How to Compete at a Moth StorySLAM

The Moth just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Founder George Dawes Green, a storyteller from the American South, used to spin tales in the summer to friends, while moths flocking to his porch light. He moved to New York and took his tradition along. Now, there are 500 storytelling programs each year in the U.S. and abroad. The Moth Radio Hour is heard on 400 radio stations and is available as a podcast, with 1 million listeners.

One of the ways to get your story told is to compete at a StorySlam. You can also call The Moth, pitch your story, and see if they might be interested in helping you develop it. Winners of StorySlams go on to compete at GrandSlams.

The closest StorySlam for me is located in Los Angeles, a few hours north. I made the trek last year, but didn’t get randomly selected as a contestant. There are a lot of people who want to tell stories. This week, I tried again and got picked. Here are a few things I learned.

Arrive Early and Sign In

The LA StorySlam is often held at Los Globos, a small club built in the 1930’s, located on Sunset Boulevard. Parking is challenging, so it’s best to take a Lyft or Uber. You can also purchase alcohol, so that’s another reason to get a ride. Tickets should be bought online prior to the show, since seating is limited.

IMG_8329 (Edited)

The event is for those 21 and older. Once you show your ID and get checked in, if you want to compete, find the person handing out pre-competition waivers. Fill in your info, give it back, and watch it get folded and tossed into a bag fast filling up with hopefuls.  There are only ten speaking slots, and there are always many more than that who want to share a story. The event is audio and video recorded.


Judges work in three teams of three. Some team members know each other, some don’t. Many have never judged a StorySlam before. I’m a speaker used to the standardized evaluations of Toastmasters International, so this is the Wild West. That said, any judging of speeches always has a subjective factor. Each judging team gives a score, and the person with the highest average wins.

The Mechanics of Speaking

The LA venue is a medium-sized room with a bar. The stage is small. If you’re a speaker used to walking around and using gestures, this isn’t your gig.

If you’re one of the fortunate people called as a contestant, you get on stage and stand still before a microphone, with a supernova light shining in your eyes. It’s rather like being asked to tell an amusing story for a sadist.


You should wrap your story at around 5 minutes, or just past. A person playing a flute sounds a lilting tune at 5 minutes. If you have the audacity to run on to 6 minutes, the  sound that’s played is akin to a honking goose slammed in a door. Your scores go down if you venture too far past the 5 minute timeframe. Practice timing your talk beforehand, and cut as necessary.

Once you’re finished, you pick one of the folded waivers out of a bag to determine the next contestant, and wait for your scores.

What to Talk About

 Moth stories are TRUE personal stories about YOU. At each StorySlam, there’s a theme that must be an integral part of your story. The first time I went to an event, a man got on stage to talk about losing his health, house and wife, and to cry. It had nothing to do with the event. The Moth looks for personal stories you’ve experienced, not stand-up comedy or events experienced by other people.

The Moth website has details on events, allows you to get the theme ahead of time to prepare, and to listen to examples of stories.

Thoughts on Content

 Like life, Moth stories can be heartbreaking. Must you talk about a dead pet, loved one with cancer, your own illness or other tragedy to win? No. Vivid descriptions, true feeling, humor and story structure (a beginning, middle and end without meandering) assist your presentation. As I tell the speakers I train, don’t memorize. Think of your speech in bullet points, so you don’t freeze if you forget something.

Can I tell you what type of content will win? No. Each StorySlam brings so many different types of people and tales, it’s difficult to say which story will be the favorite.

Remember, the audience is rooting for you, even if you don’t give the performance you wished. Have fun!

The Moth creators are fond of saying, “You either have a good time, or you have a good story.”

Good luck!


3 Secrets to Making A Great First Impression

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” How quickly do people form an opinion of you? Seconds? Minutes?
Not to scare everyone, but Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov conducted experiments that showed first impressions occur in 1/10th of a second and aren’t greatly altered by longer exposure to the person.
It isn’t fair, but many judgments are made on faces alone. Studies show that naturally attractive people get better outcomes in all forms of life. But what can you do if you’re not suitable to appear on the cover of Vogue or GQ?


