The Neuroscience Behind Storytelling

Why tell a story? Because of the chemicals it naturally releases in our brains.

When people tell a moving story, our brains release cortisol and oxytocin. [Photo Credit: Paul Zak video, “The Future of Storytelling”]

When people tell a moving story, our brains release cortisol and oxytocin. [Photo Credit: Paul Zak video, “The Future of Storytelling”]

In early November, I’m participating on a panel at a medical conference in Phoenix. The topic of the panel is storytelling. While preparing, one of my peers introduced me to a terrific video by Paul Zak. It explains – in 5 min no less – the neuroscience behind storytelling. 

A professor at Claremont Graduate University, Zak is the founder of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies. His video on storytelling is well worth your time if you’ve ever questioned its value. Once you watch it, you’ll know the answer. An emphatic “yes!” 

When people tell a moving story, our brains release cortisol and oxytocin. As the video explains, cortisol helps us focus our attention while oxytocin is associated with care, connection, and empathy. These two chemicals not only make stories memorable, but they cause people to take action. In this case, people who listened to a compelling story donated more money than people who didn’t. 

And that’s the catch: you must tell a compelling story. In other words, a description of an event is not a story. Nor is a laundry list of facts. Stories build up to a point of tension at their climax and, as Zak explains, often follow a universal story arc. He offers an example in the video or you can follow the story structure that I outlined in this blog by providing a setting, showing a struggle, and offering a solution.

Either way, telling a great story is required to release cortisol and oxytocin. Once you’ve done that, you, as a speaker, are more apt to move people to action.


Looking for someone to talk about storytelling in your organization? Or someone to improve public speaking at your office? Click here for more info and reach out anytime. – Rose at

Storytelling 101: Three Elements for Compelling Stories

Statistics and data won’t move your audience to action – but stories will. [Photo Credit: Annie Spratt]

Statistics and data won’t move your audience to action – but stories will. [Photo Credit: Annie Spratt]

I worked for a CEO once who didn’t know how to tell a story. She was scary smart, an inspiring leader, and capable in just about every other way. She successfully made dozens of complex, high-level decisions day in and day out. 

But telling a story? Not in her wheelhouse. 

How Did I Know?

I realized my client wasn’t a storyteller the night before she was scheduled to address about 4,000 employees. We were having a private rehearsal in a huge, hotel meeting room. I stood about 15 rows deep from the stage, coaching her for the big day.

She started off strong with a captivating intro. She quickly nailed the timing of the slides and she avoided the podium, using the space around her effectively. And despite the vacuous room, she practiced making eye contact around the room, looking at three Audience Anchors in the left, right, and center of the room.

Then she hit a wall. I had a copy of her bullet points, so I looked down at them. They said, “Tell story about playground.” The CEO began like this:

“A long time ago, my father took me to a playground. I was young, really young. One section had monkey bars that moved on a track.  You held on and sort of swung, hand over hand, from them. I was scared to cross.” 

Then the CEO stumbled, exhaled, and began talking about the competition facing her company this quarter. 

“Wait,” I thought. “What happened? Did you cross the monkey bars? What did Dad do? What about the other kids?”

I knew we had a problem. The description she had shared wasn’t a story and she’d missed a golden opportunity to connect. I called a time-out in the rehearsal and together we fleshed out that long-ago day: her standing there, facing scary blue monkey bars, and in retrospect, explaining why this story was relevant to her audience.

What Makes a Story?

Telling a story is challenging for some, overwhelming for others. That’s why I like to draw on Ty Bennett’s book, The Power of Storytelling. In it, Bennett breaks down stories into three simple elements: 

  • Set Up

  • Struggle

  • Solution

Set Up – Give the audience some context. In this case, I asked the CEO a few simple questions about her story: what grade was she in? What city was she in (and even better, what was the name of the playground)? Was it snowing, rainy, or sunny? Was the playground empty or full of laughing kids?

Struggle – What was she afraid of? How the monkey bars slid along a rusty track? Their height? The dirt below? What did she physically feel at the time (shaky legs, shortness of breath)? Did she say anything to her father or just balk, refusing to move?

