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Speaker coaching

What’s the point? Why give a presentation unless you make sure you’ve got an audience?


Four panelists presented for 30 minutes then opened the session to Q&A. These were good presenters from respected organizations.

They had prepared their remarks well and deserved a good crowd. Unfortunately, the session began with only 10 attendees in the room. Latecomers “swelled” the audience to 18. And guess what? Most of the attendees had work connections with the panelists.

In other words, the panelists put in a lot of time and effort, only to have their  key messages reach almost nobody. What’s the point?

FYI: I checked their Twitter accounts. Not one of the panelists had written any tweets to promote this program.

Equally interesting: Not one of the panelists tweeted after the program to help their messages reach a bigger audience.

Why go to all the trouble to give a presentation unless you can get your message across to a good audience (either live onsite, or later online)?

How to give a presentation in English … when English is your second language

I’m pleased to give public speaking tips to English-as-second-language speakers in this Business Venezuela magazine. (The article appears in both English and Spanish.)

Te invitamos a leer Nuestra Edición Digital N# 360 2018 “TOP 100 COMPANIES” 20 Años presentando el mejor ranking de negocios en Venezuela.

To read my featured piece click here.

Media training: Words to avoid

Avoid repeating the host’s name.

You can say, “Thank you Jake” once – but that’s about it. Jake is not your audience. Jake’s audience is your audience. Every time you interject the host’s name, you’re weakening your connection with the real audience.

Make every second count. Sell your key messages and don’t waste a syllable.

Focus on connecting with the viewing/listening audience. Ditch time-eating, distracting interjections:

  • Well, Jake, that’s a good question
  • No, Jake, that’s not how I see it.
  • Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you this evening, Jake.
  • Here’s the number you want to remember, Jake [No.Jake isn’t the one who needs to remember this number. It’s the viewing/listening audience who needs to remember your key messages.]

How to Write  Give a Speech smallforhomepage

Media interviews: another phrase to avoid

I heard this on a media interview a few days ago:

“You don’t look seventy.”

Some thoughts:

  1. What does seventy look like? [Who knows?]
  2. Will the phrase create value for the audience? [No]
  3. Does this line rank as a key message? [Hardly]
  4. Will the phrase contribute to the ROI of that interview? [No]
  5. Since everything has an opportunity cost, the question becomes: “Does saying this take time away from saying something more important?” [Unfortunately yes]

Time is money and time is focus. Whenever speakers use unproductive lines in media interviews, they are cutting into their own message time and blunting the focus for their audience.

Omit needless/distracting lines.

stack of books

Media training: phrases to avoid

I had a one-year contract to work as a national media spokesperson for a tech company – traveling the USA to convey the client’s key messages.

My advice to anyone answering media questions? 1. Know the key messages you must work into each interview. 2. Identify the annoying phrases you must keep out.

As an executive coach, I watch a lot of media interviews and I hear a lot of annoying phrases.

What ranks at the top of the please-don’t-say-this-again list? Perhaps “at the end of the day.”  I watched an executive on a TV interview use it twice within a few minutes. That was two times too many.


GUEST POST: A literary agent reflects “On Authors and Book Talks”

On Authors and Book Talks

By Debbie Carter of Waverly Place Literary Agency

Living in the hub of America’s book publishing capital, I see new books churned through New York’s publicity machine of readings and TV talk shows.  Every new book competes for a slot in bookstores, libraries, bars and colleges. It’s great having the selection of famous and emerging authors in fiction and nonfiction.

But with so many events happening at once, I have to make the difficult choice of choosing one book over another. You would think my appetite would be sated, but really, most of the time I’m disappointed. Or bored.

Same old, same old. The author reads an excerpt, making mistakes as if they’ve never read it before. They talk too fast, or choke, or apologize for not being better prepared because of a crisis at home that day.

Then they take questions, which are uninspired, because the author has set the standard.   Even a generous offering of wine and hors d’oeuvres, which are nice, won’t persuade me to buy a book. If the author is a drone, I won’t feel obligated.

Why are authors casual in the presentation of their books? Do they prepare? Are they nervous? The point of author appearances is to entice readers to buy the book.

The acting teacher Stella Adler said that if actors insist on becoming casual, they will become uncaring. Acting students in Russia stand up when a teacher enters a room. They preserve a formality about themselves, dictated by tradition. When introduced to you, they bow over your hand. “When the visitor is singled out and made to feel special, the special nature of the theater is once again affirmed.”

In The Art of Acting she offers other advice on how to prepare for a role.  Actors, too, must cope with stage fright. Adler says actors prepare by building a relationship with the set; they imagine preparing the stage as a garden or they become familiar with the objects as though the set was their own bedroom. Props, too, are part of an actor’s character. Like hats.

The person who wears a high hat has to know how it lives. The high hat lives in a box, and that box gives you its nature and its value. Do you know how to brush this hat or put it down? Do you know you have to use both hands to put it on? It’s made to be worn straight. The person who wears it has a controlled speech, a controlled walk, a controlled mind. You must not bring your own out-of-control culture into the wearing the hat. In the society of that hat, the human being as well as the clothes were under strict control.

The Art of Actiing, p. 79

What if authors imagined themselves in hats?


Stella Adler. Compiled and Edited by Howard Kissel. The Art of Acting. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. 2000.


3 ways to know if you would benefit from speaker coaching

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Do I spend way too much time preparing my presentations?
  2. Do I feel nervous when I get a public speaking invitation?
  3. Do I sometimes walk away from a lectern feeling I did less-than-my-best?

Keep notes.

  1. Log your preparation time.
  2. Annotate exactly when you get podium jitters.
  3. Write down your key points before you speak. After the speech is over, check that list. Did you – or did you not? – say what you needed to say.

Presentation success starts with honesty. And honesty begins with you.


A one-hour consultation might be all you need to go from good to great … from nervous to confident … from frustrated to productive.

What shaped you as a speechwriter?

While teaching a speechwriting tutorial last week, my student (a federal government public affairs officer) asked: “What college classes proved most useful for you in speechwriting?”

Interesting question … easy answer: My linguistics classes. I took both undergrad and grad courses in linguistics. (Thanks to The College of William and Mary for granting me a fellowship to earn my Masters in English – studying linguistic theory in the historic Sir Christopher Wren building.)

Linguistics taught me how words work. I use those insights every single day – both as a speechwriter and a speech coach.

Giving a speech? Make sure you get a good introduction

So you’re giving a speech next month? Find out who will introduce you. Better yet, select that person – and then make sure you get a good intro by writing it yourself.

Never send a formal bio. Why? Because most formal bios are too long: no audience wants to hear a lengthy, year-by-year recitation of your official titles.

Instead, write your introduction so it answers these five questions:

* Why is this speaker …
* From “X” organization …
* Talking about this topic …
* To this audience …
* At this time?

Do this, and you’ll a great intro.

Advanced teleprompter tip: How to make it look like you’re not reading

In previous blogs, I’ve addressed general guidelines for using teleprompters. Let’s look at a more advanced technique.

Teleprompters are much on my mind these days because I’m coaching speakers for a big convention – and teleprompters run big conventions. Speakers are expected (read: required) to use the teleprompters so they stay on time/on message/on target – yet they can’t look like they’re reading the lines verbatim.

What to do? Heed Dick Cavett.

Cavett, a master not only of “the talk show” but of talking (I could listen to him talk for hours), offers this advice:

“Grab a bunch of words off the prompter and, instead of staring straight ahead, glance down and to one side as you do — in real life — when thinking just what to say next. Then look back and deliver those snatched-up words to the camera.”

Folks, memorize that tip. It will serve you well.


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