How to Put the “Fireworks” into Your Speaking And Keep Your Audience Hooked

After many years of coaching speakers, one of  the biggest challenges that I see most speakers face is how to ‘keep’ their audience tuned in throughout their speech.

They could sometimes get the ‘show on the road’ and have a decent start; but with every minute that passes, the speech gets less and less engaging and by the end, not only has the speech fizzled out, but the audience did as well.

These speakers typically find themselves challenged with  keeping the “fireworks” burning throughout their speech. Chances are, that as a speaker, you could also find yourself challenged by this.

Last week, we celebrated July 4th, the day in the year 1776  that we as Americans declared our independence from Great Britain and its king. But July 4th is also unique for another reason, because it’s a day when around the country a record breaking amount  of fireworks is lit.

Interestingly, If you’d gather all the fireworks around the country,  they’d weigh more than the Statue of Liberty, heavier than the Washington monument and 4 times the weight of the USS intrepid – that’s a lot of fireworks being lit!

As I was putting  my thoughts together for this article, images of the Macy’s July 4th fireworks display kept popping into my head. Partly to blame for this was the constant barraging and mentioning of it on the radio and television news broadcasts in the week leading up to Independence Day.

And while I now live In New Jersey, thinking about it, also brought back memories of when I used to live in Brooklyn and every year made my way into Manhattan across the Hudson River just to see the beautiful Macy’s July 4th fireworks display.

Chances are, that on July 4th, after  you were  done with a day of fun with family and friends, and after you’ve feasted with your delicious BBQ and the juicy watermelon had been eaten, that you found yourself making your way to some park in your town and looking forward to being a spectator to a beautiful fireworks show of your own.

So as I was sitting and writing this article, and since speaking is always on my mind, I couldn’t help but also  think about the strong similarities between how a spectacular fireworks show is designed and put on for a crowd and how an engaging impactful speech is designed and delivered for an audience.

Think about the Similarities

A great fireworks show has a powerful explosive opening that’s designed to hook in an audience. A mid section that’s designed to entertain, and an ending that builds into a climactic crescendo that not only is just as powerful and engaging as the opening, but has the audience walking away with an unforgettable feeling. Kind of sounds quite similar to what a great speech is supposed to do.

If you’ve ever experienced the kindling of a camp fire, you’d know that it takes quite a bit of energy to get the whole thing started and once you do, it only takes adding some wood every now and then to keep the fire burning. It’s the same with speaking.

So how do you put the fireworks into your speaking? How do you keep the pulse of your audience alive and healthy throughout your speech?

To help anchor and make it stick,  I’ve created  acronym (CLAP) that will  help you always remember  the key ingredients that will help make your speech have more “fire power”  for the audience. And if you follow this blueprint when creating and delivering your speeches, you will always be sure to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Here is the acronym in detail; 

CConflict and Curiosity

L  – Laughs and Humor

A Activities

PPut the “Punch” in Your Opening

(C) Conflict  and Curiosity 

The greatest enemy of the speaker is being boring, and guess what? Conflict is the cure. Conflict is the most underused  tool  in speaking,  but yet it’s one of the most critical parts of speaking. Conflict is what keeps feeding the fire of your speech. And when used properly, conflict is the tool that will be the ultimate driving force behind your speeches and will  keep your audience hooked. 

So What is Conflict? 

For a moment, Reflect  back on some of the best movies you’ve watched over the years. For me some of the top movies that come to mind are Titanic, Braveheart, and Gladiator. Take the 2000 movie Gladiator for example. Without going through the full storyline and plot, the synopsis really tells it all. It’s a story about a General who became a slave, who then became a Gladiator, who then defied an Empire.  A movie about a slave who became more powerful than the emperor of Rome is a movie that I definitely want to see. In fact, it’s one of the few movies that I’ve watched over and over again. And it wasn’t just me who loved it; world-wide, Gladiator grossed $457.6 million dollars and went on to win 5 academy awards including “Best Picture.”  

Conflict makes us Curious 

One of the basic themes of good conflict in any story is “character change.” In Gladiator we saw the general Maximus turn into a slave, then became a Gladiator who ultimately defied the empire of Rome and became more loved and more powerful than the emperor himself. And throughout the story, as we see the character push up against insurmountable obstacles that are in his way, we are constantly put on the edge of our seats being curious about what’s going to happen next. And it’s this curiosity that keep us hooked. 

Now let’s bring it full circle to the world of speaking. Have you’ve heard a speaker who told a story, and the story just did not pull at you in any way? And you were simply bored by it?  Chances are, that there was no conflict in that story and the main character was never challenged and did not change in any way. 

When Bill Gove, the founder of the national speakers association said that great speaking is about “telling a story and making a point” I’m sure he didn’t include stories that were boring and did not have any conflict.

Telling A story without conflict is like telling no story at all. In fact, It’s probably worse.  Because the whole purpose of a story is to pull us into a scene, and make us curious about what comes next. And when a character is never “tested” they never change in any way; they’re the same person at the end of the story that they were at the beginning and in the end of it all, not only do we not have a good story, there’s nothing we as an audience can learn from a story where a character never changes. 

We’re not curious about anything about that character. We’re not curious about what’s going to happen next because there’s is nothing to be curious about. The story is just going nowhere and we’re bored. Better to not have told it in the first place, because having your audience bored is just  about the worst thing you can do as a speaker.  

(L) Laughs and Humor

It’s been said that “you shouldn’t include humor in your speaking – that is unless you want to get paid!” The truth is regardless of whether you’re getting paid to speak or not, humor is a critical aspect to your connection with your audience. And if you’re getting paid as a speaker, you should know that meeting planners when hiring a speaker will lookout out for this important criteria when deciding on the right person to speak  for their event. This is because they know that humor is  the magnet that pulls an audience back to the speaker.  So regardless of whether you’re looking to get hired as a speaker or not, humor is  a great way to recharge the batteries of your audience. And when  humor is uncovered in your speech by way of your stories and dialogue with the audience, it  becomes an indispensable tool in the speakers toolbox.

Humor gets Your Audience out of Their “FUNK”

Within your speaking, there will always be those moments when your audience is there with you, but they’re not exactly in that alert “peppy”  state. Maybe it’s when you’re going through some dry content,  or perhaps its during a serious point in your speech where you’re taking them through a trying time in your life.  What most speakers get wrong, is that they think that humor can’t be connected with the serious moments in their speech. In fact, humor that is uncovered during those times are more powerful because it’s unexpected. 

Humor comes from the “Reactions” in Your Story

In your “serious story”  you may uncover  the  humor  with your reactions to a line of dialogue given by you to one of your characters in  your story.  For example,  in one of my signature stories where I talk about my first solo flight where I mention having just been dumped by my ninth instructor.

In the scene,  I’m sitting at home feeling all depressed that I’m never going to accomplish my dream and get my pilots license and  then suddenly the phone rings; “it’s my best friend Chuckie and he says to me “Lewis you are not going to believe what just happened, I just got my flight instructors license – that means I can now teach people how to fly; (Then I immediately put the phone on mute – visually showing the audience so Chuckie can’t hear) and then I lean in and say to them ” I just got my 10th instructor”  The audience bursts out in laughter!

 keep in mind, this takes place  during a depressing moment in my speech. Why do they laugh when the moment was just serious? It’s because when we take our audience down to the depths of seriousness, our audience  is desperate to come up for a breath of fresh air. And humor does that for them. So never underestimate the power that humor does for your speaking.  

(A) Activities

Activities when used properly in speaking, can be quite powerful in not only getting the blood flowing again with your audience after a period of time being glued to their seats; but can also be a great way to anchor and drive  your points home to your audience.  

Activities are inherently kinesthetic in nature. And because of this, when the physical activity that you take your audience through is precisely matched  to the point you’re making, it can be quite powerful in anchoring it to your audience with long lasting effects.

When constructing an activity to anchor your points, remember these three rules.  

1. Never start off your speech with an activity.

Before you ask your audience to do anything, they need to get to know you, like you, and trust you first.  Starting off your speech with an activity is like meeting someone for the first time and then asking them,  “hey can you go down to the corner  grocery and pick up a gallon of milk for me?”  