Solution – What happened in the end? Did her father gently talk her across or threaten her to cross? Did the kids in line push in front of her? Did she turn back and climb down? 

After ending a story, I often add an “off ramp” in a speech. By that, I mean explain why the speaker shared the story. In this case, what was the connection between the little girl’s challenge years ago and the competition the company faced today?

In this case, the CEO’s story ended with another little girl showing her how to cross the monkey bars. The speaker then used the story to talk about employees sharing their expertise with one another, something their competition happened to be doing really well.

When you’re giving a presentation, stories don’t have to be long or difficult or overly intimate. But they must have, as a minimum, three elements to succeed. And when a good story lands, you’ll know it. Among other things, they fire up the mirror neurons in your audience, helping them envision – and feel – what you’re trying to convey.

Don’t get me wrong. Data, statistics, examples, and other forms of concrete evidence will help you back up the main point. They should be integrated into your remarks where appropriate. But they rarely, if ever, create the kind of emotional connection with other people that stories do.

Looking for another great example of storytelling? Watch Abby Wambach’s 2018 commencement at Barnard. Her opening story about the ESPYs has a clear set up, struggle, and solution (plus a smooth off ramp!). Thanks & please reach out anytime. – Rose at

Using the Speaker's Triangle: How to Avoid Blocking the Screen

The view from the side.jpg

In my last blog post, I talked about three major mistakes people make with PowerPoint and how to avoid them. Today I’ll discuss using the space between the screen and audience more effectively via the Speaker’s Triangle.*

What’s the Speaker’s Triangle?

The Speaker’s Triangle is an area between the slides and audience. It’s on one side of the stage with the screen on the other. The space shouldn’t overlap with the projected image at all. (In other words, don’t move into the line of sight — like this picture. That projects the slide on your face and blocks it. Big no-no’s.)

Instead, stand in one of three spots in the Speaker’s Triangle. Where? It depends on what you’re saying.

Where Should I Stand?

The Speaker’s Triangle – Use the stage more effectively by standing in one of these three spots, based on the type of material you’re presenting.

The Speaker’s Triangle – Use the stage more effectively by standing in one of these three spots, based on the type of material you’re presenting.

  • Position #1 is closer to the screen than the audience.  Stand here when you’re talking about detailed material on the screen, such as a graph or map. Don’t face the screen, but gesture to the axis or location you’re addressing.

  • Position #2 is half way between the screen and the audience. Speak from this spot for the majority of your presentation.

  • Position #3 is closest to the audience. It’s a great place to tell a story or share something that’s meant to have a significant emotional impact. It’s also the best spot for answering questions during Q&A.

Common Questions
Q: Why should I spend most of my time in the middle of the Speaker’s Triangle?

A: Position #2 is a neutral spot. Being too close to the audience for the entire talk (#3) can come across as overbearing. It also eliminates the chance for you to move forward and “disclose” something personal or heartwarming. On the flip side, being too close to the screen (#1) suggests you may be relying on your slides too heavily (or worse, you’re anxious and therefore standing really far away from the audience!)

Q: What if the stage isn’t configured this way?

A:  You can still use the three general principles of the Speaker’s Triangle. The most important take-away for your presentation is to plan ahead. Before you start talking, know where you want to stand during different parts of your speech. Again, let the substance of the material guide you (or send me an email … I’ll help too).

Q: What if I need to get to the other side of the stage?

A: You can’t really. You shouldn’t walk behind the screen (ever) or across the front of it, projecting images on your face. If you’re doing Q&A after your presentation, my advice is to turn the slides off. Speakers rarely reference or need them during Q&A so frankly, they can become a distraction. With the projector turned off, you can move freely to the middle of the stage. Or better yet, you can move to the side of the space, depending on where the Q&A mics are located in the audience.

*PS - I came across the term, “Speaker’s Triangle,” about 5 years ago. If you know who coined the term, please let me know.  

Thanks and I’d love to hear your stories about stages and slides. – Rose.  


Avoiding Death by PowerPoint: Three Common Mistakes with Slides

How many times have you sat in a dim meeting room only to be bombarded by an endless slide deck? Or attended a conference where speakers made a point of reading every bullet?

