Your Audience is One

I was one of 300 TEDxWilmington fans who had come to see more than two dozen experts, scientists, adventurers, visionaries and survivors  share their “ideas worth spreading” with a crowd of enthusiastic, open minded individuals.

It was an inspiring lineup: a horse whisperer, a retired circus aerialist dangling upside down from the ceiling on a strand of white silk, a scientist with a new hope for humanity, a South African woman committed to saving the critically endangered white lions, and a Swedish female entrepreneur who had weathered life’s storms to launch a successful tech company.

I’m sure what the speakers saw as they gazed into the dimly lit, cavernous space before them was a mob of blurred faces, the open space punctuated by the sound of the occasional muffled cough. It was quite a different experience from weeks of rehearsals in a brightly lit dining room when no one but the dog was watching.

Waiting backstage to go on, several speakers were nearly paralyzed by fear and self doubt. The clipping on of their microphone by a stagehand was tantamount to being wired up for execution.

What they didn’t realize was that the only person out there was me. Actually, 300 people who called themselves “me.”

Each storyteller spoke directly to me and me only, occasionally catching my eye and then moving their

gaze and body in a different direction, to speak directly to another me, sitting rows away across the chasm.

A young man from the British Virgin Islands told me in vivid detail what it was like to clutch his young child to his chest, quite willing to die to protect her, as a raging hurricane blew his house into vicious, flying bits. Another man described for me what it was like to row across the Atlantic Ocean and endure near starvation, near collisions with giant ships and 20-foot waves.

When the scientist left the stage to go and mingle, she was surrounded first by one me, and then another, each expressing their love and admiration for her idea worth spreading — that there was a medical breakthroughs that will change the face of medicine forever.

So, a message to those of you who have an idea worth spreading but who have fear about standing on the worldwide stage, try and remember: It’s just me and you out there. And I’m all yours.





5 Important Protocols for Speech Rehearsal

How many times have you rehearsed a speech by mumbling the words to yourself while flossing your teeth in front of the bathroom mirror?

There are many important steps when preparing for and delivering a good speech, whether you’re giving a 12-minute TEDx talk or a 60-minute keynote. The most critical part, however, is the way you rehearse.

Here are five stages of the rehearsal process that the big stage professional speakers use to prepare for keynotes:

Rehearse Out Loud — It’s a Speech!

When you’ve finished writing and polishing your script, put your pen down. Now it’s time to make your speech an audible and visual embodiment of your thoughts. No more “reading it to yourself.” Read it aloud every time you practice, even before it’s memorized. The words of your script are a whole lot different on the page than they are coming out of your mouth!

When you first start reading aloud, you’re going to discover awkward phrases and sentences that make you trip over your own tongue. Edit your script accordingly so that the words flow more naturally. You’ll also get a sense of which words to emphasize and where you should pause for maximum dramatic effect.

AND, muttering your words under your breath while you memorize and rehearse doesn’t count. If you feel self conscious by practicing out loud, don’t worry — you’ll get over it! I used to be embarrassed to rehearse in front of my dog.

Rehearse Standing Up

While you’re memorizing, stand up. Engage your whole body when you speak — your arms, your legs, how you get from one place to another on the stage. When you memorize standing up, your words and body movements become ingrained, like muscle memory.

The most exciting speeches are given away from the podium. As a great speaker, you are a performer who connects with the audience body and soul — without dependence on Powerpoint slides and physical barriers.

Rehearse in Front of a Video Camera

When/if you rehearse in the front of a mirror, you’re not seeing what you actually look like to others. Your reflection is what you see. Moreover, you’re more uptight in front of your own reflection because rather than feel what’s going on with your face, you’re posing to please yourself and then judging the way you look.

Try rehearsing in front of a video or computer camera instead. You’ll get a chance to see yourself as your audience will see you. You’ll notice any unconscious quirks you have (we all got ’em), what your face is saying, how you’re moving your body, and opportunities for saying things differently or how you can move your body to display more confidence.

