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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Kevin Spacey’s Three Key Elements to a Compelling Story

“The story is everything, which means that it’s our job to tell better stories.”

— Kevin Spacey

In 2014, actor Kevin Spacey delivered the final keynote address to over 2,500 participants at the Content Marketing World Conference in Cleveland. The theme of Spacey’s talk was storytelling. Drawing heavily on his experience in the performing arts, but also on stories from business, marketing and social media, he delivered a speech that was well received.

Below are some highlights from Spacey’s talk. If you are interested, the entire talk (approximately 35 minutes) can be seen here. It’s worth watching, for the insights, for the stories and for Spacey’s various impressions and acerbic sense of humour.

According to Spacey, there are three elements which are crucial to every good story.


Conflict creates tension, and tension keeps people engaged with your story. Without it, there is no driving force. The best stories are filled with characters who take risks or court drama or push the envelope. The decisions that those characters make drive the story and keep us glued to our seats.

Of course, it is relatively easy to create conflict in a fictional movie or novel. But conflict also exists in the real world. Businesses, organizations and people deal with it every day. And conflict is often the catalyst for change, or at least the desire to change something.

I have listened to many pitches from entrepreneurs over the years. The best ones always capitalize on the conflict that drove them to develop their ideas and build their businesses. There was a problem or need in the market; they struggled to solve that problem; they eventually succeeded; and now they have a product or service that people will buy. That narrative follows the classic arc of a good story: conflict; struggle; resolution; lesson.

In his talk, Spacey noted that many companies tap into our desire to be better versions of our unfulfilled selves. They tap into the conflict between who we are and who we want to be. Stories are far more interesting when they go against the settled order of things.


For a story to make an impact, says Spacey, it must ring true. As I always tell my clients, that’s why personal stories are so powerful. We know them. We’ve lived them. They are our stories. Does it mean that we can never tell stories about others? Of course not. But the story has to touch us in some way if it is to touch our audiences.

As Spacey says, in our “increasingly shiny world of spin”, it is essential to keep in mind what makes something feel authentic to an audience. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. Stay true to your brand and voice, and audiences will respond with enthusiasm and passion.


The most important element of any story is the audience. “As storytellers,” Spacey remarks, “we are nothing without our audiences and so we must constantly strive to build our audiences, develop their loyalty and give them content worth sharing.”

Audiences are dying for stories; all we have to do is provide them. Spacey notes that these days, stories come in all shapes and sizes—from six second Vines to a television series—but the length and device are irrelevant. The audience doesn’t care about the platform; they care about the content.


Stories are important for almost any communication situation. Spacey’s advice to those in business or marketing?

I think it starts with what story do you want to tell. And if you start with what story you want to tell, everything else will follow. … Begin very simply and then start to build the blocks toward telling that story. What’s the best and most efficient and most compelling way that I can tell that story?

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