May 29, 2012

The Top 3 Mistakes Speakers Make

Why is it that speakers have such a hard time translating the passion they feel for their subject matter into passionate presentations? What gets in the way of their natural enthusiasm and spontaneous energy?  a technical problem? a poorly-designed speech? a lack of confidence?

Over the years, I’ve been contracted to help hundreds of aspiring leaders and speakers translate their passion to the podium. Often it is because they have received a 360-degree peer review that reveals one of these issues:

Do any of these comments sound familiar to you?

  • knows his stuff but comes off as stiff and boring
  • is a different person when she gives a high stakes presentation
  • lacks passion and energy in his speeches
  • doesn’t connect with her audience – seems to be in her own world
  • comes off as aloof even though she’s a very warm and friendly person
  • needs to improve in the areas of charisma, influence and engagement
  • doesn’t inspire confidence in leadership
  • comes off as too slick – not believable

The inability to communicate passion from the speaking platform limits your ability to inspire and lead your audience.  It can keep you from advancing in your career. It can stall your progress or stop it altogether. It’s like a glass ceiling that you can’t see, but you know is there.

If you want to be impactful and memorable as a professional speaker – or take your career to the next level as a leader – passion is your ticket to success.

Stop Not Being Yourself

There’s an easy cure for podium purgatory. Stop not being yourself! Yes, I know it is a double negative, but it’s the best way to express this important point.

The cure is easier said than done. Early on in my speaking career, I came up against this dilemma myself. I was quite comfortable as an actor playing a variety of roles and characters. But as a speaker, it took me a while to find my authentic self.  I also heard a lot of bad advice, which contradicted what my natural instincts were telling me to do.

Over the years, I have coached many executives who were one step away from the top spot in their company. One of these executives had an interesting way of describing his challenge.  He said it was like being in a dream where you want to scream but can’t make a sound. In other words, he knew he had the passion and energy to be an outstanding speaker, but he was having difficulty finding his authentic voice and style.

Being your passionate self on the platform requires that you leap over these common potholes:

Pothole Number One:

In the beginning, most speakers write the speech they think they’re supposed to write. They start their process focusing on the content, what they want to say. This process often leads to a speech that is content rich but lacking in emotion or meaning.

Solution: Focus first on how you want people to feel. Then design your speech and include the content to achieve that purpose. Well-chosen and crafted stories are your best bet for stimulating an emotional response.  By sharing your stories, you connect and become more relatable to your audience.  You are bringing your authentic self and your passion to the platform!

Pothole Number Two:

The most crippling obstacle that stands between you and your passion as a speaker is often your physical expression. Passion comes from emotion, which creates energy. That energy is naturally expressed with movement and gestures. Many presentation skills coaches tell people to limit their hand gestures and movement because they are distracting. That is a bunch of bull puckey!  Standing still with your hands glued to your side will kill your passion and energy!

Solution: Your hand gestures are integrally connected to your thoughts and feelings. They express how you feel about what you are saying. They are another form of language – body language. Rather than thinking about your hands, focus on what you’re saying and feeling. Get out from behind the lectern and move around. Movement will help you think on your feet. Rather than inhibiting your natural expression, walk and talk and feel. Yes, you do need to refrain from purposeless pacing, but if you let your movement flow from intention, it will be congruent and directed.  Sometimes the intention is simply to walk over to that side of the stage to talk to those people – that is a valid intention for movement! When you are at home in your body and allow yourself to move naturally, you are being yourself on the platform.

Pothole Number Three:

Top level executives tell me they don’t have time to write their speeches, so they delegate one of their most important touch point opportunities to others. No wonder they’re told they lack passion and energy and come off as stiff. Great speeches emanate from a desire to say something important. Sometimes speechwriters are only good at compiling sterile content – and that can result in a lousy speech! No wonder a speech like that lacks personality and vision.

Solution: Professional motivational speakers understand that the only person who can compose an important speech is the person delivering that speech. It has to be their unique thoughts and perspectives, written with their language and cadence. The speaker has to be involved in every aspect of the speech. Passion can only be communicated if the content being delivered is something that the speaker feels passionate about.

Take a cue from the pros. Compose your speech around content that you are passionate about. Delete the boring technical content that causes you to come across as stiff. You can always provide a supplemental handout if the technical content and statistics need to get into your listeners’ hands. Being yourself on the platform means putting yourself into your speech.

Here’s the bottom line: Look inside for what you are passionate about. Boring content leads to stiff presentations. Trying to please some vague idea of what you think people want or need to hear robs you of your power and voice.  Don’t look outside for everyone else’s opinion about what you should say or do. Take a stand. Be a visionary. Find the stories, metaphors and examples that bring your content alive.

If you’re using PowerPoint, make it highly visual. Use more images and less text. Keep it simple so you can focus more on how you feel than on what you need to cover.

And finally, stop not being yourself. You’re fine just the way you are. Take your baseline personality, the person that all of your friends thinks is really great, and expand on that.

Rather than shrinking into what you may think is safe in front of an audience, expand. Take who you are and turn up the volume. Not your vocal volume, your emotional volume. Don’t hide your emotion. Let it fuel your passion.

And watch out for those potholes!


Doug Stevenson, CSP, works with individuals and organizations to help them identify and tell inspiring stories that make a point, teach a lesson or sell a product or service. He is the president of Story Theater International, a Tucson, Arizona based consultancy. He is the creator of The Story Theater Method and the author of the book, Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method and the Next Level Video eLearning Series.

His has delivered keynote speeches, workshops and training courses on storytelling and story selling for clients in 16 countries including Aetna, Abbott Labs, Amgen, Caterpillar, Con Agra Foods, Deloitte, Google, Genentech, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Oracle, Volkswagen, Verizon, The Nickelodeon Channel, The Department of Defense, The National Education Association and many more.

To inquire about Doug’s availability email:

Doug can be reached at 1-719-310-8586. Learn more about how Doug can help you tell your story, purchase the book, eBook or Story Theater audio six pack, and sign-up for the free Story Theater newsletter at:

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