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Boosting Your Confidence Improving Your Presentations Podcast Public Speaking Tips Special Occasion Speeches Wedding Speeches

Episode 4: The A-Ha! Method Podcast

Social Speeches: How to Give the Best Toast of Your Life

Social speeches are often our first – and most important – moments for public speaking. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals – they all require good speeches and often are what prompts us to improve our speaking in the first place. Join Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan for an exciting episode in which we discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of the social speech, and how to master it on your first go around.

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Improving Your Presentations Professional Speaker Public Speaking Tips Speaking at Conferences Speaking Hygiene

Speaking Hygiene – More than showering and looking good!

You’ve been preparing for this speech or pitch for weeks, maybe months. You’ve followed the lessons of the A-Ha! Method and developed a talk that’s going to get you that promotion, land you that funding, or raise your profile among your peers. The night before your talk you’re probably filled with excitement, nervousness and dread. You practice, practice, practice and go to sleep, ready for whatever comes tomorrow – the big day. 

Professional public speakers know something very critical: your “big day” actually starts the night before. The entire 18-24 hours before your talk, pitch or keynote requires special care and planning, in an effort we describe broadly as “speaking hygiene.”

No, speaking hygiene is not about showering and smelling good (though that’s also important and the subject of another article), but it is about ensuring that your time before the talk is carefully curated to ensure you’ve got the right energy level, the right focus, and the right amount of good stress. In short, you need to think like a rockstar, and put everything into the big moment. Here are some of the most important considerations:

Sleep

Make sure you know when your talk is, and ensure you’ve got enough sleep to maximize your alertness and calm. Time changes can wreak havoc on your body, so these must be factored in as well. If your talk is late in the day or you have an immovable scheduling issue, take a nap several hours beforehand. You’d be surprised how many major performers nap shortly before taking the stage – the key is to make sure your rhythms are in sync and you can do your best.

Eat

Eating is probably a major part of your day, and it can be tempting to just treat the day of your talk as any other day for food. But because too little food can leave you jittery and your stomach growling, and too much can leave you tired and sluggish, it’s crucial to time your meals appropriately. Eat well, but not too much and leave enough time to digest. Don’t eat anything heavy or carby right before, and definitely don’t walk out on stage with stuff stuck in your teeth (e.g. from a really recent bite). But do have something sweet nearby for after your talk: cognitively challenging activities deplete the energy in our brains and glucose is the cure. 

Caffeinate

Caffeine may or may not be part of your daily routine, but you’ll definitely be tempted to slam some back an hour or two before your talk as your energy flags and you worry about being at your best. Just as with food and water, make sure your caffeine intake is optimized for the talk you’re about to give. You want to make sure you don’t go overboard and end up jittery, or go under and laconic. If you want the caffeine to kick in right before your talk, plan to consume it approximately 20 minutes prior. Similarly, if you’re giving a really long talk, you might want to have some right before getting up on stage. Regardless, don’t overdo it. I’ve been there and it’s not cute. 

Investigate

I’m sure you think you know where to find the venue, your specific speaking location, and what time to be there. But don’t assume: it’s happened to me plenty of times where I get lost or the meeting point is non-specific, and I’m rushing to make it to my call time, out of breath and anxious. Whenever you can, do a walkthrough of the precise locations you need to be at and when. If you’re at an away event, you can do this the night before. If you’re somewhere local, do it the day of. Make sure you always leave yourself an additional 30 minutes to account for any hiccups, and don’t plan your flights or drives such that you’ll arrive right before your start time. Even celebrities build in contingencies. You should too. 

Isolate

You should do as little as possible before your talk begins. If your talk is first thing in the morning, you’ll have all day afterwards to socialize, network and the like. But if your talk is later in the day, you should focus on conserving energy for your performance. Wherever possible, don’t make significant intellectually-challenging plans for the time before your talk, and keep your socializing to a minimum. Again, think like a rockstar: the performance is the priority – and the point. Focus everything you’ve got on that one goal.

And therein lies the rub: the sooner you think of yourself as “performing” when you’re up on stage giving a talk, the better. Many speakers get caught in the loop of thinking they are Marketing Director first and speaker second, but on the day of a major and significant talk, embrace your inner diva. Prioritize your hygiene and watch your performance improve.