Rehearse for Many Hours

If you’ve spoken before, you’ve learned that limiting yourself to a couple of quick rehearsal sessions before your presentation is a terrible thing to do for yourself. Typically, your lack of preparation is obvious to the audience and often shows up in the comments of audience evaluation forms. I winged it for years, and noticed I was getting comments like, “Too much rambling,” and, “Ran out of time.”

The more you prepare, the better your speech will be. And the more you speak, the more highly skilled and entertaining you become. TEDx speakers often report having rehearsed 50 hours or more for a 10-minute talk. Professional public speakers rehearse every day. That’s true of any great skill, isn’t it?

Rehearse in Front of an Audience

You’ll never know how well your speech affects the audience until you have rehearsed in front of an audience. Before you give your “real” speech, do yourself a huge favor and perform it in front of live human beings. If you can, do this rehearsal in a space that’s close to the type of space you’ll be speaking in. When I’m in the final rehearsal sessions with my TEDx speaking clients, I actually put down a red, circular rug and we rehearse on a local stage. Of course, your living room is fine if that’s the best option.

I use a lot of humor in my speeches, so for me, it’s absolutely imperative to have a rehearsal audience to see if my jokes work and whether my content makes sense. It’s wonderful when your test audience laughs at your jokes and understands your material. It’s a drag when they don’t, but now you know what to fix or cut out.

I wrote a passage for a speech once that followed Professor Harold Hill’s cadence when he sang, “You got trouble, my friends, right here in River City,” from the classic musical, “The Music Man.” Everyone knows and loves “The Music Man,” right? After I performed it in rehearsal, several audience members asked me, “What’s the music man?” So I cut the bit.

If you can’t gather a large group of people to watch your rehearsal, consider having a speaking coach or speaker mentor be your audience — they will be objective and honest on your behalf and guide you to being even better.

Good luck, and have fun!

3 Ways to Spot an Untrained Speaker

Being able to speak well in public is an acquired skill that takes years, and tons of trial and error, to master. And the quest for mastery never ends. The professionals say they’re always learning and improving, and most claim to have coaches and colleagues to keep them at the top of their game.

It’s easy to spot a trained professional. They don’t use notes, they’re at ease on stage, their content is engaging and full of well-told stories, and they finish on time.

It’s easy, too, to spot someone who’s never received speaker training. Here are three:

Nervous pacing or freezing

An inexperienced speaker moves unconsciously on the stage through pacing, rocking back and forth, moving sideways by crossing one leg in front of another, etc. Others stay rooted to the spot.

The Cure — Long before memorizing your script, read your speech aloud at your dining room table and mark places in the script where movement will add drama and emphasis to what you’re saying. As you rehearse and become more familiar with the material, you can make continual improvements. Every movement you make is in service to your message and is well practiced.

Not using their voice as an instrument

Good speakers modulate their voices and deliver their speeches as if they were telling stories to first graders around the campfire. They’re loud, and then soft. They pause for emphasis. They don’t rush. They make the audience feel. An inexperienced speaker’s voice is devoid of emotion, difficult to hear and often unconnected to the material.

The Cure — A great speech is a performance that entertains the audience. As you plan your movements at the kitchen table, you should also be marking up your script to indicate where you’ll be loud or soft, where you’ll pause for dramatic effect, where you’ll smile, and how you’ll move your hands to illustrate what you’re saying. You’ll then practice on your feet, rehearsing your speech over and over until it is a part of you.

They read their Powerpoint slides

A good speaker doesn’t turn to look at their slides, and doesn’t rely on a slide’s bullet points to deliver the presentation. We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another. The prevailing wisdom is to use as few slides as possible to make your point. None of them should have bulleted lists. Use charts, images and illustrations to reinforce your ideas.

The Cure — You make Powerpoint slides as an extra way to engage your audience and explain complex information, not to give yourself a cheat sheet. Always ask yourself, “Do I really need that extra slide?” or, “Do I need slides at all?”