If you haven’t built up any sense of rapport with someone yet, chances are that the person being asked to do a menial task like run down to the corner store for you and get a gallon of milk might do it. However, internally  they will still feel very weird about it and question your better judgment to be asking him of this. Whereas, once you’ve built up some trust and rapport and the person has a general liking towards you, they will mostly likely gladly volunteer.

Your audience will have the same kind of weird feeling if you throw an activity on them before you’ve  built some rapport with them and that they got to know you a bit. In order for you to get complete “buy in” from the audience, they first need to “buy in” to you as the speaker. 

So unless you are a famous speaker  where  rapport is already built in before you take the stage, don’t throw an activity on your audience at the start of your speech until you’ve built some rapport with them.

2. Balance the length of your activities with your content.

The length of any activity will be relative to the length of your speech. If you are conducting a full-day program, doing two or three 10-15 minute activities spread out through the day will fit well. However, doing a 15-minute activity in a 25-minute speech will not. Remember that the purpose of an activity is to anchor a point, not just to take up air time.

3. Always test your activity before taking it prime time.

I once remember being at a popular two day motivational  seminar. On the 2nd day of the program  the seminar leader began an activity by asking everyone to close their eyes and imagine a time in their life when they were bullied, mocked, or laughed at.

Within seconds, a recording of  sounds of people laughing  started coming out of the loudspeakers. The idea was to ‘mimic’ real sounds of people laughing in order to enhance the experience of the exercise and make us feel like we were being mocked and laughed at. The activity backfired! What the seminar leaders did not realize was the effects of laughter being contagious. Even when it is just being heard from a loud speaker.

 It started with a few people catching the “laughing fever,” and within a few minutes, almost everyone in the room was laughing. The intended  effect completely backfired, and the exercise had to be stopped in its tracks.

Most likely the seminar leaders never tested this out with smaller “test groups”  before implementing it in a big way. So the lesson here is to always test out your activity with smaller audiences first before taking it to the big stage.

(P)  Put the “Punch” in Your Opening

Did you know that within the first 15-30 seconds of your speech, the audience is already sizing you up and deciding if they should stick around (mentally) or if they should “check out.”

On page 12 of the bestselling book  Blink,  Author Malcom Gladwell  talks about  a remarkable study done by psychologist Nalini  Ambady who gave students three -10 second videos clips of a teacher – with the sound turned off and found that they all had no problem coming up with a rating of the teachers effectiveness. Then  Ambady cut the tapes back to 5 seconds and the students still had no problem coming up with the same conclusions. In fact, even when the clips were cut back to 2 seconds they were remarkably consistent. 

Then Ambady compared those “snap judgments” of teachers effectiveness with evaluations made by students of  those same professors after a full semester of class and she found that they were essentially the same.

This power of us being able to be accurate with our  “snap judgments”  after  only watching 2 seconds of a muted video comes from what Malcom Gladwell  says is the “adaptive unconscious.” And without going into too much  depth on this concept, what it basically comes down to, is being able to tap into and  trust our own “intuition.”

The Second You take the Stage People are Already Sizing You Up.

After 30  seconds of you speaking, If people in the front rows of your audience are sitting there thinking “I wish I would have taken a seat in the back row so I would not have to been seen pulling out my phone and surfing the Internet and messaging my friends.” If that’s what they’re thinking, your speech is in deep trouble. And you can forget about those in the middle and especially in the back rows as they’ve already checked out!

How you prevent this from happening is by coming out of the gate “punching.”  Like a  boxer who first comes into the ring, you need to come out of the gate punching. Your first 30 seconds should be so strong and powerful, that the audience will only have one thought “I NEED to stick around for this because it looks like it’s going to be a great one” that’s what you want them thinking. Just like a great fireworks display, where the opening is so powerful that it gets you to want to stick around (sometimes even in the smelting  heat) and you’re  happily standing on your feet and won’t leave until the whole thing is over. That’s the same kind of feeling you want your audience to have when you’re speaking, and it starts with a powerful opening that comes out  of the gate “Punching.”  

Final Thoughts 

When your audience comes to hear you speak they don’t just want a speech they want an experience. They want to stay tuned into your speech  from  the start until the very end. As speakers,  it’s our job to keep the “fireworks”  burning throughout our speech  and make sure that the audience gets what they came for. An experience.  And when you use  and implement the tools outlined in  CLAP  that’s exactly what they will get!



The Art of Impromptu Speaking – How to Win at the Game of “Thinking on Your Feet”

keep-calm-and-think-on-your-feet 2A few months ago, Cindy a 16 year old high school student showed up as a guest at the West Side Talkers toastmasters public speaking club that I founded on the Upper West Side of New York City. 

After seeing her do a great job at “table topics”  (which is the segment of our program that helps  people work on their impromptu speaking skills), I casually walked up to Cindy and asked “so what brought you to our club?”  First she joked and smiled while  pointing to her mom standing beside her.  And then she told me something that brought an answer to the burning question that I had pondered while seeing her speak;

I thought, “How is a 16 year old high school kid this good at engaging her audience while thinking on her feet?” And then the words came out of her mouth, “I’m a high school student, and  I’m involved with public forum debate as well as parliamentary and model congress debate and I want to improve on my public speaking.”  Bingo! I got my answer. Now I knew why she was so good at “thinking and speaking on her feet.” 

Thinking on Your Feet is an Acquired Skill

Contrary to popular belief, being great at impromptu speaking is not something you’re born with.  In fact, being great at public speaking in general, is a skill that  needs to be picked up and developed.  Cindy was lucky to be going to a school that had put a strong focus on developing ones leadership and communication skills and when she showed up at our club, she was already well on that path.  

It wasn’t just that she was good at speaking that impressed me, it was with the ease and effortless  way that she went about responding to a spontaneous question during our table topics segment that  really piqued my interest.  She delivered a  2 minute spontaneous response that was not only well structured, but one which she engaged her audience with great content and humor. 

What most people don’t realize is that the skills needed in mastering the art of delivering a prepared speech and those that are needed to mastering the art of  speaking spontaneously are distinctly different. 

Mastering the art of “thinking on your feet” will not only help you with being able to easily break in and out of your prepared talks and be spontaneous with your audience, but it will also help you with being better at speaking up at board meetings, mastering job  interviews, or being hosted as a guest on a radio or talk show where being able to successfully respond to spontaneous questions is crucial.   

The Unfortunate Consequences of NOT Mastering this Skill

To really  get a grasp of the real consequences of not being good at impromptu speaking, one need not look further than our  republican presidential debates that took place earlier this year.

According to a focus group that was conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz immediately after the 4th republican presidential debate on November 10th, 2015 on the Fox Business Network, Florida senator Marco Rubio won the debate. When asked to describe Rubio in one word, the focus group participants said:





 Now fast forward just a few months to Feb 7th, 2016. Just a day after the 8th Republican debate, a headline in  vanity fair  summarized it all; “Marco Rubio short-circuits during GOP debate.”  The Washington post went further by putting a damper on his days left in the campaign  with the headline “Debate slip-up seems to halt Rubio’s momentum.” It was obvious to everyone that Marco Rubio was the biggest loser of the 8th GOP debate. 

So the question begs,  “what happened to  the eloquent, passionate, and inspirational speaker that Macro Rubio was known to be just a few month prior? What was it that lead to his disastrous performance at the GOP debate on the night of Feb 6th which became a turning point in his campaign? 

There was one distinguishing feature that separated the GOP debate on the night of Saturday Feb 6th at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire from all of the republican debates prior which became a game-changer for the participants.

If you were to re-watch the full debate you would hear the moderator ABC News journalists David Muir say the following in his opening comments,  “Good evening everyone. This is the first time since Iowa and the only time before the new Hampshire primary that the republican candidates will have the opportunity to face each other.”  

It would be worthwhile to watch the first 15 seconds of the clip below so you can actually hear it for yourself.

Having the “Opportunity to face each-other   was what made the difference  in Marco Rubio’s  fateful and disastrous performance that night, where he short-circuited under pressure and repeated the same talking points 4 times during his spat with Governor Chris Christie. 

For a quick reminder of Marco Rubio’s debacle take a look at this 36 second clip. 

Marco Rubio is a great speaker and knows how to “prepare” and craft a great speech and then “memorize and internalize it.”  And then he knows how to go out and deliver it masterfully and beautifully  using his great skills as a speaker with great emotional dynamic vocal variety and storytelling abilities. 