Don’t use slides as a reminder of what comes next (as in, ‘ Oh yeah — the slide w/ the stars. That’s my cue to talk about space’).  Instead figure out what you want to say, then build your slide deck. [Photo credit: Kyle Wong]

Don’t use slides as a reminder of what comes next (as in, ‘Oh yeah — the slide w/ the stars. That’s my cue to talk about space’). Instead figure out what you want to say, then build your slide deck. [Photo credit: Kyle Wong]

Death by PowerPoint is, sadly, all too common. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As a speechwriter and speech coach for nearly 15 years, I’ve sat through hundreds of talks. Here are the three most common mistakes when it comes to slides and, even better, how you can avoid making them.

Common Mistake # 1: No Go

The Scenario:  You watch a speaker walk onto the stage. He hits the clicker but it won’t advance the slides. Then the screen goes black. Someone (the IT guy?) walks onto the stage and fiddles with something on the podium. Meanwhile, the speaker becomes increasingly uncomfortable. He tries a joke or two, but it’s too late. People around you start to talk among themselves.

The Message It Sends: When AV fails, it tells the audience that the speaker doesn’t care about them. He didn’t take the 5 minutes required to test it out in advance.

The Solution: Show up early and make sure your slides will work. I’ve seen instances (especially going from a MAC to PC) where the font sizes become too small or images become blurry. If you can’t show up early (and if the slides aren’t confidential), email your deck to the event organizers. Like you, they desperately want to avoid the appearance that this is “amateur hour.”

Bonus Tip: Always carry a backup copy of your slides on a thumb drive or email them to yourself, so you’ll have them handy in a pinch.

Common Mistake #2:  Info Overload

The Scenario:  The speaker is an expert. You’re excited to hear what she has to say, but things immediately get technical – and the slides don’t help. In fact, they confuse the issue because they’re impossible to decipher. One slide shows the world’s most complicated wiring diagram. Another has an x- and y-axis with font so small it looks like Japanese rather than English. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The slides will be available later, so you pick up your phone to check email until this speaker is done.

The Message It Sends: The speaker doesn’t know how to translate this visual story for the audience. As a result, she has included way too much information on the slides. It’s not easy to translate data or stats — agreed — but the alternative of overwhelming your audience isn’t an option.

The Solution: Don’t try to tell the whole story in a single slide. Keep it simple. Breaking down your story into manageable chunks and walk the audience through a broader, more meaningful narrative. In other words, bridge the gap between what you’re saying and what (you hope!) the audience is hearing. You can check this by practicing in front of someone with roughly the same level of knowledge that your audience will likely have.

Bonus Tip: Check out this TED Talk by Hans Rosling, a Swedish physician and professor of International Health. He offers a great example of how to translate complex data on global health and economic trends in a way we all can understand.

Common Mistake #3:  Too Many Slides

The Scenario:  It’s only two minutes into the presentation but you’ve already seen 25 slides. Every point the speaker makes is captured in a list of bullet points, a heartwarming image, or a funny video. Rather than focusing on the material, your mind wanders. You ask yourself how many more slides will she race through in the next 20 minutes?    

The Message It Sends: The speaker doesn’t know her material well enough. She may also be using PowerPoint as a reminder of what she needs to cover next. (Oh, it’s the slide w/ the night sky. That’s my cue to talk about space.)

The Solution: Figure out what you want to say first, then build your slide deck. That will prevent you from upstaging yourself and relying too heavily on slides. Resist the urge to “throw in” that amazing pie chart because it’s just so good.

Bonus Tip: I don’t have a good rule of thumb for how many slides you should use in say, a 20-minute presentation. What can be helpful, however, is thinking about AV as a tool to underscore your key points. Don’t upstage yourself. Slides should be an exclamation mark to what you say, not a script to keep you on track.

Looking for more guidance on using slides effectively? Here are some more tips and examples from TED Talks.  Thanks & reach out anytime. – Rose at

Four Tips to Rehearse More Effectively

In the end, the stakes are just too high not to practice. [Photo credit: Charles Deluvio]

In the end, the stakes are just too high not to practice. [Photo credit: Charles Deluvio]

Your last talk to employees didn’t go well. You were nervous standing in front of them. You paced as thoughts of self-doubt crept into your voice. You kept looking down at your notes but couldn’t find your place. After a few minutes, you lost track of what you were hoping to accomplish. More than anything, you just wanted to sit down and be done.

