In this episode of The A-Ha! Method Podcast, we have special guest Jeremy Au join us to talk about public speaking. Jeremy goes beyond the traditional discussion about public speaking and expands on many creative elements and uses of public speaking through storytelling, improv, and even stand-up comedy.
Jeremy initially did not like public speaking as a kid and even shares an embarrassing story from middle school that haunted him for years. Then he grew to love it in college and finds himself using public speaking skills every day.
He has given many start-up pitches and presentations and watched many business pitches as an investor and venture capitalist (VC), and he provides some insightful tips for new founders getting started with their pitches. Jeremy shares his love for storytelling and using storytelling techniques to evoke emotions from your audience. He also discusses his improv journey and how it has helped him along the way.
Jeremy Au (区汉辉) is a VC at Monk’s Hill Ventures who invests in fellow founders who will transform millions of lives. He also spearheads MHV’s key initiatives from venture scouts to thought leadership. Jeremy hosts the BRAVE podcast and interviews trailblazing founders, investors and rising stars in Southeast Asia tech. His mission is to inspire thousands to build the future, learn from our past and stay human in between. He is also an angel investor in multiple startups across USA and Southeast Asia.
Jeremy is a public speaker and panelist on entrepreneurship, leadership and community engagement. He has spoken for thousands across Harvard, Deutsche Bank, Singapore Global Tech Network, Boston SPARK Council, Institute of Policy Studies, Civil Service College and many others. Recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30 and Prestige 40 Under 40. MBA from Harvard Business School and double honor degrees in Economics & Business Administration from UC Berkeley.
Jeremy enjoys science fiction, improv, hiking, tea and being a dad with his family. He enjoys hearing from authentic founders, receiving podcast guest recommendations and new speaking opportunities.
Practice your next speech at our August practice sessions!
Each week the Speakers Alliance runs a FREE Public Speaking and Pitching Practice Sessions 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.
Full transparency: Gabe sent me this public speaking course to review before I started working with Speakers Alliance. I was a bit skeptical, thinking I already know a lot about general public speaking tips after 7 years in Toastmasters (Overconfident much?). What I learned from taking the course is: I still have so much to learn if I want to take my speaking game to the next level!
I’ve asked Gabe why he calls it the A-Ha! Method. Is the A-Ha! Method mostly about the way to organize presentations with the different A-Ha! moments per talk, or is it about his public speaking techniques and advice? He said it refers to BOTH. The A-Ha! Method was developed with the A-Ha! moments per talk in mind, but it is also refers to what he has learned in his career as a speaker—the many A-Ha! lightbulb moments he has experienced throughout his professional public speaking journey.
His advice and lessons learned can help us as speakers too, no matter where we are on our own speaking journeys. I appreciate the tips and lessons learned, so that I don’t have to make all those mistakes on my own. While I will certainly make plenty of mistakes, I can limit my “newbie” mistakes at least by listening to and learning from professionals who have done this plenty of times before me.
Here are some of the key tips and lessons I learned from this public speaking course:
Most Helpful Tips: Organizing and Editing
Organizing your speech using the A-Ha! moments
One way to organize your speech is think about your speech in Acts 1, 2, and 3 and then organize each act effectively with an A-Ha! moment, if applicable.
The A-Ha! moments are strategically placed in your speech and have a recovery period afterwards. The A-Ha! moments are those parts in your speech that make your audience get chills or the hairs rise up on their necks and/or they are 100% focused on what you are saying.
You have to be strategic about your A-Ha! moments though. If you place them one after the other in a bulleted list, they will get lost. You have to place them perfectly in your speech so the audience feels the effect. Then you can have a recovery period— not where you stop talking but where you keep reinforcing that idea without letting them lose focus on that idea. Then, you will ramp up to the next A-Ha! moment.
I have probably done something similar to this without even thinking about it, however I probably did not do it well or effectively by using the recovery periods. Lots of improvement to be made there!
The Speaking Event Checklist Resource
This was very helpful in understanding the amount of information you need to collect when scheduling your speeches with the event organizers. This is a great way to keep everything organized and make sure you have all the details needed before, during and after the event.
