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Wake em up &

shake em up!
The Top 10 smart ways to grab & keep your audiences attention
By Richard Garnett
If Pimp My Ride started doing presentations, Richard would be
the guy they hired!!
Wake em up &
shake em up!
By Richard Garnett
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Imagine your last presentation was filmed and your audience were watching
online. How long do you think it would be before 50% of them clicked off?
10 seconds? A minute? 10 minutes?
This stuff matters.
It matters because every day, all over the world, over 30 million of us deliver
PowerPoint presentations.
Were desperate to engage, to make an impact, to be remembered.
Sometimes we do, sometimes we dont.
But Why we ask?
Why did this work and that didnt?
Whats right and whats wrong?
Its frustrating.
And then think of the audience.
Hundreds of millions of us sitting in rows.
Blank faces.
Desperate to at least stay awake.
Hungry for wisdom, insight, passion.
Desperate to be entertained, inspired, motivated.
Hoping against hope that our minds will be stretched and our spirits lifted.
But fearing the worst and often proved right.
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Hi, my name is Richard.
Im 53 years old, I live near London, i'm one of lhe founders of Iresenl.me and
for the first 14 years of my working life, I was a professional actor.
I count myself very fortunate that over those years I worked with some great
companies like The Royal Shakespeare Company and some very talented actors.
I experienced at first hand the sheer undiluted pleasure of pretending to be
someone else, putting on a funny voice and on occasion making a complete and
utter arse of myself
Whether it was film, TV or the stage, at its simplest the challenge was always the
same, grab the audiences attention and hold it.
Sometimes wed succeed, sometimes we wouldnt.
Sometimes theyd stay awake, sometimes they wouldnt.
I remember once being so bored by a production, I even fell asleep myself.
And I was on stage!
Over those 14 years though, as my career developed, and I went from playing
very small parts, to bigger parts, to leading parts in the West End and Broadway.
I began to understand what it is about the great actors that keep us on the edge
of our seats.
Yes, they often have great parts in great plays but theres something more.
Theres something in their performance.
So what might that secret be, and as presenters, can we learn it?
Im absolutely convinced we can and Ill talk more about that at the end of the
First of all though I want to look at the Top 10.
And thats because the Top 10 is about your content, what you say, while the
secret is about your performance, how you say it.
The content comes first, the performance second.
But hang on, you might say, you were an actor Richard. What do you know
about great content.. You didnt write your own plays, Shakespeare wrote them.
And anyway, a play isnt a presentation.
I agree, completely.
The fact is, I am not now a professional actor.
To cut a long story short, in the mid-1990s, I got fed up living out of a suitcase,
and I wanted to spend more time with my kids.
So I changed tack, and for the last 18 years, Ive been coaching a lot of people to
be better presenters.
When my clients present, it isnt just to entertain the audience, its to get a result.
I can remember many years ago, working with a guy who had 6 minutes to
persuade his audience to award him a contract worth $50 million a year.
Thats pressure.
Yes, his performance mattered, and as an actor I could help him with that, but so
did his content.
He had to grab his audiences attention, and hold it for every single second of
those six minutes.
He didnt.
He lost.
He was gutted, his company was gutted, and I was gutted.
The truth was, I had failed.
I had failed as his coach, because even though I had helped him with his
performance, I didnt know enough to help him with his content.
But as Samuel Beckett, the great playwright, once wrote, No matter, try again,
fail again, fail better.
So I tried again, I read, I experimented.
I failed better again, and again, and again.
And now my clients win far more than they lose.
And now its not just for tens of millions, often it can be for hundreds of millions.
So what Im going to share with you isnt just the theory, but the practice.
Its what works.
Its knowledge, hard won on the front line of the corporate battlefield.
My hope is that, whether youre in business, or education, or whatever it is you
want to communicate, what follows is useful. So first things first.
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The old theory is than an audience is attentive for the first 10 minutes, gradually
loses interest as we go on, and then perks up at the end.
Thats true.
Our world is changing very fast, and this is having a radical impact on our
ability to remain attentive.
We live in an age where what was 10 emails a day is now 100 or 200, or in the
case of some of my clients 300.
Famously, we are told there have been more words published in the last 2 years
than in all the other years of human history combined.
Our brains are increasingly overloaded with information, to the extent that we
are rapidly losing the ability to stop and think. The almost inevitable
consequence is that our attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter.
Face to face, I think that the 10 minute rule is now 5 minutes. Your audience
needs its attentive fix every 5 minutes or so, all the way through to the end.
As a rule of thumb for most speakers, I think TEDs limit of 18 minutes is a very
good modern maximum.
