I’ve always taken the attitude that you’re never too smart to learn or too good to improve. So even though I get paid handsomely as a professional speaker, there’s always room to become better. And at a recent Master Class with top professional speaker Michael Port, I picked up three excellent speaking tips when he critiqued my performance.
Michael was a guest on my podcast (Read the show notes/listen to it here) and I was looking forward to meeting him in person at the Social Media Marketing World Conference where he was a featured speaker.
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His session was structured as a Master Class where audience members would take turns going up on stage, deliver part of their speech, then get critiqued by Michael and audience members. There must have been several hundred people in the room.
The first speaker to get critiqued was a non-professional speaker.
This woman told a story about visiting the doctor with her husband as they learned he had testicular cancer. Now, that might sound depressing, but she told the story in a very humorous way with a strong takeaway message. Her husband is healthy now and goes by the nickname, “one nut Chuck.” She had the audience in stitches (no pun intended).
Next up, he wanted a professional speaker. I raised my hand and next thing I know, I’m up on stage.
Michael and I had a chance to connect at the conference before his session so we made some friendly banter as I stood in front of the audience and prepared to perform.
I reached back to my grad school days and began telling a story about the importance of having the right “why” for the big things you do in life.
After about 2 minutes of speaking, Michael jumps in. “Stop.” It’s time to get my critique.
First Lesson – Get to the Point Quicker
Michael asked me if I could tell the setup to my story in half the time. “Sure,” I said. “Great, now cut some of that exposition and get to the heart of your story quicker,” he said.
He steps aside and I give take two of my story. A couple minutes later, “cut.” Here comes the next critique.
Second Lesson – Make strong transitions
The story I was telling has three characters—me, a fellow student named Ross, and our accounting professor. I start the story talking about Ross then I transition into talking about the professor before coming back to me.
Michael said I needed to make a stronger and clearer transition when I move from one character to the next. “Make it clearer to the audience you’re making a character change by changing voice patterns, mannerisms, and gestures,” he said.
Got it. Now it’s time for take three.
Third Lesson – Pay close attention to blocking
Blocking simply means choreographing your moves on stage so you know exactly where you want to be positioned—and looking—at each point throughout your performance.
As I gave my performances that day, I had good movement on stage but Michael said I needed to be even more intentional and solid in my landing when I make a key point in my story. For example, when I make an emotional point, I need to make sure I’m positioned exactly where I want to be on the stage and my body is facing the audience in the way I want to be facing for maximum impact.
Some Good Things
A great thing about Michael is he’s all about building you up. For example, when he asked the audience to give feedback to the performers, he said the audience can only give positive feedback. And no, this isn’t like “giving a trophy just for participating” type thing. The constructive feedback was reserved for Michael to give—and he gave it! This created a “safe space” where the performers on stage felt comfortable to “put themselves out there” without fear of being ridiculed.
So what did I do well in my performances that day? Here are a couple things.
First, I had good movement on stage. For example, I went into the audience to represent the professor handing out the mid-term exams then went back up on stage to show the professor writing five test scores on an imaginary chalk board.
Second, I made good eye contact with the audience. Rather than simply scanning the audience or “looking above their heads,” I made direct eye contact with people, completed a point or a phrase, then moved to the next person and connected again.
Never Stop Learning As A Professional Speaker
Doing the podcast with Michael and participating in his Master Class reinforced the idea that you can never stop practicing your craft. No matter how good you are at what you do, you can always learn, you can always improve, and you can always make a bigger impact.
My challenge to each of you reading this is to make a renewed commitment to practice, to rehearse, to keep honing your craft, to bring back the love of learning and that desire to keep improving, By doing so, you’ll get reenergized with your work, you’ll do a better job for your clients, and you’ll go to sleep at night knowing you’re making a difference in people’s lives.
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