Posts in Public Speaking
Captivate and Persuade Your Audience with Transparency
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Giving a presentation is like pulling up to a stranger in your car and yelling, “Hey, let’s go for a drive!“   You’re hoping that the stranger will humor you and at least get in the car, giving you a chance to prove that you’re a trustworthy driver and that it’s going to be a great ride.

As a public speaker, you are the driver, and you’ve only got about thirty seconds to persuade this stranger, a.k.a. your audience, that the journey you are proposing will be worth their attention.  What can you do that screams to your audience “good times ahead!” in such a short amount of time? You can be transparent. Who doesn’t want to hear about someone’s most embarrassing moment, or the story of how they met their spouse?  Effective transparency is more than just spilling your guts, however. In this article, I’ll be demonstrating how you can strategically utilize this technique to not only capture your audience’s attention, but to also make them more receptive to the ideas you’re trying to convey.  What’s more, I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is - all of the stories I tell about myself here are true.


Let’s start with a brief explanation of what it means to be transparent.  It’s simply being honest about what you and your life actually look like, and resisting the urge to portray yourself as bigger, better, and/or flawless.   Although your audience already knows you’re not perfect, your willingness to admit and even talk about these imperfections has a powerful trust-building effect.  What’s more, it’s irresistible, and will draw your audience in without them even realizing it.


At this point, if you’re thinking that this article doesn’t apply to you and your field, don’t be fooled.  Whether you’re talking about something as technical as the best way to present numeric data or a more creative process such as brainstorming, I argue that every presentation can benefit from a judicious dose of transparency.  And I provide an example later in this article, just for you.


The easiest way to be transparent is to tell stories in which you reveal a struggle you experience, talk about an emotional or life-changing event, or describe a downright failure.  This is the stuff of real life, and your audience will be riveted. Obviously, we all have these kinds of stories. The challenge is to find one that you feel comfortable sharing and that is also related closely enough to your point that it can serve as an introduction or example.

Imagine that I’m doing a public speaking training that includes the topic of dealing with nervousness.  I might begin with the story of how I was recently on my way to my own birthday celebration at a restaurant and arrived about 45 minutes late because I had been wandering around, unable to find it.  This, in spite of the fact that I was sure I was going in the right direction when I started (I wasn’t), I had Google Maps open the whole time, I was trying to follow the big fat dotted line, and I had called the restaurant two separate times to get directions.  When I finally got there all the restaurant workers greeted me with “You made it!”

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I would transition into my topic by pointing out that while arriving late to my birthday dinner was frustrating, arriving late to your own presentation is an entirely different animal, and guaranteed to ratchet up the anxiety significantly.  I would then go on to explain that in my case, I generally have to give myself twice the amount of time I think I’ll need to get someplace new because I’m so directionally challenged. Unfortunately, I forgot that rule on my birthday. As a public speaker, however, it’s not enough to arrive on time.  To actually decrease your nervousness, you’ll want to arrive early so that you have plenty of time to make sure that everything is in order as well as to get yourself in the right frame of mind.

That little anecdote works well on several levels.  It captures my audience’s attention because it’s a story, it leads into my topic, and it employs self-deprecating humor.  Poking fun at yourself is a kind of transparency that is especially effective because it makes the audience laugh, which in turns helps them to relax and better understand and remember what you’re saying.

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Being transparent can also be helpful when you need to address difficult issues.  As a speech coach specializing in the field of human trafficking, I’m dealing with sensitive topics all the time.  One of these has to do with the way that victims of labor trafficking are producing products that ordinary citizens buy on a daily basis without a second thought.  If I were speaking on this issue, it would be easy for me to point the finger at my audience and say “So long as you continue to turn a blind eye and indiscriminately buy whatever you want, you’re perpetuating the problem.”  But in my experience, revealing my own struggles in this area would actually be a much more effective way of connecting with my audience and make it more likely that they’ll be open to my message. For example, I could tell this story.

I recently went shopping at the mall for a purse and a couple of tops.  I remembered that H&M has expressed awareness about the problem of trafficking, so I started there.  I tried on several items but had no luck whatsoever. I moved on to a smaller store and tried on more clothes.  Nothing worked, but I did finally find a purse. “Made in China,” the tag said. I sighed. . . China is notorious for trafficking.  I put the purse back. I went to a third store and after looking around for a long time, I finally found several blouses that not only fit but looked great.  What a relief. I don’t particularly like shopping, and by this time I was tired, hungry and just wanted to go home. I didn’t even care that I hadn’t found a purse.  But while I was waiting in line to pay, it dawned on me that I should check the tags. “Made in China.” Every single one, made in China. I hesitated. I ran through the options in my mind, looked at my watch, listened to my stomach rumble . . . and then I bought them.  I still feel frustrated by the whole situation.

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With this story, I am accomplishing several things.  One, I’ve demonstrated that I’m not speaking down to my audience from a position of superiority, but rather, I’m walking alongside them, experiencing the same challenges of being a conscious consumer that they are.  If I were to propose some solutions to these challenges later in my presentation, I believe my audience would be more likely to consider them.

Two, I’ve taken an issue that might seem removed and remote and made it personal.  I could go on to remind my audience (and myself) that someone’s fingers had sewn that tag on.  And it’s possible that those fingers belong to a person who is not free. The more we can bring issues down to an individual level, the easier we make it for our audience to empathize and engage.

Now imagine for a moment that I’d ended this narrative immediately after I’d seen that the purse was made in China and I’d put it back.  In that case, I would’ve been the hero of my own story. But bragging about that particular success would have done nothing toward getting my audience to trust me and go on that persuasive journey with me.  I also want to point out that if I had edited the story in such a way as to make myself look better, I wasn’t being truly transparent.


Hopefully by now it’s clear that personal stories can go a long way toward achieving the kind of transparency that draws in your audience and makes them more receptive to your message.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you about transparency’s flip side, the “vulnerability hangover”. This condition occurs after you’ve exposed more of yourself than you intended, and you’re left wishing that you had a fishing rod with which you could reel those unfortunate words back in.  

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For example, perhaps while you were practicing your motivational speech in the privacy of your own home, telling that story about the time you were homeless felt like a good idea.  It seemed a powerful way of demonstrating the point that adversity can force us to see life in a new way. But when you stood on stage and looked out at all the dressed for success executives, you weren’t so sure.  Afterwards, although your presentation as a whole seemed well received, you couldn’t get rid of that nagging feeling that people were looking at you differently and that you shouldn’t have divulged that information.


Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the dreaded hangover.  I suggest the following:

•  Determine in advance how much personal experience related to your topic you’re willing to share, and stick to this decision.  In the previous example, the speaker might have felt more comfortable recounting that he had talked to a fair amount of homeless people, and that he’d learned some important lessons from these conversations, assuming that that were true.

