March 2017 - Alex Merry, Public Speaking Coach

Iterative approaches to corporate strategy
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March 29, 2017 Alex0

How to Write a Speech in 20 Minutes (and why you should)

I received a lovely piece of advice from a friend earlier this week.

If you’re not embarrased by the first version of your product, you’ve launched it too late (Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Founder)*

Anybody who runs their own business will be able to relate to that.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, creating anything from scratch can be painstaking and we all, at some point get affected by perfection paralysis.

In business, before you launch a new product, you are told to create a minimum viable product (MVP). Essentially the most simple version of your product that solves the problem you have set out to defeat. The principle behind it is simple. Test it on a small section of your target market to prove it works and make it better. It might seem obvious, but most first timers ignore this advice and as a result, their products fail.

MVP’s don’t exist in the world of public speaking. Actually, that’s not true, the first draft of a speech is essentially an MVP and the problem is, most people deliver their talk for the very first time in front of the audience it was created for.

It’s funny, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how much time we have to prepare for a talk, most speeches get written at the last possible minute. If it’s not the night before, it’s en route to the conference itself or while everyone else is distracted by one of the speakers who is on stage before you. And when I say written, I really mean panic-scribble 3-5 bullet points on the back of the conference programme.

The thing is, when you’ve done it once and got away with it, which admittedly, lots of people seem to, it’s hard not to fall out of the habit. It is after all the path of least resistance ultimately. Unless something goes dreadfully wrong, audience members will always tell you how insightful your talk was and can head home feeling satisfied that you’ve got away with blogging it. And that is absolutely fine if you’re not looking to get a specific result from of your talk, to do any more would be a waste of your time.

But, if you see public speaking as a means of achieving something bigger, whether it be building a brand, raising finance, increasing sales, starting a movement or lobbying governments, I could go on… that methodology won’t be good enough. Your talks might be enjoyed, but they won’t incite action and they will be nothing more than a distant memory by the time your audience arrives home.

Done right, speeches can literally change lives, but for that to happen, there needs to be a process in place and starting that process by creating an MVP for your talk is a surefire way to set off on the right track.

Why?

Because creating and testing an MVP or in speaking terms writing and delivering the first draft of your talk to a test audience will force you to improve your content whilst keeping laser sharp focus on the long term objectives of your talk, all in a safe environment that you can control. But even more important than that, because most people won’t.

You see, the thought of locking yourself in your office and grinding out a speech from start to finish on your laptop probably sounds worse than reading the terms and conditions on iTunes and guess what? It is, so don’t do that. Provided you know your talk’s purpose and your subject matter well enough; try this:

Panic-scribble some bullet points, press record on your phone and deliver it to either an empty room or better still, to a couple of people that won’t cast judgement, then get it transcribed (I use rev.com).

That is it! Job done! Draft 1 complete! You now have an MVP of a potentially life-changing speech.

Embarrassed by it? Good! So you should be, but be embarrassed safe in the knowledge that you didn’t deliver it live on stage (like you used to…).

Now seek feedback from people who are the same demographic as the audience you’re going to be delivering it in front of. Tweak it and do it again.

REHEARSE, REFINE, REPEAT.

How many times?

Edit wise: Until you have achieved your talk’s legacy with someone in your test audience.
Delivery wise: until it’s effortless. The best speakers look like they are delivering a talk for the very first time and their pearls of wisdom are part of a well timed a stream of consciousness.

The bottom line is this, whether you’re writing a speech or launching a product the key to their success is the same and it starts with dropping your ego.

Create a V1.0/MVP, seek feedback from your audience/target market and develop your talk.

For anyone that has an important speech coming up, take heed of Eric Hoffman’s advice, but with a minor tweak:

‘If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your speech, you’ve left it too late’ (Alex Merry, 2017!)

All of that of course assumes that you know what the hell to write. If you don’t, add 10 minutes on to the title and watch this video…

*No, it wasn’t Reid Hoffman who gave me this advice.



March 15, 2017 Alex0

How To Make Beautiful Speech Slides Quickly

When I was 7 years old, my parents were told that I had an ‘unusual lack of talent’ by my art teacher at a parents evening. Brutal feedback, but on reflection, fair.

So when it comes to creating visuals for presentations, I have never spent vast amounts of time on them because quite frankly, I’ve let Mrs Nesbitt down enough.