In the last 18 years I cant tell you how many conferences Ive been to, where
grown men and women spend hour after hour standing up and showing off in
front of each other, all in the name of business.
They call it presenting.
The world calls it death by PowerPoint.
I call it audience abuse.
The good news is its changing, and thats all because of technology.
More and more of our communication is online.
With 4G, the amount of video on mobile is expected, in the next 3 years, to grow
by a factor of 25.
Faster mobile, and faster broadband means faster downloads, and better quality.
Alongside that comes the explosion in online learning.
More students attended free online Harvard courses in 2013 than have ever paid
to attend Harvard since its foundation in 1636.
The classroom is flipping.
Where there is information to be passed on, more and more teachers are
recording it.
In the words of the old Martini ad, students can watch and learn any time, any
place, anywhere.
That, in turn, creates time and space in the classroom where learning can be
much more interactive and experiential.
Where education leads, business will follow...
But things will have to changea lot.
The facts are that, on average, 50% of an audience click off after watching just 1
minute of a YouTube video.
The best online lectures last not 1 hour but 10-15 minutes.
Business communication will have to adapt.
I think therell be fewer and fewer annual 45 minute keynote speeches, and more
and more monthly, or weekly, short video updates.
As tweets are constrained to 140 characters, maybe online presentations should
be constrained to 1 minute and 40 seconds?
For all of our sakes less has to be more.
But I digress.
You have a presentation.
You have a beginning, you have an end, and you have an in-between.
The in-between is hard.
Its where, if youre not careful, your audience will sleep.
You have to keep them awake!
The beginning and the end are easier.
They are naturally awake.
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If you could only get one of them right, which would you choose?
The beginning or the end?
And why?
Some years ago I remember reading a fascinating study.
Researchers analysed the experience in hospital of two groups of people.
Both groups had been in hospital for ten days, and their experiences were
markedly different.
Group A had enjoyed 9 good days in hospital but a bad 10th day.
Group B had the reverse experience, 9 bad days but a good 10th day.
Months later both groups were asked to reflect on their experiences of hospital,
and how much theyd enjoyed them.
Which group do you think had a more positive memory?
Group B.
So what do we learn?
Maybe we learn that beginnings matter, but endings matter more.
There is an old Portuguese saying, open with a silver key, close with a golden
Thats true for stories too, isnt it?
Think of your favourite films, or books, or plays.
Which do you remember more, the beginnings or the endings?
So whats the climax to your talk, and where have you placed it?
Beginnings matter, but endings matter more.
And maybe theres a lesson there for all of us.
How much time do you put into preparing your endings compared to your
If youre like most of those Ive worked with, the beginnings get much more
But they shouldnt.
So where have we come?
Weve seen how attention needs to be grabbed and re-grabbed all the way
Weve seen how, with the advance of technology, thats becoming harder and
And weve seen, lastly, how important it is to end stronger than you begin.
But how?
What are the tricks, the tips and the techniques?
Whats the Top 10?
Before I tell you, let me share with you two important ideas, which I believe to be
profoundly true.
Firstly, communication is less like an algorithm and more like jazz.
There is no right; there is no wrong - only the fun of trying, failing, failing again,
and failing better.
Because in failing better, year after year, youll learn how to succeed.
Youll learn what works for you and, more importantly, what works for your
Secondly, I firmly believe that, as the great mathematician George Box once said,
All models are wrong, though some are useful.
This isnt an exclusive Top 10, its just mine.
You can use them at the beginning, at the end, and at every point in between.
You can use one, or all, or none.
Even better, you can find your own and let me know.
Please do, Id be really interested.
I never want to stop learning, and I hope you feel the same.
So with all that in mind here goes
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Sometime ago, in a presentation, a client of mine showed two short video clips.
They were from the Soccer World Cup.
The first, showed the French national team as underdogs beating the favourites,
Brazil, in the 1998 final.
The second was from the 2002 finals when France was, very surprisingly,
knocked out in the first round.
In 1998, they were a team, fighting for each other against all the odds.
In 2002, they were 11 individuals. Overconfident, and resting on their laurels.
He showed those clips because his work team was in danger of making the same
He wanted to warn them.
The clips made the point.
Let me explain.
As humans, we all learn by association.
Our brains are hard wired to understand the world around us through our
Of those senses, the most important is sight. The experts tell us that it accounts
for about 80% of our perception. Its no accident that we talk about the minds
eye, and we say to each other oh I see what you mean.
If I can see an idea in picture form, it is quicker and easier for the brain to
understand it than if that is explained in abstract language that generates no
For example, which do you find easier to understand?
Im talking about looking for a small object, in a large context, over a
considerable period of time with a high probability of failure.