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Big presentation at work Boosting Your Confidence Improving Your Presentations Public Speaking Practice Virtual Presentations

TWO Public Speaking Practice Clinics this week!

Have an upcoming speech, pitch or presentation?

Come practice it with us!

Each week the Speakers Alliance runs a FREE Public Speaking and Pitching Practice Clinic for people looking to improve their public speaking skills. Anyone who wants to practice a presentation, speech, sales pitch, social occasion speech, etc. is welcome to join and participate! If you do not have a speech or pitch prepared, you can still attend and listen to others practice and ask questions during the Q&A period.

Talks can be 5-6 minutes long. The panel will provide up to 3-5 minutes of feedback after your talk.

This week, we are offering not one but TWO practice sessions for you to join.

Join us on Wednesdays or Thursdays to practice your speeches, presentations and pitches. Speakers Alliance is here to help and support you in your public speaking journey!

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Boosting Your Confidence Public Speaking Nerves Public Speaking Sweats Sweating and Speaking

Episode 3: The A-Ha! Method Podcast

Never Let ’em See You Sweat

Episode 03

Getting sweaty comes with the territory of being a public speaker. But when the deluge starts, how do you keep yourself in a state of flow? On this episode, hosts Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan talk about the tricks, tips and hacks for making yourself less self-conscious and more in charge of your sweatiness. 

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Fear of Public Speaking Improving Your Presentations Public Speaking Nerves Public Speaking Practice Special Occasion Speeches

A Toast to Social Speeches and How to Make Them Great

Weddings, Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties, Holiday Gatherings and Funerals are all situations in which we may find ourselves needing (or wanting) to give a speech. For many people, this is the first time they are prompted to improve their public speaking skills. For others, it is merely a nail-biting event at which we desperately want to succeed. 

Speaking professionals refer to these kinds of talks as “Social Speeches,” or Special Occasion Speeches, to differentiate them from business or political ones. The important distinction is in the name: speeches in this milieu are meant to evoke a particular kind of closeness or connection. Generally if you’re asked to speak at these events, the organizer will be less concerned with your polish and perfection, and more with your delivery of appropriately funny and/or touching anecdotes in a good spirited way. 

Whether this is the one and only time you’ll get up in front of people to speak, or just another step in your journey to become a better communicator, there are several key lessons you should observe when planning and executing a social speech.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Yes, social speeches are somewhat lower stress than professional keynotes. They are usually unpaid, often unsupervised, and – because the organizer is not usually an event professional – they are given minimal attention until the big day. Don’t let this lackadaisical and freewheeling environment fool you: to do a great job at public speaking – regardless of the context – you need to practice your heart out. If you use the approach described in the A-Ha! Method, you can save significant time and may find it easier to memorize and nail those points.

You Don’t Have to Be Funny

Film and TV tend to represent these social speeches as comedic moments. But if you don’t have the halcyon delivery of Owen Wilson or the hipster gravitas of Vince Vaughn, you may not be perfectly suited to hitting those jokes repeatedly. This is not to say that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be funny, but the suggestion is to know your voice and to embrace it. If you’re more serious, be more serious and heartfelt. If you’ve got a light touch, do that. Either way, you’ll be more successful if you embrace your own POV than trying to fit into someone else’s mold.

Shorter is Better

Most social speeches should be kept under 5 minutes. Just think about the typical wedding: if 6 people/groups need to speak, and each takes 10 minutes, you’ll be sitting there for a solid hour listening to family members and friends drone on. Take a cue from what you would enjoy and keep it to a nice tight 2-3 minutes. The shorter timeframe will help you focus and give you clarity. After all, it’s better to say one thing really well than 5 things poorly.

Grab The A-Ha! Moment

In every social speech there is typically one line: an anecdote, observation, expression of love or broader social issue, that is the memorable moment from the speaker. Much as we do when giving a keynote or conference talk using the A-Ha! Method, our process begins by thinking about those moments of connection with the audience, and then building a talk around it. This emotional high-point is the thing that will have the biggest impact, so it needs to be strong. In most social speeches, there is time for one A-Ha! Moment in the middle, and a strong tag at the end that wraps everything up and brings it together.