If I’m being completely honest, I used to create visuals for my benefit more than the audience’s – much easier to use as a prompter than cue cards right? Also, creating slides is a fantastic way to convince yourself that you are working on your speech when really, you haven’t yet worked out what you’re actually going to say!

Anyway, enough about my problems. If you want to lessen your own powerpoint woes and create simple but beautiful slides, read on.

Here are my top tips for super simple time-saving slides:

  1. Don’t bother. Like seriously, don’t create slides for the sake of it. Ask yourself this question: What can pictures say that I can’t? If the answer is nothing, you have my permission to sack the slides off altogether (you’re welcome).
  2. Black background.  Much easier on the eye and gives the appearance that the screen is off if you don’t have any visual content to show.
  3. Picture. Make it a metaphor for the point your covering. Make it take up the whole screen. Make sure it is high res.  Use unsplash.com for stock images.
  4. Words. 1 line max. Put them in a black text box that is at 70% opacity.  Resist the urge to say the words on the screen. (See below for an example).
  5. 1 point/slide. Otherwise, your audience will stop listening to you. Infographics – NO!

Caveat: Slide creation is for after you have written your talk.  That way, if the tech fails, you won’t!

Want to use these tips for your next talk? Click this link to find out how to land your next gig in an hour.
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March 7, 2017 Alex3

How to let your talks, not your title do the talking.

The number of people that proudly display the title, ‘Speaker’ in their social media profiles these days is absolutely mind boggling. At first glance, this might seem quite a counter-productive piece of advice coming from a speaker coach; someone that makes a living from helping people write and deliver keynotes, presentations and TEDx talks.

As the Curator of TEDxClapham, I get approached by people that want to add ‘TEDx speaker’ to their list of achievements on a weekly basis (I’ll save that rant for another day) and more often than not, I’ll find ‘Speaker’ along with a number of other glorified titles on their social media profiles.

The first thing that comes to mind is, I don’t believe you. In fact, I’d be willing to bet I could count the number of times they’ve have given a talk in the last 12 months on one hand, so even if they do speak regularly, that label is already doing you a disservice when it comes to creating a good first impression. The second thing that comes to mind is, speak about what?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I can see why you do it. Perhaps it’s because you want to create more speaking opportunities, maybe even some paid ones (How’s that playing out for you by the way?). More likely it’s because you want to be seen by your peers as an industry leader and if that is the case, you’re going about it completely the wrong way; along with anyone that labels themselves an Entrepreneur, Leader, Guru, Educator, Writer (I’m afraid the article that the Huffington Post published does not make you a highly acclaimed author), the list goes on… Let’s face it, anyone who feels like they have to call themselves a leader isn’t one and the same goes for speakers.

My advice: leave the labelling to others and focus on what actually gets you noticed. Curators don’t care about your speaking history. They care about your content and your talk’s purpose and their reservations certainly aren’t going to be relieved by a self-proclaimed title.

You could be the world’s worst speaker, but if you have mind-blowing material and your talk solves a problem, changes a behaviour or teaches us something new (i.e. your life story isn’t the talk’s central theme), we can work with you on your delivery. Speeches must always serve a purpose that’s bigger than the speaker themselves. Chris Anderson (TED’s CEO) summed it up perfectly in his new book, he said that an idea is something that ‘changes how people see the world’. If that is the case, a speech is nothing more than a vehicle for your message, which means that far more important things to be worrying about than whether or not your profile puts you on a high enough pedestal.

And don’t just take my word for it…

Google ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.’; not once is he described as a speaker. Why? Well, because he wasn’t one, he was a minister and an activist. For him, speaking was nothing more than a tool that could drive his movement. The same goes for anyone who has given a talk worth listening to.

If anyone had the right to label themselves a ‘Speaker’, Sir Ken Robinson would rank high on that list. His talk, ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’ is still the most watched TED talk of all time and he has been giving speeches across the world for years. Yet, he doesn’t.

What most people don’t realise is that our fear of public speaking doesn’t come from worrying about what other people think of us, it comes from not knowing if what we have to say is actually worth listening to. It has never been easier to become a ‘speaker’ but ultimately, speaking is just a form of communication, just like sending an email, or picking up a phone.

That said, I believe that speaking is the most effective way of driving a movement and establishing yourself as an industry leader.

All I ask is that you let your talks, not your title do the talking.

For those of you who are looking to speak more, click this link to find out how to land your next gig in an hour.