Now that’s a bad day at the office. The only good outcome from this kind of dreadful experience is the determination I hear in a client’s voice afterwards. They resolve never to ‘wing it’ again. Never to stand in front of their people without preparing. Never to show up as a boss who can’t motivate, can’t communicate, can’t lead.

How exactly should you practice before your next talk? There are any number of approaches, but I’ve found these four steps to be particularly effective.

Rehearsing Effectively

 1. In private, practice what you’ll say from beginning to end. Re-start wherever you need to. If you stumble on a section repeatedly, change the wording.

2. Once you can deliver the entire speech without stumbling, time it. Trim it, if too long.

3. Ask two or three trusted colleagues to listen to you as you practice. Get their feedback on what was unclear and on any distracting tics you may have such as pacing or jittery hands. (An alternative is to videotape yourself on your cell phone. This is a simple way to check your posture, eye contact, and hand gestures.)

4. If possible, practice in the venue where you’ll deliver the speech. (This is essential for big speeches.) Find out if you’ll have a podium and mic. If so, what kind? (For example, a hand-held mic, podium mic, or lavalier mic?)  Ask who’s presenting before and after you, if you’ll have a bottle of water on stage, and whether they will be filming you. In short, now’s the time to get the scoop so you can be your best as a speaker and as a leader.


Want to learn a few more practical tips for rehearsing your next presentation?  Let’s talk.  – Rose (

The Telephone Test

In “Bad Writing Costs Businesses Billions,” Josh Bernoff talks about how much time we waste slogging through terrible writing at the office. He notes, “Poor writing creates a drag on everything you do. It functions like a tax, sapping your profits, and I can quantify it. American workers spend 22 percent of their work time reading; higher compensated workers read more.” Bernoff estimates this problem costs American businesses an astonishing $400 billion annually.

Unfortunately, bad writing often seeps into presentations as well. Consider how this speaker summarized her remarks:

“I have attempted here to socialize the personnel and financial resources needed to solve this pressing problem. I now respectfully ask for your endorsement of the proposed course of action so that we can operationalize it in coming weeks.” (Word count: 41)

If I were listening, I wouldn’t know what was being asked of me. Words like “socialize” and “operationalize” sound like committee-speak. That's a form of communication in which people are more interested in impressing co-workers than expressing an idea.

What if this speaker said this instead?

“I’ll close this afternoon by asking for your approval on this project.  We have the resources lined up and the right people in place. We need the green light from you to move ahead.” (Word count: 34)

This ending is not only more concise, it’s easier to understand. And it is written in plain language defined as “communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.” This definition, by the way, comes from Public Law 111, The Plain Writing Act of 2010, which urges government officials to write in ways that people can understand. (It’s amazing to me that the problem is so bad that we actually had to pass a law.)

How can we avoid jargon-filled, verbose writing? By using the Telephone Test, a simple tool I learned years ago from my smart colleagues at the US Air Force Academy. The Telephone Test means imagining how you’d say something on the phone.

How many times do you call your spouse and say, “After work, I’ll proceed to the aforementioned market for the items requested. Please inform me if additional items are needed.” I’m guessing never. Instead, you probably say, “I’ll pick up milk on the way home from work. Need anything else?”

The Telephone Test is an easy tool to help you communicate more clearly & concisely. [Photo Credit: rawpixel]

The Telephone Test is an easy tool to help you communicate more clearly & concisely. [Photo Credit: rawpixel]

The Telephone Test helps ensure you’re using direct words, more pronouns, and simple sentence structure. I use it when I find myself writing an overloaded sentence (20+ words) or a long bullet point.  

Another tool is Unlike some government websites, this one is easy to use and offers ample resources including examples, guidelines, and training. 

Before you draft that next email or speak up at a meeting, review what you’ve prepared. Can you say it in a way that’s easier to understand? More crisp? More logical?

