Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 201) – Martha Graham

Martha Graham (1894 - 1991) American Dancer and Choreographer

Martha Graham (1894 – 1991) American Dancer and Choreographer

“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”

— Martha Graham

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Join me for a live interview

This Tuesday, 12 May 2015, I will be interviewed on Google on Air by presentation design expert, Timo Sorri. The subject is public speaking, business presentations and the second edition of our one-day seminar / workshop, Master the Art of Presenting.

Last year, Timo and I organized and hosted this event in Helsinki, Finland. It was a great success and this year, we will be back in Helsinki with the second edition (and a new line-up of speakers and subjects) on 10 September 2015. It promises to be a great event. You can find all the details here.

The Google on Air interview will begin on 12 May 2015 at 13:00 (Central European Time), 14:00 (Eastern European Time) and 7:00 (Eastern Time in North America). I hope that you can join me!

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Seize every opportunity

Two days ago, my wife and I went to the theatre here in Geneva. We saw Blue Butterfly, an original play written and performed by a talented group of people, the majority of whom are scientists. The play is clever, complex and insightful. Its genesis can be traced to a group of artists and scientists “sitting in a room swapping stories, sharing passions and searching for common ground”.

bluebutterflyYesterday, I was back at the theatre, but not as a member of the audience. It was the final performance of Blue Butterfly in Geneva and some of the members of the troupe asked if I could moderate an open Question and Answer session with the audience at the end of the play.

This meant giving up a few hours of my Saturday evening, doing some preparatory work, arriving during the intermission, spending most of my time backstage and, finally, introducing and moderating the half-hour session. A fair bit of effort. Why did I do it?

First and foremost, I was glad to be able to help out a great group of people who have put a tremendous amount of work into creating and staging this play. I know a few of the cast members personally, including a good friend with whom I do improv—more on improv in a future post—and it was nice to be of some service to them.

Second, it was an excellent opportunity to get some public speaking practice. I went on stage in front of a very engaged audience of about 125 people, gave a short introduction, got things rolling by asking the first question and then fielded queries from the audience. For 30 minutes, I moderated the session, drew out questions from the audience, engaged different members of the cast (who were also on stage), injected a bit of humour and, when questions weren’t immediately forthcoming, kept the flow going by asking my own.

In the end, I did not have to speak a whole lot; perhaps five minutes in total. That’s much less than the time I usually speak at other events. But that’s five more minutes of public speaking experience under my belt. And that’s the point. Becoming a good speaker is a cumulative process. Whenever we speak in public, even for a few minutes, that’s a few more minutes of public speaking experience.

In my previous post, I quoted my friend, Florian Mueck, who compares public speaking to a mountain without a top. We’ll never reach perfection, but we can all climb higher. The way to climb is to speak. Look, if you want to be a good dancer, you have to dance; if you want to be a good writer, you have to write; if you want to be a skier, you have to ski. And if you want to be a good speaker, you have to speak.


For those of you in the Lake Geneva region who did not see Blue Butterfly in Geneva, I have good news. The play will be staged in Lausanne for three nights this week: 8-10 May 2015. Tickets are going fast—I believe that one performance might already be sold out—so reserve yours here.

Blue Butterfly is the story of a young family grappling with demanding careers, an abnormal child, and fundamental forces of nature. Natalie and Simon are struggling scientists who resort to TEDx Talks and TV to thrust their research into the spotlight, while their brilliant but dangerous seven-year-old daughter gravitates towards her grandmother’s mystical beliefs. Their research into cancer, parasitism and immunology echoes the complex dynamics of a family blind to their own dysfunction. 

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 200) – Florian Mueck

Florian Mueck - German Professional Speaker and Trainer

Florian Mueck – German Professional Speaker and Trainer

“Public speaking is a mountain without a peak. We’ll never reach perfection. But we can all climb higher and ever higher, and higher still.”

— Florian Mueck

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A lesson from “American Psycho” on comparisons

American Psycho is a dark movie that targets the narcissism and materialism of the 1980s. I am not going to go into details about the plot, but be warned that the movie has several disturbing scenes. For all that, it also has some genuinely funny moments. That’s why it has often been described as a psychological horror comedy.

In the scene below, Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale and from whose perspective the story is told) shows his colleagues his new business card. His pride soon turns to shock and disbelief as his colleagues display their own “better” cards. (If you look closely, you’ll see that all four cards have the same details, including the same direct dial phone number! A subtle jab at corporate conformism.)

This scene is classic. It shows just how ridiculous things can get when we constantly compare ourselves to others. The thing is, and as Bale’s character discovers, constantly comparing oneself with others just begets further discontent. And that’s exactly what happens when we constantly compare our speaking abilities with those of other speakers. At least if we go about it the wrong way.

I always encourage people to watch videos of excellent speeches. The idea is not to try to emulate the speakers or be “better” than them; rather it is to learn from them. To take on board some techniques or practices and to try to make them our own. But it is a bad idea to compare ourselves too closely with other speakers.

If you want to compare yourself with anyone, compare yourself with you. Yes, you. Not Barack Obama, not some amazing speaker on TED. You and only you. That is how you not only improve; it is how you develop your style. A style that nobody else has. The tagline for this blog (at the top right of the page) is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” Every time you speak, your goal should be to be better than you were the last time.

And now that I have written this post, it reminds me that because I am now working full-time for myself in the public speaking field … I need to get some business cards.

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