I was scared to death. I thought I was going to cry.
Polls say people would rather be dead than speak in public. Seinfeld joked that a guy giving a eulogy would rather be in the coffin.
I’ve given 100s of talks but last week I wanted to die before I went on stage. I was speaking to an audience of about 200 CEOs. I felt inadequate and that they would hate me.
Claudia said, “Just take a deep breath. Do what you usually do.” And I did.
Here’s the operating theory: you don’t need 10,000 hours at anything to be the best. You just need to pretty good at something (a couple of 100 hours) and then you need to know how to give a good talk in public. Because so few people want to talk in public so you will stand out.
I wrote a post a year ago: “10 Unusual Tips to Be a Great Public Speaker“. I still follow those tips but…
Since the first post I’ve given a lot more talks to a varied set of audiences. I’ve spoken about everything from spirituality to business to creativity to entrepreneurship to failure.
And before each talk I’ve always thought to myself: “holy s**t, how did I write that post about public speaking. I’m more nervous than ever!”
So I have a few more tips. And these tips are as important as the first ten.
A) WATCH COMEDIANS. I watch great standup comedy before every talk. It puts me in a looser mood and makes me laugh, which relaxes me.
When possible, I will directly steal a joke from whatever comedian I’m watching. If they’ve tested out the joke, then it’s probably a good one and will work for me as well.
I even practice imitating their timing. The way they pause, the way they change voices and move around the stage, everything.
Comedians are the best public speakers and are up against the most brutal audiences so you MUST study comedians.
B) NO POWERPOINT. I used to think I always needed a PowerPoint. Because as useful as my words are: a “picture is worth a thousand words”.
This is total BS. If a picture is worth 1000 words then you are worth 100,000 pictures.
I compare Daniel Tosh stand-up with his TV show “Tosh.0”. In his stand-up it’s just him, making jokes, NO PowerPoint.
In “Tosh.0”, the format is that he watches YouTube videos and makes fun of them.
His stand-up is better than the show. Even though the show is great, it isn’t as fun as just watching him do stand-up.
PowerPoint will only distract from the main attraction: YOU.
C) CLOTHES. I ONLY dress in clothes I feel most comfortable in, even if everyone else is wearing tuxedos.
When I speak I have a specific “uniform”. I wear a t-shirt I had custom made that has all 67,000 words of my book, “Choose Yourself!” printed on it. And I wear a white shirt over it and black pants. Like a waiter. I’m at your service and I’ve chosen myself. BAM!
D) PAUSE. I had this unnatural fear that if I paused too much during a talk people would get bored.
But inserting pauses allows people to think about what you are saying. It allows you to breathe, it allows you to be funnier, it avoids the impression that you are rushing through the material. Take a drink of water. Walk from one side of the stage to the other. Whatever you need to do.
E) Q AND A. I enjoy Q and A as much as the talk itself. So I arrange beforehand to do the maximum amount of Q&A.
F) ABS. Always Be Storytelling. NEVER give advice in a talk. Nobody is smart enough to give advice.
Just talk about your own experiences and what you did to help yourself. Mix in interesting facts.
Straight out advice will never help anyone. Buddha himself realized this about public speaking. He said, “Don’t believe me on anything. Try this out for yourself.”
G) ABV. Always Be Vulnerable. Nobody wants to hear from Invulnerable Man. They want to hear where you are scared and vulnerable and feeling insecure. Because we all do.
Poor speakers create an artificial divide between themselves and the audience. They feel they need to do this in order to establish their own credibility.
Let me tell you – there is no such thing as credibility. In 100 years there will be no buildings named after any of us.
Somebody has to be on stage and some people have to be in the audience. That’s the only difference.
Don’t put any thought as to WHY you are on the stage or how you need to be “better” than the people in the audience. You aren’t better. You’re simply the speaker.
We all woke up lonely and confused this morning. What a miracle that we get to speak to each other.
And even better, we feed the soul by listening to each other. Ultimately, the best speakers are the ones who have put 10,000 hours into listening.