Bernoff found that we all waste a great deal of time at the office due to bad writing. By investing more time upfront, you’ll stand out and, even better, your co-workers will actually understand what you’re trying to say.


What tools do you use to communicate more clearly & concisely? I’d love to hear them. Email me at


Make It About Them, Not You

A wonderful way to change the focal point of your remarks – and put the emphasis where it should be – is to replace the word “I” with “you.” Here’s a classic example from Steve Jobs and the team at Apple:

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently…You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.” 

Jobs could have said “I can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing I can't do is ignore them.” By turning the tables, he invites us into the conversation.

A similar trick is to replace “I” with “we.” Check out this example from Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London. In this 2016 speech, he was advocating for BREXIT (i.e., that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union).

“Thanks to the referendum given to this country by David Cameron, we find that a door has magically opened. We can see the sunlit meadows beyond. I believe we would be mad not to take this once in a lifetime chance to walk through that door because the truth is, it is not we who have changed. It is the EU that has changed …”

[Photo Credit: Karla Alexander]

[Photo Credit: Karla Alexander]

What I like about this excerpt is how Johnson uses “we” to create allies. A “magical door” has somehow opened. If we walk through it together, he seems to say, we’ll all get to the “sunlit meadows beyond.”

Notice too that Johnson is not saying follow me. He’s asking folks to move ahead in step with him.  Whatever your thoughts on BREXIT, using “we” in this passage makes his argument more persuasive. (And, well, the vote for BREXIT passed as we all know.)

Next time you’re preparing a presentation, do that one final and supremely important edit. Search for “I” and replace it with “you” or “we.”  It may take you all of two minutes (tops!), but it’ll leave a lasting impression with your audience.


Try this easy trick in your next speech. For more speaking hacks, click here to subscribe, email, or follow me @RKing_Portland. -- Rose

Work Out, Speak Out

When I hear the term ‘working out,’ I’m more apt to think of my New Year’s resolution than public speaking. But there’s an important connection between the two. A light work out before you present will discharge that excess nervous energy that will otherwise destroy excellent remarks.

Last year I was working with an executive in the field of health care. I’ll call him “Ed.” Ed had come to me because, a year earlier, he’d frozen up on stage. He said that suddenly, as he glanced at the audience, a steam roller hit him. He couldn’t breathe. A black circle filled his vision. The room telescoped in on itself, growing darker by the second.

Ever since the panic attack, Ed hadn’t been able to present without taking medication to calm his nerves beforehand. He and I worked together for a few weeks. We tested out various coping mechanisms and he made mild progress … but nothing major. That is, until the topic of running popped up in our conversation.  

Ed sat back in his chair, exhaled, and talked at length about running cross country in college. About how much he loved jogging through the woods. About how being an athlete was fundamental to his identity. And about how he’d let the demands of his job – including 40% travel – stop him in his tracks.

[Photo credit: Jenny Hill]

[Photo credit: Jenny Hill]

In the end, what helped Ed to not just face the podium, but excel as a speaker was returning to what he loved. He got back to running trails (and back on the treadmill when traveling). The result? Ed said goodbye to his anti-anxiety meds for good.

Now, to be clear: working out is, by no means, a cure all for glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. But discharging excess energy before you speak will help you manage it. You don’t have to run a marathon, but you could walk briskly around the block or do jumping jacks in your hotel room. Don’t try to exhaust yourself. Just do enough to shake off the jitters and channel that energy into your best performance yet.

I love this tip. Has it worked for you? Email me at or reach out on Twitter at @RKing_Portland. -- Rose

To Move or Not to Move

I was recently working with a client on a speech and he asked me about moving around the stage: should I walk around up there? How much? And where do I go exactly?

In general, speakers should begin and end their remarks in the center of the stage without any movement. This is especially important during the intro. That’s the precise moment when you’ll be sharing some of the most critical parts of your presentation: the headline of your speech and an overview of what’s to come.  In addition, that’s when the audience is forming their first impression of you. If you move too much (or pace back and forth), the audience will find your movement distracting.