As long as he was delivering  his  “well prepared statements and talking points”  to questions  that he had anticipated in advance, he did well and looked “presidential.”  But the minute that cycle was interrupted, and he was put under pressure, that all evaporated into thin air!  

The very skill that Marco Rubio  was great and excels at which is to  “prepare, memorize and internalize”  became his greatest enemy that night  when it came to  drawing on the  skill of “thinking on your feet.”  When Governor Christie  kept jabbing at him, the pressure got too intense for him and he couldn’t think fast enough on his feet. His brain short-circuited and he went back to his “memorized” talking points  making him sound like an old broken record player.  And unfortunately  this blunder cost him big and ultimately put a nail in his bid for the presidency.

The New Hampshire primaries came only a few days following this debacle, and with this experience fresh in the minds of voters they knew that this wasn’t a man to elect as president. The thinking was simple; “if he can’t handle a few jabs during a debate how can he withstand the pressures of running a country.” 

It’s unfortunate that Marco Rubio  had not realized this shortcoming of his  with impromptu speaking and taken action man years prior to improve in this area of his speaking. If  he had voraciously studied and practiced the “art of impromptu” in the years prior leading up to his run for president,  things could have turned out differently for him in his bid for presidency. 

Impromptu Speaking is a Distinct Skill.

Mastering the art of impromptu is a skill that incorporates the art of speaking  but is a separate and distinct skill that when combined with the skills of being able to deliver a great “prepared speech”    will allow you to take your engagement with your audience  to greater heights.  

When an audience hears and sees you be able to break out of your “prepared speech” at spontaneous moments before, during, and after your speech, the connection doesn’t only feel magical for you, it also has the same feeling for your audience and you will connect with them on an entirely different level.

Not all of us have been fortunate enough to be like Cindy and be involved in debate and speaking clubs from an early age.  However, no matter what age we start we can still get on the road to developing this priceless skill.  In fact, I was already in my 30s when I started on my path to speaking mastery. 

Once I got on the path, In a very short time, I could identify where my strengths and weakness were.  I found out  pretty quickly that I was more comfortable in the “world of preparation” than being in  the “world of spontaneity. ” 

After watching the debate that fateful night of Feb 6th 2016 and seeing Marco Rubio fall apart like that,  I could  surely relate.  In my early years of speaking development, I remember once putting together an hour long workshop and literally memorizing the entire script word-for-word because that’s what I was comfortable with. It was my crutch.

It worked for some time, but then one day it  backed fired when I was unexpectedly cut off from my script and put on the spot and had to  step out of my script and be spontaneous. When it was time to cut back into my script, I lost my place, drew a blank and froze.  I did not only lose my train of thought that night, but worse, I lost the credibility with my audience.  

After that fateful evening, I realized that mastering the art of impromptu is an essential and critical skill that cannot be overlooked if you want to be a speaker that really connects with your audience and as a result, I took concrete steps to mastering that skill. 

Steps to Mastering the “art of Impromptu”

There are no magic solutions or quick fixes to becoming a master at “thinking on your feet.” And one of the biggest keys to successfully developing  this skill is simply doing and practicing it often.  However still, just as our GPS helps us navigate in taking the shortest route on our road trips, there are also a number of short cuts that you can take to developing  the skills of impromptu speaking. 

The following are steps that I took in order to fast track the development of my impromptu speaking skills and will surely help you do the same.

1. Join an Improv School

On top of all the countless hours of speaking courses and boot camps that I have immersed myself in, taking classes in improv was the second best thing that I did for  my  speaking development. It was like the cement that sealed and filled up  the cracks in the foundation of my spontaneous speaking  development.

Because of the training I did with improv, I am at a very different place  with my  skills at impromptu speaking  than I was when I first started on the road to my speaking development.  Today I embrace spontaneity  with my audience whereas back then I had distanced myself from it. 

Get on Google and do a search for an improv school within your city. Most major cities have improv schools with classes at varying skill levels from intro to advanced.  If you live in the United States, major Cities like New  York, Chicago, and Toronto have a number of very good improv schools that you can join. 

2. Seek out Opportunities to Practice Spontaneous Speaking.

You can read up on improv and you can read books on speaking, but if you don’t ever take the stage and put theory into practice you simply won’t develop.  It’s like anything else in life. There’s no substitute for experience.

So whenever you have the opportunity to speak you should take it. Being on stage in front of various audiences  is where your skills will get anchored. If you are the type that always likes to work with a scripted speech, try changing it up and working without a script.  If you are not a politician or in an arena where your words might be scrutinized by the media, then your speech really does not need to be scripted word-for-word. In fact it shouldn’t. Instead use bullet points to anchor your points and stories and speak freely and off-the-cuff.  This will help build your muscles for spontaneous speaking.

3. Join a Toastmasters Club

If you’re not able to find opportunities to speak, then I’ve got a simple solution for you. Join a local toastmasters club and you’ll get plenty of opportunities. Getting involved with a toastmasters public  speaking club  would allow you to get increased stage time on a regular basis.  Being with a toastmasters club is like having an on demand ready-made captive audience. When looking for a club to join, you’ll want to join one that puts a strong emphasis on  impromptu speaking. If they also do improv it’s a definite plus.  To search for toastmasters clubs in your area go to the following link.  

4. Get Private Coaching

Coaching  by far is the best  method to fast-track your speaking development. When you combine the above suggestions with working with a qualified speech coach, the pace in your development will  quadruple. Before I became a coach I had a coach. And looking back, I must say that working with my coach and mentors had literally cut many years off of my speaking development. Working with a coach is like taking the high speed highway versus the side-streets to your destination.  You might eventually get to your destination, but with a coach you are guaranteed to get there much quicker!

Final Thoughts

Mastering the art of “thinking on your feet” will help take your speaking to magical new heights. You’ll be the kind of speaker that can seamlessly weave in and out of your structured speech  and be “in the moment” with your audience. It is a skill that will not only help you when you’re on stage,  but it will also help you with being better at speaking up at board meetings, mastering job  interviews, or being hosted as a guest on a radio or talk show where being able to successfully respond to spontaneous questions is crucial. You will be able to handle anything that  comes your way; whether it be a spontaneous talk, a high-Stakes Q and A,  or even a political debate!



No Eye Contact No Connection

No eye contact no connection picThe next time you go down to your neighborhood supermarket take a stroll down the cereal aisle and  you’ll find something quite interesting. 

You’ll notice that  the characters  on some of our favorite cereal boxes  that many of us have  grown up with such as  Fred Flintstone’s  Fruity pebbles, Tony the Tiger (Kelloggs Frosted Flakes) and the Trix Rabbit all have one thing in common.  They’re all looking straight at us.

You’ll also find this common phenomenon  with other popular products like  Aunt Jemima’s maple syrup , Quaker oats and the Sun-maid raisin girl.   And there’s a very good reason for this, which may have more do with our subconscious craving for eye contact than with the actual taste of the products themselves. Corporate America knows this and that’s why they’ve put a lot of money behind their packaging because they know that  great eye contact is also great for big business.

In fact, in April of  2014,  a study called “Eyes in the Aisles” was published in the Journal of Environment and Behavior, where researchers at Cornell University manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on Trix cereal boxes and found that adult subjects were more likely to choose Trix over competing brands If the rabbit was looking at them rather than away. 

The study went even further,  and this may even shock  you – especially if you’re a parent. Trix  Cereal Box From  their research, they found that the eyes of characters on boxes of cereal marketed to kids were directed downward, and can meet the upward gaze of children walking through the grocery store aisles.

This  study conducted in 2014 by the researchers at Cornell University was actually preceded by another study done by noted  biopsychologist Eckhard Hess back in the 70’s at the University of Chicago. Hess was quoted as saying “The pupil is the body’s natural lie detector and a type of window to the brain.”  

Studies that Hess had conducted back then proved that the power of the eyes is undeniable and all emotional states are filtered through them – there are sad eyes, happy eyes, angry eyes, piercing eyes, and even bedroom eyes. Hess also claimed that the pupils work independently of our conscious control.

Hess said that our emotional states come across in our eyes and can be picked up by those we interact with. The pupil size is affected by one’s emotion – if you are excited, your pupils can dilate up to four times.  if you are experiencing anger or another negative emotions, your pupils shrink in size.

