The airport approach to public speaking

I am sitting in the Geneva airport as I write this post. I am on my way to Barcelona for a great week of teaching and learning with my good friends and fellow public speakers, Conor Neill, Florian Mueck, Tobias Rodrigues and Tony Anagor.

Today, as always when I travel by plane, I arrived at the airport early. More than two hours before my departure, in fact. Now, the airport to Geneva is not that big and a flight from Switzerland to Spain is fairly routine. Furthermore, I only live 15 minutes by car—maximum—from the airport.

Two hours was way more time than I needed. In fact, as I write this post, I am sitting in a seat that looks very much like the ones in the photo. (But mine have armrests.) I am at the gate and waiting to board.

linesI am often kidded about my proclivity for arriving at airports early. Friends, family and even casual acquaintances wonder why on earth I want to arrive so early.

First of all, I travel frequently enough that I have conditioned myself to like airports. I mean, I have to spend time there, so trying to enjoy the experience (as much as possible) is preferable to the alternative. It’s like Mondays. Whenever anyone tells me with a sigh, on a Monday morning, that they hate Mondays, I remind them that Mondays constitute 1/7 (more than 14%) of our lives and that hating 14% of your life as a matter of routine is not a good idea.

But there is a more fundamental reason why I arrive early at the airport: I want to make sure that I get where I am supposed to go, especially when people are counting on me. Arriving early means that I can handle long lines at the baggage drop-off; I will not worry if people in front of me at security keep setting off the machine with coins and belts and whatnot; I can walk at a leisurely pace to the gate and not have to dash through terminals like I was in a parkour competition. (Perhaps I am being old-fashioned, I but consider it common courtesy not to be sweaty and out of breath when I sit beside someone on a plane.) In short, I have time to deal with situations that arise and I am not stressed.

And if, as is usually the case, I arrive with plenty of time to spare, I can find several ways to keep myself occupied: I can chat with my wife if we are traveling together; I can have a beer or coffee or something to eat; I can browse the book stores; I can read any number of things that I have loaded on my Kobo eReader; I can write a blog post (like this one); I can check my email; I can work on ideas for future speeches or presentations. In short, I can find something productive to keep me busy.

I follow the same approach when it comes to speaking. Ideally, I will visit the venue prior to the day of my speech or presentation to check things out. But even on the day, I will arrive 60 to 90 minutes before the event starts. Why? Because I want to make sure that everything is perfect.

What can you do when you arrive early? Plenty! For example:

  • Meet the organisers and any last-minute changes to the schedule
  • Meet the technician(s)
  • Connect your laptop to the beamer and make sure the presentation is running properly
  • Do a sound check
  • Prepare the speaking area (lectern, walking space, flipcharts, handouts, etc.)
  • Where necessary, arrange the seating the way you would like it
  • Adjust the lights and curtains
  • Adjust the temperature
  • Locate the rest rooms
  • Have drinking water available
  • Review the notes of your speech or presentation
  • Get a feel for the room

The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling to fix some problem with people settled in their seats and only minutes remaining before you are supposed to be on stage.

And when all of the above has been done and you still have time remaining, why not say hello to the first people who arrive? After all, they are there to see you and will almost certainly be happy to chat. Doing so helps you build rapport with some members of the audience even before you take the stage. And that is a good thing.

So the next time you have a speech or presentation, take my approach to airplane travel and arrive early. You’ll be glad that you did. Bon voyage!

Photo courtesy of Robert S. Donovan / Flickr
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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 188) – Aristotle

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) Greek Philosopher

“[I]t is not enough to know what we ought to say; we must also say it as we ought … It is, essentially, a matter of the right management of the voice to express the various emotions—of speaking loudly, softly, or between the two; of high, low, or intermediate pitch; of the various rhythms that suit various subjects. These are the three things—volume of sound, modulation of pitch, and rhythm—that a speaker bears in mind.”

— Aristotle

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A Speech for the Boys of Summer

The Little League Baseball World Series is currently underway in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I have not been following the competition closely, but yesterday I came across this story on ESPN.

The team of Cumberland (from Rhode Island) lost 8-7 against Chicago and was eliminated from the tournament. The kids from Cumberland were, understandably, gutted. But their coach, Dave Belisle, gathered them together to deliver a final speech. The moment was captured on camera.

It was a great speech for many reasons. Here are five of them.

1.  It was a difficult moment for the team, but Belisle still delivered when he had to.

2.  Eye contact: “Everybody heads up high, let’s talk for a moment here. Look, I gotta see your eyes, guys.”

3.  The speech was all about the boys: what they had accomplished; what they had learned; how they had grown as individuals and as a team.

4.  Belisle gave the boys a call to action and a standard to which they should hold themselves for the rest of their lives: “You’re going to take back for the rest of your life what you provided for a town in Cumberland. You had the whole place jumping. You had the whole state jumping. You had New England jumping. You had ESPN jumping. Because you wanna know why? They like fighters. They like sportsmen. They like guys that don’t quit. They like guys that play the right way.”

5.  It was a speech from the heart and Belisle was not afraid to show his vulnerability: “I love you guys. I’m going to love you forever. You’ve given me the most precious moment of my athletic and coaching career, and I’ve been coaching a long time. I’m getting to be an old man, I need memories like this, I need kids like this. You’re all my boys. You’re the boys of summer.”

It’s great to see Belisle setting such a fine example of how a sports coach should act in defeat, especially when coaching a group of boys or girls. I am certain that no player on the Cumberland team will ever forget that two-minute speech.

You can read the entire text of Belisle’s speech here.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 187) – Robin Williams

Robin Williams (1951 - 2014) American Actor and Comedian

Robin Williams (1951 – 2014) American Actor, Comedian and Producer

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

— Robin Williams

Photo courtesy of Eva Rinaldi / Flickr
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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 186) – Francis de Sales

Francis de Sales (1567 - 1622) Bishop of Geneva and Saint of the Catholic Church

Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622) Bishop of Geneva, Saint in the Catholic Church

“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.”

— Francis (François) de Sales

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“The Power of Public Speaking”: An Interview

Dukascopy Bank is a Swiss online bank that provides trading services, particularly in the foreign exchange marketplace. One of its subsidiaries, Dukascopy TV, broadcasts taped and live shows about business matters on the Internet.

Recently, Dukascopy invited me to stop by their studio and give a short interview on “The Power of Public Speaking”. Here’s the result:

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