During the rest of the presentation, speakers should be deliberate about walking around on stage. Specifically, I recommend doing so for the following 3 reasons*:

[Photo Credit: Antoine Schibler]

[Photo Credit: Antoine Schibler]

  • To Tell a Story – “When I was 8 years old ….” A great time to move closer to the audience is when you’re telling a story. If you lower your voice and slow down your rate of speaking, trust me, you’ll have them in the palm of your hand.

  • To Make a Transition – “Fast forward 9 months …” A great time to walk across the stage is when you’re transitioning between major ideas or themes. By doing so, your body language reinforces what you’re saying.

  • To Illustrate an Action – “I stepped up to the plate and heard Dad yell ….” Finally, showing an action can make your speech more memorable. In this case, you might step forward and tap home plate with an imaginary bat. Don’t overdo it. You’re a speaker, not an actor. Just a few key gestures will go a long way.

Should you do all three of these techniques? Probably not. Instead pick the one that’s most appropriate for what you’ll be saying and, above all, that’s natural for you. Said differently, there’s no set formula. You don’t want to look like a robot on stage, moving 3 feet to the left then 5 feet to the right. Instead, your goal should be to come across as personable: just one human being trying to connect with another. Movement that’s both intentional and natural can help you do just that. 

*Note: techniques adapted/modified from Washington Post article Nov 2015.

The Spot Light Effect

I use a number of techniques to help people who are nervous about speaking in public. Taking a few deep breaths before stepping behind the podium helps some. Other people rehearse ten, maybe twelve times, becoming so familiar with the material that their jitters fall away. Still others benefit from hearing about the spot light effect, the notion that the audience is probably paying less attention to you than you might think! 

[Photo Credit: Paul Green]

[Photo Credit: Paul Green]

I first read about this idea in Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. She talked about a major league baseball player who felt self-conscious when he stepped up to the plate. Seeing his face (and batting average!) plastered across the two-story scoreboard made him anxious. Some of my clients have expressed similar feelings when they’re asked to speak in public.

Here’s where the spot light effect comes in. Dozens of experiments show that we generally overestimate how much attention we think other people are paying to us. One of my favorite involves a study in which college students were asked to wear t-shirts sporting a picture of Barry Manilow. Researchers asked them to estimate what percentage of their peers they thought had noticed the embarrassing t-shirts. They said about half. In reality, only about a quarter of their peers noticed the Manilow t-shirts. In some studies, the number was as low as 10 percent.

You can read about these studies here but, in terms of public speaking, two takeaways are worth noting. The first is relax. Chances are the audience isn’t eying you as closely as you think. The second is to remember that you’re competing for their attention. They may be thinking about their daughter at school or daydreaming about their recent trip to Hawaii.  On top of that, they’re probably texting and tweeting. That’s all the more reason for you to prep great material, practice your delivery, and demand their attention with engaging and compelling remarks.

To learn more speaking tips, click here to subscribe, email, or follow me on Twitter at @RKing_Portland. -- Rose


During the holidays, I heard lots of "mini speeches." Last week my father-in-law offered a toast at the dinner table. Yesterday a friend talked about appreciating our time together. Both were beautiful little tributes: kind and heartfelt. The next time you want to say a few words but are holding back, consider a technique called “priming.”

Joe Maggie, a professor at NY University, uses priming to help people under stress. Before doing a nerve-racking activity (like public speaking!), he encourages people to remember a moment when they felt powerful & confident. And to that I'd add this: reflect on a time when you felt good about yourself. Perhaps it was after you volunteered at a food pantry or made chicken soup for a sick neighbor. Maybe it was how you felt after a long run or doing yoga.

By reflecting on a moment when you were your best self, you'll reduce your anxiety about speaking in public. It’s not a magic bullet. It won't quell all your nerves or shake free the stress of everyday life. But it will help you feel more relaxed and confident. Adding a few deep breaths is important as well. Give it a try. When you’re moved by the spirit, “prime the pump” first then share your thoughts aloud. My guess is that your friends and family will appreciate what you have to say.