Dialated pupil of makeup modelThese discoveries made by Hess in the seventies were successfully applied by corporations as an effective way of increasing sales of products, such as cosmetics, clothing and hair. This was achieved by altering photos of models to make the pupil area larger which, in turn, produced more sales.

As you can see, corporate America will go quite far to get our  attention!  And whether you agree with their marketing tactics or not, the bottom line is that corporate America knows that eye contact is critical when connecting and selling to their audience and so should we.  And when it comes to speaking and presenting we need to take a cue from “big business,” because  connecting and selling is exactly what we do  when we  take the stage.

When you are in speaking your are in sales

Whether  we want our audience to buy into an idea, a vision, a product,  or a service,  we are selling them on something.  And eye contact  is a big part of that process.  If you want to come off as authentic and trustworthy with your audience you need to make solid eye contact with them. And the  lack thereof, will make you be perceived by your audience as inattentive and untrustworthy.

Even in the world of business where a lot of selling is done over the phone, most business deals of significant value still  have to happen person-to-person, eye-to-eye, and sealed with a handshake.  Why is this?  Because eye contact conveys trust, confidence, and connection.

When we tell  the significant people in our lives that we love and care about them, we do it not only by the tone of our voice, but we do it by looking them in the eye because our eyes don’t lie and our emotions are filtered through them.

Eye contact is so powerful that it can even cut through a crowded room  of people where two strangers on opposite sides meet each other’s gaze and become magnetized with laser focused connection, and without even  uttering  a single word they know that “love is in the air.”  Nothing needs to be said, because their eyes do all the talking.

Taking it to the Stage

Most of us already know how to make eye contact with people that we interact with in our daily lives. Whether it’s with our kids, our co-workers,  our friends, or our lovers, we make eye contact and we do it well.  It’s because our “humanness”  has made us that way  and we’ve become experts at it.  We crave connection and we do it with our eyes.

However, the problem for many speakers begins as soon as they take the stage, and the  great  eye contact  that they were able to convey just minutes before getting up to the podium gets thrown out the window along with the connection with their audience.  For most, this happens because when they take the stage their confidence  suddenly shifts and they begin to lose their “sense of self” – and their personality isn’t the same anymore.

A number of years ago, I had created a term for this phenomenon, and  I called it   “Stage Personality  Disorder.”  This happens when your offstage personality doesn’t match your on stage personality.

My creation of this term came from years of observing many speaker over the years.  I would see speakers whom had vibrant personalities while socializing  during breakfast, luncheons, or during the cocktail hour just minutes prior to  taking the stage, and  whom suddenly became stiff and  monotonous  as soon as they uttered the first words of their speech.

It was like watching  two different people with two different personalities.  And unfortunately, when ones confidence begins to go downhill  when taking the stage great eye contact is usually one of the first thing to go along with it.

The good news however,  is that there a number of sure-fire ways to quickly increase your confidence as  a speaker which would  result in greater eye contact with your audience with every speech that you give.

1. Know your speech well

This seems like a no-brainer, but from coaching thousands of speakers over the years  one of the pitfalls that I often encounter is the sheer lack of preparation for ones speech.  Many of my clients decide to come to me sometimes with just a week or  two ahead of a  high- stakes presentation.  And luckily with intensive coaching we’re able get the job done.

This issue of  ‘the preparation gap’ is  even common among CEO’s and top executives and often the presentation is the last thing that they work  on  when it should really be their first. In fact, a 2010 survey conducted among executives found this startling fact. Over 86 percent of those surveyed said that communicating clearly impacts their career and incomes, but yet, only 25 percent put more than 2 hours into a very high-stakes presentation.  Clearly there is a “preparation gap” here.  

As you can see there’s a  reason why I listed “know your speech well” as first on the list. It’s  because this is the  number one issue that I believe that speakers  face  with  not being able to speak confidently.  They simply do not know their speech well.

And when you do not know your speech well,  you are not yourself.  You become nervous and tense, and when you’re nervous, your mental focus goes inward instead of  outward to your audience.  When that happens, your confidence drops along with great eye contact with your audience.

2. Speak to one but look to all

Craig Valentine the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking coined the phrase “speak to one but look to all.”  Too many speakers feel like when they are  up on  stage delivering  a speech, that they are “speaking to all,” but instead they should be thinking that they are just having a  one-on-one conversation with each individual in their audience.

Feeling like you are “speaking to all” not only puts that extra pressure on you, but also takes away that sense of one-to-one communication with your audience.  When you start to gravitate towards the mindset of “speak to one but look to all,”  then your  eye contact on stage with your audience will become much more easy and natural  for you and you will meet the gaze of your audience  as if you’re just having individual conversations.

3. Get more time on stage

One of my Improv teachers said it best when one of our classmates asked, “How do you get good at improv? ”  and everyone thought he would say  ‘Well  you have to read these books, learn those techniques, take these classes etc..’  But what he  instead said was, ‘reading the books, taking the classes are great, but it won’t make you a great  improviser’.”

He went on to say, “that being a great improviser really boils down to the hundreds  and hundreds of hours of repetitions of scenes that  you do. The more repetitions you do, the better you will be at improv.” And he was right. Because the biggest challenge that improvisers face is this; being stuck in your head “thinking” about doing the scene instead of “doing the scene.”

And this is exactly the same problem that speakers face.  The more  time and repetition you get in front of all kinds of audience the less you will be stuck in your head  focusing your attention inwardly thinking about yourself and how you’re being perceived.

The more stage time you get, the more comfortable you will be on stage . And when you are more comfortable  on stage, the more  in tune you will be with your audience and as a result you will  have more confidence as a speaker and make greater eye contact with your audience.

4. Acquire the tools of speaking

The reason why  developing the art of speaking  is listed last, is simply because the other three  that had preceded this are not about learning new techniques, but are instead about  your ‘psychological process’ which can easily be  implemented by just changing you perception and actions when it comes to speaking.

Picking up the Art of Speaking is a process and  takes more time to acquire. It isn’t a ‘quick fix’   as the other three listed here are.  This is why I had developed my 52 Presentation Tips  audio program around the idea of ‘incremental development.’

With developing the art of speaking,  you will also have an overall  greater sense of confidence which in-turn will also help translate into better eye contact with your audience. In addition, there are  also speaking techniques that you can pickup which are also specifically targeted towards eye contact.  In fact,  there are  techniques, do’s, don’ts and processes related to  making eye contact with your audience when you are using notes, when you are using power point, and even when you are on a big stage in front of thousands of people. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, eye contact is “big business” and is a critical component  to authentically building likability, trust, and selling your message to your audience.

When you combine all these processes; Knowing your speech well,  increased stage time, seeing you audience as individuals, as well as  acquiring the tools of speaking, you will develop greater confidence as a speaker and eye contact will be something that will become so natural  for you.

You will notice that the great eye contact that you had  done your entire life with those around you in your daily interactions, you will seamlessly be able to take with you to the stage. You will never have to think about whether you are doing it right or wrong. Eye contact with your audience  will become such a natural part of your speaking experience  that you won’t ever have to  “bat an eye” over it!

How to Handle ‘Handouts’ So That Your Audience Stays Engaged and Doesn’t Get Derailed

How to avoid the handout TrapI once had attended an event where there was this speaker who was introduced to deliver a speech and then about one minute into his 20 minute presentation he starts to talk about a popular sports magazine that he had been profiled in. The magazine had written an article where  a famous athlete was teaching an amateur the “art of the game.”  The game happened to be golf, the athlete happened to be Tiger Woods , and this amateur happened to be the speaker at our event.

The speaker jump-started his story about the article he was in, by first saying to his audience “and by the way this has nothing to do with my speech today, I just thought that it would be an interesting thing to mention”, and then he took the actual magazine of the article and started to pass it around to the 40 people that were in his audience.

When I saw him give the magazine to the person sitting on the table beside him, everything inside me wanted to yell, “No  Don’t  Do it!”,   because I knew right then that his speech would be doomed from the start.

What would you have done?

If you were in that audience and the magazine with the interesting article about the speaker being profiled in a major magazine about himself and  a pro-golfer  was  handed to you, what would you do? Would you rather continue listening to the speaker and pass the article to the person next to you, or would you stop and read the article?

If you are like most people, you’d probably stop and read.  As human beings we all know that curiosity can get the best of us and that’s exactly what it did with the audience that morning.  In fact, some people were so absorbed in the article, that they read the entire two pages before handing it over to the person sitting next to them.