Here are a few quick tips to have some control over what people decide about you:

1. Make a Great Appearance
Be sure how you look and dress fits the occasion. If you’re going for an interview or business meeting, make sure you’re well groomed and dress conservatively.
What does that mean?
• You bathed and brushed your teeth. No one appreciates bad breath or seeing someone with spinach caught between their front teeth.
• If you’re a man, you’ve shaved and neatly trimmed any beard/ moustache. Also don’t forget to check for pesky nose and ear hair, and that goes for women as well.
• Your hair is combed and you’ve used a mirror to check the back so there’s not a flat spot or something out of place. You don’t want to just look good from the front.
• The outfit you choose to wear is appropriate for the occasion. Like Oscar Wilde said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Of course, this doesn’t mean you should wear a tuxedo, prom dress or evening gown to a job interview or business meeting, but you see the point. If you’re not sure what to wear, search online for photos showing photos appropriate for your category of destination.
• Think about the culture of where you’re going to be. Is it okay to have tattoos showing or face jewelry? If not, do the best you can to minimize them.
• Check yourself in a full length mirror. Is everything as it should be? Is your tie askew or your skirt hanging a little to one side? Are your shoes scuffed or there’s a snag in your hose? Make sure to do a full inspection before departing.


2. Have Super Power Body Language
How you carry yourself adds to your first impression. You want to look relaxed and confident, but how do you do that if you’re a little nervous?
• On the trip there, listen to some songs that make you feel positive and upbeat.
• Take some deep breaths before going into the building or room. This sends oxygen to your brain and relaxes you. Count 4 beats in and 4 out. Repeat several times until you feel calmer.
• Get in a Power Pose with hands on your hips like Superman and feel the confidence. Of course, do this where people don’t see you unless you want to be recruited for the Avengers.
• Stand up straight. Put your weight on the balls of your feet and keep them shoulder-length apart. Square your shoulders and tuck in your stomach. Keep your earlobes in line with your shoulders and don’t forget to breathe.
• Make eye contact. If you don’t look at the person you’re addressing, you will come across as insecure. You don’t have to hold continued eye contact, but it’s important to look directly at another when you first meet.
• Have a firm handshake, NOT one that could crush a can of tomatoes and NOT one that’s like shaking a wet rag. Practice with friends until you get it right.
• SMILE! You don’t want to look hesitant or nervous, so smile like you would when you meet someone you know well. If you’re not sure, practice in the mirror until it feels natural.


3. Be a Good Communicator
Interviews and first meetings can be stressful, but there are some things you can do that will help you make a better impression.
• Do voice warm-ups at home or on the way there. The easiest way is to hum in a hot shower so the steam relaxes your vocal chords. Start at medium range and then go as low and high as you can. Scrunch up your face like a prune and then relax it with your tongue hanging out like a hound dog. Say the words “Bay-Be-Buy-Bo- Boom” 5 times quickly to get your tongue working. If you do this, your voice won’t sound thing or crack when you first speak.
• Research the people and/or company culture of your destination. It helps to have some background before a meeting and adds to your ability to make small talk.
• Ask questions about the people you’re meeting. If you’re in a limiting situation like an interview, it can be as simple as how their day has been. If you have more time expanded your questions to learn about the other person’s life, like where they’re from, what they like about working somewhere etc. People like to talk about themselves, and it shows you’re interested in them, making you appear more confident than being solely self-focused.
• Listen. Sometimes when we’re nervous, we don’t listen well. Be sure and pay close attention to the question, and ask that it be repeated, if needed. Answer what you’ve been asked. If someone is telling you a story, don’t look around the room or at other people. They will appreciate you more for giving them your undivided attention.


If you practice these tips, you won’t care how long you have to connect, because you’ve mastered making a positive first impression.

7 Steps to Promoting a Bestselling Book

If you’re a writer, it’s likely you’ve spent countless hours conceptualizing, writing, and editing your book. You’ve also probably spent as much or more time getting it published.