Its like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Metaphors help us to understand ideas much quicker than lengthy explanations.
Instead of having to process the meaning of all those big long words we simply
see the contrasting pictures of the needle and the haystack.
Almost instantly we get the meaning.
In changing one of the pictures we change the contrast and so change the
For example in China they say
Its like looking for a needle in the ocean
Now that really would be hard to find.
Here are some other great metaphors from a book called, I never metaphor I
didnt like by Dr. Mardy Grothe:
Giving money and power to government, is like giving whisky and car keys to
teenage boys. - P.J. ORourke
A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly
strangled. Sir Barnett Cocks
Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke. Lynda Barry
It goes without saying, of course, that the impact of your metaphor depends on
how easily your audience can relate to it. Dont show French soccer clips to an
audience that arent into sport!
In the last few years, there have been some very interesting studies suggesting
that when metaphors are placed at the beginning of a talk, their impact is
Also, and this is just my observation, the power of using a great metaphor in a
presentation is heightened when it is followed immediately by real life examples.
In the case of the French soccer team, the audience needed to hear from my client
specific and concrete examples of when, where, and how they had acted as a
team, and then as individuals.
If the metaphor is the nail, then real life examples are the blows that hammer it
home-to use a metaphor!
So what are the big ideas that you need to get across, and how can you use
metaphors to do that better?
By the way, if youre struggling to come up with some great metaphors dont
beat yourself up.
The bit of your brain thats responsible isnt, Im afraid, immediately obedient to
your commands.
It sits in the subconscious.
For you to really fire it up, your mind needs to be able to wander.
So dont be surprised if the best ideas come when youre going for a walk,
having a shower, or even going to the loo.
They just might.
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. -
Nelson Mandela
Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum. - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Marriage is very difficult. Its like a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, which is all sky-
Cathy Ladman
If youre interested to find out more, check out James Gearys fascinating TED
talk, metaphorically speaking:
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From our earliest years, were all addicted to stories.
When was the last time you heard a child at bedtime saying, Mummy! Daddy!
Please read me some PowerPoint slides!
When we meet and get to know each other we dont swap facts (age, height,
inside leg etc), we swap stories.
Mutually disclosing stories.
Your turn, my turn, your turn, my turn
When we have free time we dont, voluntarily, go to many presentations.
We go to movies, or read books, or go to plays, or watch TV or sport.
When you share your ideas in story form its what your audience is used to,
addicted to, and attentive to. Theyre hooked.
Whether you believe in him or not, Jesus was a great communicator.
He could have written a very big book of theology, but he didnt.
He told stories, and 2000 years later we still remember those stories and the
points they make.
The Prodigal Son (God loves us all)
The Good Samaritan (We should love and serve others, especially the
Richard Stearns runs a charity called World Vision.
It helps alleviate poverty all over the world.
What makes Rich such a great communicator is that he doesnt just explain what
World Vision does, he tells stories.
Its the stories that make the impact, and keep our attention
Its the stories that help us to see the difference that World Vision can make.
Heres one:
Margaret is a young wife and mother in Uganda. When she was pregnant and
working in the garden one day with her neighbours, the LRA (a rebel army)
attacked the women, murdering everyone but Margaret. It was bad luck to kill a
pregnant woman, so they mutilated her instead: they cut off her ears, nose, and
lips and left her to die. Somehow she survived.
Horribly disfigured, Margaret lived and gave birth to her son, James, a few
months after. Then, abandoned by her husband, she and her son went to live at
World Visions rehabilitation centre in Gulu, also a place where, amongst others,
the child soldiers who had escaped from the LRA went to be healed. Several
months later a new batch of LRA soldiers arrived for rehabilitation. One of them
was the young man who had given the order to mutilate Margaret.
When she saw him, Margaret became hysterical with fear, anger, and hatred.
The end.
Or not.
Some years ago I remember recording a film called The Perfect Storm with
George Clooney.
I must have got my timings wrong because the recording cut out with 10 minutes
to go.
I can still remember my anger and frustration.
I wanted to know what happened but I couldnt.
As humans, we demand endings, satisfying endings.
Until we get them, were frustrated or, to put it another way, attentive.
Thats why a journalist will often start their piece with a story, but only complete
it at the end.
What about Margarets story?
Well heres what happened.
After weeks of counselling and prayer the young soldier was ready to ask
forgiveness, and Margaret, after much of the same, was finally ready to forgive.
On that day a photo was taken. It is a photo of Margaret and the man who
maimed her. He is holding little James in his arms, and she is smiling. She is
smiling without lips.
The story is, I believe, much more powerful in communicating World Visions
work in Northern Uganda than any long winded theoretical explanation.