The problem in perspective

Do you see what’s wrong with this situation?  When an audience gets handouts – especially with handouts that are absolutely not relevant to the speech, they get distracted and begin to tune out the speaker.  And with the  speaker at our event, that’s exactly what had happened. Some people had  even taken the entire 2 minutes or so to finish the article.

If the speaker looses each person in his audience for at least 1 minute, that also means that for every minute of his speech, 1 person did not tune in for a  1-2 minute slice of his speech. Which also means that everyone tuned out at a different segments of time. It’s bad enough when your audience as a whole  gets distracted by one  segment of your speech all at once,  but when their minds are scattered at different intervals, the problem is even worse.  At this point there is absolutely no synergy with the speaker.

And unfortunately, because we are living today in an ADD world where stimulation is the name of the game, If you are not  keeping constant engagement with your audience, you will end up losing them. It’s so easy these days for people in your audience to simply  pull out their smart phones and check their email, surf the net, or check their latest facebook news feed, that once you lose them, it will be very difficult to re-engage them.

How to NOT fall into the “handout trap”

Here are some guidelines to make sure that what you give  out  to your audience will  not detract and only enhance your presentation.

1. If it’s not relevant don’t give it out

The speaker that was at that event handed out the magazine article which had absolutely nothing to do with his talk that morning.  If he  was trying to build credibility by  bragging about himself being together with a pro-golfer, not only did it not build his credibility, but it ruined his speech.  If for example,  I’m brought in  to  talk to an audience about the ‘art of speaking’  and I begin by sharing my  accomplishments in martial arts, it won’t build credibility and it will come off as bragging. In fact, even when sharing your successes that are relevant it also needs to be communicated to the audience in a way that makes it  ‘you focused.’

2. Don’t hand out a brain dump of your presentation.

Most speakers give their audience handouts that are simply a brain dump of their content – and this is wrong.   If you are going to give this kind of content out it should be only done at the end of your presentation.  It will only serve as a distraction by handing it out in the beginning and during your presentation.   

I’m sure you’ve  seen speakers handout all kinds of material before a presentation such as colorful brochures,  manuals, white papers, and a carbon copy of their slide presentation.  And while their audience is supposed to be listening to the speaker, they are instead busy rummaging through all the material that was handed to them.  This splits them and  distracts your audience  from being focused on the speaker.  An audience  should  not have to split themselves by reading what you gave them and watching you at the same time.

3.  Only create handouts that get them to think and reflect

The best kind of handouts to give your audience are ones that get your audience involved, engaged and allows them to reflect.

For example  in  one of my handouts  on marketing,  I  pose the following  question to the audience;

What’s  the top selling word in the marketing tool box?                                     

If you notice, I insert a blank space for them to fill in.  The purpose of this is to actively engage them and allow them to think, reflect, and come up with the answer as I am speaking.

In that same handout,  I also give my audience the following tool(a book) to anchor what I had discussed in my speech.

Pickup  this book  by Frank Bettger  ” How I raised myself from failure to success  in selling”

And then I pose the following  question;

What question do you think  Frank Bettger  asked  when seeing his customer for the first  that  sparked  2 hours of conversation? ”                                                   

Again, this question allows my audience to think and reflect off of the content that I am giving them in my speech.  Handouts  that cause your audience to ‘think and reflect’  are an  excellent way to involve your audience – especially when you’re doing a longer workshop.  

And by-the -way, if you’re wondering what the answer is to the above question about Frank Bettger, it’s “How did you get started in this business?” That 1 simple question had sparked 2 hours of conversation with what turned to be his client. Behind every successful business man or women there’s a great story. It just takes asking the right  kind of question to get them started. 

Final thoughts                                                                                                                                   

Don’t fall into the trap that most speakers make by handing out material that unwittingly causes the audience to get distracted from the speaker. When you are up there speaking, you and your message should be the focal point and the only thing that stimulates and engages your audience.

Don’t compete with yourself for the attention of your audience by distracting them with something that you are handing out to them that’s not relevant to your speech.  And if it is relevant, craft it in a way that gets your audience engaged,  involved and allows them to think and reflect.

“Laugh” at Your Failures – The Secret to Connecting With Your Audience

laughing audience and speaker

Have you ever seen a speaker that was talented, successful, and seemed to have a solid message but yet, you still walked away from that speech feeling like there was  something missing? It was like you felt  some kind of  disconnect with the speaker but you just couldn’t quite put your finger on it. Chances are, that the speaker failed to  use the  critical tool in speaking called “laugh at your failures.”

Plant any thought but this one. 

One of the absolutely worst thoughts that you can plant in the minds of your audience is for them to think that you’re special. The minute that your audience puts you on a pedestal saying “well he is able to accomplish all that because he is talented.  I’m not talented. I can’t learn anything from him.”  Your message is doomed.  

You can have the greatest message in the world, but if you come across as being  someone who “has all the answers” without  first sharing the experience that led up to that wisdom,  then  you will be perceived  as the “guru of your own story” and your message will fall on deaf ears.

If you look at history, you will see that all great leaders had  someone or an experience in their life that showed them “the way.”  So by  sharing your failures first and poking fun at them in a lighthearted way, you will go a long way in setting up your audience to accepting your message.

Lessons from the world of comedy.

In comedy they call it “self-deprecating humor”  and successful  comedians  use it all the time within their routines to connect with and garner laughs from their audience.  Unfortunately, what comedians wholeheartedly embrace  most speakers will wholeheartedly avoid. Most speakers  would rather run and hide than have to share their failures. Why? Because they think that sharing their faults  will make them look weak  and this is simply not true. On the contrary, when done with confidence, self-deprecating actually builds  you up in the eyes of your audience.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word deprecate as follows; “to  criticize or express disapproval of (someone or something).” You will not see Self-deprecate in Merriam Webster’s dictionary because it is a hyphenated word.  However,  you will find other sources  online define  Self-deprecate  as “belittling or undervaluing oneself.” When you add 1 part confidence and 1 part self-deprecation,  the resulting effect will be self-deprecating humor.

Now let’s track back to the comedy world  where self-deprecating is always associated with humor.   When great comedians take the stage, the first thing they bring to it is their  “stage presence.”   They bring an aura of  personality and confidence. And when they poke fun at their “miserable lives”  you will always see them do it with confidence.   As an example, listen to the following clips where  you will hear Bruce Bruce a well know comedian (whom once weighed close to 500 pounds at one point in his career), as well as George Casey another comic who is known as “the clean comedian” use self-deprecating humor in their routines.

Comedian Bruce Bruce



Comedian George Casey


In comedy, the purpose of self-deprecating humor is for pure laughs – there is no real means to an end. However,  with speaking, self-deprecating humor has two main purposes;

1.  It takes you off the pedestal.

As we alluded to earlier,  when you  lighten up and  you confidently share your failures with your audience, they see you as someone who  is a fallible  human being just like them.  They see you as someone who has had similar struggles and challenges as they have.  This make you authentic and real to your audience, and as a result they will buy into your message.

2. It’s used to prime the audience for your message.  

To put it simply;  When your audience  is laughing they are with you.  They are attentive and tuned in.  At times during your speech you may not have the entire attention of your audience  because you will not always be able to control 100 percent of the  attention of  everyone in your audience all the time. However, when you make them laugh, chances are that everyone will be with you.

And when  you are feeling good and being joyful, you are more prone to being in a state-of-mind of acceptance  and learning. So when you’re audience is sitting there laughing while you poke some fun at your failures, they will be primed and ready to hear your serious message that’s just around the corner.

My experience with laughing at my failures.

I’m often invited to speak to various audiences that are curious  about learning the art of public speaking. Now these are people that may not have done much public speaking  in their life and they’re testing the waters to see if they have it in them to be able to do what I do. They’re looking for someone to show them the way.

Now let me ask you, when speaking to these audiences what if didn’t share my failures? What if all I did was build myself up and never showed them my failures. What if just said something along the lines of  ” You can be a great speaker if you just  follow my 4 step process to speaking success. ”  

In essence what I am saying  without actually telling them is , ” hey look at me,  I’m a great speaker and you can be  just like me if you just do what I tell you to do”   Who do you think is  going to listen to me? Who in my audience is going to think that they can develop this skill? The answer, almost no one. Why?  Because they’ll think that I’m special. They’ll thing that I’m  a great public speaker because I was born that way and that I’m naturally gifted  – which could be farther from the truth.