This advance preparation will also be of tremendous help after a presentation, when you’ll often have the opportunity to field questions from the stage and/or interact with audience members individually.  These moments can be a time of intense pressure to reveal more details. But remember, how much of that personal experience you want to relate is entirely up to you, and a decision that is best made before you’re put on the spot.

• If you still aren’t sure about including a particular narrative, err on the side of caution.  Remember, telling a story about yourself is only one way of making a point. If you do decide to go ahead with a specific story, prepare an alternative way to support your point in case at the last moment you decide that you’d rather not be transparent in that way.

• Redirect or call out inappropriate questions.  To do this, you need to prepare beforehand by anticipating questions that are invasive and/or insensitive, and practice how you could respond.  In this situation you have two options. One is a simple redirect, as in the following example. I was listening to a podcast in which a woman was discussing her novel, a story that includes the theme of trafficking.  She was then asked point blank if she was a sex trafficking victim herself. She replied by stating that there were some things she felt comfortable talking about, and others she didn’t, and then redirected the question by saying “but what I can say is. . . .” and she went on to focus on a different but related point.  The redirect was smooth and the interview continued without a hitch.

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Your second option is to directly address the inappropriateness of the question itself.  If you like, you can frame it as a “teaching moment” in which you explain that questions which ask about deeply personal information that the speaker hasn’t already divulged put that speaker in a near impossible situation.  It’s like asking someone if they’re gay. Fortunately, more and more people are coming to the understanding that essentially outing someone in this way is wrong. But in other sensitive matters, for example, bankruptcy, abortion, incarceration, sex trafficking, etc., people still often forget to exercise the same good judgment.  By facing this kind of behavior head on, you’ll not only gain respect, but you’ll also leave your audience a little wiser in this regard.


Remember at the beginning of this article I promised that even if you have a “sterile” topic such as how to present numeric data, transparency can work for you, too?   Here’s one example. Let’s say you’ve been hired to provide a training titled: Effective Ways to Present Census Data to State Government Agencies.  If you’re yawning already, this is precisely all the more reason to be transparent - to breathe life and personality into a potentially dry and boring topic.

If this were me, I might begin the training by telling the story of how my daughter broke her arm when she was five years old.  I still remember it vividly; I was jogging behind her and her brother, dog in tow, when she suddenly lost control of her bike and went flying off.  She had to have surgery on her arm later that day, and her dad and I were worried about how we were going to pay for it. At the time, we were earning very little, and we didn’t have health insurance.  Much to our surprise, we were able to enroll both of our kids in a low cost health insurance program that covered the surgery.

I would then transition into my topic by saying something like this: “You’re probably wondering what my daughter’s broken arm has to do with the census.  My story had a happy ending because at some point, census data indicated that there was a significant number of uninsured children in my state, so an affordable health insurance program for these children was created.  Helping kids get the medical care they need is just one example of why your job presenting census data in a clear and accessible way is so important.”

Obviously, you could insert these kinds of stories throughout the training.  If you can’t think of a story about yourself that works, you can talk about a relevant situation that moved you.  If you express how you personally felt or were affected, you have moved from simply telling a story to being transparent.


Transparency is no doubt one of the most powerful tools in your persuasion toolbox.  It embodies multiple aspects of a successful presentation - it grabs your audience’s attention, maintains their interest over the course of your talk, and increases receptivity and trust.  Consider how you can incorporate it into your next speech and let me know how you did in the comments below. I’m pretty certain that with the feedback you receive, you’ll be encouraged to make transparency a regular part of your work.  You can also check out my blog post here if you’d like more examples of how to incorporate stories into your presentations.

Use an App to Improve Your Public Speaking!

Wish you could get some immediate feedback on your delivery skills?  Orai can help! It’s an app that critiques your public speaking in real time.   I not only spoke to Paritosh Gupta, one of the co-founders of the app, but I also tested it out myself. Here’s what I discovered….

It provides support in four main areas:

word clarity - Let’s you know if are easily understood.  This is especially helpful if you are a non-native speaker of English.

pace - Indicates whether your speed is too fast, slow, or just right.  Even points out specific spots in your recording that are problematic.

energy - Gives you feedback on the variation in your tone.  A monotone becomes boring, but strategically using volume can make your delivery more interesting.

filler words -  Counts your use of words like “um” “uh” .  An occasionally filler word is fine, but a lot of them can be very distracting.

It’s affordable.

Orai provides 10 minutes of free feedback per month, as well as basic lessons.  This is definitely enough to let you know if you could use more help. The Pro Plan, at $9.99 per month, offers unlimited recording time in addition to the basic lessons. This feels like an incredible deal to me - unlimited feedback on demand for just $10 bucks.

It supports non-American English accents.

And that’s on all plans.  I consider this feature a huge benefit, because it means that Orai will work for you whether you speak English with a Nigerian accent, a British accent, an Indian accent, an American accent, etc.

It works!  

Here is a screenshot of one of my practice recordings.

Here is a screenshot of one of my practice recordings.

Recently I was preparing to be a guest on a podcast, so I rehearsed some of what I wanted to say using the Orai app.  Knowing that it was going to be counting my filler words helped me to be more conscious of pausing and choosing my words carefully in order to avoid those “um’s” and “uh’s.”  After several recordings I was using zero filler words - a great success!

And although I had generally good ratings in the other areas, it was interesting to see the graphs showing my variation in energy and pace over time.

It can’t replace personalized coaching.

Using Orai to address those four aspects of your delivery can go a long way toward helping you improve, especially if you struggle in these areas.  However, you’ll still need to craft your speech, which includes creating an attention-getting introduction, compelling stories and support, a clear and strategic organization, etc.  And there are other matters of delivery such as eye contact, movement and posture which Orai is unable to address.

Some features are rather subjective.

Apparently I’m too enthusiastic, lol.

Apparently I’m too enthusiastic, lol.

For example, in a few instances I got rated as being “a little too energetic.”  I had to laugh because I’m definitely very expressive. From my perspective, a high “energy” rating can mean you’re interesting to listen to because you vary your pitch a lot, or, as per Orai, it can make you seem nervous or inauthentic.  It also occasionally rated me as speaking too fast, but I’m quite intentional about my speed and know that in some instances, faster is better. Finally, my word clarity never got about 90%. Considering I’m a native speaker and have excellent enunciation (pretty necessary in my line of work, lol), I’m not sure why it wasn’t higher.  

In any case, Orai draws your attention to potentially troublesome aspects so that you can then consider and evaluate this feedback and/ or get other “human” feedback.

The bottom line?

I will definitely be recommending Orai to my clients.  (And in the spirit of full disclosure, I receive nothing for these recommendations.)  You can go to download the app and get started. Or go here to listen to the full interview.  

And don’t forget to share this post if you found it helpful!

Human Trafficking Expert Talks About What It's Like to Be a Speaker/Trainer
K. D. Roche

K. D. Roche

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If you’ve ever wondered what life as a public speaker is actually like, here’s your chance to learn more about it. In this interview, go behind the scenes with K.D. Roche as they travel across the U.S., speaking and training organizations about human trafficking. It's a good place to start if you'd like to give presentations that teach others about sex trafficking. Have a listen!

