How the Inner Game of Public Speaking can Make or Break your Speech (3 Scenarios and Solutions)

Ready to take the stage in Nevada

There is an inner game of public speaking. What’s going on inside of your mind determines the effectiveness of what comes out of your mouth.

Some speakers simply memorize and recite their words and consider that a success. It’s not. That’s a memorization contest. If your mind is focused on remembering what comes next, then it won’t be focused on what’s happening now.

In speaking, you must be completely present with each moment or else your audience will see right through you. After all, if you’re not really “there,” why should they be?

Here are some scenarios and ideas for what you might want to have in your mind to make sure you are present and focused so you connect with your audience.

Scenario #1 – When you are inside of your stories

People always ask, “How do you keep your stories fresh because you must give them a lot?” The answer has to do with what’s going on inside my mind as I share the stories. Here’s the key:

Relive your thoughts as you recite your lines.

In other words, it’s not enough just to recite what happened. Instead, you need to go back there emotionally and relive it along with everything you were thinking at the time the story actually occurred. For example, listen to this quick segment of one of my older stories.

You heard this lady say to me, “Say some things!” Because I’m reliving that moment, I go back to what I was thinking when she said that, which was something like, “Now! Are you kidding?!” You don’t hear me say that but I actually think it each time that line of dialogue comes up and then, after thinking “Now? Are you kidding me?!” I say out loud, “And I was speechless.”

So let’s do something pretty neat. Click this next audio link  so you can listen to the lines again. However, this time I will add audio (in an echo) so you can hear what I’m thinking as I say these lines. Okay, click the link:

Great. Got it? So you relive your thoughts as you recite your lines.

Here’s another quick example. Listen first to the lines without my thoughts.

 Okay, now listen to the lines again with my thoughts (in echo)

 When you relive your thoughts, you never have to worry about gestures or facial expressions or energy because they will all come automatically. What you say to yourself will show on your face, in your eyes, and in your movements.

If you relive your thoughts while you recite your lines, you will connect with your audience because you will have reconnected with yourself and your story. At no time will you feel like you are memorizing. You will feel like you are living your speech.

Scenario #2 – When you have a poor start

Years ago, if I had a poor start that didn’t seem to connect with my audience, my immediate thought was, “Uh oh, this is going to be a long night.” In other words, I didn’t feel like I would be able to turn that audience around and connect with them. But guess what? My internal dialogue acted as a self-fulfilling prophecy and that’s why I wouldn’t connect with those audiences. You can’t connect if you tell yourself you’re in for a long night.

Then, I’ll never forget one speech I had that didn’t start off as planned and, for some reason, my internal dialogue changed from “Uh oh, I’m in for a long night” to “They’ll connect with what’s coming up next.” Guess what happened? They did! My audience connected because, once again, my internal dialogue become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since then, when I’ve had poor starts, I’ve always said, “They’ll connect with what’s coming next.” If they don’t connect to it, guess what I say then? “They’ll connect with what’s coming next.” Eventually they will connect and often end up connecting at an even deeper level than I have after good starts.

So never count yourself out after a poor start (or a piece elsewhere within your speech that doesn’t seem to connect), instead you can simply think, “They’ll connect with what’s coming up next” and chances are they will.

Scenario #3 – When they’ve seen you before

For years my most difficult speeches to prepare for have been for engagements where half the audience has seen me before and the other half has not. I’ve always wondered, “Shall I go with my best material even if some of them have seen it?” Usually what I did was to go half and half. About half of the material was new to all of them and half was material that some of them had seen.

But here’s where the problem came in. Whenever I went through the material that some of them had seen, I bailed on it! What does that mean? It means I didn’t fully commit to it because the whole time I was  thinking, “Some of them have already seen this” and that internal dialogue would throw me off. So I’d give it but half-heartedly and almost in an apologetic manner. What do you think happened when I presented in that way? Everybody lost, including me.

So here’s the highly scientific technique I learned to overcome this problem. Ready? It only takes two words to describe this method:

Screw it!

That’s right, I said “Screw it.” What I mean is that you have to think, “So what if they’ve seen it before? What’s wrong with seeing it again?” After all, here’s the secret to giving material that some of them might have seen before:

They are now seeing it from a different place in life.

Have you ever re-read a book and received a new perspective? It’s the same with speaking. They might have heard some of your material before but now they are in a different place and experiencing your message from a new perspective. That’s valuable. Very valuable.

The key is to commit to it 100% without apologies. Now my internal dialogue is, “Here’s a message that can help you improve your life” and I don’t care if they’ve heard it before.

Here’s an e-mail I just received the other day to prove this point:

I have not felt this emotional connection with you as a speaker in all the times I have heard you speak as I did with you when you delivered this keynote.  I left the building feeling like you had just spoken to me, no one else just me.  I have heard those stories before, some of them several times; but on Sunday you brought the life back into them, so amazing I came to tears, tears of connectedness, of hope

Sarah Hilton, Certified World Class Speaking Coach

Sarah had seen me speak many times but, because of my commitment to the material, she felt it more than ever. When you commit to it in your mind, they will connect to it in their hearts.

Your Turn

What, if anything, do you say to yourself while you’re speaking that helps you connect with your audience? What, if anything, have you said that kept you from connecting? Feel free to share.

Final Thoughts

What you think when you speak determines whether or not your audience connects with you and your message. Change your mind and you will change your results.

Craig Valentine

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