4 questions to ask yourself before you speak on stage

AKA a resource I send to clients and potential clients that I never thought I’d share publicly but here we are 🙂

Glaring at her face on the video call, I stuck my bottom lip out.

“I don’t know,” I mumbled petulantly. “Do I even have to think about that?”

Michelle smiled warmly back at me. “You know you do,” she said. And she was right. I groaned.

When I found out that a long-time daydream of doing the closing keynote at Portland’s World Domination Summit was coming true, I knew I needed help. I coach speakers all the time, but writing my own talk felt like trying to cut my own hair without a mirror. I needed help. And I knew Michelle Barry Franco was the person to help me. What I didn’t know was how sullen and defiant working with her would make me.

Let me be clear — Michelle is a genius. She is an EXCELLENT speaker coach, and has the kind of gentleness I have always referred to as “Human Valium;” just standing next to her calms me down.

But being faced with the things I usually get my clients to do was harder than I expected. Frequently, I responded like a cross teenager, petulant and combative.

Luckily, her patience knows no bounds, and she helped me wrestle a talk that got me a three-tier standing ovation. I’ll post the video up when it’s made public. In the meantime, here are the four questions I ask my speaker clients when we start working on their talks, whether it’s a 5 minute story or pitch, or a 90 minute keynote. Although you could also apply this to anything public facing — a blog; a self-help or business book; a podcast. I’ll write each one in bold, and break them down below.


Yes Yes Marsha’s Speaker Questions:

1. Who is your talk for? What do we know about them?

This can mean both the people in the audience and anyone who might see a video of it afterwards.

In particular, what do we know about:

A. Their demographic
This is kind of the least important, but if you do know anything about them, it’s worth noting in case you’re able to make your talk more relatable to them. For example, if they’re all high school teachers, you can be like, “Standardized testing stress, amirite??!” Everyone’s a little more open to listening to you when they feel like you really get them.

You can also switch up any examples you use so that they instantly understand. For example, if you’re speaking about housing to a bunch of people in their early twenties who live in an expensive city, you might not want to give them examples relating to you buying your second and third homes when they will likely never be able to afford a first.

((((this may or may be a real example I once heard))))(it did not go down well with the audience)

B. Their wants and desires

It doesn’t matter what you know these guys need, whether it’s more hours meditating or cleaner environmental practises. If they don’t hold those things as a priority, they won’t engage as much with what you have to say. So try and think about what they want and long for, and see how you can link those things to what you want to teach them.

For example, if you know that having a culture of storytelling in a workplace leads to people liking their colleagues and bosses more, but you know the people in your audience care most about their bottom line, find ways to explain that staff liking their colleagues and boss will increase retention and engagement, reducing the cost of hiring and on-boarding new staff and of wasted work hours. Then explain how storytelling can help them do that.

C. What they think they know to be true about this topic

If you want your audience to listen, you have to meet them where they are. This means understanding what they think is true about what you’re saying, even when you know they’ve got it totally wrong. Sometimes this is about level of understanding (e.g. are you a knitting expert who knows all the terms and they’re novices who don’t?). Sometimes it’s about misinformation (e.g. do they think that the level of climate change we’re experiencing is normal and nothing to worry about?). Whatever THEY think to be true about your subject is what you have to talk about first.

D. The snarky, eye-rolly comments and objections they (secretly) make about this topic

Whether or not you agree with these, they are in the room. When you don’t address them, they will act as a barrier between what you want to teach and what people are willing to hear.

For example, when I run storytelling workshops for organizations, I have a little shtick I do after the housework of explaining what we’ll be covering and when the breaks are. I talk about how I’m famously a very positive person — my business is called Yes Yes Marsha, and I even have the word “yes” tattooed on my finger. I tell them that I love running workshops but that when I come to one as a participant, my overwhelming emotional response is that I hate everyone. This usually gets a laugh — and, in bigger rooms, a second wave of laughing as the people who were thinking exactly that know that I see them and that that’s ok. I finish by saying, “So if you feel that way, then I’m glad you’re here because I like people who are like me.” It reduces that defense and makes people more open to hearing what I have to say.


