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The Secrets of a Storyteller

For many speakers, a speech is simply a regurgitation of information. You spit out the information, add a fancy slide presentation and maybe even throw in some humor and you think you’ve done your job. Heck, your audience laughed at your jokes and applauded at the right times, so your speech must have been a good, right? Not so fast, my friend.

Public speaking combines art, drama and theater and a heavy dose of preparation. Just like practicing law, public speaking is an acquired skill that takes hard work, years of experience and dedication to this craft. No one is a born speaker—it takes hard work and lots of trial and error. That said, there are common mistakes made by speakers that should be avoided at all costs.

13 Tips for Delivering a Powerful Speech

Giving a powerful speech takes courage. You must have the willingness to share your innermost secrets and vulnerabilities. Easier said than done, but no one said this would be easy.

Tip #1: The Power of Storytelling

Stories are powerful. Stories are memorable, compelling and build trust with your audience. Your audience will understand stories far better than a mountain of statistics and data or boring presentation slides.

The truthful, inside story of almost any man’s life—if told modestly and without offending egotism—is most entertaining. It is almost sure-fire speech material.

Dale Carnegie

You just set the stage for a story and your audience wants to hear what comes next. Your goal should be to take your audience on an emotional journey with you. Stay vulnerable.

Tip #2: Grab the Audience’s Attention Immediately

You must grab your audience’s attention in the first 5 seconds. With the first words out of your mouth, you should get immediately into your story. Don’t waste a second!

The holy grail of a presentation is to transport the audience to another place.

Carmine Gallo, “Talk Like TED

You can’t ruin the most precious moments of a speech with, “I’m honored to be here”, or “Wasn’t that a great speech by Frank!” With this horrible start, you’re sending the message that it’s time for your audience to take a nap.

Tip #3: Tell Personal Stories and Be Real

Zappos’s founder, Tony Hsieh, created a simple formula for his speeches.

(1) Be passionate,

(2) Tell personal stories,

(3) Be real.

Tony Hsieh, “Delivering Happiness

From the very first words you speak, hook your audience’s attention with a story. I began my speech at Max Law Con ‘18 with a story:

“We’re in a cramped conference room in a lawyer’s office, where my mother, 3 sisters and I are sitting across from each other and dreading what’s about to happen.”

Don’t stop there. Use a story to illustrate every key point in your speech, i.e., if you’ve got 5 bullet points, illustrate each point with a story. Effective presenters use 3-5 stories as the outline for their presentation.

Tip #4: Stay Off the Podium and Stage

The podium is a barrier between you and your audience. Speaking from the podium is almost as bad as covering your mouth or failing to make eye contact, as it suggests you are hiding information. Stay away from the podium!

The stage elevates you to the status of a king (i.e., above your audience). You want to be eye-level and close to your audience, as if you’re sharing a campfire story with them (not looking down on them). Being on ground level with your audience, conveys that you’re a real human being and you are no better than your audience. Stay off the stage.

Tip #5: Share Your Vulnerability

By sharing your vulnerability and your biggest fears and failures, you’re building rapport and credibility with the audience. Instead of talking about your biggest courtroom success, share your innermost secrets and fears. Can you share something about yourself that you’ve never told anyone else?

When you reveal your biggest vulnerability and weakness, you’re giving the audience permission to do the same. This is where trust is created. After your revelation, you might ask the audience, “Are any of your willing to share something about yourself that you’ve never told anyone else?”

Tip #6: The Beauty of Silence

Speak slowly. Most speakers speak way too fast and do not pause or modulate the inflection of their voice.

Vocal delivery and body language make up the majority of a message’s impact.

Carmine Gallo, “Talk Like TED

Pausing at a key part of your speech places emphasis on what you are about to say. Emphasize key points by slowing down, pausing and speaking louder.

Tip #7: Make Eye Contact

Connect with your audience members by making sustained eye contact. Don’t move quickly from one member of the audience to another—let your eyes fix upon one person for 20 seconds before you move on.

Don’t deliver a presentation. Have a conversation instead.

Carmine Gallo, “Talk Like TED

Sustained eye contact sends the message that you’re speaking one-on-one to every person in your audience. You want every person in the audience to feel like you’re alone with them.

Tip #8: Create Suspense with Tieback

Keep your audience anxious to learn the rest of the story using tieback. After your introductory personal story, tell the audience that,

“At the end, I will share with you how this story changed my life.”

This tieback will keep your audience in suspense for your surprise ending. At the end of your presentation, share the answer your audience has been waiting for.

Tip #9: Purposeful Body Movement

Do not stand in one spot. Walk, move and work the room. Connect with each member of the audience with eye contact and if you know them, call them by name.

Transform verbal information to visual information as much as possible.

Carmine Gallo, “Talk Like TED

Don’t wander or fidget aimlessly—every body movement should have a purpose. Use your body to emphasize a point.

Tip #10: Use Pictures (Instead of Text)

Research shows that if you only hear information, you will recall about 10 percent of the content. If you hear the information and see a picture, you will retain 65 percent of the content. The combination of pictures and words conveys your message much better than words alone.

It takes courage to show photographs instead of filling your slides with bullet points and text.

Carmine Gallo, “Talk Like TED

That said, limit your presentation slides to 5 pictures, no more than one or two 30 second video clips and avoid presentation slides that contain a lot of text (no more than 5 words per slide). The 2008 TED presentation of Titanic explorer, Robert Ballard, contained 57 slides and there were no words on any slide.

Tip #11: Don’t Use Notes

If you’ve rehearsed your speech and are well prepared, you won’t need notes.

The real magic of a memorable TED presentation relies on the speaker setting aside her notes and speaking from the heart, letting her audience get a peek of her soul.

Carmine Gallo, “Talk Like TED

Don’t worry if you forget something—it probably wasn’t important.

Tip #12: Deliver a “WOW” Moment

At the end of a speech at Max Law Con ’18, I visually constructed a scene of my father’s final words on his deathbed. I visually created the scene by laying down on a table and re-enacting my father’s body position and mannerisms, as he spoke his final words to me. Behind me was a photograph on a large screen of my father and I smiling in a happy moment.

A showstopper might be something as simple as a short personal story.

Carmine Gallo, “Talk Like TED

Simply saying my father’s final words would not have sufficed. Visually recreating the scene with props and my body language told the story in a way that words cannot. Every speech should have a “WOW” moment.

Tip #13: Violate Expectations

Take your audience off-guard by violating their expectations. At the Max Law Con ’18, I was supposed to speak about lawyer-based referral marketing. Instead, I began with a story about my family’s intervention for my father’s alcoholism. Not quite what the audience was expecting.

Violating expectations is a superior communication strategy.

Carmine Gallo, “The Storyteller’s Secret

I used the personal story to grab the audience’s attention and build trust with them. Without their attention and trust, my words would have had little meaning.

Give a Speech that Will Never be Forgotten

Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Think about how you want the audience to feel.

You must be prepared if you want to make life-changing, world-changing speeches.

Michael Port, “Steal the Show

There are few speakers following the tips that you will read and even fewer who have the courage to share their innermost secrets with total strangers. That, my friend, it the secret to a speech that your audience will never forget.

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.