I heard K.D. speak a few years ago at a conference.  I was immediately impressed with their ability to connect with the audience, keep us engaged (i.e., laughing) and educate us, all at the same time! When I recently learned that K.D. is now working full time giving presentations, I knew that I wanted to talk to them about it in more depth.

In this interview, K.D. discusses how they got started, what a typical speaking gig looks like, how to speak on difficult topics, sex trafficking, a hilarious “most embarrassing moment” and more.  They also give advice to those who would like to begin doing public speaking themselves.

Go here to watch the interview.  And, if you’d like to start working on a presentation of your own, feel free to schedule a session with me here.

Craft a Speech That Brings Down the House With Oprah Winfrey!
Oprah Winfrey receiving the Cecil B. deMille award

Oprah Winfrey receiving the Cecil B. deMille award

This is the speech that Oprah Winfrey delivered at the 2018 Golden Globes, and it brought down the house.  There’s a lot to be learned here, and in this post I reveal the key strategies and techniques Oprah used that add up to nine minutes of presentation genius.  And, I keep it simple, so you’ll understand how you can incorporate these 5 keys into your own speeches. (I’ve noted them in upper case throughout.)

Oprah opens with a STORY.  (Of course she does, lol. It’s one of the most powerful tools you’ve got, as I explain here and here.)  But listen to it carefully.  She doesn't just run through a series of events; instead, she uses precise, descriptive language to paint a picture.  She’s not just watching t.v. - It’s 1964, and she’s a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor watching Sidney Poitier rise to receive his Academy Award.  Portier isn’t just dressed up - he’s “elegant”, and he’s wearing a white tie. Then her mother arrives, “bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses.” With all of these vivid details, we understand on a deeper level what it meant to her to see Poitier become the first black man to win an Academy for best actor.

Then she uses a “CIRCLING BACK” technique, in which she notes how, on this particular night, little girls are watching again, but now these girls are watching Oprah herself be the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. deMille award.  Circling back is often used in conclusions, when the speaker brings us back to something that was said at the beginning. It’s a great way to tie everything together and finish it off with flair. I found it intriguing that Oprah uses this technique early on.   In any case, the juxtaposition of these two”firsts” is powerful. Oprah gets a little emotional, and the audience gets a little excited.  Audience 1

Next, she moves to EXPRESSING GRATITUDE to those who supported her.  She keeps the list short and moves through it quickly, which saves us from becoming bored, and then transitions ever so smoothly to not just thanking the press, but thanking them for their efforts during these “complicated times.” Onto this backdrop she underscores her main point, that “speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

Before I go on, I want to point out a few things.  First, gratitude is a theme to which Oprah returns again and again.  The end result is that her AUDIENCE FEELS ACKNOWLEDGED AND VALUED, and she has subtly made them, and not herself, the star of the hour.  Making your audience the star is a basic principle of public speaking that I mention in this blog post.  

Second, her TRANSITIONS are worth a second look.  She picks up a thread from what she was talking about and ties it seamlessly to a thread from what she is going to talk about next.  In the instance above, she moves from all the other thank-yous to thanking the press, which she then links to our current political climate.  Oprah audience 2

Orpah expresses GRATITUDE for all the women “who have endured” a long list of injustices, and TRANSITIONS (once again, seamlessly) into the STORY of Recy Taylor.  I point out the transition again because seamless transitions like these are what help your audience follow along without having to think twice about what you said.

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She uses the STORY of Recy Taylor to create an emotional foundation upon which expresses the dismal status quo, in which “women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men.”  She then describes the better future, in which she emphasizes, “their time is up.” This short rallying cry brings the audience to their feet, cheering.

Orpah returns to the past and its dismal status quo, referencing Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks once again.  Then she swings back to the better future which the #MeToo movement promises, and discusses how those who overcome are those who maintain hope.  This moving back and forth between the old way and the new way is a specific SPEECH STRUCTURE revealed by Nancy Duarte and which you can read more about here.  

In her closing, she CIRCLES BACK to the little girls who are watching, and offers them the hope of a better future, continuing with the SPEECH STRUCTURE I mentioned above.  Once again, Oprah ACKNOWLEDGES those in the audience, men and women alike, who have fought and continue to fight to bring this new day into reality. At this point people are practically dancing in the aisles.  I love seeing smiles on their faces as they realize how brilliantly she has nailed it. Audience 3

The 5 takeaways for YOU are pretty straightforward.

1.  Start with a vivid story, and throw in additional mini-stories to create more impact and help your audience remember your message.

2.  Circle back at some point to something you said at the beginning.  This creates the satisfying sensation that all of the pieces of your speech not only have value, but belong together.  If you can circle back at the end, all the better.

3.  Make your audience, or at least others (and not yourself) the star of the show by expressing gratitude and acknowledging their accomplishments.

4.  Use well-constructed transitions to connect your points, finding a common idea that you can use as a link from what you were talking about to what you’re going to discuss next.

5.  Consider using Nancy Duarte’s speech structure if what you want is a truly inspirational speech.

If you found this post inspiring, hit one of the buttons below so that your friends can be inspired, too!

If you’d like help creating your own inspirational speech, go here. I’d love to help you make a difference!

10 Ways to Practice Your Presentation Like a Pro

If you want to be truly prepared to deliver your speech, you need to do more than simply run through your notecards or  Powerpoint slides five or six times.  More times will help, but it still won’t get you there. To nail your speech, you need to seriously challenge yourself while you practice. Here’s how.

A Couple of Important Notes Before We Start:  

London Breed speaking at Day Without a Woman San Francisco

London Breed speaking at Day Without a Woman San Francisco

These suggestions will work great if you’re planning to speak from limited bullet points, from short cues taken from slides, or completely from memory.  On the other hand, if you’re planning to read your entire presentation word for word off of notecards or slides, I suggest you read this post and get back to me.

Also, I’m assuming that you’ve already made sure your content is clear and organized well.  You want to do as much of that work as possible beforeyou start practicing

Here we go then!   Start with the first suggestion, move on to the second, and work your way down the list.

1. Say the whole thing in front of the mirror.

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The mirror is almost as unforgiving as the camera, and acts as a kind of editor, so it’s good to practice this way at the beginning.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve carefully prepared a section of a story or speech and when I stand in front of the mirror and deliver it, all I can say to myself is, “What were you THINKING?!”  

It’s like the mirror calls us out.  Any false sentiment or fakey gesture and the mirror shouts “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!  NOT ON MY WATCH!” Please note - this is necessary and good work, and will help you edit your speech. If it looks, feels or sounds awkward to you, it’s probably gonna seem like that to your audience as well.  Tweak or cut until it feels good. More than once I’ve had to rework something between 5 and 10 times before I felt comfortable delivering it. But that reworking makes all the difference when you’re on stage, because it eliminates the second guessing that happens when something feels off.