This checklist can be used for both paid and unpaid speaking events that you schedule and also for online and on-site presentations.
I plan to use this spreadsheet as I start booking more presentations! 😃
Most Relevant Tips: Slides and Virtual Talk Resources
Slides, Tech and Tactics Section
There are over 2 hours of content about slides, tech and tactics that Gabe uses to take his presentations and pitches to the next level.
Gabe suggests a general rule of 1 slide per minute and 1 idea per slide and explains this more in depth. I have worked on implementing this rule in my corporate presentations recently, and it has helped!
Watching this section, I realized how much work my slides need. I like to do a long list of bullets sometimes, and the main thing to remember with slides is to keep it simple.
I don’t put a ton of effort or thought into my slides. I know there is quite a debate about Powerpoint vs other presentation software. I feel comfortable using Powerpoint, but Gabe makes a good case to look into other presentation software and improve your slides with better images/graphics and less words and text.
Virtual Talk Supplements
There are 30 minutes of bonus content on this subject, which is very relevant right now of course.
Gabe has an excellent tip of restarting your computer and having a presentations user on your computer and using that for when you have presentations. This is such a simple yet powerful suggestion to help decrease the chances of computer freezes or hiccups. I have implemented this for my big presentations, and it has helped me feel more at ease!
Also, I always need a reminder about the eyelines and focus. I have a tendency to look at the gallery view. I know better, but that doesn’t mean I am always perfect at this.
Biggest A-Ha! moment when taking the course: The editing process!
Iterative and editing process
Learning about Gabe’s editing and iterative process blew my mind! Good speakers make it look so effortless that I forget how much time and effort they put into each talk. I know speakers spend a ton of time practicing their content, but this course made me realize I have some major improvements to make in this area.
Gabe recommends his iterative process over straight memorizing because it will make you come off more natural and authentic. However, just because it’s not memorized, doesn’t mean he is just winging it. He practices over and over and over again until he knows his material so well that he could do it with his prepared slides or without them. That’s impressive!
Recognizing the amount of organization and preparation it takes to do this job was very influential and helpful to me as I continue to grow in my career as a professional speaker. Even if you don’t want to be a professional speaker though, these tips are still helpful as you may have to give big presentations at work and conferences.
There are so many tips and tricks in the course, and it would be a really long article to write up everything I liked about it. I found the course so helpful in thinking about my professional career, and I realized I have so much to learn, which is a good thing! There are always ways you can improve your speeches and grow your craft, and that is very exciting to me!
I plan to go through the class again and take better notes and go through all the resources. The good part about the course is that it never expires or goes away once you purchase it.
The course is great for being able to organize your speeches better and effectively. However, you need to also practice these new lessons learned. Each month the Speakers Alliance runs a few FREE Public Speaking Practice Clinics for people looking to improve their public speaking skills and practice their material. We will discuss different public speaking topics, answer questions, and provide feedback for as many 5-6 minute presentations and pitches as possible. Your speech or pitch doesn’t have to be fully prepped or memorized. The practice sessions are a safe place for you to practice, get your ideas out there and learn.
We will be adding practice sessions each month. Follow us on social media for the most up to date announcements.
Check out the public speaking course on Udemy and join us for a practice session or two or three (as many as you would like!). Practice makes great progress, and Speakers Alliance is here to help you with all your public speaking needs and practice resources.
Most public speakers focus only on the time they’re up on stage, presenting. But the 24 hours before your speech are just as – if not more – important than the 20 minutes itself. Find out what you can do to keep your speaking hygiene 💯 and maximize your chances of getting invited back to speak again and again.
Join hosts Dayna Gowan and Gabe Zichermann of the Speakers Alliance for another in-depth conversation about public speaking.
Those pesky filler words, such as um, uh/ah, like, so, but, you know can creep into our speeches and presentations without us even realizing it. Sometimes we use them a little too much in our speeches and it becomes distracting to our audience. Best practice is to limit your usage of filler words, but I think some trainings go overboard on this rule, making you think that you have to be perfect as a speaker by not saying any filler words at all. This is, of course, very hard to do.
