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.


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.


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.

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.

February 20, 2017 Alex0

What do you do to get yourself in the zone before a big speech?!

Last weekend, I escaped London for a few days to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of England’s pastures green (basically, I visited the parents) and after several drinks on Friday night, the topic of conversation seamlessly turned to the 90’s television series, Ally McBeal.

One of the characters in the show had a pre-court ritual which became one of the show’s most famous scenes (see video below).

Standing in front of a mirror, he mimes one of Barry White’s classics and gets his groove on, all in the name of getting in ‘the zone’ before he goes to win his next case. It’s more than just a charming piece of television too. In my experience, the very best speakers have their own tailored pre-speech ritual to help them make sure they are in the right frame of mind for delivering a powerful talk.

It’s about managing your nerves. If communication is a transference of feelings, the last thing you want to give to your audience is nervous energy, right? Most people think that the more you speak, the less nervous you get and that is just simply not true. I have seen experts that are internationally renowned for their speaking get nervous before delivering certain talks, the difference is, they will be nervous about completely different things to those who perhaps are just starting out.

Nerves are a little more complicated than that. Let me explain why.

The most common causes of speech anxiety from inexperience speakers include lack of preparation, judgement from others, stage fright/mind going blank, looking nervous and a lack of self-confidence. They are all internal.

Experienced speakers get nervous when they have to deliver a talk that really matters to them; one where the stakes are really high. Whether it be the founder of a struggling start-up delivering a speech that could make or break their company, a politician delivering the speech that will shape their legacy in history or a best man delivering a speech at their life-long friend’s wedding – each and every single one of these people will be nervous in the lead up to their talk.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who you are or how much speaking experience you have; if it’s a once in a lifetime talk you will be nervous in the lead up to your talk. All sorts of weird and wonderful rituals happen backstage at TEDxClapham; from chanting affirmations in the mirror to doing 20 burpees to meditating in a toilet cubicle, I’ve seen my fair share.

The mistake isn’t feeling nervous, it’s not having a strategy in place to cope with the impending doom that will come your way so let me give you my top tips for creating a pre-speech ritual that is tailored to YOU!

Before I do that, there is a caveat. None of the tips will help you nearly as much as being prepared. Lack of preparation is the number one cause of pre-speech nerves, and let’s face it, if you have no idea whether the content you are delivering is any good, you have every right to be 💩ing it!

As I say to my TEDx speakers, Rehearse, Refine, Repeat!

Step 1: List your symptoms 🤒.
You’ve got level 1 symptoms (sleepless nights, dry mouth, nausea, shaking hands etc.) and level 2 symptoms – all the ones that affect your personality before you go on stage (become shy, become too serious, too jokey, hyper, short tempered etc., body becomes tense)

Step 2: Prescribe your antidote 🔮.
Level 1 – antidotes include (get an early night, drink lots of water, eat before you feel nauseous etc, stop worrying about your hands [no-one will notice that anyway, unless you’re using a laser pointer that is, in which case stick your elbow into your body when you point]).
For level 2 antidotes it’s all about creating balance. So if you find yourself crawling into your shell, counter it by starting conversations with people at the event. If you become too serious, watch a video that makes you laugh, if you become too hyper, make sure you’ve done some exercise at some point that day, you get my gist.

Step 3: Choose your game song 🎵.
Hugely important. Thanks to Ally McBeal and TEDxClapham speaker, Aimee Bateman, having a song that helps you focus, feel good and level your emotions is hugely powerful. Just note, if it’s Abba, maybe put your headphones in 😳.

Step 4: Make time .
There is NO excuse not to use your ritual every single time you speak. The more you use it the more effective it becomes!

For those of you who are looking to confront these nerves head on and land your first speaking gig of the year, click this link to find out how.

February 14, 2017 Alex0

A Valentine’s Day TED Talk: Who Said TED Can’t Get Dirty?!

Poverty, war, equality, climate change, disease, safety, life, sustainability, culture, art, technology, discoveries – just some of the topics that have helped TED become recognised as a global super power in a world where ideas are now a currency in their own right.

So how on earth did Author of ‘Bonk’ (😂), Mary Roach’s talk, ’10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasms’ slip through the net?!

TED’s CEO, Chris Anderson, describes that an idea as something that changes the way we see the world and Mary Roach, to her credit she has certainly done that!

What I love most about this talk though is it is proof that speech content will always supersede delivery. Most public speaking coaches analysing this talk would draw attention to the fact the was using notes, constantly pacing, boring slides bla bla bla…. WHO CARES?!

If what you’re saying is of value – it doesn’t matter. If you’re looking to use public speaking to establish yourself as a leader in your field, it starts with your content.

Right, who wants to be educated about orgasms?!


