My Best Public Speaking Advice
OK, so if I'm going to write a full post with all of my best advice for keynotes and/or presentations then I think we need to start with why you should listen to me. If you're not already familiar with who I am --or at the very least my clout as a motivational speaker-- then here are some facts. My 3-day personal development conference just wrapped with 3,400 women in MN and 7,500 women in TX... the tickets to both of those conferences sold out in less than 3 hours.
I'm one of the highest-paid motivational speakers on earth (no, seriously) and the highest-paid female motivational speaker possibly ever. To book me today (which is supremely hard to do) will run you a significant 6-figure investment for an hour-long keynote. I get paid what I do because I'm really, really good at what I do.
If reading those stats rubs you the wrong way or makes you think that I'm arrogant, just pretend a dude wrote them. Men have been touting their success stories for years to raving reviews so do me a solid and extend the same attitude.
The point is, I worked hard as hell to get where I am and if you're going to take advice from someone in business it should be someone who is a leader in their particular field. I am a leader in this industry and I worked my way up from one of the WORST public speakers of all time. I'm a huge believer that it doesn't matter how talented you are now, you can become excellent at communicating to a crowd but it's going to require work. Here are my best pieces of advice on how to get better.
Be willing to suck - You guys, my first keynote speeches were abysmal. Seriously. I would write down every line of my speech on 3x5 index cards and my hands would shake like I was possessed. I sweat through my shirt more than once and I would die a thousand deaths every time someone got up to leave the room.
But dude, sucking on stage is the only way you're going to get better!
Being awful at public speaking is how you learn how to not be quite so awful next time. Many, many people dream of being a great speaker but very few people are humble enough to suck for as long as it takes them to get better. It took me 15 years to get to this place and most of those years were embarrassing as hell but I knew that the only way I'd improve was to keep showing up.
Say yes to EVERY opportunity to speak - I spoke at senior citizens homes, I spoke at community colleges, I spoke to every MOPS group in southern California. If someone was assembling a group of people and needed a speaker I applied for it and showed up with bells on. Was it eight people at the local library? Fantastic. Was it 43 septuagenarians from the neighborhood gardening club? Put me in coach! I was down for anything and everything and I am so grateful for those opportunities because they gave me the testing ground I needed to get better.
Prep like a comedian - I've listened to several comedians explain how they prepare for a tour or a comedy special and I've come to believe that being an exceptional public speaker requires the same kind of prep. You've got to spend years --yes years- trying out stories, jokes and different ways of teaching to see what your audience responds to. You have to learn to read the crowd; you have to know whether or not it's resonating. The only way I know how to prep this way is to test and test and test yourself so you can continually get better. How do you do that? Please see #1 and #2 on this list.
It's about the audience, not you - Years ago I heard Oprah say something that I never, ever forgot. She said, "Nerves are a selfish emotion because you're making the experience all about you." It's so true! When you're nervous about a public speaking opportunity it's because you're worried about how you'll look or sound or come across. But it's not about you, it's about them! I have carried that quote with me into countless keynotes and press appearances over the years. Anytime I start to feel nervous I remind myself that this is not about me. Any presentation or keynote is a massive opportunity to positively affect the lives of people listening to you so I spend all my prep time focusing on what they need. How can I help them? What wisdom can I share? What tools do I know about? Obsess over all the ways you can help and it puts the attention right where it should be-- on the community you're trying to serve.
Practice the stories, not the lines - I'm sure most of us have experienced a cringey memorized speech moment at some point... You're watching someone on stage or in the board room and they're clearly nervous. They're also clearly attempting to give a speech that they've memorized. Somewhere along the way they mess up, but rather than remark on it or make a joke they back up one sentence in the speech, repeat the line and try again. It's so awkward and uncomfortable and it's also a missed opportunity because a rote memorized presentation is never, ever going to connect with an audience in an authentic way.
Rather than memorize and practice lines I practice the stories I want to tell.
If I have five points that I want to make I'll choose five personal stories I want to tell to illustrate them. Then I'll practice those stories again and again. Since I've been at this for so long I've got 30+ great stories that I could pull out at the drop of a hat and I'm constantly adding to the arsenal. Because they're personal stories it's easy for me to make a point that feels authentic because I tell a crowd that story the same way I'd tell you if you came over to my house for dinner. The next time you want to make a point, find a personal story to help you illustrate the concept. I promise it will be easier for you to remember and you'll connect so much better with the crowd.
Dress well, test well - Said another way... what you wear for your speech absolutely matters. Years ago when I was getting into this business I tried to dress the way I saw other people dressing on stage-- pantsuits and heels for business events and conservative casual (also with heels) for non-business speaking. Bless. I was so uncomfortable on stage because I didn't wear heels or suits or conservative casual in any other area of my life. The entire time I was speaking I was terrified of falling off the top of my shoes which made an awkward keynote even worse. This was a classic case of making it about me ("how do I look on stage?") instead of making it about the audience ("what do I need to wear so I can communicate effectively?") The truth is, when you're starting out in any business you're at the mercy of the wardrobe requirements but I still highly encourage you to wear something that makes you feel like you. Today I wear sneakers and jeans on every stage I stand on. I wear jeans every day of my life and so I feel most comfortable teaching in them. I wear sneakers because I move around constantly and there's no way I could do that in any kind of a heel. I've found a way to show up with style while also staying true to me and what's necessary for me to be at my best.
Be Yourself - Seriously. When you're trying to figure yourself out it's really easy to inadvertently copy the leaders in the field because you're not sure who you are just yet. In the beginning, I was much more formal and professional. I never talked about my real life or shared personal stories. Now? I'm just as likely to make you pee your pants laughing about my labor and delivery story than I am to tell you how to grow your revenue in Q4. I found a speaking style that is unique to me and I get paid what I do not because I've made a name for myself with my particular style. Whatever weird, unique, special things make you who you are? That's the exact thing you should be bringing on stage with you! Anyone can stand on stage and tell a story but we remember those presenters who are utterly and apologetically themselves.
I hope this advice was helpful y'all! If there's something I didn't cover that you want to know or you need some advice for your upcoming speech or presentation comment below and I'll do my best to help you out with ideas!