So often I watch speakers tell stories that sound like this:
“I did this and I did that and then I did this and then I did that and then this happened to me and then I did that…” And then, at the end of the story, they turn to the audience and say, “And you should do it too!”
That is NOT an engaging message. The problem is the speakers lose the audience during all of the “I-focused” parts of the story.
There are many solutions to this speaking problem and the one you pick up in this lesson is a favorite of mine, because it’s simple, quick, and non-invasive. What I mean by non-invasive is that it doesn’t cut into your speech and leave scars. Instead it’s simply something you can apply to the surface that makes the speech more attractive. This tool is what I call You-focused check-ins. When it comes to your audience’s attention, always remember this:
When you check in they won’t check out
To keep your audience engaged throughout your stories, it’s important to check in with them. Many speakers check in after the story, but the key is to check in at before, during, and after. Listen to the first 2-minutes of the story and then read the notes that follow:
Using You-focused check-ins
Instead of simply going into my story and expecting my audience to follow along, I used you-focused check-ins to make sure my audience was constantly involved. Did you hear my audience staying involved? You can do the same.
Let’s go back over exactly what I said to keep them engaged. Here are just some of the check-ins I used (along with when they occurred) in this 2-minute story
Before: “Raise your hand if you feel like sometimes reality hurts?”
Before: “Have you ever stepped on a scale…and been forced to face reality?”
During: “Raise your hand if you have kids.”
During: “…then you know the doctor is always going to measure their length and their…weight.”
During: “I don’t know if you’ve ever been around somebody who just recently gave birth…”
After: Isn’t it interesting how, when things don’t seem to go our way…we don’t seem to measure up, it’s almost in our DNA to place the blame on somebody else.
Note: I used “our” in this instance because I wanted to include myself in this less-than-flattering habit.
Why does this work?
You-focused check-ins work because of the following speaking truth:
When they reflect, you connect
In a sense, when you keep having your audience reflect on their own lives (i.e. facing reality, stepping on a scale, having their children measured, being around a person who recently gave birth, placing blame, etc.) they continue to connect it to your story. Their reflection builds your connection and keeps them interested. After all, they know the story is not just about you but it’s also about them. They took part in it!
Remember, people buy into what they help create. You-focused check-ins make them part of the creation process.
5 Considerations when checking in with your audience
Consideration #1 – Use a soft “you”
They’re called You-focused check-ins for a reason. They usually use the word “You” or “Your.” If you re-listen to that 2-minute story, you will find at least 12 “yous” in it. In fact, I counted 14 “yous” in the first minute alone.
They are soft “yous” but they are “yous” nonetheless. I don’t like hard “yous” because they turn off audiences. Hard “yous” are when you say things like, “YOU have to do this and YOU have to do that.” That’s preaching. Soft “yous” are almost imperceptible.
Consideration #2 – Search for what you have in common
If you know you have something in common with your audience (i.e. kids), use a you-focused check-in and get the affirmation. That will keep your audience engaged because they can relate.
Consideration #3 – Use Questions and Statements
When you check in with your audience, you should think about different you-focused questions you can ask them that get them to reflect on their own lives. However, as you have heard, you-focused statements work very well too. Mix it up. Ask some questions and make some statements.
Consideration #4 – Step out of your Scene
You can also briefly step out of your scene and look at your audience as you check in with them. This is something I taught in my course called Dynamic Delivery Devices. Then, as soon as the quick check in is finished, you can immediately go back into your story with your characters speaking to each other rather than continuing to speak to your audience.
Consideration #5 – Acknowledge their responses and/or reactions
Really wait and acknowledge their response. For example, if you’ve asked them to raise their hands, look around the room and see whose hands are up. Your audience wants to be seen by you so don’t do what many speakers do when they ask and ignore. If you make a statement such as “I don’t know if you’ve ever been around someone who just recently gave birth,” look for the nodding heads or smiles or people who are expressing “Yes, I have!” Then go on with your story.
3 Caveats when doing You-focused Check-ins
Caveat #1 – Don’t take yourself out of the story too long with your check-in. It should be quick and subtle and along the path of your story. If you leave the story for too long, it will simply frustrate your audience and soon they’ll give up following you.
Caveat #2 – Don’t check-in the same way each time because then the audience will feel like it’s just a technique.