Strong Openings and Closings

There is a tendency for most speakers to “fill” time as the stage or mic is being transitioned to them. “Hi everyone, how’s it going?” is a great example, or mentioning the previous speaker(s) to then ease into your speech. It makes the speaker feel better, but increases the time from the switch over until your first point of brilliance is expressed. If you can, take a deep breath and launch directly into your speech without any transitional phrases. The same goes for the end: as you create the last line of the talk, make sure to clearly differentiate between the end of your talk and the start of a toast (for example). Toasts or blessings are not endings, and should be treated as separate from your core talk. 

Many professional speakers, when asked to talk about their most important talks, refer to these social speeches. You may spend your life on a keynote stage, traveling around the world – but perhaps the most important memories you’ll make will be much closer to home. So no matter where you are in your journey of improving your communications skills, now’s the right time to lean in. 

Here’s a toast to your upcoming social speeches – may you give them and give them well, and may you regale all your family and friends with your stories and talks at your next special occasion event. Cheers!

Picture credit: Canva.com
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Building Confidence Fear of Public Speaking Improving Your Presentations Podcast Public Speaking Tips

Episode 2: The A-Ha! Method Podcast

Episode 02

Getting and keeping people’s attention is harder than ever as a public speaker. In this episode, hosts Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan explore the techniques that public speakers use to practice and develop their work, and how this helps build confidence. 

Preview:

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Big presentation at work Boosting Your Confidence Fear of Public Speaking Improving Your Presentations Sweating and Speaking Work Presentations

Never Let Them See You Sweat (when speaking)

I come from a long line of sweaty people. 

I remember my grandfather – whose BMI was much lower than mine – carrying a handkerchief in the dead of winter to mop his ever-sweaty brow. My larger frame (thicc by today’s standards) has made me even more sweaty in every aspect of my life. 

In general, I’ve come to terms with it. But when you’re watching your TED talk and see your arms lifted with sweat stains clearly visible through your dress shirt, it feels like too much. Being sweaty at the gym or beach poses minimal professional risk, but – even if people won’t tell you to your face – a super sweaty body or handshake isn’t great when you’re trying to bill $10,000/hour. 

Over my 20 years of paid, professional speaking I’ve tried almost everything to ameliorate this problem, from potions to just giving up and embracing my body’s quirks. Eventually I settled on a few tricks and strategies that have served me well. If you’re not a super-sweater, you might still find these useful – because even Zoom doesn’t hide those pits. And as any sweaty person knows, once you’re conscious of your sweat, it makes it almost impossible to focus on anything else (e.g. the speech you’re supposed to give). 

Antiperspirant

Antiperspirant is the first way most people try to solve this problem. But because adrenaline and increased blood pressure tend to increase sweating, speeches are more likely than most situations to “break through” supermarket brands. I recommend switching to a clinical-strength antiperspirant that you carry with you for talks (live or online). Asking your doctor for a recommendation is a great way to start. Don’t use the stuff regularly, or you’ll develop a tolerance for it (and potential other health complications) – so keep it for the “special” occasions of your speaking. If you don’t wear any antiperspirant on most occasions or days, you’ll find that the selective application of the stuff will help you on the days you need it most. 

Undershirts

Adding layers of undergarments can be a good go-to, but there’s a delicate balance between stopping your sweat from showing and raising your basal body temperature through excessive clothing. If you are an undershirt kind of person, a brand I’ve found to be highly effective is Eji’s. They make a line of “sweat proof” items that have a special liner to prevent your pits – and other parts – from showing. Whatever you do, don’t double up on undershirts or underwear – it will only make you hotter, and definitely won’t help. 

Blazers

The big secret of professional public speakers is the use of a strategic blazer. Men, women and non-binary speakers can find a range of great blazers that look good, project the right image, and help you keep from showing your sweat. The key is to not take the blazer off after your talk until the situation has calmed down, so to speak. This can be especially difficult in venues with inadequate air conditioning, but it’s a low price to pay for protection. And pro tip: black is both slimming and hides sweat the best. 