Have a question about your next speech? Email me at If you'd like to learn more speaking tips, please click here to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose

[Photo credit: Deniz Altindas]

[Photo credit: Deniz Altindas]

3 Tips for a Killer PechaKucha

PechaKucha, the Japanese word for chit chat, is a presentation of 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds. (Total time is 6 minutes, 40 seconds). Because the slides advance automatically, the format forces speakers to be concise ... otherwise, they fall woefully behind their slide deck.

What I love about PechaKucha is that it encourages people to get right to the point -- and then move on. We've all heard speakers ramble on stage. They wander down one rabbit hole after another. Often they haven't taken the time to key in on their main ideas before the speech. As a result, their audience struggles to weed out the "tangents" and "asides." Before long, they're tweeting or texting on their cell phone. The speaker has lost them. 

How, then, can you give a killer PechaKucha? 

Tip #1 - LESS IS MORE - Long before you take the stage, you need to know the one or two main ideas per slide that you'd like to share. This takes time and, frankly, it's tough. But if you don't "do your homework," you'll try to cram in too much info. The result? You'll speak rapid fire and you'll lose your audience. You only have 20 seconds for each slide, so you have to be selective. Ruthlessly so. In the end, I encourage you to give priority to the "headlines" you want to share on each slide and, remember, less is more.

Find vivid photos like this one of fireworks in Singapore. My favorite source of pictures is Unsplash. [Photo credit: Nitin Mathew]

Find vivid photos like this one of fireworks in Singapore. My favorite source of pictures is Unsplash. [Photo credit: Nitin Mathew]

Tip #2 - COMPELLING IMAGES - The best PechaKuchas have powerful images. You can find quality, high-resolution photos here or here. These pics are free and have no copyright restrictions. They also have searchable databases so you can find the right picture quickly.  (I love these sites so much, in fact, that I get their weekly emails.) For your presentation, it's fine for some slides to have a single word, short phase, or compelling statistic. But your slides shouldn't be cluttered with text. No bullet lists. No dense paragraphs. No special effects. Instead, I recommend following the slide guidelines used in TED Talks. Essentially, big, moving high quality images that reinforce the point you're making.

Tip #3 - PRACTICE - This format is unforgiving because the slides move ahead whether or not you're ready. In the last PechaKucha I attended, 9 of the 10 speakers fell behind in their presentations. Meanwhile the slides, on automatic advance, surged ahead. Folks on the stage kept glancing back at the screen, flailing their arms, and stumbling on their words. They weren't sure how to get back on track. The audience giggled when the first two speakers fell behind; after that, the joke wasn't as funny. Now, no two speakers are alike, but I generally recommend running through this type of presentation (with your slides) at least 5 times before you deliver it. More if possible. You need to know the main idea for each slide, how to jump forward if needed, and what you're going to do (pause) if you get ahead of your slides.

Want to learn more practical hacks of public speaking? Please click here and scroll down to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose



Save the Cat!

Save the Cat!

Watch any major blockbuster movie & you'll notice a little trick used by screen writers. The protagonist will do something that's, well, just plain nice. A professor might say "thanks" to an intern. A Dad might hug his son. A teacher might compliment her student. The act is often so subtle that it doesn't register consciously, but it sure does subconsciously! This is the "save the cat" moment. It gets us, the audience, rooting for the hero. It often happens in the first few minutes of a movie. It's a pretty ingenious technique, one that I learned from the amazing book, Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. 

Your Take-Away

Be nice when you first take the stage. Project the image of someone who's grateful to be there, respectful of the audience, and humble about your abilities (however superhero like). So ...

If the last speaker was great, start by complimenting her. One thing I often do is tell the audience to interrupt me at any time. "This is YOUR session," I assure them. "I want to make our time together as helpful as possible."  In some 10 years of public speaking, I've never once been interrupted by a question.

On the flip side, if things go wrong, don't overreact. For example, if your slides are dorked up, don't belittle the poor IT guy. (Truth be told, visual aids that don't work are your fault ... You should have checked 'em earlier.)  Keep calm, poised, and polite.

The bottom line is this. Don't pander to any audience. Ever. Instead, just remember what your Mama taught you. Play nice. If you keep it simple and subtle, you'll save the cat.

Want to learn more "tips and tricks" of great speakers? Please click here & scroll down to subscribe. Thanks! -- Rose