February 9, 2017 Alex0

How to think like a toddler

This book was dropped through my letter box this morning, hot off the press from my friends at Penguin Books – so hot in fact that it’s not due to be released until April and I’ve been reliably informed that it’s set to be one of the best reads of 2017.

The reason I’m excited to get my hands on it though is because the title reminds me of a quote from one of my favourite ‘feel good’ TED talks. The speaker? A guy called Neil Pasricha, Director of The Institute for Global Happiness, Founder of 100 Awesome Things and  – yes, there really is such a thing!


‘I love hanging out with three year-olds. I love the way that they see the world, because they’re seeing the world for the first time.’

On the surface of it, there’s nothing ground breaking there so why have I always remembered it? Two reasons:

  1. It brings something that we already know but never think about (i.e. in our sub-conscious) into the forefront of our minds (I.e. into our conscious) so that we no longer take it for granted.
  2. It challenges a notion that is deeply ingrained within us all – that we can only learn from those with more experience than us.

No doubt Paul Lindley would agree and given that he is the Founder of Ella’s Kitchen (one of the UK’s leading toddler brands) I’m sure there are some cracking takeaways. Rumour has it that Paul is also a fantastic speaker so I’m looking forward to seeing him in action later this year. From a speaking perspective, the real test for him will not be the quality of his delivery, but choosing the right piece of content to share on stage – I have seen world class authors both rise and fall at this final hurdle.

For those of you who are looking to use public speaking to establish your reputation as a leader in your field, click here to find out how you can land your first gig of 2017 in an hour.

February 9, 2017 Alex2

Communication is 55% non-verbal – what a load of 💩!

 body language Alex merry speaker coaching

Abraham Lincoln once said that you shouldn’t believe everything that you read on the internet. The same goes for anyone looking to deliver a world class talk.

Many of us grew up hearing that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that’s important and all sorts of studies have been done examining the effect of verbal and non-verbal cues. The most ‘cited’ of which are from Professor Albert Mehrabian who published two studies in 1967 that concluded communication is made up of:

  • 7% words
  • 38% of voice inflection/tonality/speed
  • 55% body language

Or did they?

Well obviously not (the title of this article gave that away), and if you’d like to find out how theory has been adopted by coaches across the world – have a Google.

The problem is this.

Too many people think they can get away with substituting content with ‘charisma,’ which is probably why the thought of having to go to yet another conference fills us with dread. Delivering a great speech doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming but it does have to start with mind-blowing content.

For those of you who are looking to create mind-blowing content quickly, check out my free training video on how to double the impact of your next presentation.

February 9, 2017 Alex0

Is it possible to predict which TEDx talks will go viral?

Alex merry speaker coach tedxclapham

Last week, I attended a special gathering of TEDx organisers from across the UK to discuss all things… well, TEDx talks and one of the questions that sparked the most debate was whether it was possible to predict which talks will go viral when they get released online.  Many of those in attendance have been responsible for curating talks that have been seen by millions of people across the world, changing not just the lives of the speakers, but the reputations of the TEDx events they organise.

The answer to that question was unanimous – no it’s not (sorry).

However, having been lucky enough to be involved with some ‘viral’ (whatever that even means) talks myself, I do think it is possible to give them a helping hand.  So if that floats your boat, read on!

One of the most popular (and non-political) videos to go viral so far this year is actually from a well-known TED speaker, Simon Sinek. Not a speech as such, but an interview about how to keep millennials happy at work.  The video has racked up 10’s of millions of views on Facebook alone; ironically more than the talk that made him famous in the first place.  Whether you agree with what he said or not is irrelevant, a 15-minute video to racking up as many hits as it did is rather impressive.

But here the thing, his rant wasn’t some once in a lifetime stream of consciousness that just fell in place by accident. The content he shared in that interview has been practised, tweaked and refined over years and I know that because I heard those same lines myself at a private book launch he did in November and at other speaking engagements that have been put on YouTube.

And that’s no bad thing by the way.

The point is, creating world class content takes time and practice, just like all the best TED/TEDx talks that appear effortless upon delivery.*

For many, going viral is considered to be the pinnacle of online achievement. The opportunity to have your content reach millions of people can be very lucrative and businesses put serious time and money into creating media that could gain traction, whilst many social media ‘experts’ try to come up with magic formulas to make it happen.

One of the main reasons giving a TED/TEDx talk has become such a bucket list item is because of the exposure their ‘idea worth sharing,’ could get (which has ironically resulted in us TEDx organisers having not spend most of our time weeding out those who want to speak for for personal gain).  That said, while TED doesn’t advertise it as such, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realise that it is a phenomenal brand builder (just ask Simon), not just because both brands are regarded highly across the globe, but also because of the number of subscribers both channels have (over 12 million combined at the time of writing). However, for anyone that is looking to deliver a speech (TED/TEDx or otherwise) that ultimately results in a piece of media that ends up online, know this!