Now what? Brooke Warner, publisher at She Writes Press, recently spoke at Publishers and Writers San Diego about the value of building an author platform. She shared an analogy that I loved, saying, “Some writers want to hole up as they write, only to emerge after the book is done or published with the expectation that the readers will come. But not working on your author platform while you’re writing is the same as coming out of a cave and hanging a sign up letting people know your book is out. How are people supposed to know you’re there? You need to do more than stick your head out of the cave, wave, and go back in.”

What can you do to assist in the promotion of your book? Beyond hiring a publicist, you’ll also have to be engaged in the process. Here are a few quick tips to help you on your journey to becoming a bestselling writer:

  1. Reflect

          Every story has a beginning. What was yours? Why did you decide to write your book? Spend some time remembering how you got the initial idea and why you were excited about it. When you access that feeling, hold onto it. That’s the emotion and energy you need to convey to any person or audience when you speak about your book. Enthusiasm is contagious and will help boost interest in buying your book.

  1. Blogging Helps Your Presentations

Start a blog about yourself, writing, and your book. This will help you become more known, especially if you share your posts through social media like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn or other sites. By sharing, you build connection.

Not sure what to write? Think about what you know. People connect through stories, and everyone has a myriad of stories to share.  Here are some possible topics:

  • What led you to become a writer
  • The concept of your book
  • When your characters talk to you during the writing process
  • How to write and also keep up with other obligations
  • The lost manuscript or the hurdles you jumped over to get your book published etc.

When you remember a story, write it down. You can use these stories when speaking about your book. An audience resonates with authentic, heartfelt stories. An added bonus is that telling a story that is meaningful to you will also help combat nervousness.

  1. Revise and Polish Before Speaking

Before you speak to an individual or group, organize the material you want to discuss. Every talk has a beginning, middle and end, just like a book.  For example, you could start with a humorous intro story, move on to describe the excitement of how you came up with your book’s concept and end with another story. When you have a rough draft, read it out loud to see how it sounds. Try it out on family and friends and get their input.

Remember being stuck in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on and on about a subject? Don’t do that. Distill your book’s message down to twenty-five words. Think about ways you can tell just enough about your plot and characters that people will feel compelled to buy and read your story. If you’ve written non-fiction, focus on the most fascinating aspects of your book and give your listeners a taste. If you’re stuck for ideas, read some book blurbs or watch some movie trailers. Consider how they’re used to generate interest and apply it to your book.


  1. Don’t Memorize Your Presentation

Often, if a speaker forgets something they’ve memorized, they freeze. It’s awkward, both for the speaker and the audience. If you want to use notes, try a bullet point structure. By organizing through bullet points, if you forget what you want to say, you can glance down at your notes and get right back on track. If you’re telling a story that you can relive and connect with, you probably won’t need your notes.

  1. Practice

          One of the best ways to improve public speaking is to join your local Toastmasters club. It’s $45 for a six month membership and will help train you in a variety of speaking categories.  You will learn to answer extemporaneous questions, prepare and deliver 10 basic speeches, and eradicate filler words such as um, er, like or you know. If you need to improve on a faster timeframe, hire a speaking coach.

  1. Relax

Prior to speaking, take time to do some deep breathing and voice warm-ups. Visualize your audience hanging on your every word, and the venue selling every copy of your book! Remember, the people who show up are there to support you and want to hear what you have to say.

  1. Socialize and Network

          If you don’t yet have a book signing just for you, that’s okay. Think about attending meetings or other events where people would be interested in hearing about your book. Remember, asking other people themselves is a great way to connect. Ask if they like to read and, if you think your book is a fit, give them one quick line about it. If they seem interested, hand them a card or flyer with where to purchase your book. Think about places that might need a speaker on your book’s topic and offer to give a free talk. Have copies of your book on hand for purchase. Be creative and get the word out.


Get out of your cave and become engaged! Building an author platform will help you on the road to becoming a bestselling writer.


          When it comes to making an impression in a speech, one of the most important things to remember is that people don’t care about facts.

