Your Favorite Speakers

gladwellI’ve been asked to participate on a panel about crowdfunding and Kickstarter next Tuesday in front of about 200 people. I’ve been on a few of these panels in the past year, and for each one I’ve tried to work in some new skills that I’ve observed from my favorite speakers (usually TED talks):

  • ask the audience specific show-of-hands questions
  • when speaking, pick a few specific people in the audience to talk to
  • try to slow down, change up cadence, and pause after sentences

I’ve done those things with varying levels of success (the last one is really hard for me), but I’m trying to continue to improve. Part of that process for me is listening to talented speakers like Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Sinek, and Daniel Pink. But I also bet that some of you have some great tips.

So I have two questions for you:

  1. Who do you consider one of the best public speakers? Feel free to link to a specific video.
  2. What is your number one piece of public speaking advice? I’m not looking for confidence boosters or tricks like “imagine everyone naked”–rather, I’m looking for some specific things you do or you’ve seen people do that engages audiences really well.


4 thoughts on “Your Favorite Speakers”

  1. I think, for me, the best speakers are the ones that are comfortable. They have a solid knowledge on their topic, are passion it about it, and the presentation isn’t about showing their vast superiority in understanding, but rather sharing their passion.

    In general, when public speaking, you should always make eye contact with people in the audience and speak to them, preferably you do this with lots of the people, not just one person.

    Cadence is more a personal thing, but going too slow (droning on) or too fast (too much input) isn’t good. Think of it like explaining the rules to one of your games.

    As for querying the audience, you have to be prepared for three responses – yes, no, and the audience doesn’t feel like participating. As long as you are prepared to go in whatever direction the audience goes, you are fine. But don’t ask them to participate if their answer doesn’t matter. There is nothing worse than a presenter that ask superfluous questions, waits for audience participation and then does nothing to connect the answers to their talk.

    • I personally don’t like the “show of hands” – it feels like the speaker is trying to motivate me to be part of the group, which I didn’t come to the speech for. There is a time to use it – say if you don’t know how familiar the audience is with the topic, you could gauge whether you need to spend extra time on the basics of the topic (like what Kickstarter is, or how the internet works) or can launch into the main part of your speech more quickly.

      Picking a few people and making eye contact and addressing the speech to them can make the speaker more comfortable, if that helps your style. I try to pick out someone who is attentive at the start and check back on them every so often to see if I’ve lost their attention.

      Remember that TED talks work in part because of the format – noteworthy people who give brief talks on a number of topics. Attendees are usually excited to be there; for some, this is almost a celebrity crush. It’s not that the speakers are themselves necessarily fantastic, it’s that they’re talking about something that’s cool and that’s from an angle that may be novel to the audience.

      As for you, Jamey Stegmaier, you do best talking to people when you feel passionate about something. Talk up your dream, your company, your designs, why Kickstarter worked for you, why other crowdfunding sources work in general. Talk about how much you enjoy the community that Kickstarter creates, how you enjoy interacting with them, and the challenges that you find. Speak to your personality – I know you’re an introvert, I know you’re less comfortable at a convention than you are with a small group of friends around a dining room table. Speak to how that works for you as a “project manager” (which is really the kind of role you’re in for KS projects). Talk up your games, talk up your book. Let you be you and use whatever public-speaking, center-of-everyone’s-attention devices work best for you.

  2. Charles and JT:

    Thanks so much for your feedback. As for the raising of hands things, you made some great points. In the past, the question I ask has been, “How many of you have backed a project on Kickstarter?” I use that to proceed into one of the core tips I give to potential Kickstarter creators, which is: back some projects. It’s more demonstrative than anything else.

    I really like your tip of showing my passion when I speak. What do you think about showing vulnerability in the public forum? For example, talking about Kickstarter mistakes seems to go over really well on the blog–does that work in a talk too?

    I’ve also noticed on TED that I tend to pay attention to specificity and anecdotal evidence. Gladwell is the master of this.


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