I’ve attended over the last 20+ years and are just now “Breaking It All Down”, piece by piece and teaching me the structure and elements of what made the Great Ones… GREAT.

    I look forward to meeting you in person and would love the opportunity to work with you.

    Thank you Craig for all you do!

    Barry :)

  • Ron Gross:

    Craig, thanks for the good tips & examples. Together with the supporting guidelines, this communicates and educates your readers with practical methods to improve their speech effectiveness.

  • Hi Craig,

    Thanks for sharing this practical post. Making our speech visual is very important. To create a visual scene, I often start with phrases like “Imagine you’re…” and “Picture that…”. This will help the audience visualize my speech more effectively.

  • Thanks Craig- Great tips. Gave a presentation the other day and now that I’m reading your post, realize that I forgot about the VAKS. Thought it was missing something. Maybe it’s time I go through your program again :-)

  • Paul:

    Great article… as usual :)

    I usualy use a question like : Who had this challenge? or Have you ever had this challenge?

    I will start to use your formulas when introducing a story

  • craig:

    Thanks Paul.

  • craig:

    Thanks Mitch. Checking the VAKS definitely makes a difference. It’s nice to hear from you.

  • craig:

    Thanks Jonathan. Those are great ways to bring them into the scene. Keep it up.

  • craig:

    You’re welcome Ron. Thanks too!

  • craig:

    Thanks so much Barry. I truly appreciate your kind words!

  • craig:

    Suhail, I agree. It’s important to make subtle changes instead. Thanks!

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