Why speeches are more like performances

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

1I speak a lot. Ask the people that know me. Ha. I also have gotten more and more speaking engagements over recent years around the globe.

I enjoy them very much and really every talk is practice for the next one. I even say that exact thing during some talks – especially when I’m talking about how to effectively share your story in front of groups. Usually, the groups I talk to find this very entertaining. They laugh and without knowing just learned something.

That’s the whole point of today’s blog post. People want to be entertained and pay much more attention to a great show than me just presenting slides – and even worse reading those slides.

I first started realizing this by mistake. Of course, right? I was changing up my presentation style a few years to more rah-rah, fun (yes, jokes) and entertaining.

book nowMy goal was and still is to keep people on the edge of their seats. They want to be there. Even if they have the choice to leave, they wouldn’t. They want to hear what’s coming next. And then, they remember it and will even share something tonight at dinner (or wherever). It was so memorable and – yes – entertaining.

When I first started performing and stopped giving speeches, somebody gave me a 10 on a 1-5 scale and wrote: “So much fun.”

And what about the content?

I hope it was good, too, but there was no mention of it by this person.

The content must be good and I have to present it in a way that is credible, but ultimately I’ve found that people will remember how I made them feel.

You get people to feel something when they react. Positive reactions could be laughter, deep thoughts and slight disagreement followed by a slice of a-ha agreement.

Let’s talk about a-ha agreements for a moment. This is when you share something that people feel slightly challenged to disagree with but just a bit. After a moment they agree and will remember the mind shift.

One of my favorite example:
I tell the audience that this is so hard. That’s why it’s taking a while. OMG. It’s so hard.

Many – if not all – nod their heads in agreement. I’ve even gotten an “Amen” before.

Then I say: And do you know why it’s so hard?

*People are edging closer in their seats. (Don’t fall off the edge.)

It’s so hard because we say how hard it is. As long as we say that it won’t get any easier.

Some people tilt their heads. Others jump to the conclusion of “oh yes.”

Some people vocally agree. I’ve had audience members turn to their neighbors and loudly say:

THAT is so true. We should stop. It’s not hard.




Many – if not all – agree with the total opposite of what we all agreed on 10 seconds earlier. Boom.

I could have presented that whole thing on one slide – text only, no animations or pictures.

But people wouldn’t agree, learn anything and certainly wouldn’t remember it.

We are only memorable when we make people feel something. And, for me, the trick seems to be to make it all a performance. Yes, I’m still authentic and share only things that to the best of my knowledge are true.

I do work on putting on a show, though. Don’t expect to see me dancing. 🙂 Or singing.

Some of my techniques however do include:

  • Moving around during talks
  • Not reading a script
  • Changing up my voice
  • Looking at the audience – not through the audience
  • Asking them questions
  • Speaking clearly
  • Being unique and me (the performance me, not the watching-football-on-a-Sunday me)

Sometimes, I think it’s similar to my time at the University of Iowa when I was a center on the football team. I had to bark out blocking schemes in a way that sounded credible, confident and clear enough so that my teammates could hear me and actually execute the same scheme together.

I still had a strong German accent back then and some commands sounded different from other centers. My teammates thought that was fun. I made use of it, of course. 🙂

Different is OK. My differentiator is that I’m different. LOL.

I use many of the same techniques while presenting on the phone, too. Yes, I move around the room I’m in – even though it’s just me.

Blog posts, too. There needs to be some kind of engagement value – which could be entertainment, inspiration and/or education.

The best stories used to win yesterday’s game but the stories – all stories really – that are told in an entertaining way and are performed instead of told win today and tomorrow.

I hope you enjoyed today’s performance. 🙂

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