Fighting Distractions and Giving Quality Presentations with Robert Tercek
Robert Tercek, an experienced and innovative keynote speaker, shares his advice and tips for fighting off distractions and giving quality presentations that public speakers of all levels can apply during their own presentations. Audience members are very distracted these days, and it can be difficult to look out into a room and see all of your audience looking down at their phones or computers. The key is to frame your talk in a unique way so that it keeps their attention and also not be phased if it seems your audience is not looking at you anymore — just assume they are tweeting and making notes of all the great points you are saying!
Robert is a dynamic and engaging presenter, and his passion for public speaking shines in this episode when he talks about needing to practice and know your material to make your presentation worth the audience’s time. He even had Dayna clapping and applauding at one point because he was so compelling and in his element! It was a privilege and a pleasure to speak with Robert. He left us feeling motivated and inspired to be better speakers and give quality presentations for our audience, and we hope you will feel that way as well after listening!
Robert Tercek is an award-winning author, entrepreneur, and educator focused on the process of dematerialization and innovation.
In his professional capacity, Mr. Tercek is a seasoned business executive with deep expertise in digital media and internet services. He is a prolific creator of interactive programs and products. He has designed and launched successful consumer experiences on every digital platform, including digital television, game consoles, broadband Internet, and mobile networks.
In 2021, Mr. Tercek was recognized as the Humanitarian of the Year by the Media Excellence Awards for his leadership in designing and launching COVID SMART™, an interactive training program designed to keep workers safe on the job during the pandemic.
As a keynote speaker, Robert shares his vision of collaborative innovation at conferences, private corporate retreats, university symposia, and workshops around the world.
He has participated as a featured speaker at many industry events including the CMPA PrimeTime, GSMA Mobile World Congress, E3 Expo, The Game Developer Conference, Billboard’s Digital Media and Entertainment Expo, the Consumer Electronics Show, the National Association of Broadcasters NAB Show, National Association of Television Producers, MIPTV, Tokyo Game Fair, Digital Hollywood and many more. He served as Chairman of the Future of Television Summit and the Mobile Game Symposium at GDC.
He has lived and worked throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
Winning Virtually at Sales and Public Speaking with Nitya Kirat
Nitya Kirat, Founder and CEO of YOSD Consulting, joins us to discuss how to improve virtual sales meetings and how public speaking can help improve your sales skills, even if you aren’t a salesperson by trade. We talk with Nitya about some of the techniques and tips he provides in his recently published book Winning Virtually: 10 Tiny Habits For Big Virtual Selling Success.
Nitya has a great mindset and approach to sales, and he even used some of the techniques in his book to answer Gabe’s tough questions about sales, which was very impressive! We learned that not being scared of sales is the first step to improving your relationship with sales and then improving your techniques and processes can take your professional and personal sales transactions to a new level so that all parties involved feel like they are winning!
Nitya has built, delivered, and coached sales and sales leadership development programs at companies including PIMCO, BlackRock, Allianz Global Investors, MetLife, Google, Causeway Capital, and Transamerica.
Nitya has worked in sales and consulting roles for the past 18 years. He was an award-winning salesperson at Schering-Plough and UBS prior to starting YOSD. Nitya’s sales strategies have also been influenced by his global perspectives, having lived and worked in several parts of the world including Singapore, India, Tanzania, and Belgium.
Nitya received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology and an M.B.A from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where he is an active Director on the UCLA Anderson Alumni Board.
He lives in Los Angeles and loves to watch and play soccer whenever he can.
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.
We are halfway through 2021 now. How are you doing with your 2021 personal and professional goals? What about your public speaking goals?
Could you use a mid-year goals restart? Time to check-in and see what you can still accomplish in the second half of the year!
I may not be a trend setter (yet), but I am absolutely a goal setter. I am very big into setting personal and professional goals, and I talk about this A LOT on The A-Ha! Method Podcast. Sometimes I am more talk than action though. 😞
I am constantly trying to improve myself, my routine, my skills, etc., which can be a blessing and a curse—blessing because I am all about self improvement, curse because it can become a bit like striving for perfection, which is an unattainable goal…even for me.
