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The ONLY Way to Become a High-Impact Speaker

by | Public Speaking Tips

I’m a terrible cook. I’m not even being mean – it’s just a fact. (I’m an awesome baker.) I haven’t cooked a lot and when I do cook, the results are totally unreliable. Sometimes it turns out super delicious – and other times we literally can’t eat it. It’s just not worth it.

But here’s the thing – I WANT to be a great cook! I collect hundreds of recipes – especially gluten-free, vegan ones because my three daughters all have different combinations of food allergies. I imagine myself dancing around the kitchen to some soul-nourishing tunes – like Alicia Keys’ Holy War for example – sauteeing vibrant veggies in avocado oil, sprinkling the perfect fresh-cut herbs as I expertly toss the veggies in my ceramic-lined pan. Then we all sit down to our eclectically colorful set table and marvel at the delicious, nourishing meal I’ve created.

Yeah – that’s not how it’s gone so far.

So at this point, I’ve got two choices, right? I give up on my dream of being an amazing cook, or I keep at it and learn how to be a great cook.

Here’s where this story intersects with becoming a high-impact speaker. Because these two scenarios have a heck of a lot in common. Stick with me.

When I began speaking, I was not great. Nope. Not at all. I was terribly nervous, and I simply did not know how to put my knowledge together into a speech that kept the audience’s attention. I didn’t know what to research ahead of time. (I thought it was all about what I knew! I was so wrong.) I didn’t know how to chunk the information so my audience could best hear it, take it in and use it. Even though I cared deeply about the topics I shared, I just wasn’t very captivating to listen to.

I was in high school. We had no public speaking class, and if we had a speech team, I had no idea about it. I wasn’t doing that kind of speaking. (I was advocating for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, not debating ideas.)

So how did I become a better speaker?

I got up and spoke again in the next class and tried to be better than last time. I noticed what got their attention and did more of that. I learned to focus on the things that seemed relevant to their lives – and less on me appearing to know everything.

Here’s the thing: nothing teaches you to be a high-impact speaker like getting out there and speaking. Nothing.

Since I’m a speaking coach, you might think that I’d say, “You really should hire someone who has learned to be a high-impact speaker themselves – and who studies speaking deeply – to teach you what they’ve learned.” But I’m not saying that.

Of course mentorship, coaching and collaboration with a speaking coach makes a big difference. It will shorten your learning curve, give you an experienced partner to help you hone and refine your ideas, help you learn best practices – among many other benefits.

But NONE of that will be the most powerful thing you do to become a great speaker.

The most powerful thing you do to become a high-impact speaker is get out there and speak.

In fact, getting out there and speaking is the ONLY thing that is absolutely essential to becoming a high-impact speaker.

To be clear: just speaking over and over again won’t ensure that you have powerful impact.

You’ve also got to learn from that experience and apply what you’ve learned to your next opportunity to speak. Then do that again and again.

THIS is the magic formula to high-impact speaking.

Your post-speaking inquiry must be done thoughtfully and with compassion, though.

So I’d like to offer you a few questions and suggestions to take yourself through after your speaking event. No matter how busy you are, I promise you that the insights you gain from a few minutes of thoughtful and caring self-reflection will be worth 10x the time investment. Going through this reflective process will  help you take lessons from each speaking event and apply those insights to make your next speaking opportunity even more powerful and engaging.

Post-Speaking Event Inquiry & Reflection:

1. First, wait at least 24 hours to do a full reflection. If you need to jot down a thing or two in your notebook so you don’t forget, that’s fine. But do it quick and then go do something else. For many of us Post Presentation Syndrome (PPS) kicks in after we speak and makes it impossible for us to do a useful reflection for a bit. Don’t worry, it always eases!

2. REST your mind and heart. While you are in the PPS 24 hour period, do something unrelated to speaking that delights you. Watch a brain-candy movie or tv show, go have coffee with a friend who makes you laugh, go on a hike in your favorite place, study the trees and watch the light glisten on the water. It really is important to let your brain rest after you’ve done something awesome and difficult.

When you are ready, with a whole lot of love and self-compassion, ask yourself these questions:

1. What worked awesome in the talk? Was there a story, image or piece of data that seemed to light them up? Jot that down. Make notes about why you think this audience was captivated by that.

2. At what points in the talk did you feel “in flow” – like you were totally connected with the audience and serving them beautifully? Make notes of what you were talking about, what captivation techniques were you using (story, image, analogy or metaphor…)

3. What, if anything, felt like it didn’t connect with the audience in your talk? Maybe it fell very flat, or maybe it just felt like a slight “miss” for them. What was that content? Why do you think this didn’t work as well with this audience? (Remember, this will vary quite dramatically by audience while still talking about the same topic.)

4. Where, if anywhere, in your talk did you feel like you lost “flow?” What were you talking about at that point? Why do you think it didn’t feel great for you? How did the audience seem at that point? Write down any theories as to why this part had less lustre for you.

5. Finally, what questions and reflections did you get from your audience? Either during your talk, if you had a Q & A, or afterward in a private conversation – what were they asking you? Write down every single thing you can remember. (This one can be good to start immediately after your talk just take notes, without judgment about your performance. You want this information as complete as possible.) If you handed out a post-speaking survey or other feedback form, this is a good time to look those over as well. 

As with so many crafts and arts, there is much we can learn to be a better speaker. There are strategies, techniques, best practices and even some really useful “recipes” to use as a base for captivating speaking. If you learn you love speaking and want to continue to grow your impact as a speaker, you want to dig into those (and I’m happy to help).

Just be sure you do that while simultaneously walking your precious feet up those stage steps as often as possible.

To become a better cook, I’m going to need to don my apron, chop those veggies, and fling those herbs. I’m going to have to taste and listen to critique and head back into the kitchen. To become a high-impact speaker, you need to step up to the mic, share your words, pay attention to what works (and doesn’t) and get back on that stage. Again and again and again.