My TEDx Talk Transcription

Delusional Self Promotion: The Bridge from Ego to Empathy

If you’re a business communicator in the digital age, you know more than anybody how important it is today to connect with, and deliver real value to, the people who matter to the success of your business.


Unfortunately, this guy didn’t get the memo. You may have run into this guy during your business travels, and you soon realized that he wasn’t there to connect with you, no. The only thing he wanted to do is sell you something.

Now if you haven’t met somebody like this guy, I’m going to paint you a little picture. This is a true story, starring me.

So, I’m at this networking event. I have to admit, I’m not that comfortable networking. I’m an introvert, but I can do it when I need to, and I know how important it is. But it needs to be a comfortable thing, and this guy looked really friendly. So I summoned up all my courage and I went over to him, and I extended my hand.

His name tag said “Sam.”

“Hi Sam. How do you do? My name is Dana.” My handshake was firm and confident, like it’s supposed to be. But his handshake was like sticking your hand in a rock crusher, and he broke every bone in my hand. But he didn’t notice I was wincing because he wasn’t looking at me — he was looking through me, scanning the room for his next victim.

Well, this made me really uncomfortable, and I just wanted to get out of there. I wanted to go to the emergency room, actually. But instead, I stuck it out, and I decided to talk to him some more because I was fascinated by this point.

“So Sam, what do you do?” I remember him giving me some kind of 30 minute spiel. He didn’t talk about a product or service. He rather he talked about himself a lot. I smiled, and I nodded, and I seemed to be very interested, and I reflected back, “Oh yeah? How many? Yeah? Wow.” We exchanged business cards. Then I drew in some breath so I could tell him about me, and what I do. But before I could get the first word out, he turned and walked away. He walked away from me. From me! I was flabbergasted.

Don’t you know, like a few days later, I got an email from this guy addressed to, “Dear friend,” trying to sell me something. I hit the delete button so hard my neighbor’s computer broke.

You know, if people like Sam treat people face-to-face the way he treated me during that awkward face-to-face encounter, imagine how he behaves online where people like this have access to more than 200 free social media channels, and they push themselves out everyday to potentially 10,000 people or more. When he’s really hyped up, he blasts email into your inbox, which forces you to hit delete, delete, delete, which could lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and not a little bit of loss of faith in the future of humanity.

You see Sam, which rhymes with spam, is a taker. He doesn’t give back. He talks, blah, blah, blah. He doesn’t listen. The only thing Sam is interested is in advancing his own agenda. When you’re with him, you wonder if he even sees you as a human being or just a means to an end maybe.

I’ve pondered this kind of behavior over the years, he’s not the only one. There are other people like him. I wonder, do people like that stay in business? Did he even have any customers who weren’t friends or relatives? I see it all the time. There are so many people who go into business, and all they talk about is themselves. Blah, blah, blah.

But I’m going to give him some slack. This is what people are taught. They’re taught that aggressive self-promotion is the way you’re supposed to grow a business. But you see, that’s old school thinking. Times have changed. Of course with every change, there is a little bit of chaos, some confusion, and a whole new set of challenges.

For example, there is more noise circling the globe than there has ever been in history. Yet we as business people still have to find a way to cut through that clutter and convey to people that we’re the best people to do business with. But we have to tread lightly because we don’t want to seem inauthentic.

Another challenge is it takes time, real time, to get people to know they can trust you. But the waiting makes us anxious. I mean, we have bills to pay, right? So we slip into default mode, which is shouting our promotional stuff from the rooftops again, 24/7, 365, “Me. Me. Me. Me.” It’s as if we’re thinking, “Hey. If I can just shout loudly and often enough, customers are going to just jump right into my lap.” But the harsh reality is today’s consumer is immune to that, and the sound of their silence is deafening.