Handkerchiefs/Sanitizer

While your hands being sweaty during your talk is normal and really no big deal, sweaty hands after a talk – particularly when shaking them with prospective clients or event bookers – can be a major no-no. Take a minute after you’re done pitching or speaking from the stage to go to the restroom, wash your hands, dry them thoroughly, and return to the action in the venue. If that is impossible, a small amount of hand sanitizer (which you probably have at all times nowadays) and a handkerchief in your pocket can give your palms a quick refresh. Of course, you can also always use the pandemic as an excuse to elbow bump instead.

Body Temperature Regulation

There’s a reason that most TV studios are freezing cold. This serves two purposes: to keep the equipment and the hosts from overheating. Sweat ruins clothes, makeup and a 4K high-def close up, and the same will be true for you as a speaker. Now, you may not have control of the venue’s temperature – and particularly if you’re in Europe, the venue will most likely be on the warm side – but there are things you can do. First, dress for the venue prior to your talk. If it’s warm (and you’ll know because you followed my advice to scope it out beforehand), keep your blazer off and/or wear lighter clothes prior to the start of your talk. Don’t shower, work out or otherwise over-exert yourself in the hour before your speech or pitch begins, and do what you can to keep yourself calm. If you’re broadcasting from home – turn down the AC as low as it will go and freeze your room before the talk starts – you can set it back to a normal/cool temperature once you’re finished. And remember to drink lots of water…but not so much that you can’t time your bathroom breaks. 

Excessive sweating can become a clinical condition called Hyperhidrosis. Even if you don’t have this rare but often-debilitating issue, you can suffer from sweating that is “excessive” (a social, not medical construct) during and after important talks. The critical thing to remember, of course, is that this is perfectly normal. You should feel sweaty during and after a talk because you put your heart and soul into it, and that nervous reaction is absolutely natural. However, if you don’t feel confident and comfortable in your body under those circumstances, it will affect your performance. And the most critical thing is to ensure that your talk goes well, that you land your points, and that the audience is changed by what you have to say. Anything that gets in the way of that – and it’s usually something in your head – is detrimental to success. That’s why we teach the importance of practice, confidence and content-centricity in our self-directed online course, The A-Ha! Method

The phrase “Never let them see you sweat” was coined by advertising guru Phil Slott in his 1980s commercials for the antiperspirant Dry Idea. It caught on precisely because of its broader meaning: that you need to project confidence and calm, no matter how you’re feeling inside, if you want to conquer the highest peaks of your profession. Public speaking, pitching and meeting management are types of performance, and good performers invest in managing their sweat to create the right impression. 

The content comes first. But staying high and dry is always a good idea. 

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Boosting Your Confidence Fear of Public Speaking Podcast Public Speaking Nerves

Introducing: The A-Ha! Method Podcast

Episode 01

In this introduction to, and first episode of The A-Ha! Method Podcast, hosts Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan talk through their own different paths to public speaking and the challenges they faced along the way. We’ll also look at why public speaking can be so hard for people – even those who are exceptionally good at other kinds of communication. 

Preview:

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Big presentation at work Improving Your Presentations Public Speaking Tips Work Presentations

Improve Your Public Speaking Skills Now, Not Later

As humans, we experience procrastination motivation in many aspects of our lives—exercising, losing weight, improving our overall health and well-being, studying for a test, completing a project, saving for retirement, etc. I call myself the “ultimate procrastinator” because I have lived most of my life waiting until the last minute to do everything. 

In general, people also procrastinate improving their public speaking skills until they absolutely need to! Most people, myself included, need a catalyst or a swift kick in the butt to get motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Work meetings and presentations are big motivators in shining a light on our public speaking skills, or lack thereof.

Here are a few scenarios of how this public speaking catalyst process usually works: 

  1. Your manager asks you to prepare and give a big presentation at work. Panic sets in!
  1. You were put on the spot at a big meeting and did not answer as strongly as you wanted. 
  1. You just gave a big presentation at work that completely bombed! (Exactly what happened to me 7 years ago.)

And now you are finally motivated to make some changes and work on improving your public speaking skills!