Caveat #3 – Don’t force it or overdo it. If it’s a natural question you feel like you really want the answer to or a statement that you can make organically along the path of the story, it should be okay. On the other hand, if you just keep asking, “Has that ever happened to you?” or “Have you ever felt that way?” your audience will start thinking, “Why does this speaker keep stopping to ask me if I understand him?”
When you check in, they won’t check out.
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Important Note: This lesson is about the introduction you provide for the person who introduces you.
Here is a Traditional Introduction for a Speaker
Do yourself a favor and read the following paragraph out loud as if you are using it to introduce the next speaker for an event. Really get into it.
“Our Next Speaker is the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking. With more than 175,000 Toastmasters in 68 countries, and over 25,000 contestants, he came home with the first prize trophy and a significant amount of national and international recognition. In addition, our speaker is absolutely oblivious to the fact that we could care less what he has done and that we are much more interested in what we will be able to do after hearing him. Moreover, our speaker seems to have no idea that we are simply hoping for his autobiographical introduction to end so we can start clapping as if we are interested.
Finally, he does not realize that we are beginning to say to ourselves, “His entire introduction is about him; therefore I bet his entire speech is about him also. Why did I even come here today?” So, with that said, please help me welcome the person who would have the least effective introduction in history if it were not for the thousands of other presenters who have introductions just like his; the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, Craig Valentine.”
What’s Wrong with that Introduction?
Do you get the point? How similar is your introduction to the one above? Is it about you or is it about what your audience will get out of your speech? Everything you do should be about the audience, including your introduction.
What Flavor is Your Speech?
Your introduction flavors your entire speech. You can use it to get the audience fired up and excited about what they are going to hear, or you can use it to boost yourself up in their eyes. You can use it to whet their appetite with the valuable tools they are sure to get from your presentation, or, again, you can use it to boost yourself up in their eyes.
Here is one thing I know for sure; once I changed my introduction from me-focused to you-focused, I gave myself an extreme advantage before I even said one word. You will too if you have an audience-focused (you-focused) flavor. Here’s how.
5 Ways to Fire Up Your Audience with Your Introduction
An effective introduction is the difference between starting off in a hole or on solid ground. Here are some nuts and bolts tools you can use in your introduction to get off to a great start with your very next speech. Do not go into your next speech without them.
Tool #1: Start it off about them. Make your very first sentence be about them. Instead of starting off with “Our next speaker today is the 1999 World Champion…,” start with something like the following:
“There is a definite process for keeping your audiences on the edge of their seats. It is not easy to come by and it is not easy to use. However, once you master it, you WILL find doors opening for you that you never even knew existed.”
You might have noticed there were 5 you (or your) words used in those two sentences. Make it you-focused first. Start with them not with yourself.
How many you-related words are in your introduction? Count them and make sure there are many more you-related words than there are I-related words.
Tool #2: Make a promise. Let them know not only what they will get, but also what those tools will empower them to do and to receive. In the example above, I tell them they will get a process that empowers them to keep their audiences on the edge of their seats and rewards them with more open doors and opportunities. That is a pretty compelling promise.
What you-focused compelling promise do you make with your introduction?
Tool #3: Build your credibility but only with your RELEVANT credentials – For example, I have a specific introduction for my old team-building workshops. This specific introduction includes a piece that mentions how I was on a team that won 3 consecutive East Coast Conference Championships and played in 2 NCAA March Madness tournaments as a Division 1 college basketball player. Because this part of my history relates to teams, it belongs in this introduction on teambuilding.
However, as proud as I am about those basketball accomplishments, do you think they belong in my introduction when the speech is about presentation skills? If I was sitting in the audience and I heard the introducer say, “Our presentation coach today was also a college basketball player,” I know I would be thinking, “Well, while he was dribbling up and down the court, was he giving speeches? If not, why do I care about his basketball past?”
Only use the relevant information no matter how well-rounded you are. Even if you are extremely proud of something, if it does not fit, do not force it. Instead, leave it out. Most of my audiences have no idea I ever picked up a basketball.
Is all the information in your introduction relevant to the subject at hand?
Tool #4: Use Your Intro as a Setup – When I begin speaking, I sometimes call back to my introduction by saying the following:
“Do you know, that even with all of those accolades, people still don’t like me? Do you know why they don’t like me…?”
I then go into a humorous story about why they do not like me, but it all is set up by the accolades (relevant ones) in my introduction. Find ways to make your introduction seamlessly feed into your speech. The late Charlie “Tremendous” Jones was the best I’d ever seen at doing this and it would get his speeches off to such great starts.