I know that sometimes in this process you’re going to have that sinking “back to the drawing board” feeling.   Just be glad that the mirror is essentially telling you here, in the privacy of your own home, that you’ve got spinach in your teeth, vs. letting you walk out on stage like that.  

Now that you’ve gotten any glaring content problems out of the way, you’re ready to move on to #2.

2.  Deliver your speech in a “larger than life” style. 

By “larger than life”, I mean, make it BIG.  Talk too loud. Vary your volume from high to low and back again.  Exaggerate your pronunciation. Gesture hugely and ridiculously. Don’t stand in one place - take up a lot of space on the stage, or in your bathroom - wherever it is  you’re practicing. Pause dramatically and stare at the audience inappropriately. 

Here’s what’s going to happen.  First, it will help you relax, because it’s so silly.  You’re gonna laugh at yourself. If you didn’t laugh, go back, stand in front of a mirror, and do it bigger.  Don’t stop until you crack yourself up. Second, important little light bulbs will go on. You’ll discover that you actually like saying just that one phrase in an almost “over the top” way.  Or maybe you realize just how effective bringing the volume way down can be. You might notice that moving more makes you feel less nervous. Third, you’ll find that your range of expression is much broader than what you’ve likely experienced, and now you can pull from that range, adapting and incorporating certain elements into your speech.

3. Practice your speech while doing another task.

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Washing the dishes is my preferred task of choice.  In the shower is a little easier. (If you have to wrap a little note card in plastic wrap and set in in the shower caddy, go for it.)  Walking somewhere also works well. The point is, you’re trying to get distracted. Because guess what? When you stand up to speak, you’re gonna be distracted.  (In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about dealing with distractions which you can read here.) And you want to have trained yourself to power through those distractions.  

In the beginning this is going to be hard.  But keep working at it, and after awhile you’ll notice that you’re able to simply tune out everything except your presentation.  (Just don’t, you know, stab yourself with a fork or forget to wash your armpits.)

4. Recite your talk as though something went awry.

Imagine that everything started out just fine, and then 4 minutes in, your outline spontaneously combusts and you don’t have another copy.  The show must go on - what’re you gonna do? Or imagine that at slide #13 the computer crashes and you can’t just stand there waiting for the tech ambulance to come.  Now what?

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Insert these kind of worst case scenarios at various points in your speech and figure out how you would recover.  It might mean you need to memorize your outline so you can continue to the next point. Or that you have a story prepared to make up for the lack of slides.  There’s no one answer here, obviously. The point is, you’ll be really glad that you thought through these kinds of scenarios BEFORE they happened. And so will your audience.

5.  Give your speech as fast as you can.

Saying your speech as fast as you can is simply a way to get the content firmly rooted in your brain.  Repeat this exercise until you can do the whole thing at top speed. It’s very effective at showing you what areas you need to be more familiar with.  It’s kind of fun, too.

Needless to say, you don’t ever want to actually deliver it this way.   Ever.

6.  Start your speech at random points and move forward.

Don’t always start from the beginning - that’s too easy, lol.  Start at a sub-point or example and go from there. Do it again starting from somewhere else.  And again. This is simply another way of becoming so familiar with your content that you don’t need the usual order to help you.

If you’re using a PowerPoint type program, this is also a great opportunity to learn how to jump quickly to different points in your slide deck.

7.  Begin, stop, do something else, and start again.

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This method is a little like #6, but instead of jumping around, you start at the beginning and take pauses along the way. So for example, if you’re at work, start your speech, reply to an email, resume for a couple of minutes, make a quick phone call, resume again and repeat until you finish your speech.   If you’re at home, start, throw out the trash, resume for a few minutes, do a few yoga poses or play with your dog, and continue. Task switching is a different kind of distraction that presents a great challenge.

8.  Practice while listening to the radio and doing something else.

For example, turn on the radio, start cooking dinner and get reciting.  If you can move through your presentation with grace and ease while all of this is going on, good job, ‘cause you’re seriously rockin’ it. I’ve found that favorite songs make this already hard task even harder, ‘cause who doesn’t want to sing along?

9.  Film yourself giving your presentation.

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I’ve saved this technique for the end for two reasons.  First, most people dread being filmed, but by now, you should be feeling much, much more confident about your material.  Second, since (hopefully) you’re no longer focused on what you’re going to say, you can focus on how you’ll say it.  Think about being present in your body, connecting with your (imagined) audience, and delivering your talk in a way that feels authentic and powerful.  (And yes, that’s a whole other post….)
Now watch the video.  If wine has to be involved at this point, I won’t judge you.  After you’ve gotten over the initial shock, make a list of what you consider glaring problems.  Now go back through and circle the ones you have control over. Think about possible solutions. Try them out, make adjustments, and record yourself again.  Repeat a few times and you’ll see improvement, I promise.

You can also hire a speech coach to help you evaluate yourself if you find this step too difficult.  Having this recording of yourself is an excellent place to start.

10.  Stage a dress rehearsal.

Ask a few trusted friends and/or family members to watch you give your presentation.  There’s nothing like a real audience to light your fire or scare the living daylights out of you, depending on how much you enjoy public speaking.  Either way, you want to get used to that feeling of people staring at you. And laughing at your jokes. And smiling. And clapping. 

Woman in White Blouse.jpg

And make this a full dress rehearsal, including shoes and jewelry, because what you wear can actually make a huge difference.  While it’s important to look professional (you’ll want to find out in advance what level of formality is appropriate for the occasion), it’s equally important to FEEL GOOD in what you’re wearing.  Feeling happy about what you’re wearing leads to more confidence onstage. So don’t leave this decision to the last minute.

If you’ve worked your way through all of these steps, congratulations!  Be proud of yourself, because this kind of serious, intense practice will make a huge difference in your final presentation. Go here to see what it looks like when you’ve practiced like a pro.

If you need some more help and you want to start practicing with a pro, go here. If you’ve already filmed yourself and you’d like some feedback, go here. And if you know of another public speaker who could use a little practice (lol), hit one of the share buttons.


Top 10 Reasons You Need a Speech Coach
Me, Nancy Hardcastle, hosting an open mic.

Me, Nancy Hardcastle, hosting an open mic.

You have passion, you have expertise and you have experience - why whould you hire a speech coach?  I’ve got ten wonderful reasons for you, but they all boil down to this - if you hope to be the kind of speaker that makes your audience want to cry and cheer and congratulate you all at the same time, you can!  It’s just going to be nearly impossible to do it by yourself. To find out why, let the countdown begin....


10.  Practicing in front of your best friend (or significant other, grandmother, etc.) will only get you so far.

Generally speaking, practicing in front of anybody is helpful, but if you’re expecting your friends or family to be able to give you the constructive criticism that you need and help you fix the problems they pointed out, that’s not realistic.  It’s kind of like expecting your gardener to be able to look at your hair, give you style feedback, and also trim it up real quick.  Besides that, those loved ones of yours are probably gonna go easy on you because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

9. While watching yourself on video is both brave and excruciating, it won’t help you know if you’re explaining your topic clearly.