Tom Peters, the great management Guru said If you want to accelerate change,
find the stories of where its happening and tell them.
So what do you want people to do differently as a result of your presentation?
Whatever it is, dont just explain the change you expect, tell the stories of where
its already happening.
If its a sales presentation, dont just theoretically explain how you can help
clients; tell your stand-out story of where and when youve done it already.
In interviews too, dont just explain how you can lead a team, tell the stories of
where youve done it.
For a classic and much viewed example of the power of stories, watch, or re-
watch Steve Jobs commencement speech to the graduates of Stanford in 2005.
Stanford University
Notice how the entire speech is composed of just three stories.
I think your attention will be grabbed and held.
I suspect you might also be inspired.
In the context of business heres an absolutely beautiful example of Google using
one story to communicate the multiple benefits of their products.
What Google understand so well is the power of stories to by-pass the rational
The story is like the Trojan Horse.
Its attractive, we want it, so we open the gates of our brain to let it in.
In so doing the story changes the way we think subconsciously (in this case
about the company and its products) and we are powerless to resist.
We cant argue with the story, we can only receive it.
Or maybe Im the only one whos a sucker for great stories?
Google India
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I can remember once sitting in an audience while a leader highlighted the
increasing levels of gossip and back biting in the organisation.
We were each given a very small mirror tile in the middle of the talk.
The leader continued
Before you point out other peoples faults, have a look in the mirror and
consider your own.
Our attention was grabbed, and our conscience pricked.
The deal was sealed.
Human beings are both sensual and inquisitive.
Give us an object to touch, to hold, to consider, and we will.
Ive just been working with a company that makes the fastest racing swimwear
in the world.
During one presentation, the head of R&D showed the new suit that would be
used at the next Olympics.
He didnt just put up some slides and explain the technology, he passed the suit
The buzz in the room was amazing.
Sitting at the back, it was fascinating to see the difference that a prop could
make to the audiences experience.
If its not practical to give an audience a prop to touch and feel then just showing
an object can be enough to engage our visual sense, and grab our attention.
We are interested and we want to know the story.
In 2008 the neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor experienced a stroke. As she tells her
story at TED 2008, she does so holding an actual brain, replete with spinal cords.
Its amazing.
Here are some other great examples:
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Imagine holding a small cactus and stroking it.
Imagine taking an ice cube out of the freezer and licking it.
Imagine looking up on a summers day, pulling off your shades and staring
straight at the sun.
Imagine sitting outside on a Sunday smelling your neighbours barbeque.
Imagine lying on a beach early in the morning, your eyes closed, listening to the
lapping of the waves.
As humans, our brains find it very easy to imagine.
Sometimes the worst, sometimes the best, a lot in between.
As speakers thats important to know.
If we ask our audience to imagine something, they will easily
as long as we are vivid enough in our description.
Theres a big difference between
Imagine building better relationships with our clients, and increasing our
Imagine coming to work every morning for the next month and doing
something different. Instead of checking your emails and starting on the to-do-
list, imagine grabbing a coffee and spending half an hour phoning your clients.
Just to say Hi. To reconnect. To listen. To understand how are they are. Whats
changed? What theyre worried about? Imagine doing that for the next three
months. Imagine how much better those relationships would be. Imagine how
those relationships would grow, how many more leads you might get, how
many more sales you might make.
The general rule is, the more details we add, the easier it is for our audience to
imagine, the more theyll be attentive, and the more theyll get the point.
And lets remember too, the power of imagination works both ways.
We can invite our audience to imagine something awful, and be repelled
or something wonderful, and be inspired.
On August the 28
1963, Martin Luther King Jr. did just that in probably the most
famous speech of the twentieth century.
Notice, in particular, the last six minutes when, interestingly, he comes off script
and paints an extraordinary and vivid picture of the future as he dreams it.
Estate of Martin Luther King Jnr
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In 2007 I was doing what I love to do, wandering around a bookshop, browsing.
I came across the book Freakanomics by Dubner & Levitt.
On the back was a series of questions, and one of them caught my attention.
Why do drug dealers still live with their mothers?
It intrigued me.
I tried to put the book down, but I couldnt.
I had to find the answer.
I bought the book.
As humans, we are hard wired to find answers.
We want to make sense of the world around us.
Every leap forward that we have ever made as a species is rooted in those men
and women who have invested time, energy and money in trying to find the best
answers to the biggest questions.
The mantra of Peter Drucker, the hugely influential 20th century thinker and
writer, was Are you asking the right questions? And that is so true for
So what questions could you ask in your next talk?
It may sound a bit obvious but every question should, from the audiences point
of view, be intriguing, relevant and engaging.