While I am all for people finding any and all motivation to improve their public speaking skills, I want to give you a different kind of motivation today:

Start improving your skills now, instead of when you have a big presentation or speech to do. If you start working on your skills now, then you will be in a much better position to give the speech or presentation when the next opportunity comes up, and trust me, opportunities will come up! 
Picture credit: www.canva.com

Here are some ideas on how to improve your public speaking skills a little bit at a time:

  1. Take a public speaking course. 
    • Don’t rush through it. Take your time going through the content and try to apply different skills in your speeches. I have taken 3-hour public speaking workshops before, and while they are very helpful and informative, they do not provide the most opportunities to practice your skills that you may need. Find the right course and the right pace that works for you.
  1. Give one speech per month
    • If you don’t have a professional/work topic, that’s okay. Tell a story about a special time in your life. Storytelling looks easy and is so lovely when done well, but it is difficult to do in an engaging and effective way. 
    • The interval here is really up to you, but once a month can help to keep you on track and see improvement quickly. I know other people who do a speech once a quarter. That works as well, just remember the progress may be slower. 
  1. Listen to Ted Talks or start to notice other speakers in your workplace—what makes their speeches so great or not so great? 
    • I have learned so much from just watching people speak and making notes on what worked and what didn’t work. That is such a comforting thought to me too that I don’t always have to be speaking to learn how to improve. I can learn by watching others. 
    • It’s easy to watch good speakers and say, “Wow, that person is a naturally great speaker. I could never do that EVER.” Instead of thinking that way, list all the techniques they used that made their speech great, and think about how to incorporate some of those techniques into your next speech. 
  1. Find ways to enjoy public speaking! 
    • This is where the intrinsic or internal motivation kicks in. Once you start to enjoy it, you will want to do it more often!
    • Listen to stories on The Moth, listen to podcasts, or watch your favorite influencers or vloggers on Youtube. All these speakers on these platforms are using their public speaking skills to get their message across (mostly for good, but I’ll let you be the judge of that). 
    • Once you realize that public speaking can be about telling stories and being your authentic self in front of people, it takes the fear and dread out of the task and makes it more exciting and fun. Bring that excitement and fun into your mundane work presentations. It can be done, I promise! 

Speakers Alliance offers several opportunities for people to practice and improve their public speaking skills. We have a course on Udemy, weekly community practice sessions that are free and open to everyone, and we have recently released a podcast talking about different public speaking issues and topics. If our style doesn’t work for you, that is absolutely fine. There are many tools and trainings out there to help you. The most important thing is to find the training and practice that works for you and your schedule. 

My public speaking mantra is “Say Yes, Speak More.” If you live in Los Angeles long enough, you will start making mantras for yourself, but this personal mantra has motivated me to tackle big public speaking opportunities that I originally wanted to turn down because I was scared and afraid. Say yes to public speaking and say yes to the speaking opportunities that come up in your life. Say yes to improving your public speaking skills NOW rather than waiting until “later.” Because if you wait until “later,” it may never get done, and then you will be missing out on all the benefits of improved confidence, communication, and connection with your audience that you could be enjoying right now.

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Boosting Your Confidence Improving Your Presentations Public Speaking Tips Virtual Presentations

Practice Sessions every Wednesday from 6-7pm Pacific Time

Practice, practice, practice! That is the best way to become a better public speaker.

Each week the Speakers Alliance runs a FREE Speech Practice Clinic for people looking to improve their public speaking skills. Gabe and Dayna will discuss issues of importance, answer questions about professional and personal public speaking skills/techniques, and listen to/critique as many short-form talks as possible. The sessions take place Wednesdays at 6pm Pacific Time, and all are welcome. You can attend as many Wednesday sessions as you would like.

Talks can be 5-6 minutes long. The panel will provide up to 3 minutes of feedback. Speeches must be on a professional topic. If you do not have a speech prepared, you can still attend and listen to others practice and ask questions during the Q&A period.

REGISTER HERE FOR A WEDNESDAY SESSION!

Come join us on Wednesdays to practice your speeches, presentations and pitches. We are here to help and support you in your public speaking journey!