You know how when you get a “For Dummies” book, you feel like an even dumber dummy because you can’t understand it?  The problem is that these writers are so immersed in their field that they can’t imagine what starting from zero really looks like.  In the same way, it’s likely that you’re so familiar with your material that you don’t realize all the assumptions you’re making about what your audience does and doesn’t know.  In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath call this the “Curse of Knowledge.” They write:

Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listerners’ state of mind.

To overcome this “curse” and to make sure you’re making yourself understood, you need someone else to give you feedback. (And if you’re serious about creating radical change, I highly recommend this book.)

You have passion, you have expertise and you have experience - why should you hire a speech coach? I’ve got ten wonderful reasons for you, but they all boil down to this - if you hope to be the kind of speaker that makes your audience want to cry and cheer and congratulate you all at the same time, you can. It’s just going to be nearly impossible to do it by yourself. Keep reading to find out why. #Powerpoint #keynote #speechcoach #ipresentation

8. Even if you’re a “natural” on stage, everyone needs input on delivery.  

There’s a popular misconception that speech coaches want to turn you into something that you’re not, including forcing you to use weird, awkward gestures that make people embarrassed for you.  That’s not the kind of delivery input I mean.

I’m talking about working on the deliberate use of elements such as pauses, eye contact and body language to strengthen the overall impact of your presentation.  You’ll still be 100% “you” - you’ll just be the enhanced version best suited for public speaking.


7.  You need targeted practice.  

A  good coach will make you practice in ways that not only challenge you, but prepare you for all manner of catastrophes, including but certainly not limited to crashed computers, lost files, broken glasses and wardrobe malfunctions.  You’ll prepare for normal situations as well, because sometimes things actually do go as planned.

6.  Moving from “great idea” to “great speech” can be very challenging if you don’t have extensive experience as a speaker and/or writer.  

Knowing how to develop your ideas in a way that doesn’t bore everyone to tears is a learned skill.  So is crafting a compelling story that will both engage and move your audience toward the desired outcome.  You need these skills and more to create powerful content.


5.  You probably forgot about your audience.

It’s easy to forget that you aren’t the most important element of your presentation - the audience is.  Think about it - without them, where would you be? So before you ever step on stage, you’ll need to make sure you’re considering your audience and the specifics of your presentation that are going to speak to them as individuals (no pun intended).

4.  Persuading an audience requires a strategy.


This strategy will include several tactics.  You can probably find some good suggestions on how to be persuasive, and perhaps even come up with a decent strategy on your own.  But if this is an important talk and the stakes are high, do you really want to run the risk of not being as persuasive as you could be?  I mean, I like to bake, but if one of my kids decides to get married, we’ll be hiring a professional. Just sayin’.

3.  It’s likely that you haven’t organized your speech in the most effective way possible.

If you’re starting by introducing yourself and explaining what you and/or your organization does, I rest my case.  That’s not a good way to start. Yes, that introduction and explanation belongs somewhere...just not in your opening remarks.  Good organization helps your audience focus on the material because you 1) make it clear from the beginning where you’re taking them 2) help them navigate along the way  3) demonstrate from the get-go that it’s gonna to be a helluva ride.

2.  Your slides could be better.

Building a PowerPoint slide deck (or Prezi, Keynote, etc.) includes so many important components that I’ve written a  30+ page slide guide! Fortunately, if you’ve been working hard on deleting unnecessary slides, editing down long bullet pointed lists and finding compelling images, you’re likely well ahead of the game.  

Nevertheless, you need an objective eye to tell you what’s confusing, redundant, and (hopefully not, but quite possibly) just plain ugly.  It's like hiring an editor.  No writer worth their salt would consider putting something in print without having an editor look over it first.

And finally....


1.  You’re boring.

Okay, okay, you’re probably not boring the whole time.  But I would bet that at least part of your presentation is boring.  Why? Because most talks are. And most speakers do what everyone else does.  Unfortunately, passion, expertise and experience are not enough to overcome this problem.  You’ve got to do something different!

Lucky for you, there’s hope.

Obviously, you can hire me. I’d love nothing more than to help you blow your audience out of the water with an amazing presentation.  It’s the best part of my job. And if you can’t hire me because, I don’t know, you don’t have an internet connection, you can start by addressing the ten issues above, and you’ll be well on your way.

And just one more thing...if you’re afraid of harsh criticism, I get it.  I hate mean. That’s why I work extra hard at helping you relax and find your groove.  In fact, it’s one of my specialties.

I will definitely point out where you need to improve, and show you how.  But I’ll also tell you all the things you’re doing well, and I’ll encourage you along the way.  

So go here, and let’s get started!  Your audience will thank you for it.

Change the World with This Special Speech Structure

Today in my “learn from the best” series I’ll be breaking down Nancy Duarte’s well-known talk about the structure behind some of the best known speeches in modern times. Here's a little clue -  it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc.  For best results, watch it here first and then read on to find out just what this structure looks like.  I’ll start by summarizing Duarte’s talk and then highlighting the take aways  you won't want to miss. 

The Summary


Duarte begins by asserting that an idea communicated effectively has the power to change the world, and that the most effective way of communicating this idea is by telling a story.  She notes that a story can actually create a physiological effect in our audience, for example, people might get goosebumps, or move to the edge of their seat. In contrast, a presentation often leaves our audience limp.


Duarte wanted to find out why. So she did a lot of research over several years, from Aristotle to Joseph Campbell to a German dramatist named Gustav Freytag, who created the classic story arc.  She discovered that unlike bad presentations, the best speeches have a particular shape, or structure.  This structure is the basis of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Steve Jobs iphone launch speech in 2007, and the Gettysburg address, as well as many others.

If you want to encourage, inspire or motivate your audience into action, this is the speech structure for you! Here's a little clue - it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc. Keep reading to find out how Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs and others successfully used this structure and how you, too, can incorporate it into your presentations. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference #motivation #inspiration

Above, you can see the structure that Duarte discovered.  At the beginning, the speaker describes the status quo, and then compares it with her idea of “what could be”, emphasizing the difference between the two.  In the middle of the speech, the speaker toggles back and forth between more vivid description of the status quo and more details of what the future looks like with that idea in place.  During this middle section, the speaker makes a point to demonstrate how unappealing the status quo is, especially in comparison to the incredibly bright future ahead. The toggling helps to break down any possible resistance to the idea. At the end of the speech, the speaker gives a call to action, encouraging the audience to adopt her idea, because in doing so, they will help to usher in that great future that she described. 

During the rest of the TED talk, Duarte demonstrates in detail how both Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King used this style, while also including techniques such as modeling what they want their audience to feel and rhetorical devices such as repetition and metaphor.