So, for example, even though we dont know each other, what do you think
when I ask you the following
When you think of how much money you have, what worries you right now?
Who was your favourite grandparent, and why?
Who do you think should lead your country?
My guess is that at least one of those grabbed your attention, and engaged you.
The dangers of course, are questions that have the opposite characteristics.
Dull, pointless, and easy to answer.
Ill leave you to think of some examples.
Something else thats worth mentioning is that you dont have to give them the
answer straight away.
In Lord of the Rings, when Frodo begins his journey to Middle Earth, we ask
ourselves the question, Will he succeed?
Part of the thrill of the films, if you like them, is having to wait nearly 11 hours
for the answer.
A client was once delivering a presentation on the brewing industry.
He began by asking his audience what they thought was the biggest selling beer
in the world.
He invited answers and took a straw poll.
He then told them the answer.
But was that right?
Maybe he should have left the answer till the end.
Maybe the impact would have been greater.
As a speaker, could you ask us a question, and then wait
before giving us the answer.
By the way, the gap between the two has a name.
Its called suspense.
The golden rule is this
the longer the suspense in the question
the greater the pleasure in the answer.
If you want an answer to the beer question by the way, then follow this link:
Huffington Post
If you want to know the answer to the economics question, then check out
Levetts TED talk:

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Imagine if I showed you an old class photo of yours from when you were at
but you cant remember exactly where you are in the photo.
Whose face do you look for first?
I suspect, if you are like most people, its your own.
The truth is, as humans, we find ourselves infinitely more interesting than
anyone else.
Its why we invented mirrors.
And when we look in those mirrors, most of us like what we see.
In a 2010 study from UCLA, of the 26,000 people surveyed, and asked to rate
their attractiveness from 1 to 10, most scored themselves between 6 and 7.
On the whole, we like ourselves, and we like the tribes we belong to.
Were protective too.
How do you instinctively feel when someone on the outside criticises your
family, or church, or company, or country?
So how can a speaker from outside the tribe be accepted?
How can the stranger be liked?
Guy Kawasaki is a great speaker.
One of the things that makes him great is the preparation he puts in.
Wherever hes speaking in the world, hell make the effort to arrive a day or two
early, wonder around, and take some photos.
Those photos will feature right at the beginning of his presentation.
Its his way of moving inside the circle.
Its his way of saying, Im one of you.
If hes speaking in London, for example, the photos, and what he says about
them, will be saying, in a nutshell
Youre Londoners, you like London.
Im a visitor, but Im like you.
I like London too, and here are the photos to prove it.
In the same way, even though Im a Brit, if I was going to speak in New York
City, I might start off by referring to my time there as an actor and how
significant and life changing it was for me.
So the next time youre faced with an audience of strangers, what can you
disclose that will move you inside their circle?
What do you have in common that you can share?
Personal disclosure can work very well on the surface, for example, a new CEO
doing the first presentation to his sales team, and disclosing how his first job was
in sales.
It can also work brilliantly at a much deeper level.
As human beings, were hard wired to copy each other.
Its how we learn to walk, smile, and throw a ball.
As a speaker, when you open yourself up deeply we too become more open.
We feel more connected to you, and were more open to what you have to say.
But you have to be brave.
It has to be authentic, truthful and relevant.
And it has to be appropriate.
The right amount of disclosure, to the right audience, at the right time, in the
right place.
I learned that the hard way.
Another fail again.
Im embarrassed now even thinking of it.
Many years ago, I was working with the global chairman of one of the biggest
companies in the world.
It was 2001, and the economy was not doing well.
The dot com boom had become a dot com bust.
The company was suffering, the people were scared, and he was exhausted.
In a speech to his leadership team, I advised him to disclose that exhaustion.
I thought it would build the rapport with his audience.
It was exactly the wrong advice.
They knew him already.
He didnt need to connect.
What he needed to do, was put on the brave face.
He needed to be upbeat, optimistic, and energised.
To have a plan and get them working on it.
The lesson I learned has stayed with me ever since, use vulnerability with care.
Its the audience that matters.
To one audience, vulnerability might be hugely positive, and build connection.
To another audience, it might be both depressing, and damaging.
Who knows?
Well you do actually.
Or if you dont, you should certainly give it some very serious thought, because
it could well prove to be the difference between triumph and disaster.
As I march, or at least stagger, into my 50s, all I can tell you is that something
very strange is happening.
On the one hand, I have never felt more confident and secure in my ability to do
what I do well.
On the other hand, I seem to be less and less inclined to shout it from the
rooftops, and pretend that everything I do is perfect.
Because, of course, the truth is, it isnt.