In the past few years, I have started making year-long mantras instead of goals. The mantras give me a simple, easy to remember phrase that I can repeat to myself when times are tough. My friend Susan, who I talk about in Podcast Episode 6, also makes yearly mantras with me, and we just so happened to have the same mantra this year—”I Am Here.”
We had different reasons for this mantra, but it’s still fun that we had the same one for the same year. My “I am Here” mantra has two meanings:
I tend to have a lot of imposter syndrome, and 2021 has pushed me out of my comfort zone a good bit so far. The “I am Here” saying reminds me that I am supposed to be at this meeting, give this presentation, talk about this subject, etc. Whether I feel ready or not, I am here, and I am going to do the best I can.
I have taken on the unfortunate habit of multi-tasking—both at work and in my personal life. I want to be more present in life with my family and friends and not be on my phone all the time. I am here, I am focused, I am listening!
So far, I have done okay with my 2021 mantra. I still want to be more present in everything I do, but that will take some time and more dedication. I have put myself out there more, and I am learning to be confident and continue to grow and learn from my mistakes. I will continue to work on this “I am Here” mantra, but now I also have some public speaking goals I want to add to the mix as well.
In the spirit of Quarter 3 just starting and us reaching the halfway mark in the year, I want to encourage you to sit down and review how you are doing with your goals so far. If things are going well, keep going and growing and glowing (this was my 2020 mantra)! If things could be improved, let’s do a mid-year goals restart and see if we can finish this year stronger physically and mentally than how we started. And if you don’t have any public speaking goals on your list yet, maybe it’s a good time to add some as well.
Here are my 3 public speaking goals/mantras for the second half of 2021 (I am putting it out on the internet, so no going back now!):
Quality over quantity
I have mentioned this on the A-Ha! Method Podcast and in other articles, but I really want this to be my big focus for the rest of this year. I want to work on crafting and developing my stories instead of just throwing out a bunch of stories and never telling them again.
I set the goal to give 30 speeches this year, but I don’t have to give 30 different speeches. I would like to challenge myself by giving one speech topic five different times and truly experience the iterative and editing process. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Keep it simple
I have a tendency to overcomplicate things, like cramming lots of messages, takeaways, and lessons learned into a 5-7 minute Toastmasters speech and usually going over time.
In my sketches and improv classes, I tend to muddle the idea or forget the point of view to where you aren’t quite sure where it’s going or what I am trying to say. I want to be a better scene partner and writer and a simple way to do that is…keep it simple!
I can get really wordy in my writing and also when I am facilitating meetings. Lots of run-on and long sentences back to back that really lose my audience. Keep it short, keep it simple!
Keep it easy for my audience. Make sure my message and my meaning are easy to understand, and that will go a long way in my professional career and life!
This goes back to the imposter syndrome. I listen to some of my speeches and podcasts and think, “Why did I say that? Do I really sound like that? I really flubbed that sentence there.” I am definitely my own worst critic! I want to learn how to embrace myself—all the things I do well, all the mistakes I make, all my passions, all my quirks, all my silliness. Embrace it and stop wishing that I were someone else or as good as someone else, and just be me.
I can keep striving to grow and fix some of these mistakes. However, if I can take the self-critic out of the situation, embrace myself, and be present, then I will take my speaking, my self-esteem, and my self-compassion to a new level. If I am constantly criticizing myself, I will forever limit myself!
I know all the SMART Goals advocates are pulling their hair out right now reading this. You have your way of making goals, and I have mine. These are my second half 2021 goals, and I am sticking to them! I will let you know how I fare at the end of the year!
There’s no magic time or age to wait to achieve your goals, and that includes public speaking goals. While I am using this half year mark as a chance to pause and reflect and also make more mantra goals for myself (all the mantras!), I want to remind you that you don’t have to wait until next week, next month, next birthday, next year to achieve your goals. You can challenge yourself now. You can go for your goals now!
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.
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’s session is on Friday, June 25 from 12-1pm PT.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.