Speaking on a platform that puts you in front of millions of subscribers isn’t a shortcut to global exposure and a high view count, nor does world class content or effortless delivery.

One thing is for sure, writing a talk that is suitable for both an online and offline audience is a completely different ball game. Why? Because regardless of how big your live audience is, it will only ever be a fraction of what your online audience could be if you can manage to generate some traction online.  Let me explain.

When you’re speaking live, if the audience doesn’t want to watch the rest of a talk, they will either play on their phone (and pretend they are ‘engaging’ on Twitter) or walk out of the room. At best they get away with it, at worst they are frowned upon, but basically, their options are pretty limited.  Meanwhile, an online audience is constantly being enticed away from your talk.  The internet is a minefield of distraction. When we use social media; the chances are it’s on a commute, when you wake up, before you go to bed, hiding from your colleagues in the office toilets (guilty as charged).  The point is, it’s normally while we’re doing something else. This means if you can’t capture the viewer instantly you will loose them. How quickly is instantly? Well let me put it this way, YouTube gives advertisers 5 seconds to capture our attention before we have the option of skipping it, so make your first few sentences punchy. If your talk can survive the first 30 seconds, it’s got a chance!

There is a well-known saying in business that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and in the world of social media, the same goes for likes and sharing. We are far more likely to trust something (and more importantly in this context, give our time) if it comes recommended by a friend and the main reason we share something online is because it resonates with is.  So for that to happen you need two things, a) an online audience to share it to and b) the ability to articulate the problems they experience better than they can themselves; that way they will subconsciously associate you with the solution.**  Shares are the real social media currency so bare that in mind when you write your next online talk.

While going viral might be seen as the holy grail, it certainly isn’t the measure of a successful talk.  I’ve witnessed plenty of speakers change lives whose talks have only been seen by a few thousand people! Surely virality is relative to the number of people that the piece of media can reach directly. i.e. sharing a talk to 1000 friends that gets watched 100,000 times, it’s far more impressive than sharing a video to 1,000,000 subscribers that gets watched 5 million times.  Just to add to the mess, apparently, the optimum length for an online video is 2 minutes 54 seconds (or at least was…that has bound to have changed since Facebook stepped up their video game).***  Now I’m all for cutting out waffle, but that’s below TED’s shortest ever talk! So as far as I’m concerned a speech is incomparable an ultimate fail compilation.  If you’re going to measure it at all, do it based on your audience and view count!

Now, I mentioned that there are things you can do to increase the likelihood of your talk going viral. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 factors, and as much as it pains me to say it none of them are down to the quality of your speech’s content. Here they are (not in order of importance):

  • Topic
    Social media is all about being on trend.  If you can give a talk about a topic that is already producing a lot of content online, you can add to the conversation. (It’s amazing how many political commentators are cropping up and making their opinions heard at the moment isn’t it?!)
  • Timing
    Many talks in the TEDx world go viral seemingly out of absolutely nowhere, months and sometimes years after being posted online. In fact, Malcolm London, a spoken-word poet who has seen a number of his videos go viral attended our TEDx organiser gathering said that timing the release of your video can play a major part in a talk gaining traction.
  • Audience
    Contrary to belief, sharing your talk with your own network isn’t the most effective way of gaining traction online. Get your talk in front of influencers that actively engage with your subject matter.  That was how Roger Frampton, a model and movement coach from London ended up with one of the most-watched TEDx talks of 2016.
  • Luck
    Arguably the most important ingredient of all and don’t just take my word for it; take Simon Sinek’s!  In an interview he did on London Real last year he said ‘I’m under no illusions, I was very lucky as to the timing… If I had done my talk today, there is no way that my talk would have gained the popularity that it did.’ ****

So there you have it, now you know that chasing virality is almost completely out of your control, get back to writing and delivering talks of substance that create change for the better.

For those of you who are looking to use public speaking to establish your reputation as a leader in your field, click here to find out how you can land your first speaking gig in an hour.

*If you want to speak on a global stage like TED or TEDx, as organisers we don’t care about your delivery (that can be worked on), we care about your idea worth sharing.

**One thing I feel I must mention at this point is that so many are guilty of sharing their talk repeatedly in the hope that it will suddenly take off and go viral. If you’ve got an active audience and it hasn’t gone anywhere, don’t keep sharing it! That is the most effective way to lose followers quickly.  You’re far better off sending your talk to other influencers in your field (privately) that have the same audience as you and asking them to share it if it resonates.  That way you won’t come across like an egotistic, narcissistic knob (there, I said it!).

*** http://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/carianneking/2015-07-07/what-ideal-length-everything-online-infographic

**** 13 minutes in – https://londonreal.tv/simon-sinek-start-with-why/