Duarte begins her closing in a classic way, by circling back to her original point, that ideas which are communicated well can change the world.  And then she surprises us all by getting really personal.  She tells a mini life story that demonstrates how she herself overcame hardship, believing that she was born for something big, for her own world changing moment. (This part makes me cry every time I watch it.)  And she encourages her audience to change their world and create the future they want to see.

The Take Aways

Wow!  What a great talk.  Here’s what you don’t want to miss….

1. Use this structure for a motivational/inspirational talk.

If you want to encourage, inspire or motivate your audience into action, this is the speech structure for you! Here's a little clue - it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc. Keep reading to find out how Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs and others successfully used this structure and how you, too, can incorporate it into your presentations. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference #motivation #inspiration

This format works great for encouraging people to take action around one big idea.  Begin by talking about the status quo, focusing on how bad it is, and then describe the future, when your idea has been adopted, focusing on how great that future will be. Toggle between these two ideas in the middle of your speech, and end on a “high” by urging your audience to accept your idea and live that wonderful future for themselves. It’s simple, genius and effective, all at the same time.   Remember, you don't have to give equal time each time you talk about the status quo or the better future. You can reduce the time between each toggle (as Nancy demonstrates in King's speech) to create a heightened level of excitement.

2. Know what your audience cares about and meet them there.

Steve Jobs talked about the difficulties of using old style smart phones, a problem every cell phone owner was acutely aware of.  They wanted an easier to use, more efficient phone, and Jobs delivered. Dr. King used and made reference to songs and Scriptures of resistance, resilience and overcoming that were especially meaningful to his audience.  These familiar, emotionally charged words inspired them to keep fighting for equality, in spite of the difficult path ahead. What does your audience care about? What songs, people, phrases and images will touch them?  Be sure to incorporate those important points of identity into your speech.

3. Don’t be afraid to get personal.


If you’re a nerd like me, it’s easy to get excited about Duarte’s discovery of this speech structure as an awesome presentation device in and of itself.  But stopping there would be missing her point, which is - go out, use this structure to communicate your great ideas, and change the world!  She concedes that being a world changer is not easy, and that we are prone to give up. That’s when she segues into the personal, describing her own life as an example of what it looks like to believe in yourself and overcome hardship.  So Duarte didn’t just share her idea of the speech structure, but by getting personal, and moving to a more emotional level, she inspired me (and probably a lot of others, too) to not give up on my own “big idea.”  

Try this structure during your next inspirational keynote or presentation and let us know how it goes! If you found this post helpful, hit one of the “share” buttons so it can help your friends, too.

And, if you want to use this structure but feel like you need some advice, schedule a session with me here. I’d love to help you make a difference!

How Better Body Language Can Improve Your Presentation

I was fascinated when I found this study about the importance of body language for public speakers and what a difference it can make in your presentation. Today I’m going to provide a quick summary of what the research showed, and then I’m going to give you some takeaways that you’ll want to keep in mind when delivering your next speech.

In this study volunteers were asked to rate TED speakers, and the researchers compared these ratings with specific “nonverbal and body language patterns” that they observed among the various speakers.  Here’s a summary of what they found:


Your audience is paying more attention to what they are seeing than the words they are hearing – so much so that even when the volunteers watched a TED speaker with the sound off, that speaker’s ratings did not change.


Using lots of hand gestures, smiling and “vocal variety”  all helped speakers’ ratings.


Ad libbing resulted in better ratings than sticking to a script.


Audiences formed their impression of speakers within the first 7 seconds.

Now, let's look at my 3 takeaways from these findings and ways you can use this information to be a better speaker.



If you’re someone who talks with their hands, laughs loudly and is very expressive in general, you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to delivering a talk.  Being expressive is a kind of charisma that is hard to resist. That’s why the volunteers in the study didn’t care if the sound was on or off - they were watching the speaker, and reading her face and body.  And an expressive person is much more interesting to watch than someone who is very subdued. So if you’re excited about your topic, don’t hold back!

In addition, the study showed that people who smiled a lot received higher ratings.  In my experience, when you smile at your audience, they smile back. It’s quite comforting.  It also makes everyone, including you, feel better. So smile...a lot. The research also showed that  “vocal variety” boosted ratings. Vocal variety refers to things like raising and lowering your voice and pausing for effect. Even yelling is permissible, assuming it’s appropriate in the context of your talk. (Go here to read a great example of this.)

 I’ve found that vocal variety is something that needs to be practiced. The tendency when we are on stage is to speed up, and often to become “smaller”, usually out of nervousness. But if you can slow down, control the pace and use your voice in very deliberate ways, it can greatly increase the impact of your words.



I understand that having all the words you want to say typed out neatly on a page provides a feeling of security.  And then memorizing all those beautiful words seems the smart thing to do...except it’s not. This study showed that your audience likes it better when you ad lib.  That’s why I recommend that you practice from an outline. An outline forces you to use your own “original” words every time. It helps you speak more naturally, because you aren’t trying to remember the specific words that you memorized.  

There’s a subtle energy shift that happens in your body when you are trying to remember what you memorized.  It’s as though you retreat into yourself ever so slightly, instead of moving outward and forward toward your audience.  But if you know what to say next because you can mentally picture the major parts of your speech like a chain of events, you’ll be able to stay connected to your audience and keep that energy flowing from you to them.

Getting comfortable speaking from an outline or short phrases takes practice.  However, once you get used to it, you’ll find there’s a kind of freedom in being able to simply talk about what you know.  



That last finding is worth quoting: “People had largely formed their opinion about a speaker based on the first several seconds.”  How many? Seven.  See those words in bold?  It took me about seven seconds to read them aloud.  That’s how long seven seconds is, and that’s how much time you have to make a good first impression.  It’s almost no time at all. So here’s what I suggest.

Show up BEFORE you stand up.  What I mean is, be that enthusiastic, smiling, powerful and in control “you” before you even get to the mic. Find a place where no one can see you.  Move around to both harness and shake off some of the nervous energy. Walk through your talk while in a “power pose”, both arms raised, to remind yourself that YOU are in control. Listen to a song that makes you feel 10 feet tall and bullet proof.   If possible, find friendly looking people in the audience to make eye contact with. And then, bring all of that excitement and energy to the stage. Because when you’re excited, your audience will be excited, too, and ready to hear what you’ve got to say.

Learn how body language affects your presentation, and what you can do about it. I’ve written a quick review of a fascinating research study for you, and then summed up the takeaways. See for yourself what you can do to have more of an impact through conscious body language. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference #motivation #inspiration #bodylanguage

I’d like to finish up with one final point that I see as the best part of this research.  

I believe this study shows that when it comes to public speaking,  it’s a good thing to be yourself. It’s good to speak naturally and ad lib as necessary.  It’s great to smile when you’re happy and to enjoy yourself on stage. And it’s wonderful to use your whole body - your hands, your face, your voice.

