Posts tagged Speech Coach
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.

Woman with earbuds on bus.jpg

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. 

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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.

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.