What? That can’t be right! You might be thinking.

Here’s an example: I recently heard a speech by a businessman who owns his own company. He told us about how he started it and detailed all the services it provided, giving us all the facts and figures. Did I care? No.


It was BORING.

          If you want to capture the attention of your audience, don’t put them to sleep with facts. Here are some tips on how to keep people interested and, most important, awake.


          Once upon a time…

          I am an invisible man…

          This is the saddest story I have ever heard…

These are considered some of the best opening lines of books. Why? Because they capture the imagination. People are wired to hear stories. It goes back to sitting around in the evening, before radio, TV, the Internet and Netflix, when entertainment was storytelling.

Use stories to tell your facts.

Compare this: “More than one in three women are married before the age of 15 worldwide.” to:

“Sonali Khatun was just 14 years old when her parents told her she would be getting married. She dropped out of school. Her wedding was arranged in just 14 days.
“She did not want to [get married], but we forced her, because in villages, when an adolescent girl is unmarried, people start to talk,” Matiura Bibi, Khatun’s mother, told the American Jewish World Service, an advocacy group. “After the marriage, we realized the boy was not nice. He was suspicious of Sonali. He started to control her and argue with her. I understood the marriage wouldn’t last.” Sonali got a divorce and faced being taunted by the girls of the village, but she is now an independent, successful working woman.”  Read more here:

By telling facts through a story, it gives the audience someone or something to visualize and identify with. By using stories that include facts, your speech will resonate with the audience, causing it to be remembered.


Now that it’s election time, we see candidates who are distorting the truth for the purposes of furthering their campaigns.

Here are some examples:

Arab Americans cheered during the Sept. 11th attacks.” – Donald Trump (untrue)

Then United States is going to accept 250,000 Syrian refugees” – Carly Fiorina (untrue)

Hispanic and teen unemployment went up under President Obama.” – Ted Cruz (untrue)

The handling of secret emails through a private server was permitted” – Hillary Clinton (untrue)

          “Climate Change is directly related to the growth of terrorism” – Bernie Sanders (overstating)

Studies have shown that misinformation has lingering effects, even if a falsehood is quickly corrected. This is especially true if the “fact” ties in with a person’s beliefs and resonates with them.


We’ve all seen items going around the Internet claiming to be “facts.” A famous one from 2014 was a woman who claimed to have three breasts. She circulated a photo claiming she’d had a 3rd breast implant in the center. In actuality, it was a prosthesis. However, this “fact” did lead to her recording a song and music video in Florida.

Why have the three-breasted woman and the not-candid candidates captured the imagination? The things being said aren’t true, but they evoked emotion. If you listener feels an emotional reaction, what’s being said will resonate more strongly with them.


          Let’s go back to politics. A master of media attention is Donald Trump. He says things that are outrageous and has been discourteous to other candidates during debates. What has this done? It’s put a lot of focus on him because the media likes sensational stories– and so do we.

When Darren LaCroix won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, he walked out on the stage– and fell down. He stayed down for a purposefully long time, making the audience uncomfortable.

This was a masterful move. An audience views new information from the “reptile” brain, the part that processes information through a prism of fear and boredom. They’re afraid of new ideas, but they want to have their imagination captured. What Darren LaCroix did was shocking and, thus, excited the audience. It got everyone’s attention.  


          Think about your speech content and how to incorporate an unexpected moment into the presentation. It will keep your audience’s attention and make your presentation memorable.



How To Be a More Effective Communicator Than the President

I’ve been a fan of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast quite awhile and was surprised President Barack Obama had decided to visit Marc’s garage in LA and give an interview.


Then I listened to it.

And I got annoyed. (And for anyone who thinks I’m going down Politics Road, sorry to disappoint.)

President Obama is known for giving moving and commanding speeches. However, delivering a prepared speech (read from a teleprompter, notes or even from memory) is a lot different than answering extemporaneous questions or giving an interview.

If you want to be a great communicator, you have to think about all areas of speaking and abstain from some of the problems that have crept into the President’s speech.