How do you currently tie your speech back into your introduction?
Tool #5: Take everything about you and turn it into everything for them. If you do this, your audience will be ready and excited to receive your message. For example, instead of stating “Craig Valentine is the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking” I could make that actually matter to them by saying, “The process you will pick up today helped our speaker become the 1999 World Champion and you can use it to become a speaker in high-demand.”
Do you get it? Turn everything about you into something for them. Doing this will get them fired up to hear your message. It tickles me now because when the introducer gets to the end up my introduction, he or she usually says, “Are you ready for the process?” At this point people actually begin yelling out, “Yes!” That’s great energy to walk into for a speech.
Are you turning everything about you into everything for them?
Follow the 5 guideposts listed here and watch as your audience members lean forward in their seats and anxiously await your presentation. That is how you ignite your audience with your introduction.
What you say after you are introduced is obviously critical as well. If you want the tools to put together an entire 30-90 minute keynote speech, click here.
Do you have an example of one of the 5 Guideposts above? If not, still feel free to make a comment. I look forward to hearing from you.
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Closing your speech with impact can open doors of opportunities because what you say last determines how your audience members feel once they leave your speech.
You can give a wonderful speech but, if the ending is weak, your audience will walk away feeling like the speech wasn’t very strong. So here are 4 keys you can use to strengthen your closing and your speech.
Key #1 Signal
Before you close your speech, you should signal that you are closing. Tell the audience that the end is near. However, you want to be more creative than saying, “In conclusion” or “In summary.”
I like to use picture words such as “Let’s wrap things up” or “As we come to the end of the road” or even “In closing (you can still picture something closing).” Whatever you do, let them know you are closing because here’s what will happen:
They’ll listen again!
That’s right. People have been trained to know that your closing means you are most likely going to reiterate your message and so their antennas go up.
Key #2 Call back
As you move into your closing, make sure you call back to each of the major points you made. For example, listen to this quick wrap-up of a message I gave once to an audience in Oklahoma.
You just heard me call back to 3 Ls (and it was the first time I ever gave that keynote). There is also another very important way to review your message. Have THEM say it! I blogged about this before, so click this link (http://bit.ly/drg9O3) for details on how you get your audience to say your message.
Key #3 Questions and Answers (Q & A)
You have probably heard me say, “Never end with the Q & A.” Why? It’s because people remember best what they hear first and what they hear last. Your message needs to be the absolute last thing in their ears. Therefore, it’s great to have a Q & A, but just don’t end with it. Have it about 90% of the way through your speech.
Key #4 Give a Lasting Anchor
Finally, once you’ve signaled that you’re closing, called back to your major points, and held a Q & A if appropriate, it’s time to move into your lasting anchor, which will most likely be a story. However, just like you should have been doing throughout your entire speech before you transitioned into the next point, it’s extremely important to tease them before you tell them. In other words, they already have your message so why should they listen to your final story? The answer is the tease.
Tease them to let them know what’s in it for them to stick around mentally for this last piece. Listen to how I tease and then go into my final story.
Once you tease them before you tell them, give them a powerful closing story that provides them with hope and proof that your message will work for them.
When you close with impact, you open more doors for your message and for you.
Can you give me an example of how you signal that you’re closing? Or simply leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.
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One of the ways you can get brought back (re-hired) time and time again is through customization. Your audience wants to know that you know who you’re speaking to and that it’s not canned but fresh.
Click the video below to see a lesson on one easy way to customize your program through what I call the Puzzle Piece approach.
Sample Speaking Secret
It’s about more than just names and places
Keep in mind this is not simply a technique of using someone’s name or location. With these puzzle pieces, it’s about finding something about them that stands out. For example, I once followed a contest where the speakers tried to gross each other out with their speeches. Click the audio below and listen to what I said in that same exact spot in my speech:
Same Spot, Different Words
In that same exact section of my speech, I have used the following lines based on something specific about my audience.
The stem was, “He doesn’t know that one day I’d wake up and speak…”
- …in my ultimate destination, Elko
- …to a wonderful group but WAY too early in the morning
- …in a room that feels like a frozen tundra
The point is, you can use anything about them or the situation that is interesting or noticeable.
Do you have a place in your speech that can be customized every single time with a word or sentence? Feel free to share it here or simply comment on this approach. I look forward to hearing from you.
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I have put out a few newsletter lessons on Energy Shifts but I figured now was time to SHOW it rather than just teach it. Take a look at the following video lesson and please forgive the very temporary mismatched audio and video. Energy shifts breathe new life into vital parts of your speech.