If you really want to attract attention to yourself in this digital age, you’ve got to think and communicate in a whole new way. It might seem counter-intuitive, but believe me, it is so much more effective for achieving your business goals.

Now I don’t … I hate to be the one to say this. Don’t shoot the messenger. I don’t want to sound like the school yard bully, but you need to know — Nobody cares about you! But you know who they do care about? Themselves, right? It’s human, it’s natural. We’re built that way. We can’t help it, and we all think that we’re the center of our own universe.

Everyone wants to be noticed. Everyone wants to be cared about, right? So now we’re thinking, “Well, how do I promote myself and have people care about me and show them that I care about them in return?” Well, here’s a little hint, something to think about; the more we rely on technology to communicate, the more people crave real, heart-felt human connection. We seek out people to do business with, not some faceless corporation. We decide if a business is trustworthy by how sharing its experts are, and how much we feel they care about us, and the community, and the world. That’s where the E-word comes in –empathy.

Demonstrating empathy is one of the most important ways to show people that you care. It’s about sharing, exchanging ideas, it’s about listening to them, it’s about understanding their pain, it’s about solving their problems, it’s about treating others better than you treat yourself. Don’t focus solely on yourself, you don’t have to do that. Just stop drinking your own cool aid, spit it out.

Publicly recognize the achievements of others. Make them laugh, tug at their heartstrings. Model for them how to lead safe, happy, healthy lives. Every time you can, tell a great story. Empathy and value are the oxygen of commerce in the digital age, and I have a vision that if we can all change our mindset away from “me, me, me” to “you, you, you”, fewer businesses will fail, and greater goodness will expand into the universe.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Every man must decide whether to walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Every business has to decide that, too. So let’s choose the light.

Hey Sam, are you listening?

Thank you.

To view this TEDx talk on YouTube, click here.

Rehearse Out Loud

Does this sound familiar? You’ve got a script to memorize. Your method is to do it line by line. When you’ve got the first sentence memorized, you move on to the next and commit it to memory. Then you recite sentences one and two together. When you feel like you know it, you move onto sentence three, and so on.

But you may be doing something that’s setting you back — you’re not reciting your lines out loud. You’re mumbling them, or saying them in your head, even when you’re alone.

Experienced speakers and actors memorize and rehearse their lines out loud. In fact, they read their scripts out loud, over and over again, before they begin the memorization process. While reading, they listen for opportunities to emphasize certain words or phrases, when short or long pauses would create the best effect, what gestures to use for special dramatic effect, and where they’ll move on stage.

This method is called “motor learning,” (a.k.a. “muscle memory.”) When you repeat movements and variations of voice over a period of time, they become etched into your brain and when you’re on stage the movements flow naturally.

Some people are reluctant to rehearse their scripts out loud because they’re self-conscious. They’re afraid of appearing odd to the other members of the household. Rehearsing out loud also attracts house pets. I used to be reluctant to say my lines while I was driving, too, because I didn’t want other drivers to think I was nuts.

When speaking experts reminded me of the importance of saying my lines out loud, I threw self-consciousness to the wind and let it all hang out. The family gets used to it and stops teasing you, the pets are barricaded by a closed door, and other drivers don’t even notice you. And if they did, so what?

Oh, the freedom! Being able to let go gives you the opportunity to be your true self on stage. What’s more, the memorization process becomes so much easier because the more you practice, the more the material becomes ingrained.


Why I’m a TEDx Junkie

One of the major thrills of coaching TEDx speakers is watching them blossom from the initial creation of an idea worth spreading to delivering a superstar talk on the big day.

Another thrill is being involved (as a volunteer) with the planning and execution of a TEDx event, It gives us the opportunity to become acquainted with all of the speakers. These are pretty impressive people — thought leaders, authors, industry experts, influencers, or even just regular people with powerful ideas to share. We bond like family and keep the connections going, primarily through Facebook, because our speakers come from places around the globe.