To see how I went about “laughing at my failures” with one particular audience, listen to the following clip of me laughing at my failures while talking about how I bombed  when delivering an impassioned message of hope to an audience of well over 1000 people. 

Lewis Roth self-deprecating

Clip 1


Now listen to this second clip and see how the audience reacts to the self-deprecating humor I used when talking about my past when it comes to my speaking.

Clip 2 


Now after talking about my failures, what do you think are the chances that  people in my audience will  say “if he can make it as a speaker after bombing like that in-front of over 1000 people. If he can talk about his dismal experience with public speaking where he needed to take shots of Jack Daniels in order to get his courage up, then  I can really learn something from a guy like that!”  Probably almost everyone.  Why? Because when you first laugh at your failures, your audience sees you as similar to them and not special, and as a result they’ll buy into your message.

While coaching and preparing one of my clients for a high level  motivational speech contest we made sure that before she delivered her impactful takeaway message,  that she first share and laugh at her failures.  Now listen to an audio excerpt of how Teresa Palmer engages her audience with her failures first.

My coaching client self-deprecating

Teresa Palmer laughing at her failures

Because Teresa shared her failures first, she set up her audience to receive her powerful  motivational message  of  “You are the only one that could be you.” You can watch her speech in it’s entirety by clicking here.

So now that you know the power of being  able to laugh at your failures  when you’re on the speaking platform delivering a powerful message, how do you go about  bringing  the power of self-deprecation to the stage?

Start looking for the humor in your own life

Before you are able to poke fun and  laugh at your failures  on stage, you have to be able to first do it off-stage.  The art of  being able to self deprecate humorously on stage starts  with your own  life first. If you find  yourself  being too serious in your daily life, you should  work  towards lightening up a bit. Start by looking around and finding the humor in your life because it is always around us.  It’s there, you just need to look for it.  And it all starts with having a positive attitude and being able to see the positive side of things even when things don’t always go our way.

Self Deprecating humor is a great bonding agent 

In everyday life, within our  daily interactions with people at work,  at home, and at play, self-deprecating humor is common with many and easy to do.  However,  there are still those who will not  laugh at themselves  because they take themselves much too seriously or don’t have a healthy level of confidence.  If you have experienced it already, you will know that using self-deprecating humor in life is a great bonding agent which pulls people together.

The use of self-deprecating humor is also a great way to create rapport with people.  For example, many people are very  self-conscious about their weight and it reflects on their self-esteem. And  yet there are some that carry their weight with confidence.  For example, at a wedding reception with a nice smorgasbord spread, a heavyset person with a high dose of confidence and doesn’t take himself too seriously might turn to his friends and say  “well fellas I’m going to start a new diet starting tonight!”  His friends say “what new diet John?”  And John says,  “A  “See” food diet!”  And they all laugh together.   Because John pokes fun at himself, it make everyone around him  feel good to be with him.

Give yourself the gift of humor

If you find yourself saying, “I could never poke fun at myself. I could never laugh at my failures.” Or perhaps you’ve had friends tell you at times, “You know, you’re way too serious. You need to lighten up a bit,”  then you might be a good candidate for a prescription dose of daily humor.  A good place to start is by actively tuning  your brain into  humor on a regular basis.  Listen to or watch comedy for 30 minutes a day.  If you’re time is tight then get a satellite radio  receiver and listen to it while you commute to and from work.  There are many channels on satellite radio that are dedicated  just towards  comedy.  The  bottom line is this; the more you tune into humor the more humor will be part of you.

Learning from our Presidents

Without thinking, which one of the presidents of our era immediately  pops into your mind when I say “great communicators of our time.”   I’m sure your reflexive thought instantly drew the names of Clinton,  Reagan and Obama.   With the exclusion of Obama  (whom only recently had gotten good at self deprecation),  Regan and Clinton  had exemplified this throughout their presidency.  

By now,  it’s obvious  to you as to why  Presidents Clinton, Reagan, and Obama would use self deprecating humor.  Because they know that doing so, brings them closer to their audience. And especially when it comes to “voting time” when the last thing a president would want is to come off as being on a pedestal and being seen as one who doesn’t understand the needs of the people.  

Now to see this in action, listen to the following clips of  Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama and hear how  they  use self deprecating humor to bring them  down to the level of their audience.

Reagan self-deprecating 


Clinton self-deprecating 


Obama  self-deprecating


Your takeaway message 

When done with confidence, sharing and poking fun at your failures with your audience before talking about your successes and showing them the way -is “the way.” Laughing at your failures brings you off the pedestal and allows your audience to accept your message because they see you as similar and not special.  They will no longer see you as the “guru of your own story” but one who has learned hard from his own experiences.  

If you ever find yourself standing on the edge of the speaking platform filled with reservations and doubt as to whether you should share your failures with your audience, then always keep this thought close to your heart; “if the presidents of the united states of america can give themselves permission and allow themselves to laugh at their faults and poke fun at their imperfections, then so can you and I!



The Fear of Speaking – How You Got it and How to Toss it!

14039343_sYou don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know if you have it, the feeling that comes with the anticipation of your upcoming speech. Even as you go about your normal day, you can’t stop thinking about your speech. Thoughts of the size of your audience and “all eyes on you,” are enough to set you off! And as the day of reckoning  approaches, all kinds of negative thoughts start going through your head, “what will happen if  forget or slur my words? what will happen If I panic? What will happen when I get that frog in my throat and can’t speak!”  As the day of your speech comes closer, your thoughts grow stronger. You can’t stop thinking about it.  All day and  night, a minute doesn’t go by without the dreadful thoughts surrounding your speech. Now sleeping even becomes difficult. Your dreams are now dominated by nightmarish scenarios of embarrassing yourself on stage.

You now think about ways you can back out of your speech. But then you realize, “I need this speech,  If I succeed, it  will mean everything to my career.”  And then you get a phone call,  you find out that twice as many people as you originally had thought are going to be at your speech. Your anxiety just doubled. It’s off the charts. It’s redlining. And  now there is no backing out. If you’ve ever experienced this, then you know what  it means to have “Glaussophobia,” which is the Greek word for the “Fear of Public Speaking.”  In broader terms, it’s also called Stage Fright.

So Where Does This Fear Come From?

The fear of public speaking and stage fright both point to the same subconscious process that causes a small almond sized shape set of neurons  set deep inside the median temporal lobe of the brain called the Amygdala which triggers the “fight or flight” response  to sudden stimuli  (real  danger), or “memory triggered”  perceived danger which ultimately leads to the feelings of panic, anxiety, sweaty palms and wanting to run for the hills!

I know too well these feelings of panic and fear of public speaking, because for so many years, it was the 6 inch invisible clear glass wall that stood between me and my desire to speak and engage an audience. I would see others masterfully take the stage, and I would sit there just yearning to do it.  The few times that I did manage to speak (by the prodding of others) were accompanied by  fear and panic and without having the proper coaching or guidance, I just gave up and couldn’t make it to the other side of that invisible wall of fear.

Fast forward many years later, coaching and speaking has now become my career.  What was once my biggest fear, has now become one of my biggest passions. As most people, I struggled for many years to find the path to  getting past my fear of speaking,  but it didn’t have to be that way.  I struggled because no one ever gave me the road-map   For many years, no one directed me on the path to speaking success.

For example, no one told me that most people’s fear of speaking could stem from just one 30 second bad experience in first or second grade. The teacher pushed and prodded  to get you up in front of the class and do a loud reading and snickered, yelled or balked at you when you didn’t pronounce a word right. The yelling or  snickering of the teacher and the class making weird faces was all that would be needed for your amygdala to record the emotional event and store it forever. The amygdala remembers all emotions and responses and then stores it in the long term memory bank.  The amygdala is that part of the brain that also signals the “flight or fight” response. And the amygdala is quite immature, it can’t tell the difference between a real event such as running from a fire (flight) or the “false sense” of fear and panic of speaking to an audience (flight). It only knows a recorded emotion and treats the  panic of a perceived fear (an audience) the same as it would a fire – both causing the “flight response” to be activated in the same way.