Avoid Filler Words

Our Needs Improvement Communicator- in-Chief’s words were sprinkled with ums, uhs and you knows. Known as “filler” words, they have no place in your discourse if you want to sound authoritative.


Here are some examples of things you should work to eradicate from your speaking:

  • Uh, um and er creep into speech when you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next and forget to close your mouth.
  • Like is Valley Girl speak. Or as used by Will.i. am and scolded hysterically by Miriam Margolys in this clip from the BBC’s Graham Norton show
  • Don’t use xerox or repeat words. Here are some examples:  “I-I” or “You know- You know” etc. Just say it once.
  • You know is a phrase that you shouldn’t use unless you need to say “Do you know what you’re doing?” or other appropriate sentences.
  • The words so or and so are unnecessary when you’re transitioning from one sentence to the next.

Don’t Drop Your G’s

Here are some examples of some words ending with g’s: reading, thinking, going, caring, saying…You get it.

Here’s how the President pronounces them: readin’, thinkin’, goin’, carin’, sayin’…


I don’t know where he dropped his G’s, but I hope he doesn’t have to pay for them to stay  there.  Not completely pronouncing a word is fine for casual conversation, but consistently missing a G doesn’t elevate your level of conversation.


Whenever President Obama refers to people, he calls them “folks.”  If this happened occasionally, it could work. However, he does it all the time, even when discussing serious matters.

Please stop.


Being A Great Communicator Takes Practice

Once you’ve learned how to listen for filler and crutch words, you’ll notice them everywhere. You’ll hear them used by politicians, professional athletes, actors and anyone who hasn’t practiced speaking in front of the public.

At Toastmaster meetings, where people can learn to become better speakers, a dog clicker is used each time a person slips up.  The once innocuous tool used to discipline pets becomes a dreaded but effective method to eradicate bad habits in speech. Filler words quickly cease.

If you want to be a better speaker, practice eradicating these small problems from your speech and you’ll be able to say that you are a more effective communicator than the President.


Adding Drama to Public Speaking

Every time we talk, we use different tones of voice, gestures and body language. When it comes to public speaking, it’s no different. After determining what message you want to convey and crafting a speech, be it inspirational, educational or humorous, the hard work has just begun, because it’s time to determine how to present your material.


To give perspective, imagine that tonight you’re attending a charity event where the keynote speaker is going to advocate for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.

The speaker comes on stage, stops in the center and stands still. He doesn’t make eye contact with the audience. When he speaks, it’s difficult to hear him. If he moves his arms at all, it’s to clasp his hands in the front and wring them together.  In a monotone, he talks about his elderly father, who had once been the CEO of a successful company, who liked to compete in tennis tournaments and had a fondness of dancing. Now, his father can’t remember anything or anyone in his family. These facts are conveyed like the speaker is reading from a list. The speaker urges you to give money to help fund research to eradicate Alzheimer’s, then walks off the stage, still not looking at the crowd.


How would you feel? Would you be moved to give money? You probably would because you care about the cause.  However, did the speaker’s words as conveyed move you to action? Did they move you to contribute even more than you’d intended? Probably not.

Now, imagine a speaker coming on stage and looking out at the audience. He begins by saying “My father achieved many things in his life. He started from a poor background, put himself through school working several jobs and became the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.” Now, the speaker moves, reaches out with his hands above shoulder height and, in a vibrant voice, says “He was larger than life to me.” Then he drops them back to his sides. “He used to be a top tennis player.” The speaker makes a motion like hitting a ball. “And he loved to dance.” He mimes dancing with a partner. He goes on to say “Now, Dad’s in a wheelchair.” His tone has changed, softened. His hands grip an imaginary chair and he pushes it a few feet along. Then he stops and looks back at the audience. “When I visit him, he doesn’t know who I am. He doesn’t know my mother, his wife of 45 years, or remember any of the successes he’s had.” The speaker pauses. “All because of Alzheimer’s.”