Perhaps, at very long last, Im becoming comfortable with the notion that were
all making it up as we go along.
That having come far, isnt the same thing as arriving.
That theres still a long way to go.
And maybe, although I cant be sure, its that realisation, and my willingness to
share it openly, that allows me to connect with my clients in a much closer way.
Heres the best explanation Ive ever seen as to why that might be the case:

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When you think about your life right now (your relationships, your health, your
work) how do you feel?
On a score from plus to minus 10, how would you rate your happiness?
And who else knows?
How many people do you have in your life that know you really know you?
That you feel able to share with deeply?
That understand you deeply?
That dont interrupt, or advise, or judge, but listen deeply?
The gift these people offer you is the gift of empathy.
Its the ability to see your world and feel your world, the way you feel it and see
Its a precious gift.
And its a rare gift.
The sad truth is, we spend most of our lives living amongst strangers.
Other people dont really understand us, and we dont really understand them.
Were like an island in a sea of islands.
Lost, alone, misunderstood except by the few, the very few.
How precious they are.
So imagine an audience where emotions are running high.
Maybe anger, or fear, or hurt.
Imagine opening with empathy.
Giving a voice to how they feel.
Recognising the depth of it.
Playing it back.
What might that do to the atmosphere in the room?
What might that do to the connection between you?
What might that do to their willingness to hear your side of the story?
In the right situation, I know nothing as powerful as empathy to grab, and hold,
an audiences attention.
Because, for so many of us, for so much of the time, in our families, our schools,
our churches, our communities, and our work places, were so starved of it.
So be encouraged, please.
Where can you empathise?
It doesnt mean you stop there.
You can move on to confront, or console, or argue.
But empathy is a great place to start.
Heres a story by Jo Berry who, after the IRA killed her father, drew on her
empathy to help further the peace process:

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We discovered in #4 that if you know your audience is feeling something very
strongly, empathy is a great way to start.
Particularly if those feelings are negative.
But what if your audience isnt feeling anything?
What if the real challenge isnt to dissipate the heat in the room, but to generate
What if the real challenge is to wake them up?
What then?
Do you remember earlier when I asked you to imagine looking at an old class
And we learned that whats most interesting to me is me!
Well theres more
The truth is, metaphorically speaking, every single one of us wants to escape
hell, and enter heaven.
We live much of our lives attempting to move from one to the other, as fast as we
The trouble is, we all have different definitions.
Of heaven and hell.
If Im a believing Christian, hell is hell, and heaven is heaven.
Catholics, and Protestants might disagree about the details, but the principle
If Im a trader in a bank, it might be different.
My definitions might change.
Hell might be ending the year with no bonus
Heaven might be earning a bonus more than any of my colleagues.
If Im a teenager it might different again.
Hell might be living at home, and revising for my exams.
Heaven might be a summer trip, with friends, to a Greek island, with copious
amounts of alcohol and sex.
Were all different, but in one way were all exactly the same.
We are all, to some degree, motivated by fear and greed.
The fear of hell, and the greed for heaven.
When a speaker addresses our heaven and hell, what they say becomes relevant
to us.
Its interesting.
It grabs our attention.
Its what we call insight and its very, very different from the information that
most talks deliver.
When you remember most of the talks youve ever heard, what percentage of
everything youve heard would you call insightful.
Of course you cant possibly be exact but I ask this question a lot, and the
standard answer I get is about 15%.
Thats a deeply depressing thought.
Apparently, the vast majority of content we listen to is not relevant to us.
So presumably, its irrelevant.
Its just information, or noise, or blah blah blah.
Its the curse of a lot of our communication.
So what does all this mean for you, the speaker?
Well it raises some questions, doesnt it?
Who is your audience?
What do they want?
What are their heaven and hells?
What are you saying thats relevant?
What are you saying thats insightful?
Over the years, Ive coached many, many corporate teams that were pitching for
The great teams do this
They relentlessly ask the question, Why should our audience care about this
They put themselves in the audiences shoes.
They understand the greatest fear.
They understand the greatest need.
They recognise them in the opening.
They address them in the pitch.
What works for teams works too for individuals.
Imagine attending a presentation by a personal trainer.
In this talk, Im going to show you how, with just 3 minutes of exercise a week,
you can get fit, save yourself hours in the gym and live a lot longer.
You might feel hopeful, sceptical, excited, or angry but my guess is, you
wouldnt be asleep.
At least youd be attentive
for a while. By the way, if youre intrigued click here:
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A friend of mine, Simon was giving a talk on creativity.
Halfway through, he gave everyone a paper clip, and asked them, in one minute,
to make something new.
He then invited people to come to the front and explain their creations.
