Three public speaking resolutions for 2021


2021. We made it. We finally said goodbye to 2020, a year that will be forever remembered in the history books but not for the best reasons. And, we are still in the thick of the fight against COVID-19.

Still, with vaccines now being distributed, there are reasons to be hopeful. And, in any event, time waits for nobody and continues to move on. So we have to keep moving forward as well.

I believe that while 2021 will continue to be bumpy, we will start to see the world settling into some semblance of a new normal. Things will not return to the way they were before COVID, but neither will they remain as they are now. Instead, I think there will be something in between. That has implications for public speaking.

Online meetings and presentations are here to stay now that people realize how productive, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly they can be. At the same time, there is universal craving for human connection. People want to be with other people. So slowly but surely, we will return to some in-person meetings, conferences, trainings and other events.

With that in mind, here are three public speaking resolutions for you to consider in 2021.

1. Get more comfortable with online presentations

Zoom, Teams, Webex. A year ago, many people did not know what these terms meant; today, they are household names. Unfortunately, many people still do not use these tools as effectively as they otherwise might.

In 2021, commit to improving your skill in online presentations. In the coming days, I will do a post devoted to this subject in which I share some of the lessons that I have learned this past year.

2. Get less uncomfortable with your speaking situations

2021 is also the year to get uncomfortable. (You should have had good practice at this in 2020 with everything that we have been through.) By this, I mean that you should seek out speaking opportunities that make you nervous.

Every speaker gets nervous from time to time. If someone tells you that they never get nervous, just remember what Mark Twain said:

There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.

Being nervous is completely natural – I am always a bit nervous whenever I have to speak in public – but the level of nerves tends to differ depending on the situation. Having worked with thousands of people over the years, I have noticed that two factors, in particular, can affect a speaker’s nerves: the size of the audience and the extent to which the speaker knows the people in the audience. Of course, these are not the only two, but they are the two that are mentioned most often by the people with whom I work.

Some people like speaking to a small audience; others prefer a large audience. Some people like speaking to those whom they know; others prefer to speak to strangers. And then there are the combinations: small audiences of people you know; small audiences of strangers; large audiences of people you know; large audiences of strangers.

I wrote about this phenomenon, which I call the Public Speaking Fear Grid. Have a look at the post and then think about where on the grid you are comfortable and where you are uncomfortable. Once you know, seek out opportunities to speak in those situations that make you uncomfortable. Because that is where you will find your greatest growth as a speaker.

3. Tell more stories

Psychologists say that our brains are wired for stories. Stories have been around for centuries and certainly a lot longer than PowerPoint and Excel. They are a fundamental part of who we are as human beings. And yet, many people are afraid to tell stories because they think that they have to be “serious” people when they are on stage.

Well, storytelling is serious. Stories are memorable and stories add meaning. They help put things into context. I am often challenged during my trainings by people who say that there is no place for a story in a financial presentation. Really? Did the numbers spontaneously burst into being? Or did something happen that resulted in the numbers and is there anything we can learn from it?

Audiences are much more likely to remember the stories you tell than anything else you say. And if they remember the story, chances are that they will remember the point behind the story.

I have written several posts on stories and storytelling and will certainly write more in 2021. For now, my challenge to you is to start adding stories to your presentations. They do not have to be long – a story can be 15 to 20 seconds – but they will be effective.

All the best for a happy, healthy and productive 2021.

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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