I used to worry that my facial expressions were too extreme, that I opened my mouth too wide when I laughed, that I talked too loud when I got excited, and that at times I looked ridiculous  because of how intensely I express myself. (You can guess which one is me in this picture, lol.)  Finally I came to terms with the fact that this is me - this is simply who I am. If you’re like me, the good news today is that this expressiveness is great for public speaking! So go out there and be your big self....your audience will love you for it.  If you found this post helpful, use of the share buttons to the right, so it can help your friends, too!

And finally, if you need some feedback on your own body lanuage and delivery, go here to schedule a session with me. If you’ve already got a video of yourself speaking, I can use that to give you feedback as well - just go here.

How I Changed Careers and Started Over

Today I’d like to introduce myself by relating the series of events that led me to change careers, going from being a long time ESL teacher and freelance writer to my current work as a speech coach specializing in training human trafficking survivors and their allies.

Ever since I can remember I've been particularly disturbed by the plight of homeless people, refugees and those “hidden” sufferers, like prisoners, who are largely unseen but nevertheless quite numerous.  I’d imagine their misery and wonder why other people weren’t as bothered by it as I was, and wonder why these social problems still existed in the face of “big religion(s).” I wondered why I didn’t do more.  But between these times of wondering, life continued. I married, had children, a home, and all the accompanying responsibilities. In some respects, I became the person that I had vowed I would never be – one so invested and consumed by presumed every day needs that my dreams of working in a refugee camp or serving poor communities never materialized.  

Life continued to go on, my children grew up and one day I found myself single and, much to my surprise, actually quite free to make a new start.  I had another chance to go after those dreams that I had abandoned so long ago. I began investigating a new career. Eventually, I took the plunge and made some big changes.  I quit my day job as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at a nearby university. I downsized and went paperless. I made a conscious decision to try to live minimally and accumulate less. I moved to the beach, a long time dream, and I even became vegan. During this time, I kept asking myself, what is it that I really want to do?  What would feel meaningful to me?


My focus returned once again to the displaced, marginalized, and poor.  I watched the commercials and imagined life without clean water flowing freely from the tap, and wondered what it would be like to be a woman who needed to devote hours every day to carrying buckets to a well, waiting in line, carrying those heavy buckets back home, and doing it all over again that night.  And the next day. And the next. Clean, easily accessible water. It seemed a good cause, one that affects women and girls disproportionally. I thought about it a lot. 

I also listened to great songs performed by international musicians and produced by the wonderful organization Playing for Change.  They use music as a means to educate and transform children’s lives.  As a teacher, mom, and music fanatic, I was transfixed, excited, and ready to jump on board.  But I kept reading and looking, somehow knowing that I hadn’t yet found exactly what I was looking for.


Then in May of 2016, I sat on a flight from Dallas to Boston, trying to hide the fact that I was weeping.  I had been reading the book Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and when I got to the chapter about sex trafficking, I just couldn’t help myself.  Although this certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve considered becoming involved in the anti-trafficking field, this was the moment when I felt a resolve that I had never experienced before.   This was the moment when I thought to myself. This is it.  This is what I need to do.

So I began educating myself about all the fields related to this kind of work.  I read everything I could get my hands on about human trafficking. I learned about non-profits and researched social marketing.  I took online courses on storytelling and social enterprise. And I began thinking about how I wanted to fit into the bigger picture.   For a long time I felt like Noah, telling my friends for what seemed like forever that I was building a boat (you want to do what?) and it was going to take me, uh...somewhere...somewhere good, lol. I felt like I was swimming through muddy water; I had a vague sense of where I was trying to go but not at all sure if/when I was going to arrive.

I finally realized that what I really wanted to do was speech coaching.  I consider speech my “roots”   - I participated in many speech competitions in high school and got my undergraduate degree in Speech Communication.  I've also taught many speech classes, and they were among my favorites.  It’s a field I’ve always loved. I knew I could do it. I could be good at it, even. I could make a difference by helping others. That’s all I really ever wanted to do.

The problem was, I’d never had the courage to start my own speech coaching business.  I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. I found the financial aspect terribly intimidating.  But I realized that the only thing holding me back was my own fear. For a long time I had this quote by Sheryl  Sandberg written on my chalk board:  "What would you do if you weren’t afraid?" I hated the idea that I would have a speech coaching business if I wasn’t afraid.  I hated the idea that my fears about “putting myself out there” were stopping me from doing what I really, really wanted to do. So finally I pulled the plug. I had my website built and started working to promote my business as a speech coach.

Not long after that I went to a trafficking conference and felt both validated and energized.  I listened as many presenters with impressive expertise gave “ok” or “good enough” presentations.  The potential for high impact was there, but most speakers were not able to deliver what I would consider a great talk, presumably because they lacked the proper training. I saw that there was a tremendous need for what I’m good at, and I knew I was on the right track.

Since then I’ve been working hard to let trafficking survivors and their allies know that I’m here to help.  I’ve begun coaching individual speakers and it’s been immensely gratifying. I’m learning new skills to stay current and thus provide more value to my clients.  I’m also learning how to promote my business on social media, and becoming bolder about getting in touch with strangers to talk about my services. Little by little, I’m moving forward.  It’s an exciting time.

Many articles like these end with impressive evidence of “success” , e.g., clients now numbering in the thousands, or interviews with famous people.  I’ll be honest. I’m not there yet. I’m not anywhere close. But that’s ok, because little by little, I’m making a difference doing what I’m good at. That’s reward enough.

Follow These Six Steps to Organize Your Presentation

If you struggle with knowing where to put what in your presentations, this post is for you!  Today we'll be focusing on the "body" of your speech - the main part between your introduction and your conclusion.    I’m going to show you how to go from one big list of ideas to a presentation that's organized clearly and logically .  Let’s get started!


For you visual people, the goal  is to take you and your presentation ideas from the hopeless piles on the left to the beautiful ducks in a row on the right.


Step #1 -  Brainstorm.

The initial brainstorm.

The initial brainstorm.

Aka, the brain dump. Make a list of every idea that you have about your topic.

It doesn’t need to be numbered, and it doesn’t need to be written in complete sentences.   If you’re not sure about an idea, put it down anyway. Now is not the time for editing; now is the time for dumping.  I suggest using a word processing program (as opposed to a handwritten list) because you’ll be moving your ideas around later on.

I’ve included an example of this whole process in the dark blue boxes that follow using a hypothetical presentation about forgiveness (including fictitious names and examples to protect the guilty, lol).  Here you can see my initial brainstorm.

Step #2 - Group Similar Items

Grouping items and naming each group.

Grouping items and naming each group.

Go through your list and group items that seem to go together and/or address more or less the same aspect of your topic.  

If you’re not sure if an item is in the right place, put a question mark next to it. I added a few notes as I went along to help me clarify the ideas.  Now name each group, identifying what it’s generally about.  See the example to the right for how this looks with my list.