The results were remarkable.
In those moments, his audience moved from observing to participating.
The truth is, when we're asked to do something new or different, we have to be
It's how we're wired.
And good speakers know that.
Which is why they ask.
"Who agrees? Put your hands up."
"Write down the name of the one person that you want to know better over the
next 12 months."
"Subtract 118 from 247 in your head."
"Text 'love you' to someone right now."
"Turn to the person next to you and tell them about your worst holiday."
"Take a minute to stand up and stretch."
"Think of three things you'll change as a result of what I've said."
"Take out your wallet, and hand it to the person next to you."
The list is endless and, as long as it's appropriate and not over used, its pretty
much a guaranteed attention grabber.
If you don't feel you can ask, or if you're feeling nervous, please understand
The speaker has power extraordinary power.
When all are sitting, and one is standing, thats an amazing position of authority.
To see just how far one person can push it, have a look at this clip of musician
Bobby McFerrin:
By the way, its worth noting that activity shouldnt just be in your talk, it should
be after your talk too.
You see, the written word and the spoken word are very different.
The written word is great for communication information, but lousy for inspiring
The spoken word is lousy for communicating information, but great for inspiring
So next time you prepare a talk, please give yourself at least a little time to
consider your answer to these questions:
How do I want my audience to think differently?
How do I want my audience to feel differently?
And most important of all.
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Tony Campolo, a sociologist and preacher, started one of his talks like this:
I have three things Id like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last
night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second,
most of you dont give a shit. And third, whats worse is that youre more upset
with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.
Its shocking, true, appropriate, and I love it.
The truth is, the human brain is, at a subconscious level, constantly on the
lookout for anything that might be perceived as a threat.
Surprises are potential threats.
We pay attention, immediately.
Imagine sitting in an audience and the speaker, instead of appearing on the
stage, starts talking behind you.
Anything the audience is not expecting is a surprise.
Often these are what an audience will most remember.
Nancy Duarte calls them STAR moments:
Something They will Always Remember.
In the 13th Century, St. Francis of Assisi preached naked.
Steve Ballmer, the ex-CEO of Microsoft didnt, but he did have his own STAR
moment for which we are all eternally grateful.
On a somewhat more serious note, his boss, Bill Gates, had his star moment in a
TED talk in 2009. Its also a great example of how to use a prop brilliantly.
As with all of these top 10, there is a fine line between wow, and yugh.
Maybe you think that Gates was wow, and Ballmer was yugh.
Im not so sure.
A client of mine was in the audience at the Ballmer event.
It was the height of the dot-com boom.
The audience was full of Microsoft distributors, many of them had recently
become millionaires, and multi-millionaires, almost overnight.
Ballmers entrance was surprising, but you could argue that he judged it
absolutely right, and the fact remains that within seconds the whole auditorium
was on its feet, screaming with him.
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So there you have it.
My favourite 10 ways to grab an audience from the edge of slumber, and compel
their attention.
Each and every one of them guaranteed to work, but only
at the right time, in the right place, to the right audience.
So how will you know?
There is only one way.
By trying, failing, failing again, failing better.
Because then youll succeed.
And if you say, Thats too hard, thats too risky, then think of the upside.
Imagine being able to captivate, and persuade, and inspire.
As this man did on April 3rd 1968, in his last recorded speech.
Estate of Martin Luther King Jnr
Yes his words were majestic and his oratory, uplifting.
But there is something more.
In the beginning of this book, I referred to the secret.
While his content is inspirational, the secret is in his performance.
The great actors have it, the great speakers have it, and the good news is, it
can be learned.
By anyone.
But not by reading a book.
Imagine expecting a book to teach you how to ski, or drive, or sing.
Thats why were sharing what we teach on video, so you can see and do, not
read and do.
If youre interested to know more, click here:
I said earlier on that endings were more important than beginnings.
To that end, let me leave you on a high.
As Im sure youve noticed by now, I love TED.
TED is revolutionising our ability to celebrate and appreciate the power of the
spoken word, and long may it continue.
Let me close by sharing with you my absolute favourite TED talk:
At TED 2006, Sir Ken Robinson asked the question, Are schools killing
creativity?. Since then, 21 million of us have watched his answer. If you havent
seen it before, youre in for a treat.
If you have, do watch it again, but this time notice.
Notice how many of the Top 10s he uses; notice that you dont have to have to
vocal power of a Dr King to inspire; and finally notice his mastery of surprise.
It may or may not have escaped your attention, but I havent mentioned humour
in this book.
And thats for a very deliberate reason.
Its dangerous.
Whats funny to you may not be to your audience.
Whats humorous in one country might be offensive in another.
