A giant leap forward in your public speaking

Giant leap forward

There is a lot to learn about public speaking. The fact that I have been writing this blog for 10 years is testament to that. And no matter how much you learn, no matter how good you become, you will never reach perfection because there is always room for improvement.

But there is one thing that you can do that will result in a giant leap forward in your public speaking. If you do this one thing, you will be more engaging and natural on stage. You will have a better connection with your audience and make a bigger impact. And the irony is that you do this one thing all the time.

Stop thinking about yourself

As you go about your day, you only spend a small amount of time thinking about yourself. For example, when you are looking in the mirror and shaving or putting on makeup. (Even then, I am often thinking about something else, which explains the razor nicks on my neck.)

Most of the time, we are focused on the things we are doing or the people with whom we interact during meetings or meals. We’re not thinking about ourselves, we’re thinking about them. And consequently, we are natural; we are ourselves.

Yet when we get on stage, the lens swings 180 degrees in the other direction and we become acutely self-aware. And that’s when things start to be uncomfortable. Let’s take a common, concrete example.

Where do I put my hands when I am speaking in public?

I get this question all the time. I understand the question but it always makes me chuckle inwardly.

I’m convinced that there are two times in life when people don’t know what to do with their hands. The first is when they arrive at a cocktail party.

The next time you go to a cocktail party, notice what people who are empty-handed do when they are speaking to another person, especially if they have just met that person. They fidget. They clasp and release their hands, or put them in their pockets or behind their backs, only to move them again a few seconds later. And then the waiter comes with a tray full of drinks and people reach for them like a drowning man reaches for a life buoy.

It’s the same when it comes to public speaking. As soon as people get up on stage, it’s almost as if they’ve discovered their hands for the first time. They don’t know where to put them. They’re like alien appendages that have just sprouted.

But you carry your hands around with you 24 hours a day. You don’t walk down the hall of your office flailing your hands about, wondering what to do with them. Because you are not thinking about them.

When you go on stage to deliver a speech or presentation, you should not be thinking about yourself, your hands, your hair, your clothes, what people are thinking of you. You need to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about the audience. Because it’s not about you. It’s about the audience. I have made this point over and over and over again.

When you focus on your audience and connect with them, you will be so much more natural and everything will go a lot smoother.

Of course, as with most things, it takes practice. But with time and effort, you can shift the focus of your attention from yourself to your audience. When you reach this stage in your progress, look back and marvel at the giant leap forward that you have taken in your public speaking.

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  1. This is a great blog. I couldn’t agree with you more. I just gave a speech yesterday to an audience of 130 women in The Hague. As soon as I shifted my attention to them, they became engaged and we shared a few laughs. I think with practice thinking about the audience will come to speakers more naturally. Thanks for the post! Marie

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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!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International