Please feel free to comment and/or give an example of an energy shift in one of your stories.
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One of the most important success factors in public speaking is your ability to customize your speech to make each audience feel like, “This has only happened here” and “This message is truly for us.”
In other words, they don’t want a “canned” speech. They want it to be fresh. You can accomplish this in a humorous way too and that’s where call backs come in to play.
What is a call back?
This is when you refer to something that happened previously in the event, right? Well, yes, but don’t forget to call back to the following as well. I call it the PEST formula for Call Backs.
P = Preparation – call back to something that happened as you Prepared for the event
E = Event – call back to something that happened during the Event
S = Speaker – call back to something one of the other Speakers said
T = Travel – call back to something that happened as you Traveled to the event
See for Yourself
Take a look at the video for a few examples of call backs I used to make a greater connection with my audiences and to have them feel like, “This has only happened here.”
What call backs have you given recently that worked?
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“You should use more visuals in your speeches.” What came to mind when you read that first sentence? Many speakers immediately think it means to use more PowerPoint or Keynote Slides.
While those may be valuable (when used well), you can also use other visuals to connect with your audience, uncover humor, and even evoke emotions.
I like to use pocket props, which are simply props that can fit into your pocket. I’ve seen speakers bring huge props onto the stage that take the attention away from the speaker. Pocket Props are good because you can use them and then hide them when you’re finished so that they no longer split your audience’s attention.
For example, take a look at the following video in which I used a small Pocket Prop that worked well in front of 4000 people at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina:
The letter from my daughter was the pocket prop. Let me ask you a quick question. Don’t you think I know that letter by heart? Of course I do. It’s memorized. How could I forget it? So why do I still take it out and read it? It’s because the prop (the letter) benefits me in multiple ways:
- It makes my audience more curious for what my daughter wrote. Like I always say, “Tease them before you tell them.”
- It lends credibility to the story because the letter is real. In fact, I often flash the letter to people in my front rows.
- You can even turn your prop around on your audience. For example, although I started my speech with humor about my daughter’s letter, what if I ended my speech with emotion by pulling the letter out again and then asking, “If your loved one wrote you a note today, what would it say?” The possibilities are endless when you start thinking of some of the items you have that have back-stories.
The bottom line is that story would not work as well without the letter.
How Can You Get the Best use out of the Prop?
With props, I like to give what I call a “StoryWrap.” This means I simply wrap a story around the prop. This can be quite humorous. For example, here’s a video of me using a prop to tell a story (to an audience in Hong Kong) about something that happened to me in Vancouver, BC.
Once again, this prop helped make my audience curious because, when I walked up on the stage, I’m sure they were asking, “Why is he still wearing that name tag?” I teased them before I told them. Believe me, that story would not have worked very well without having the nametag as a prop.
I simply wrapped a story around the prop and it drew laughs. However, you can also use these Props to deepen your connection with your audience.
Emotional Connection Through Props
For example, I once spoke to Middle School kids and shared a story of how I was able to receive a pair of shoes from one of my basketball idols. I built the value and the importance of the shoes throughout the story. At the end of the speech, I gave one of the students that pair of shoes. It was an emotional moment because of the story that was wrapped around the shoes. Also, I REALLY wanted to keep the shoes!
My Main Man Manley
Recently, the speaker I’ve seen use visuals the best is Manley Feinberg. It helps that Manley is a mountain climber. I coached Manley recently and saw some of his props that went very well with his stories and slides. He had a rope, a bag, a locking carabiner, an anchor, and even an admittance wrist-band from when he was bitten by a snake and taken to the hospital. All of these props were worked seamlessly into his stories and each item gained value because of it.
What I like the most is that Manley gives away some of his locking carabiners to his audience after his speech. In fact, after I coached him, he gave me one. Guess what was written on the side? VerticalLessons.com. That’s right, a well-used prop can even become good marketing for Manley or for you.
Your Turn – What’s a Proven Process for using Pocket Props?
- Take an item that’s important to you that may be in your home or office.
- What’s the story behind it? Why is it important? What does it signify?
- How can you make its meaning universal?
Making It Universal
Let’s just touch on that last point. Manley gave me a locking carabiner but I’m sure, by now, he knows that I will never climb a mountain. However, he uses the carabiner, rope, and anchor as a metaphor to show how you can support other people during their climb in life and that’s why the message becomes universal. It’s not just for mountain climbers, it’s for anyone on any climb. That’s why I keep his locking carabiner on my desk. It’s a reminder for me to “Keep others on belay.”