Are you there with the speaker? Do you imagine his father as he was, and how he is now? When you’re asked to contribute money, will you give a little more because the devastation of the disease has been brought so clearly into your mind?

Back to your speech: It’s time to begin rooting out unnecessary language. Hone your words until you communicate exactly what you want. Consider whether your words are telling the story and evoking the emotion you intended from the listener.

When performing a speech, you should always think about the following:

  • Vocal Variety, including tone of voice, rate, pitch, use of different voices to bring characters to life and pause.
  • Body Language, including gestures, use of act-outs to bring drama to words, facial expressions and eye contact.
  • Energy

Vocal Variety

Varying your voice is what emphasizes your words in a speech. Rate is the pace of your words, tone is the intention behind them and pitch is the sound of your voice.


 Rate is perhaps the easiest to understand. A basic mistake is talking too fast because of nerves.  It takes practice to slow down and speak like you’re having a conversation with a friend. If you have jokes, are you pausing after your punch line to give the audience time to laugh? If you’ve said something you want the listeners to take time to digest, do you pause? Your rate should vary throughout your speech, so be sure to analyze your text and practice.

Tone is more complicated, and takes even more thought.

There’s a poem by an unknown author called The Tone of Voice. It says, in part:

It’s not so much what you say

          As the manner in which you say it;

It’s not so much the language you use

          As the tone in which you convey it.

          “Come here! I sharply said,

          And the child cowered and wept.

          “Come here,” I said-

          He looked and smiled

          And straight to my lap he crept.

         Words may be mild and fair

          But the tone may pierce like a dart;

          Words may be soft as the summer air

          But the tone may break my heart;

          For words come from the mind

          Grow by study and art–

          But tone leaps from the inner self,

          Revealing the state of the heart…

I’m sure you’ve had to sit through lectures delivered in a monotone, been scolded by a parent, enjoyed soft words from a loved one, heard an emotional plea from a friend or a call to action by a politician. Each time we speak, we need to consider what tone of voice to use and, throughout our speech, what response we want to evoke in our audience. Our voice is our primary tool to bring about the result we hope from our listeners, but can be made more dynamic by our use of the stage or lecture space, our energy and body language.

Look at the words of your speech. What tone do you want to use for each phrase? Some speakers think they need to increase volume on their key points, but sometimes softening and speaking in a quiet tone actually brings about a better effect.

The best thing to do is tape yourself reading your speech exactly as you’d perform it, then listen. You’ll be able to hear where you need to improve. Better yet, enlist someone you trust to give you honest feedback.

Pitch is how you sound when speaking. Sometimes, when people get nervous or excited, their voices go up and up in pitch. The deeper tones of a speaker’s voice resonate better with a listener’s ear. If you’re gifted with a resonant speaking voice, that’s a starting advantage. Still, no matter whether you’re blessed or need assistance, you can always improve the richness and quality of your voice by doing voice exercises or hiring a voice coach. You will learn body posture and breathing, do tongue twisters to loosen up, exercises to improve the timbre of your voice and more. All of this will add to the quality of your performance.

When speaking in a large facility without a microphone, you have to project your voice so everyone can hear you. Picture bouncing your voice off the back wall and you will get some idea of how much energy you’ll have to put into it.

Energy is what you bring to your performance. Think about when you’re tired, sick or simply “not feeling it.” If you don’t have energy to put into your performance, you’ll come off as uninspiring or merely adequate. Sure, you might be better than other speakers on a technical level, but you have to amplify your energetic output for your message to be fully conveyed and appreciated. Sometimes we think we’re putting across an emotion, but it’s not enough. It’s easy to bring to mind an actor’s performance that felt flat. That person didn’t put enough of themselves into their role. The same thing goes with public speaking.

 Body Language

When you first start out in public speaking, gripping the edges of the podium and glancing nervously at your notes might be the best you can do. That’s okay. As you progress, moving away from the podium, even if you have to keep a hand on it like a life preserver, is a good move forward.

