A Groundhog Day Public Speaking Lesson


For those of you unfamiliar with Groundhog Day, it is a quirky little celebration observed in Canada and the United States on the 2nd of February.

According to legend, if the groundhog, such as the one in the picture above, wakes up and does not see his shadow, spring will come early that year. However, if the groundhog sees his shadow, he will go back into his burrow and we will have six more weeks of winter.

Groundhog Day also happens to be one of my favourite movies.

Bill Murray plays a disgruntled TV weatherman. He goes with a crew to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day event. A snowstorm moves in and the crew must spend a second night in Punxsutawney. When Murray wakes up the “next” day, it is Groundhog Day all over again. He continues to relive the same day over and over and only he knows it. It’s a very clever film.

Now, although Murray relives the same day over and over, the days do not unfold exactly the same way. In fact, Murray can learn something one day and then use it to his advantage the next. This is particularly useful in helping him learn about, and win the affection of, his colleague who is played by Andie Macdowell.

So what does this have to do with public speaking? Well, if you have to give the same presentation multiple times, you can (and should) learn from each experience and make the appropriate adjustments for the next time. I give the same advice to young speakers when they join Toastmasters.

There is no rule that says you cannot give the same speech twice. I always recommend that they give a speech, get feedback and then give the speech again after incorporating the feedback. The learning and growth are tremendous.

If you give the same presentation several times, pay attention to what happens and get feedback from your audience members on how you can improve the next time around. If you do, you will.

By the way, bad news for those of you who were hoping for an early spring. Apparently the groundhog has just seen his shadow as I write. Six more weeks of winter (2014) coming up!

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  1. Some people – those with time on their hands, not unlike Phil, have calculated based on average learning times, his comments in the movie and throwing in a fudge factor, he was stuck in the time loop for about 26 years & 308 days.

  2. Good stuff, John! Indeed, I’ve heard it suggested that one of the more interesting ways in which an experienced TM can redo the CC manual is to do the same speech for all ten assignments. No idea how one does that without it getting tedious for the club, but it could be an interesting project.

    1. Thanks, Colin. I don’t mind if I hear a speech a second (or even third) time if the speaker has worked on making it better. Redoing the CC speeches is a great idea. By the time the second CC rolls around, enough time should have elapsed and, with membership change, shouldn’t be a problem.

  3. Great post! Looking at repeating presentations as a way to learn and improve is a much better way than looking at the repetition as being boring. While your speech may not be new to you, it is new to the audience.

    I used to give as many as 7 of the same 1 hour presentations in a day. I would try to schedule my first day out with a new presentation to be repeated multiple times to speed up my learning curve. It is a GREAT way to get the kinks out. Thanks for sharing.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International