Moreover, it’s unclear how the number of filler words impacts the effectiveness of your message, and I don’t think there’s any evidence to back up the foundational assumption either way.
At the end of the day, the most important thing that you can do as a speaker is to provide well-organized and well-delivered message(s) and content to your audience.
My first fight with filler words
Before I joined Toastmasters in 2014, I had no idea about filler words. I didn’t notice them when I spoke, and I didn’t notice when other presenters used them, even excessively. I remember joining Toastmasters and being simultaneously impressed and intimidated that they count filler words throughout the whole meeting. When I finally mustered up the courage to give my Icebreaker speech (4-6 minute introductory speech about myself), I had nine “umms,” although I am pretty sure I had more and the Er-Ah Counter was just being nice. I couldn’t believe that I had nine filler words in there—I couldn’t even recall when I had said them!
After that, I set the goal for myself to not have any filler words in my speeches—I did not want to be the main focus and call-out on every Er-Ah Counter Report at the end of the meetings! I was now aware of my filler words, which helped me to then fix and break my habit of using them. Every time I said an “um” in my subsequent speeches, I could see the Er-Ah Counter making a little tally mark on their paper. With this classical conditional training (say a filler word and sense the Er-Ah Counter counting it on their report), I slowly started to limit my use of the word “um” in my speeches. However, it would really throw me in some of my early talks. I would say an “um” and then be upset with myself internally and almost lose my train of thought. Sometimes I would even call out the use of the filler word in the statement just in case the Er-Ah Counter didn’t notice it.
By my 10th speech, almost a year later, I had ZERO filler words, according to the Er-Ah Counter’s report! This was a major accomplishment, and I was so proud of myself. But here’s where I got a little lost and misguided—I don’t remember anything about that 10th speech except that I didn’t have any filler words in it. Did I leave the audience with good content and a message they could relate to and remember later? Did I deliver it in a well-organized way to help the audience truly understand the message? I don’t know. I really don’t remember, and if I don’t remember as the speaker, I am sure the audience doesn’t remember either.
I was so focused on accomplishing my zero filler words goal that I forgot my ultimate goal of a speaker—to provide an understandable and insightful message and content to my audience. I forgot about my audience and really only focused on myself.
The Fanatical Focus on Filler Words
I completely understand why public speaking trainers recommend limiting or not using filler words at all in your speech. Filler words, when used excessively, can be very distracting to the audience. They may start to pay attention to your filler words more than your message, which is what we do not want as speakers. If you have a nervous energy, like me, and use filler words excessively in your speech or presentation, the audience may think you are unprepared. Filler words can also decrease your credibility, and the audience may start to think that you’re not well-versed in the subject you’re talking to them about. Filler words can also affect your delivery. Let’s say you are trying to drum up suspense and silence, but you keep filling that silence with an “um” or “uh,” you may take away from that suspense you are trying to create.
My forgiving, lenient take on filler words
I get all of the reasons to limit filler words in your speeches and presentations, and I think it is important to be aware of your filler word usage and how it is affecting the most important parts of your speech: your content, message, organization, and delivery. With that said, I think sometimes we get so caught up in trying to limit our filler words and be perfect that we forget about our content, message and substance. The Er-Ah Counter is a great awareness tool to learn that you are using filler words excessively. However, I think it can be intimidating to new speakers and create a sense of perfectionism that just isn’t necessary.
I have seen and heard many memorable speeches that have been littered with filler words. However, their story/message was so strong that the filler words did not detract from the overall message. One example of this that I will always remember is The Moth story “Hoboken Roast Beef” by Adam Wade. I was taking a free creative writing class, and the instructor sent us the link to listen as an example of creating a wonderful story about everyday, mundane things. As I started listening, I immediately noticed all the filler words and couldn’t believe this was an example of a good story. But a few minutes in, my silly judgements subsided, and I started to enjoy the story. It is an excellent story – very humorous and heartfelt at the same time, and also relatable too! The storyteller’s pace is quick and frantic, which leads to him using more filler words, but that seems to fit his personality and his perspective in the story as well. I love this story and how he tells it! I have not listened to any of his other stories or speeches yet to know if this is his style or it was just this particular story, but either way, he did a great job in creating a memorable story that I still remember even a year later after listening to it.
