What is the Key to Great Speaking?

What is the key to great speaking? You will find the answer within this post. Before you do, let’s take a look at a brief coaching session I had with a speaker in Seattle. You can use the same tools he picked up to build an unbreakable connection with your very next audience.

Tool #1: Pause after asking questions (but for how long?)

Many speakers know to pause but not many know how long they should pause. My suggestion is to answer your own question (in your mind) after you ask it. For example, if you ask, “Have you ever been frustrated by traffic?” you can think, “Sure, I’ve been frustrated many times.” You can pause as long as it takes you to answer that question in your mind. I also like this method (rather than pausing for a specific number of seconds) because it keeps you in tune with what your audience is doing and thinking and that always helps with the connection.

Usually yes or no questions only require short pauses but imagine if I asked something like this:

“What was the most trouble you’ve ever been in?”

Chances are your audience would have to dive deep into their memory banks to recall the situation. Well, you should do the same as the speaker and that will tell you how long you should pause.

Important Point: Pause longer in rehearsal so that when you get to the real stage, you’ll find the happy medium and pause effectively.

Remember that speaking is a dialogue and you need to find every way possible to make your speech a two-way street.

Tool #2: Don’t tell the Cure too soon

Do not tell the solution to your problem until you’ve effectively built up the problem in our minds. For example, Henrick could build up our agitation with traffic by asking questions such as, “How does it feel when someone cuts you off?” Take your audience back to when they were stuck in traffic. Make them feel it. When it comes to giving your solution, remember the following statement:

Get them to feel it before you reveal it

Get your audience members to feel the problem before you reveal the solution. Otherwise, they won’t have their eyes wide open for it and the devalued solution will just slide right passed them.

Tool #3: Then, Now, and How

In Henrick’s story, as in many other stories, he has the opportunity to use what I call the Then, Now, and How method of storytelling. This simply involves…

  • Building up the problem to its highest point (where you were THEN)
  • Skipping past the solution and landing where you are NOW
  • Sharing with the audience HOW you changed (the solution)

Think of “Then, Now, and How” like a picture you might see in a weight-loss advertisement. On the left side you see a picture of where the person was THEN (overweight). On the right sided you see a picture of where the person is NOW (ideal weight and shape).  Then the ad will go on to tell you HOW that person made the change and how you can too.

When you go straight from bad (i.e. hated traffic) to good (at peace with traffic) but you don’t tell your audience what made the difference, what do you think they’ll desire to know? They’ll want to know HOW. It’s a perfect example of the following fundamental speaking guideline:

Tease them before you tell them

When you set your story up effectively with the THEN and NOW, your audience will buy into the HOW. Try it, they’ll love it.

Final Thoughts:

So what’s the key to great speaking?

Curiosity is the key

Curiosity is an extremely important factor in keeping your audience hooked. When you use the three tools above, you keep your audience curious. Would you like to know the absolute best way to make your audience curious?

Good! Stay tuned for future newsletters.

Craig Valentine

As a motivational speaker I've been fortunate to have spoken in over 20 countries, and back in 1999 Toastmasters International awarded me the World Champion of Public Speaking.

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