When using visuals, it’s important to think beyond slides and to dig into your own life and find items that are meaningful to you and can become meaningful to others. If it changed your life then it can touch theirs. Whether it’s a letter or a carabiner, it’s really a reminder of your message.
Okay, I’ve said enough. Now it’s time to go back to being the best daddy in my whole family.
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Have you ever been advised to ask questions in your speeches?
It’s sound advice, because questions can benefit you and your audience in many ways. However, I’ve seen many speakers destroy their speeches because of how they asked their questions.
Are You Really Interested?
I’ve seen speakers ask questions only to have their audience members feel like the speaker isn’t really interested in their answers. They realize the speaker doesn’t intend to have a true dialogue and is simply asking questions because someone told him or her to do so.
Are you watching your watchers?
As a speaker, it’s critical to have your audience feel that you’re watching and listening to them while they’re watching and listening to you. That’s the exchange of energy. That’s the real connection.
In the following coaching video, Isaak picks up some advice that can help him start off his speech with a connection rather than a rejection. See for yourself.
Note: Thanks to Lewis Roth for shooting this video.
3 Important Questions to Ask About Your Questions
-Are you splitting longer questions into shorter ones?
-Are you looking at different parts of the audience as you deliver each question?
-Are you waiting long enough for your audience to answer your question in their own minds?
Although Isaak’s questions were at the beginning of his speech, this lesson applies to wherever you decide to ask your questions. Shorter, punchier, clearer questions beat longer, junky, ambiguous ones all the time. Don’t you agree?
What are some short questions you ask during your speech?
How do you know how long to wait before you continue speaking?
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In our new Teleseminar entitled Storytelling: From Lackluster to Blockbuster (available on August 18th), Michael Hauge and I discussed 4 types of characters that can save your stories and make them MUCH more interesting.
In the following excerpt, you’ll hear about two of these characters and get a quick idea of the ways they can propel your stories to new heights. Once you listen to the 3-minute clip, feel free to reply to any or all of the questions below.
Questions About These Valuable Characters
Why do you think you shouldn’t be the Guru of your own story most of the time? There are exceptions of course.
When do you think it IS a GOOD time to be the Guru of your own story?
What are at least 2 ways the Reflection Character helps bring your story to life?
Even though you only heard a short part of our conversation about the Nemesis, how do you feel the Nemesis can make your story more intriguing?
Are you ready for August 18th?
On Tuesday August 18th, you’ll be able to pick up more than 35 storytelling tools, ideas, principles, and strategies that can make you a spellbinding storyteller whose message sticks. On that date, you’ll be able to access and download the Storytelling: From Lackluster to Blockbuster teleseminar replay (1 hour and 43 minutes long) that will likely change the way you see your stories and your speeches moving forward.
Note: I was going to wait until later this fall to release this teleseminar, but, when I went back and listened to it, I realized this content is too valuable to sit on and I felt compelled to release it sooner.
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A couple of weeks ago I recorded a storytelling Teleseminar with Michael Hauge, a highly-successful Hollywood Script Consultant and Story Expert. I expected to learn a few good tips but ended up being blown away by his content. My stories (and your stories when you heed his advice) will never be the same again. They’ll be much improved and make even more of an impact.
3 Quick Keys
Below are 3 very quick storytelling excerpts from the Teleseminar. I strongly suggest that you participate in this post. How? Listen to each audio and then answer the questions I have underneath. You can answer them just for yourself or post your answers in the comments section. Either way, your stories will thank you.
Oh, and this is just the very tip of the iceberg of the teleseminar (which includes more than 25 solid and sometimes rarely used storytelling tips) that will be available in early August.
This first audio is simply what Michael describes as THE primary objective of storytelling
Questions – what story elements do you believe help you meet the primary objective of storytelling that Michael mentioned? Which element(s) do you feel you do well? What do you think you could do better to achieve this primary objective?
This next clip provides a fantastic piece of advice for describing your characters and making them real for your audience.
Question – What’s one example of a character in one of your stories that you can describe using Michael’s advice?
This final clip includes one key (one of dozens) that will help your story achieve the primary objective of storytelling mentioned in the first audio clip of this post.
Question – When does the EXACT moment of conflict happen in your story?
I look forward to hearing from you!