Wise people say that helping people, being of service in some small way, is a “high.” They’re right about that. For me and the many TEDx volunteers and speaker coaches around the world, it’s an addictive (but benign) experience.

One of my clients, Tony J. Selimi, traveled all the way from London to give his talk, which was entitled, “Technological Armageddon: A Wake-Up Call,” which was about how human consciousness needs to evolve quickly in order to create artificial intelligence that is a boon to humankind, not a threat. It’s truly disturbing how fast AI is developing and what dangers lie ahead if it is not created with the best of intentions.

Tony is a human behavioral and cognition expert internationally knowns as “The See-Through Coach.” He specializes in assisting people from all market sectors and professions find solutions to their personal, professional, and business problems so that they maximize their human potential. He supports them on their journey to achieve excellence in all of the key areas of life; spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, business, money, relationship and love. He gave me a signed copy of his book, “#Loneliness: The Virus of the Modern Age,” and I can’t put it down. Loneliness is one of the sad consequences of living in the digital world, but Tony shows the reader how to defeat loneliness and live a more happy, fulfilling life. He also wrote, “A Path to Wisdom,” which is next in my reading queue.

If you’re a TED junkie, as I am, I encourage you to contact your local TEDx organizers and offer to volunteer.

A TEDx Speaker’s Experience, featuring Jim Lee

In his 2013 TEDxWilmington talk, “Why the Millennial Generation Isn’t Broken,” financial advisor and futurist Jim Lee describes people between the ages of 16 and 36 as a, “somewhat economically challenged generation.” As a rule, they live at home, do not buy cars, are not getting married until their late 20s, and in many cases, are not having children until their mid- to late 30s.

Clocking in at about six minutes, Jim’s TEDxWilmington talk video has been viewed more than 11,900 times as of May 28, 2017.

As easy as Jim makes it look, giving a TEDx talk is a daunting experience, often requiring months of preparation and having to meet the stringent deadlines enforced by the organizer.

“After I learned of my acceptance as a speaker, I had about three months to prepare,” says Jim. “It was my entire focus. I talked to myself a lot, and also to imaginary audiences. I’d talk to anyone who would listen to me, basically.”

The TEDx talk is a unique format from what traditional speakers are used to. It’s just you, alone, in the center of a circular red carpet.

“There aren’t any crutches,” Jim says. “There’s no script, no podium, and no one else on stage — just you. It’s a bit harder than just going in front of a casual audience, because you have a concise, memorized message to convey within a certain time, and again, it’s just you up there.”

Jim describes his initial feeling when walking to his spot onstage as “panic meeting preparation.” During rehearsal, there had been technical difficulties.

“The theater was working out some sound issues,” Jim says, “so as prepared as I felt I was, I knew I might need to improvise. The battery in the PowerPoint remote was dying. There had been speakers earlier in the day who were almost brought to tears because of it. You’ll see during the course of my presentation that I’m pointing at the sky with my remote, trying to get a good connection.”

Jim recommends that speakers keep their talks as short and memorable as possible.

“One of the lessons I learned when I was preparing for my speech is that if you don’t remember what you’re supposed to say, then no one else will remember it, either,” he says. “I was inclined to keep cutting out sentences and refining until I had something that was really tight and solid.”

Other lessons Jim learned were:

• How to use his hands while speaking, and how to stand with his feet a little bit wider than usual for extra stability and confidence.

• That it helped to annotate his script to remind him where to include pauses and which words to emphasize.

After his TEDx talk, and in the months after his video was approved by TED and posted on YouTube, opportunity came knocking.

“For one thing, there was a lot of local recognition,” Jim says. “I subsequently was invited to speak, and have the travel costs covered, at engagements in Hawaii and Australia, which was amazing. The TEDx video gives you almost a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, proving you can speak as a credible authority, in front of a crowd.”

Click here to view Jim’s talk.

Jim Lee is the founder of Strategic Foresight Investments (StratFi) and Delaware’s only professional futurist.