So years later, that 30 second event in grade school now gets transformed into what most people feel as the fear of public speaking.  And who hasn’t had that bad experience of standing in front of class in first, second or third grade, and getting snickered, yelled or balked at by their teacher in front of the whole class. Now wonder why most of the world suffers from this fear!

Why Some People Never Developed the Fear

Have you ever wondered why some people just never developed a fear of public speaking? It all could point back to that scene in second grade. For example, John, Cindy, and Sam all had the same experience with their teacher snickering and  yelling at them in  front of the class. But John was a bit different. He didn’t have a highly sensitive amygdala and never processed the experience the same way Cindy and Sam did, so John never developed the fear, whereas Cindy and Sam did end up developing the fear of public speaking because of their more sensitive amygdala. Studies have shown that people with a highly sensitive amygdala were more prone to developing the fear of public speaking.

Conquering the Fear Doesn’t Have to Take Time

Many people think that phobias take time to overcome. This is  simply not true. Most people say, “I have had this fear for so long, I don’t think I will ever get over it.” If you think back to the event in grade school, it only took 30 seconds to record a perceived emotional experience and tell the subconscious mind to run from anything related to getting up in front of an audience ever again.

People who have had a bad landing and develop a fear of flying, or people who have gotten into an accident and developed a fear of driving or someone who was pushed into a swimming pool at a young age and developed a fear of swimming, all had one thing in common; the onset of the fear took just seconds. If you think about it, with all  these events taking just seconds to develop into a lifelong fear, shouldn’t logic dictate that a fear that took seconds to develop, be reversed in just the same time?

The good news is that it can. In fact, It has been scientifically proven that the field of energy psychology (Emotional Freedom Technique) can have a  tremendous effect on the amygdale in that it can fairly quickly neutralize and desensitize the negative emotions attached to it for all phobias. And this includes the phobia of public speaking.  The field of NLP (Neuro Linguist Programming) also can have a huge impact in desensitizing the amygdale to the fear of public speaking and other phobias.

I have seen these techniques work with my own eyes. Not only has it helped me years ago when I finally got on the road to conquering my fear of public speaking, but In my professional coaching practice, I now successfully use these techniques of both EFT and NLP to help my clients desensitize the fear they associate with  public speaking.

Conquering The Fear Leads to Mastering The Art

Once you “conquer” the fear of public speaking, your true journey now begins. Being able to engage an audience and take them on a roller coaster ride of  highs, lows, twists and turns of emotional experiences  and leave them off at the gate saying, “wow, what a powerful message, what  a speech, what an experience,” is truly an art form. However, you cannot embark on that road, until you have gotten off the road of fear. When you are thinking about sweaty palms, panic and sheer terror when you picture an image of yourself on stage in front of an audience, you cannot be thinking about how you can deliver a moving message or even make them laugh.

Only when you are able to laugh at yourself, will your audience laugh with you. But the good news is, that when you conquer you fear of speaking, (which can happen very quickly) you have allowed yourself to cross over and pass to other side of that invisible glass wall where  you now  find yourself standing on the foot of the mountain.  And while you’re packing up you gear and readying yourself for the climb you look up and say, “I am now ready to journey up to the top  and master the “Art of Public Speaking.”

Tell Them Your Story


Tell them your storyThe Case for Storytelling

Nothing will pull an audience into your speech more than telling them a captivating story and unfortunately, I have to say, that many speakers miss the mark entirely when it comes to this. I have watched speakers go through an entire speech – some even as long as 25 -30 minutes without telling a single story. They make point after point and talk about ideas and concepts, but they don’t tell any stories to anchor those points and ideas.  And I have to say, that these speakers are missing out on a big opportunity to really connect with their audience and drive their message home.

Today, more than ever, in a time when we are living in a world where there is so much chatter coming at us from all angles, we need to be able to distinguish ourselves by  telling our unique stories to help cut through the static noise that we get bombarded with everyday so that we can get our message across.  A great speech is one that leaves an audience with a  take-away message that lasts longer than the time it takes for the audience to sit through your speech. In fact, most speakers don’t even accomplish that!  When you effectively tell stories with anchored messages, it  helps your audience hold onto the message of your speech for months, years or even a life time. That is the potential power you can have as a speaker as you will soon see.


The History of Storytelling

The  medium of storytelling has been around for thousands of years and used to engage and connect with people and the masses.  it’s also the medium that is used in schools today to teach and educate our children.  However, somehow as we grew older, we lost touch with this great art. The bible is full of stories.  The first book of the old testament, genesis, begins with, “In the beginning  God created the heavens and the earth.”  And since the dawn of time, all great storytellers,  from the ancient Greeks through Shakespeare and up to the present day, have dealt with this fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality.

Conflict is what people deal with in life on a  daily basis. Your boss fires you, a big customer threatens to leave,  your relationship with your spouse of 15 years goes up in flames. – Your life is thrown out of balance, and you seek to put it back.  This is the essence of what we look for in story.  Thousands of years ago, the problems and issues people had were not the same that we have today,  but the conflict was still there.  It was a different kind of conflict but the elements were still the same.  And this hasn’t changed through thousands of years.  From the walls of the caves in ancient Egypt, to the stage and theater in Shakespearean  times, to  today where the primary source of story  is through film and television – the essence of story hasn’t changed, only the medium of which we tell it has.

The  Powerful Effect of Story

Through the age’s,  the power of storytelling was able move the masses to action for both good and evil.  We saw it happen in our time to move people to evil , when Adolf Hitler used story to brainwash an entire nation to his way of thinking and he almost succeeded in taking over the world. In fact, this is precisely why Plato the famous Greek philosopher who was known as one of the best poets and storytellers in his time, put a ban on storytelling saying that, “Storytellers would conceal their ideas in the seductive emotions of art.”  And this is exactly what Hitler did.

In contrast, we’ve also seen the power of story used for doing  good. On September 12th 1962, John F. Kennedy delivered a captivating speech at Rice University where he envisioned and predicted that the United States would send a man to the moon before the end of the decade. And we succeeded and his vision was realized. Kennedy triumphed in rounding up an entire nation to this good cause, and he did it using the power of story.  Because Kennedy was a visionary and was able to see the promise of the future, he was able to bestow that passion and vision on a nation.  And he did it through the power of story.  Although  Kennedy didn’t realize it at the time, he was actually using  “foreshadowing” which is a storytelling technique that has now become quite popular in the making of movies.  

One of Plato’s prized students was Aristotle, whom we all know to be another famous Greek philosopher. Aristotle  decided to write a piece called “Poetics” where he explained his beliefs on the art of story. In his essay, Aristotle outlined the framework of famous Greek tragedies and from this evolved the basic structure of a good story. And it’s this structure that has been used ever since in millions of books, movies and other storytelling mediums around the world. 

Story is  a Metaphor for Life

Robert McKee, the famous screenwriting guru who has trained thousands  of successful screenwriters and novelists, and who also is the author of the popular book  “story” said this; “story is a metaphor for life.”  And what he meant by this is that we all look to story to try and make sense of our own lives. Have you ever watched a riveting drama and strongly identified with the character’s struggle?  I’m sure you probably have. I know I have.

One  movie  that I remember watching where  I had this kind of powerful identification with the  protagonist ( main character)  was when I  saw  “The Pursuit of Happyness” with  Will Smith , and which was based on a true story about the life of Chris Gardner who struggled at a point in his life (like most of us) trying to make ends meet. His wife leaves him, and he is left with his 5 year old son living day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck,  and eventually ends up being evicted and put on the streets. The story  has a very powerful climactic ending  where  we become so happy for the character  (Chris Gardner)  because he was able to triumph against all odds.  Doe this sounds  familiar? The movie exemplifies the struggle of triumph over diversity -which is something that we can all easily reflect on within our own lives. And watching these kinds of stories allows us to reflect and make sense about what’s going on in our own lives.  You see, we strongly connect with these characters because we could reflect their struggle to the struggle that we are going through in our own lives.  Watching a character struggle  against powerful adversity and then triumph gives us hope for our own future and makes us believe that we too can triumph and get through our own challenges. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to speaking, to  be able to get our audience to reflect on their own lives, is  the number one reason why we must tell stories to our audiences. When our audience  hears us talk about our own experience, they can take our experience and parallel it to what they are going through in their own  lives.  In fact, I remember a number of months ago a woman in one of my audiences who walked up to me after delivering a speech and she said, “ Lewis, I really needed to hear that message today. Your story about triumphing over your fear really hit home.  Thank you!”