We use gestures when we speak and don’t really think about them. They come naturally. When it comes to public speaking, it sometimes seems that we suddenly don’t know what to do with our hands and arms. Our facial expressions become wooden and we can’t make eye contact. The first thing to do if this happens is to take a deep breath. Breathing helps to relax your body and bring oxygen to your brain. Breathe deep into your belly, below your navel, for best results.

At the start of your speech, you should stand still and have limited movement. The audience needs time to get used to you.


In speaking, whenever you’re using gestures, they should be both natural and planned. Imagine when you’re telling someone how tall a child is. You might bring your hand to the height level to further demonstrate what you’re saying. Gestures in a speech are no different. If there are phrases that can be emphasized through use of body language, think about them and plan them into your talk. Gestures are made above your elbow height and can also include your head, nodding or shaking it to emphasize your words.


 A quick way to see if you have gesture is to videotape yourself doing your speech.  Sometimes we unknowingly make the same gesture repeatedly, which can distract from the message. Also, the larger the stage, the larger your gestures should be. What might be appropriate in a one-on-one conversation won’t convey the same message to a larger audience.


Darren LaCroix, the 2001 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, famously fell to the floor of the stage during his world championship winning speech and stayed down for uncomfortable moments. This was done purposefully to emphasize failure, by literally falling on his face. He then talked about how to get back up and overcome obstacles. This dramatic move was an “act-out” of his words and something that caught the audience and judges’ attention.

Darren Henderson, 2010 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, wore a World War II bomber jacket, helmet and goggles to add to his words about pretending to be a pilot. He then acted out play-fighting arial battles with a childhood friend, pretending to talk into a hand-held radio microphone to emphasize his words, which were “Snoopy One to Snoopy Two.”

Act-outs can be as simple as smelling an imaginary flower, pretending to open a door or anything that adds to the picture you’re painting with your words. You don’t have to be that dramatic to emphasize your words, but look at the text of your speech and determine if there are movements you can do that will add to the visuals of your message



If you’ve attended a live play, you might notice an actor who doesn’t grab your attention. That’s because they might be having an off day and not putting as much of themselves into their performance as necessary.

The energy level of a speaker can affect the way his or her message is received. For instance, if you have a cold and have to give a presentation to an audience of 200 people, you’re right to be concerned. A speaker has to give out their own energy and enthusiasm to engage an audience and, if you don’t feel good, you’re going to come across as flat.

Unless you’re Steve Jobs, with an audience already on the edge of its seat waiting the announcement of a new Apple product, speaking to live audiences requires your energy  be “larger than life.” This doesn’t mean you have to be someone else. In fact, the best public speakers sound like they’re having a conversation with an old friend, but you need to be aware of the venue and audience size so you can gauge how much energy you have to put into your performance.


After you’ve written your speech, look for opportunities in the text for vocal variety and use of body language. Adding these ingredients will make your message more dynamic and stay in the minds of your listeners.

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5 Quick Tips to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

Jerry Seinfeld said   “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Fear of public speaking trumps death! If you’re one of many who feel like this, how do you change it?


1. Start small. If you consider it, you’re engaged in public speaking all the time. You talk to friends, family, co-workers, the barrista, the mailman. So, what’s the difference? The spotlight is on you and you’re invariably in the standing position, perhaps bringing back memories of being in front of a class with the teacher waiting for you to fill everyone in on who started the Franco-Prussian war and all you can remember is what you had for breakfast. Next time you’re out with the girls/guys, try raising a glass of your drink of choice to someone and say something quick and pithy like “Susie, you’re a great (friend, mother, sister, co-worker…)” or “Here’s to (insert your favorite sports team) beating (your least favorite sports team.)”  There, that was quick and the best part is you got to chug down a drink immediately after you said it.


2. Don’t forget to breathe. The boss expects you to present a short report on the latest project at a meeting or you’re a writer promoting your first book. You’re prepared, but the thought of speaking in front of everyone makes you want to run for the bathroom and hurl.  Before you do your presentation, if you’re at work, close the door to your office (unless you want to be talked about) and open your jaw. Reach up and massage the area just below your ears in a circular motion to release the tension that’s there. Now, stand with your feet at shoulder width apart and take a deep breath in through your nose and down into the bottom of your belly, then release it through your mouth slowly. Do that 5-10 times. If you have time, even do some shoulder rolls, shake your hands and loosen up. This is a quick way to get some of the tension out of your body and will help you stay calm when you make your presentation.


