Q: Why did you decide to become a speaking coach?
I’d been a life coach for a while when I decided that I wanted to give workshops, so I joined Toastmasters (www.toastmasters.nl) to learn how to
speak publicly. I got hooked! I love the creativity of writing a speech. I love the medium of the speech to communicate a message. I love the talk as a means of expression. After some years of it being a hobby, I decided to make it my profession by changing my coaching niche to public speaking. It was the best move I ever made. I have the best job in the world!
As a filmmaker, I always asked myself during interviews: ‘Why do people make their story so complex?’ When I interviewed people I could hear the story, but had trouble understanding it. When I asked the person to explain it in simple language without the camera, it became a perfectly clear and engaging story. I found out that addressing a message is so much more than only the content. From that time on, I focused on how I could help my interviewees tell their stories, whether it be finding great metaphors, clear story lines, coping with fears or coaching use of verbal and nonverbal communication. The task is actually finding the essence of what you want to share. From that point on, interviewees asked me to help them on stage. Two years ago, I started Great Communicators with some partners in crime. We use spreading stories as a pressure cooker for personal and business growth. My mission is to set a speech free. There are so many beautiful stories, visions and solutions in this world, that don’t make it. Think of the professors who did great pioneering research, but are not able to bring it to the world. The world is waiting for change and therefore waiting for these stories to be shared. At Great Communicators, we help people to tell and share these stories in a great and fun way.
Q: How do you define a great speech?
Being passionate about your message. Being caring and respectful of your audience. Creating a clear structure with fluid transitions. Humour. Keeping it simple.
Of course this depends both on the context and on the aim of the speech. But in general I believe a great speech is not only a story that is fun and interesting in the moment itself. A great story has ingredients that make it easily shared by other people and has an effect; that people are struck by the speech and therefore change their behavior. A good speech will last beyond the moment you are listening to it.
Q: What are your top 3 tips for a powerful speech?
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. As the author Mark Twain once said: “It takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
Live your story: Know what you are talking about. Write it, feel it and chew it. If you are really living your story, people will feel it. When you master your content, you feel a lot more free on stage, because it gives a flexibility in sharing.
Shape your story: OK, you have a brilliant subject. The next step is to find ways to bring this subject across. Think of the very boring teacher and the most inspiring one you had. The same content, but a very different approach to delivering the story. As a filmmaker, I always try to make a movie out of a speech. If you just sum up the facts, it will be a very boring film. You need urgency, suspense, unexpected angles, useful metaphors and of course a voice-over telling the story.
Rehearse your story: Practice it in several ways and test it on an honest audience. But also alone: Loudly in your living room or even in a car, but also in your mind. Visualize your story. See yourself presenting from a birds-eye view, but also for your own eyes. Visualization is a very good way of memorizing your content, but also if you can’t make it a success in your mind, how on earth will this be possible in real life? You have to be convinced, before you can convince an audience.
Q: Jerry Seinfeld once joked that public speaking is the number 1 fear of most people, with the number 2 biggest fear being death. Meaning that, at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. Do you have any special tips for people who, like me, are terrified of public speaking?
It’s funny, the ‘fact’ that most people put fear of speaking before fear of dying now seems almost part of our collective conscience. But did you know it’s a misquoted study? The source is ‘The Book of Lists’ by David Wallechinksy in 1977. A team of market researchers asked 3,000 Americans “What are you most afraid of”. A list was then made of the answers, randomly. “Speaking before a group” just happened to be in first place, behind “Heights”, “Insects and Bugs” and “Death” at number 7. And so a myth was born.
However, it’s still there on the list. What can be done? Prepare. Prepare. Prepare! If you know what you are going to say, how you are going to say it and you know it inside out/upside down, then that’s half the battle. You will be confident by knowing you know it. Then, in the preceding few minutes before going on stage find some space to be alone and breath deeply. Right from the stomach. It has an amazing calming effect. Running your wrists under cold water for a minute or so helps with the sweaty palms and palpitations.
It’s true! I don’t know many speakers who are not afraid of it. The only difference between an experienced speaker and a beginner is how they cope with the stress. Once a speaker said to me: “If I don’t have wet and sweaty hands, I will be worried!” So maybe that is an interesting thought to start with: Everybody is afraid! There are ways to loosen the tension before you go on stage. But what is most effective in this case is to already have successful and positive experiences. What is the biggest chance to provoke one? Three things.
1. Feel confident about your preparations, know what you are talking about, rehearse.
2. Since the mind doesn’t know the difference between real events and imaginary events, visualize your speech. This is a very standard trick in sports psychology to maximize performance. Do this every day in a very positive way for 5 minutes.
3. Discover what you are thinking about yourself. What are you saying to yourself that causes the stress? For example, I know a lot of people who say: ‘Who I am to speak in front of this audience?’ You probably can imagine that this is not a really helpful thought! If you are getting queasy about what you are thinking to yourself, you probably need to change these ‘mantras’ into positive thoughts.
Q: Who is your favorite TED speaker, and why?
My favourite talk on TED.com at the moment is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Your elusive creative genius”. It’s smart, personal, funny. The way she uses language is beautiful and thought-provoking.
As for sitting in the audience at TEDxAmsterdam, I cannot give you my favourites. A TEDx day is the sum of all its parts. It’s the whole package that makes it so magical.
A short time ago I watched Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk. As I’m fascinated by the subject of body language, I am always interested in new insights on this subject. This is a perfect example of a brilliant TEDTalk; she shares her vision clearly and simply and gives practical advice on what you can you to improve your body language on a daily basis. Finally, she shares her personal story so that the audience understands why she is so passionate about her research on nonverbal communication. After seeing the talk, I noticed that I thought about my own body postures and how to change them. A good speech is not only a nice story — it really changes your perspective. A good story prompts you to think differently and even more, compels you to act.
Q: Which speakers have you particularly enjoyed coaching?
Everyone is fascinating; with their own ‘idea worth spreading’. Where else would I meet a sign language guru, a Russian musical prodigy and member of the Dutch Paralympic basketball team all in the same week?!
Recently, I coached Katja Schuurman for TEDxAmsterdam and Lodewijk Asscher for TEDxAmsterdamED. Both professionals were so open to change and improvement. I think one of the reasons they are successful is because they don’t hesitate to ask for feedback. Both asked me several times what they could do better, even after so many performances. And that’s what I always notice with captains of industry, which is really inspiring to see. A lot of people don’t want to hear any feedback about their performance because it makes them feel so vulnerable. But I believe it is the only way to grow.
Training platform Great Communicators helps speakers optimize their performance and make their stories powerful. Triggered? On the 13th of December and the 8th of January Great Communicators organizes (Dutch) workshops on public speaking. Their 5 day public speaking training starts February 7th. Furthermore, you can connect with them for English and Dutch one-on-one coaching to help you with your presentation.
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