That experience  reinforced in me as to why we as speakers are up there in the first place talking to our audiences. We are there to make a connection and leave them with an important message. And telling stories, not only is the best way to engage and captivate an audience, but it’s the way that will allow our audiences to take our stories and our experiences and reflect and make sense of what’s going on in their own lives. So in conclusion, don’t just make points like most speakers out there do when they deliver their speeches. Instead, do as the founder of the national speakers association Bill Gove had once said, “Tell a story and make a point.” 

Holocaust Memorial Speech at Kean University

Lewis Roth, delivering A Message of Hope



I delivered a message of hope to the 1000 attendees at the Kean University Holocaust Memorial this past  Monday evening May 2, 2011. The audience was comprised of people from all ages and ethnic backgrounds.  My seven and a half minute speech was about my father’s experience in the concentration camps. My father is currently 89 years old and is thankfully living a vibrant life.

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My Father Michael Roth, A Holocaust Survivor

Remember “Three” When You Speak

The Magic of Three

The number three is a magical number in the English language. We see it in movie titles as in “The Three Stooges, The Three Musketeers and The Three Amigos,” we see it as far back as being the most famous phrase in the Unites States declaration of independence – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, and we see it  by speakers and comedians all across America.

I don’t know why this is so. We can theorize the reason for this phenomenon from today till tomorrow, and in fact some people have, but my philosophy is, “if something works – just go with it!”  Why spend your energy trying to figure out the “why” of it when you can just be in the “now” and just go with it. If it is good for our founding forefathers, if it is good for Hollywood, then it is good for me – You see, there is the rule of three in action!

So how does “the rule of three” work to create humor?  When comedians create their humor, they use what is called the “set up – punch”.  Comedians use this set up-punch formula to get every one of their laughs. Comedians don’t always need to use the rule of three, they are so good at creating humor that they don’t always need to rely it, but for the rest of us speakers, using the rule of three is a technique that we should always use, and that if done right, can almost guarantee a laugh from the audience.

The psychology of the Set up-Punch Formula

What is the comedian’s secret to getting a laugh from the audience? Comedians are not psychologists, but they know how the human minds works  – at least when it comes to getting a laugh.  Comedians know three things about the human mind very well when it comes to humor.     

1. That a “Spontaneous shift” is the key.

2. That proper timing is crucial

3. That the content must be appropriate for the audience

Spontaneous shift

So what is a spontaneous shift? A spontaneous shift is when the speaker puts the audience on one track. The speaker fills up the mind of their audience with a vivid picture of one particular thought or idea and just at the point when the audience is expecting to continue on that track, the speaker suddenly puts them on a totally different track and Walla a laugh occurs!

The key here is spontaneous. From the speakers perspective, it may not seem spontaneous, because the speakers is prepared and knows what he or she is planning to say. However, from the perspective of the audience it definitely comes across as spontaneous. How many times have you had conversations with friends or family and laugh seemed to easily flow. If you think about it, you will probably realize that the instant the laugh occurred, someone said something spontaneous and which also put everyone else’s thoughts on another track.

Proper Timing

Putting your audience on another thought track is not enough. You also need to have your timing down in order to make an impact and receive a laugh. Your punch line needs to come immediately after the set up. If you wait too long, you will lose the impact potential of your punch line.

When using the rule of three, you are essentially doing the same thing as what comedians do with their set-punch in their comedy routines, but your set up will be a bit longer.

The rule of Three in Action

A friend of mine and fellow speaker, Marry Cheyne, had used the rule of three extremely well when she delivered her speech “Nelly”  at the  Toastmasters 2009 international convention. She gave some background about how challenging and uncomfortable it was for her to come to Australia as a 7 year old Chinese. She then said, “I was so uncomfortable that I felt like a fish out of water, like a bird out of its nest, like a guest (pause) at a toastmasters meeting.” The last line, “like a guest at a toastmasters meeting” was the punch line. The other two lines were the set up for her punch line.

The background story gave the audience the “thought track” of her being uncomfortable, The first two lines went along that  track –  uncomfortable like a fish out of water , uncomfortable like a bird out of its nest and then she throws the twist – Like a guest (she pauses) and then says “at a toastmasters meeting”. The audience was expecting her to stay serious, but she doesn’t. She spontaneously puts their thought on another track and walla she gets a laugh!

The Rule of Three must be Adaptable to Your Audience

When coming up with the right content for the rule of three, make sure your content is applicable to your audience. When Marry came up with her content, she knew who her audience was. It was a room full of fellow toastmasters. So everyone in her audience knew how uncomfortable a guest at a toastmasters club meeting feels, because at one time or another everyone was a guest before they became a member. That is why it was funny to that audience. Her line would not have been funny to a group of people no affiliated with toastmasters and surely she would not have used it. So always make sure that your content is appropriate to your audience. Enjoy tinkering with “the rule of three” for your next speech!

How to Lose Your Audience – Even if You Are Funny

You prepared a great speech, you infused your speech with some great stories. You incorporated a lot  of  good dialogue and you also uncovered some really good  laugh lines. You honed and practiced your speech for hours on end. And then the final day comes. You get up on stage, start your speech with a really solid opening. You get to your first laugh line and receive the laugh you were expecting. Fantastic! You then get to your second laugh line and you get another good laugh from the audience, but then something strange starts to happen. Every next laugh line in your speech now seems to receive less and less audience reaction. You know that this has nothing to do with your lines because they are extremely funny, and some were much funnier than your laugh lines at the start of your speech where you had received great audience reaction.

Why did you lose your audience?
So what happened? Why did you receive diminishing audience reaction as your speech went along? It wasn’t your stories – because they were great. It wasn’t your laugh lines because they were funny. What probably happened to you and which most newbie speakers tend to do is  step on their audience’s laughter. So what does stepping on the audience laughter exactly mean?

Speaking is a two way street

Remember, Speaking is not a monologue. It is a dialogue. Speaking is to way street between you and your audience.  When you speak, you are giving the audience a gift. You give them the gift of uplifting inspiration, humor, and the ability to embrace change. The audience also gives you back a gift. Their gift to you is their involvement and participation, and when you are funny, they will even give you a good hearty laugh!

People want to give back

In his book, “The psychology of persuasion”, Kevin Hogan lays out 12 specific laws of persuasion. The first law he calls “The Law of Reciprocity,” which he defines as, “When someone gives you something of perceived value, you immediately respond with the desire to give something back (p. 24).”

When you give someone a gift, they want to reciprocate that gesture to you. That is why during the holiday season, there is so much back and forth gift giving. How would you feel, if all you did was receive gifts, but you never reciprocated and gave back – probably not  to good. I know I wouldn’t.

When you give the audience the gift of humor, they reciprocate to you with the gift of laughter. Now, what happens when you don’t let the audience have their laugh and you interrupt and move on with your speech without letting your audience take it all in and finish the laugh they started? You know what happens? They just stop laughing. Why should they laugh if they know that you are going to interrupt and not let them savor in the joy of laughter? This is a common mistake that most speakers make.

The Audience gives you a gift

When the audience gives you a laugh, it is a gift to you. Think about it. Weren’t you happy when the audience laughed? As speakers, we work very hard to develop and uncover humor within our stories. So when we receive laughter from the audience, it makes us feel really good deep down inside. We get the feeling of accomplishment – like “we did it”. I know for myself, I always strive very hard to uncover the humor within my stories, because not only do I feel good when my audience laughs at my lines but I also know that through humor, you can get really educate and drive and anchor your points to your audience.

How to Not Step on Your Laugh

So how do you not step on your laugh? The solution is quite simple. Just don’t do it! Not stepping on your laugh is just simply allowing your audience to participate in your humor. Get used to pausing and allowing the audience to enjoy the laugh. There can also be times when some of your humorous lines can illicit what is known as a rolling laughter. This is when sections of your audience react off of each others’ laughter. This can sometimes last for quite some time (depending on the size of your audience). You do not want to interrupt this. This is what the audience wants – let them have it, even at the cost of cutting down your speech. Remember, you connection with your audience is of utmost importance – even at the expense of cutting some of your content out. Let the audience have their laugh. They will love you for it!

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