3. Don’t memorize. Sometimes beginning speakers write everything down and then decide that if they memorize what they wrote, all will be fine. Don’t do this. I’ve witnessed numerous speakers, some even advanced, get to a certain point in their talk and here’s what happens: Silence. The speaker’s eyes are either cast into the back of their head searching for that next phrase or staring in horror at the audience, mouth working unconsciously to bring the words to their lips. Instead, I recommend bullet points. Take the key content of your speech and write bullet points that will jog your memory.


4. No one knows what you’re going to say.  New speakers sometimes focus on “messing up” their speech. Maybe you’re going to forget something, or not say something the way you wanted to. Guess what? No one will know! Unless you handed out verbatim copies of what  you were going to discuss, as long as you get the gist of things across, no one will realize anything went wrong. Except you. If you did botch something, I recommend you keep it to yourself.  Accept people’s congratulations on a great speech and let it go.

5. Everyone wants you to succeed. When you stand up to give your speech and all eyes are on you, they’re not a pack of ravenous wolves waiting to eat you. It might feel that way, but most people are pretty nice and their expectations are fairly low. If you do stammer and have a few glitches, don’t worry. This will actually endear you a little to your audience. People like to root for the underdog and they’re probably happy it’s not them up there in the first place.  Refer back to the quote at the beginning of this blog.






As a speaker, Toastmaster and public speaking/trial skills coach, I get to see lots of presentations. What’s the one thing that makes me want to put my head in my hands?


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Think back to when you were (or maybe still are) trapped in a classroom at the mercy of a teacher who drones on while pointing to the board and reading things verbatim that he/she has written there. Powerpoint is simply the digital age update of the chalk/black/white board.

Unfortunately, even though people are “professionals,” that doesn’t mean they understand the importance of putting together visuals to enhance their message.


Recently, I attended a presentation put on by a PR firm from Los Angeles. Their business is to promote writers. In addition to the speaker using the words “um” and “like” every few seconds when she spoke, the tan text color of the words on her Powerpoint slides melted into the brown/green background, making them impossible to read. Within fifteen minutes, people began to walk out. I thought they were being gracious. I wanted to leave within the first two minutes.


Here are some tips to follow if you’re using Powerpoint:

1. Make sure audiences can SEE your slides

Check the font colors, text size, images from the back of the largest room you’ll be doing your presentation in. How do they look? Will everyone be able to see them? Are they TOO CRAZY?

2. Don’t read verbatim

I learned to read before kindergarten. Most people attending presentations know how to read. Use IMAGES and SHORT PHRASES to complement what you’re saying. If the content of your speech is important, email it or provide in handouts to your audience after you’re done. If you provide handouts before, the audience will focus on reading them, and not listen.

3. Don’t marry your equipment.

I’m not sure what’s so seductive about screens and remotes, but presenters using Powerpoint typically stare from the hand that holds the control to the slides they’re showing. The audience seems to have disappeared from their minds. Presenters also stand too close to their machines, like kids in a first relationship who always want to hold hands. Focus on your message, not the machinery.

 4. Look at your audience and move around.

Hi! I’m over here. Why are you looking at the Powerpoint presentation and not me?

Eye contact engages an audience in your message. Be dynamic and remember your presentation should complement your message, not be your message.

5. Make it fun.


I don’t care if your talk is super technical or content driven, please inject some humor somewhere.  I’m sure you’re proud of all those charts and graphs, but…huh? What was I saying? I think I fell asleep.

Give your audience hope the talk will be fun so they don’t lean against the person next to them and catch a nap. Add cartoons, video or some other content that makes people smile.

Good luck to everyone in their next presentation. I’m looking forward to the day I won’t have to keep my Hara-kiri sword in my briefcase.