My argument here is that a good story and message can overcome and surpass even the most excessive use of filler words. Perfectionism (in terms of filler words) does not enhance our speech much. No one in the audience has walked away from a speech saying, “That speech had no filler words in it! It was excellent!” The audience may only notice your filler words if used excessively.
This term excessively is very vague in most public speaking trainings as well because it’s subjective. To me, excessively means if you use a filler word about once a sentence on average. Others will have their own definitions of excessive amount of filler words, but the point is that it’s excessive when it takes away from your content and your message.
If you are a speaker who has been told you use filler words too much, that is certainly something to be aware of. However, take comfort in the lenient view that you don’t have to be perfect and make your speech filler word-free. Focus more on your content, message, organization and delivery, and your audience won’t even notice you had some minor filler words occasionally throughout your speech.
Three strategies to improve your speeches, which will also help you to limit your use of filler words
Perhaps you are someone who uses filler words excessively and wants to improve. If you focus on some of these strategies, then that may help you to improve your filler word problem while also improving your speeches and presentations.
1. WATCH YOUR SPEECH VIDEOS AFTERWARDS
This can be uncomfortable, but it is essential if you want to refine your performance. When you watch yourself, you may realize that you used more filler words than you thought you had. You can also notice where you use filler words more—is it in the beginning and end or more in the middle of your speech? Perhaps you really practiced and had your opening and conclusion down, so you didn’t use fillers words at all, but the middle of your speech isn’t quite as practiced, which leads to you using more filler words inadvertently. Being aware of how many times you use filler words and when you most often use them is your first step in fixing the problem. Watching your speech videos afterwards will also help you to see what is working in your speech and what isn’t in terms of organization and delivery. You can learn how well you are getting your content and message across and how you can improve that for the next time.
2. THE POWER OF THE PAUSE
Filler words usually come up when people are transitioning from one point to another and feel you need to fill the silence. Purposeful silence in speeches, just like in movie theaters, is golden. Use a pause to signify that you are moving on to another thought, paragraph, example, etc. You can also use a pause to add to the suspense and make your audience wonder what will happen next (caveat here: only if this fits your story; if overused, this may be annoying to your audience who wants you to get to the point). The pause can be very powerful when used appropriately. Use it wisely to help you enhance your speech and give you the extra benefit of less filler words.
3. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
I use this saying/mantra a lot in our A-Ha! Method Podcast (probably to an annoying extent), but it’s so true for public speaking and most other things in life. Practice makes progress, and I am trying to force myself to practice more too!
Practice your speech ahead of time. Practice it often. Practice it a lot! Practice in front of an audience, then get some feedback, practice it at home some more, and then give it again. You will get better at your particular speech and presentation the more times you practice, and you will also be more comfortable speaking in front of people in general if you continue to practice in front of an audience. Commonsense I know, but this actually involves a lot of effort and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, which is easier said than done.
You can practice, practice, practice at one our Speakers Alliance weekly practice sessions. We will focus our feedback on your content, message, organization and delivery, and we will only mention filler words if you use them excessively.
Final feelings about filler words
If you focus on more important aspects of your speech, such as content, message, organization and delivery, then everything else will fall into place, including not using filler words. Let’s stop putting so much pressure on ourselves as speakers to be perfectly polished and start focusing more on our authenticity and the audience takeaways. Filler words are a small part of the presentation, and if you are just focusing on that as a speaker, an evaluator, and even an audience member, then you are missing out on other key areas.
Our stance at Speakers Alliance is that it’s okay to have a few filler words here and there in your speech and presentation if they happen to slip out. Don’t fret if you say a few – keep going with your speech and continue wowing your audience with your incredible story, message and content. That’s what we care about most of all!
Speakers Alliance is here to help with all areas of improving your public speaking. Here are a few resources to check out to take your public speaking to a new level:
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.
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!
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.