Step #3 - Clarify Your Core Message


Now that you’ve listed all of your ideas and grouped them, it’s easier to think about what you want your main message to be.  Of course, you may have known that from the start, but let’s say that you didn’t. Imagine that as I look at my groupings, I keep thinking about how important forgiveness is for your health, both mental and emotional.  Perhaps to me, that’s the most important part of the whole list. So I decide that my core message (not to be confused with the title of my speech) is going to be “Forgiveness is essential for good mental and emotional health.”

I know, that sounds kind of dry.  Don’t worry - we can always work on eloquence later.  Right now we are just trying to get organized.

But what if, as you look at these groups, you see it differently, and you think that the most important idea is about forgiveness being an ongoing process? That works too!  Your core message could be something like “How to Move Through the Process of Forgiveness.”

I’m sure you could come up with other core messages for this same material - it all depends on what’s important to you.  Go ahead and write your core message at the top of your list now.

Stating your core message at the top.

Stating your core message at the top.

Step #4 - Edit Your Supporting Points


Think of your core message as bread, and your supporting points as the ingredients.  Flour is going to move you closer toward bread. So is a liquid, like water or milk, as is a little salt.  Now, you might really like mango jam. In fact, it might be your favorite food in the whole world. But you don’t want to put mango jam in, because jam is not going to get you to bread.  In fact, jam will be weird.

With that in mind, read your core message again.  Now look through all of your supporting points. Does every single one somehow support, or “go with” your core message?  Looking at my list,  in my first group, although “feeling better” doesn’t speak to the process, my experience of forgiving Jude was indeed a process, so I decide to keep this point.  But the point about my sisters doesn’t fit here, even though I’ve worked on/around this issue for a long time, because it’s not about the process of me forgiving them. So I’m going to cut that.


In group #2,  my story of forgiving Linda is a great example of the process when it’s hard, so I'll keep that.    And, I love my wagon story - it’s thrilling and gross and I could have died! (Remember folks, fictitious :) .  But alas, it’s jam - it’s not really about the process of forgiving my brother Craig at all - it's really much more about the accident. So I’m gonna cut that, too.

In group #3, everything fits, so I’m going to leave it as is.

Editing your points.

Editing your points.

#4.  . . hmmm. This doesn’t seem to be about a process at all. It’s a great point.  But it really doesn’t get me closer to my core message,  which is: “How to Move Through the Process of Forgiveness.”  Sadly, it is jam, too, so I have to cut that whole section.  (It happens.)

Now what about those last two lines with the question marks?  I think that  “it's hard to love people that you haven't forgiven them” is part of good emotional health, which I just cut, so it’s gotta go.  And the last one about the bad teaching - it could go in #2, but when I think about it now, it feels negative and unhelpful, so I’m going to cut it as well.  So what you see to the right  is what I have after my edits.

Step #5 - Put everything in order.

I’m down to three main points.  Now I need to think about the order.  It makes more sense to me to talk about the different approaches first, and then talk about what moving through looks like after that.  So I decide to rearrange my points. Here again, you might prefer a different order. The last list below is my final order.

Keep in mind that in a straightforward “how to” presentation like this one, whatever order increases clarity and understanding is fine. However, in speeches where you need to persuade your audience, you’ll want to be much more strategic about your order, aka structure. Go here for an example of a speech structure that works well in this case. Or go here for an article that describes many different structures.

Ordering your points.

Ordering your points.

Step #6 - Check for Balance

It's time to make sure that you are explaining each point sufficiently.  To me, #2 feels a little thin, so I might add another concrete example that looks different from the Jude story but that still shows the process.  I’d also probably add some kind of graphic that demonstrates having to revisit particular issues with the same person.


Finishing up...

If you've gotten this far, you've completed the lion's share of the organizational work!  Now all you have to do is add an introduction (guided by the same principal of “does it get me to bread?”), transitions and a conclusion, and you’ll have the basic content of your speech. 

From there you’ll want to work on the details of all of your supporting points. You may also want to change the order of some of those points within each main point, which is fine.

With practice, this process will become easier and easier.  If you’re struggling right now with the organization of a particular presentation, go here to get some help.  It’s what I do. :)

How to Inspire Your Audience In Dark Times
photo by janko ferlic on unsplash

photo by janko ferlic on unsplash


Valarie Kaur is my new hero.   In six minutes, she managed to deliver a rousing speech that made me want to cheer and cry at the same time.  Today I’m going to “unpack” Valarie’s talk and help you understand the techniques she used to create an extraordinary speech.   Have a look at the video and then let’s continue....

Valarie began by being transparent.  She told the story of her grandfather, who had been thrown in jail when he tried to immigrate to America because he looked “foreign.”  Then she brought it even closer to home and discussed her fear of raising her young son, “a brown boy”, in an age of hate and racial violence here in the U.S.  She lets us see her emotion around this topic - we hear the quavering in her voice and see the pain on her face.


Note that she doesn’t need to “act” sad, or angry - she simply lets us see her true feelings as they are happening.  Her transparency brings down our defenses and makes us more likely to embrace her message as opposed to resist it.

She continues with vivid description and a metaphor.  Because Valarie has chosen her words carefully, we can easily imagine her grandfather “languishing” in his “dark and dank cell” and the care in which her son “ceremoniously” sets out milk and cookies for Santa Clause.  We get angry about racism right along with her when she describes how “black bodies are still seen as criminal” and “indigenous bodies are still seen as savage.” We see and feel because she’s taken the time to paint a picture with her words.


She also uses a guiding metaphor,the birth process.  She mentions again the darkness of our times, the darkness of her grandfather’s cell, and then in a moment of poetic brilliance, asks “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”  That line brings down the house! Why? First, it ties everything together, even down to the mention of her son’s birth. Second, it has repetition, rhythm and rhyme - simply put, it sounds great.  And finally, it’s a phrase so vivid and positive that we are instantly moved from despair to hope.  This leads me to my next point.

Valarie brings hope.


In spite of all of the depressing and painful truths that Valarie has touched on, she helps the audience envision another way.  After suggesting that our darkness might be one of coming light, she uses repetition, another literary device, to drive home her point.  She asks a series of “what if” questions that inspire us to imagine that we might all be part of something bigger and that perhaps we are actually standing at the forefront of a great moment in history.

And then she references transition, that point in childbirth when the energy shifts, and suggests that perhaps our nation has been in transition.  Employing her birth metaphor one final time, she passionately entreats the audience to be brave, to push, to work, and to labor in love.  And if you are anything like me, that is the moment when you'll be cheering and crying at the same time.

This talk is an incredible example of what you can achieve with powerful words delivered well.

You can learn more about Valarie Kaur, her amazing work and the transformative speeches she gives here.  

If you know someone who could use a little inspiration, hit one of the share buttons below. And if you’d like to learn to create uplifting presentations like Valarie’s, go here to schedule a session with me.

Photo credits:

baby feet , chain with lock ,cemetery, man in turban , love sign