But when it works and works well its wonderful.
As I read once, the shortest distance between two human brains is the sound of
Its so true.
If you can generate laughter you can build rapport.
So if you can make people laugh, great. You probably know how to do it already.
Go for it.
Humour is a very powerful weapon in the speakers armoury.
And a lot of the reason for that has to do with surprise.
Much of the time, laughter is the sound that we make when we are delightfully
We are expecting one thing, but the speaker says another.
So watch Kens talk, and notice how many times that happens.
Its a lot.
Hes a master.
Before I finish let me encourage you.
I don't believe Sir Ken is a great public speaker because he was born that way.
Yes, I'm sure hes talented but I'm also equally sure he's worked at it.
A lot.
He's been speaking in public since the 1970's.
If it takes, as they say, 10,000 hours to become an expert then he's put in those
He's "tried, failed, failed again and failed better."
Through trial and error he's worked out what works and what doesn't work.
He's found "his voice".
And so can we.
Each and every one of us.
If we're prepared to learn and graft and be brave.
To prove the point let me share with you a fascinating story from the late 1980's
about another communicator.
He's an American actor.
A Hollywood legend whose name you would all recognise.
At the time he was at the absolute height of his powers.
He'd been nominated for six 'Best actor' Oscars and won two.
He could have his pick of any film he wanted.
For any money.
But he didn't want to do a film.
He wanted to do a play.
For no (or very little) money.
And not just any old play either.
A Shakespeare play.
From an actors point of view pretty much the hardest.
He'd never before acted in Shakespeare!
And he didn't want to do the play in New York, in an American accent
surrounded by American actors.
He wanted to do it in London, in a British accent surrounded by British actors.
It was a huge risk.
Imagine Usain Bolt choosing, at the next Olympics, to change from the 100m
sprint to the 100m freestyle swimming and you can begin to get the idea.
But why?
Why would he want to?
Well, as he said at the time "It was absolutely the hardest thing I could think of
A global superstar putting his reputation on the line for no money and the
possibility of ridicule just so that he could 'grow' as an actor.
As a young actor at the time, I was inspired.
I was inspired by the story and I was inspired by what happened next.
And I know what happened next because I was actually there.
By some miracle I'd been asked to play his 'son-in-law'.
When I wasn't rehearsing I would watch him.
Day in day out.
As he 'tried, failed, failed again and failed better.'
Because that's exactly what happened.
Most actors will develop their performance during rehearsals.
Thats when theyll be at their most creative.
Once the play has 'opened' to the public the performance won't tend to alter
This man didn't work like that though.
Yes, he experimented before we opened but he also carried on after.
Live, on stage, in front of an audience that had bought their tickets, often just to
see him.
To see whether he would succeed or fail.
The tightrope couldnt have been higher.
Every single performance he would try something new.
Most times it wouldn't work and he'd come off-stage frustrated.
But sometimes it would.
A moment here, a reaction there.
A look, an emphasis, a gesture.
He'd ditch what didn't work and keep what did.
He would ask advice not just from the Director, but from other actors too.
He created an atmosphere where anybody, no matter what his or her 'rank' in the
company, could give him, the star, feedback.
(By the way how many businesses or schools do you know where thats the
He was in his 50s and I was not yet 30.
I remember giving him feedback which, in retrospect was not only wrong but
probably also somewhat arrogant and rude.
But he listened, with good grace and not a little humility.
Here was a man who wanted to be the absolute best that he could be and was
prepared to overcome any and every obstacle in his way.
Every single night he was nervous.
Often horribly so.
In the half hour before every performance he'd go to the toileta lot.
But he conquered those nervesand still went on stage.
Slowly, night after night after night his performance grew.
When we started rehearsals he was, in my humble opinion, ok.
When we opened, three months later in London's West End he was good.
By the time we moved the production to Broadway he was very good.
A year later when the play closed he was great.
And I don't use that word lightly.
I can still remember squatting by the side of the stage, on that final night,
watching one of the world's greatest actors delivering one of the greatest
performances I'd ever seen in one of Shakespeares great scenes.
To anyone who was there it was a 'gift' never to be forgotten.
And all because he had dared to take the risk.
All because he had dared to
"Try, fail, fail again and fail better."
So let me leave you with some words written over a hundred years ago that
encapsulate what I think it means to achieve greatness whether in
communication or in any other field of endeavour.
Whatever you do and wherever you are on the journey I hope this encourages
It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man
stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit
belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust
and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and
again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends
himself in a worthy cause; Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of
high achievement; and who, at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so
that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither
victory nor defeat.
President Theodore Roosevelt
Speech at the Sorbonne
April 23, 1910
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