2. What do you want them to do differently as a result of your talk? I mean this both in terms of ‘good in the world’ and in terms of ‘somehow doing something that gets money or glory to you’.

This will help you shape both the talk and which details are in the stories you include.
Let’s say — like me — the think you most want people to do is to start using more emotions when they tell stories. When it’s time to edit your talk down (an inevitability if you have a lot to say), you can cut from your talk other lessons about how to tell good stories (such as, say, reducing the number of characters, or always starting right in the action), because this information is less essential than the thing you most want them to learn.

The second part is thinking about what you want that brings money or glory to you. When you know this in advance, you can drop tiny advertisements for your work into your talk. And rather than making them explicitly advertisements (because: barf), you just choose examples and notes to support a point you’re making, that happen to also be advertisements for yourself.

For example, while the altruistic aim for my WDS talk was to get people to stop beating themselves up for beating themselves up, I had two professional goals:

1. To make people think I’m great and want to sign up to my mailing list/follow me on social media/hire me as a speaker.

2. To establish myself as a storytelling and speaker coach, so that potential clients within the audience might consider hiring me.

The first wasn’t something I could necessarily address in the talk — I just had to make sure I did a great job. But the second I could address. One of the ways I did this was during a joke early on in the talk. I was describing a daydream I’ve had about how well the talk would go, and I said, “And from the moment I start speaking, you guys are just—” gestures at my face— “crying.”

After that, I said, “I’m a storytelling and speaker coach, so tears are one of my metrics.”

Then I jumped straight back into the story. It supported the point I was making — that this (imaginary) talk was going really well, because having the audience cry was important to me. But it also told everyone there what I do for my job, in case they were looking for someone who does exactly that.

This can also work when it comes to choosing which stories you tell. If you have two stories that get across the same point, but one of them shows an example of you (successfully) doing the thing you want people to hire you to do? Use that one.


3. What is one small action they could do RIGHT NOW that’ll make a difference to their lives (around this topic)?

A few years ago, I saw Pat Flynn speaking and he said,

“If you want to change someone’s life, change their day.”

In a dream world, your audience will remember everything you’ve taught them and immediately put it into practice. In a more realistic one, life is busy and their brains are full. So, close to the end of your talk, leave them with at least one small action they can do right now. If it works and makes a difference to them, they’re more likely to come back to you for more.


4. If you only had 30 seconds/one run-on sentence to talk, what would you say?

This will help you edit. When you can get down to the core of what you must say, it’ll help you decide what definitely needs to be in your talk and what you can cut if you must (even if you don’t want to!). I usually frame this like, “If I were to tell you, ‘I’m so sorry, I know you thought you had 45 minutes on stage and two months to prepare. Actually, you have thirty seconds and your talk starts right now.’ What would you say?”

Doesn’t matter if it’s concise or snappy. What matters is the content, helping you figure out what is most essential to you.

 

So there you go! The resource I’ve been keeping secret for ages but figured it was about time I shared 🙂

Want these questions all together in one handy PDF? Pop your details in below and I’ll email it over asap!*

*You’ll also join the Yes Yes Family, where I send out weekly email coaching on how to Be Unforgettable. You can unsubscribe anytime you like, I promise.

Now, your turn: which of these questions was most surprising to you? And which ones do you think you’ll try and answer? Feel free to share that — and your answer to the actual question if you like! — in the comments below.

Thanks so much for reading! If you know anyone who has a talk or presentation coming up and might find these questions helpful, you can share this blog with them using one of the round buttons below, or click HERE to share on Facebook.

Want some help working on (or writing!) your talk or keynote? That’s my favourite thing to do! Click here to find out more, or book in a free chat with me right here.

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

PS want even more advice like this, plus stories and secrets that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family. It’s free! I’ll even throw in a PDF of these questions! Just pop your details in below:

photo credit: the incredible team at Armosa Studios

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