Why arriving early can boost your speaking career

Be early

Be early


If you’re asked to speak somewhere, arrive early. It can make a huge difference. Why? Let me give you three reasons:


If you leave early you have extra time to handle disasters. The most common disasters I have encountered are traffic jams and delayed planes. By the way, iif you’re flying in, do so the day before.

Other disasters can happen after you’ve arrived. No parking. The speaker before you didn’t show up (this happened to me once, I was able to take his slot) Logistical changes.


Technical support can make or break your performance. If you use slides or sound the configuration needs to be tested. I mostly present from my own laptop, and getting it to work with the system takes anything between a minute and an hour. Usually I’m finished within 5 minutes, but I’ve had several occasions where I got to work with a very professional tech crew and it still took us an hour to get things working.


You want to arrive relaxed and on top of your game. Speaking itself is stressful enough and you don’t want to start cold from the trip. That shows in your performance, and not in a good way.

Arriving early may mean getting up early and forfeiting that wonderful sleep time. But it pays off in less stress and a better presentation.

Are you a professional?

But the fourth and most important reason is that you will be perceived as a professional if you show up early and prepared. Your reputation is important, and congress organizers do remember those speakers that show up late, try to plug in their laptop and then start shouting at the tech crew if it doesn’t work.

If you might be late

But of course, there are situations where you just don’t manage to build in enough time. Apart from trying to avoid those, here is how you can minimize the risk: preparation and communication.

  • Get to know as much as possible about the projector and sound system. I found that if they have a HDMI and VGA connection, I’m safe. VGA, although outdated, never gave me any trouble.
  • Send a backup presentation the day before that they can install on their computer. Since I present using Keynote that usually means transforming it to Powerpoint, which makes the slides look slightly less professional. But who cares if things go wrong and it saves your presentation.
  • Be ready to present without slides. This might need some training, but it might be your best investment ever.
  • Keep the organizers posted on where you are, what’s happening, and what your estimated time of arrival is. Always bring the phone number of an organizer that is present at the location.


Things happen. One day you might be too late for your speech. If so, be professional, take responsibility. Do what you still can for the organization, and don’t charge your fee. Save your reputation. But better is to do everything you can not to get there.

The early bird gets the worm
The early bird gets the worm

The storyteller and the experiencer

The storyteller and the experiencer


Deep inside you lives an undividable soul, the real you, a core that knows what you feel and what you really want. Right?

Well, that view is a bit outdated.

As psychology advances we find that people seem to be more of a gaggle of different subsystems. You’re not a person. You’re a committee. No hidden homunculus.

Rule by committee


It is late, but tomorrow you have a lot of work. No problem, you say. I just set the alarm clock early and eat a big chunk out of my work first thing in the morning. I can do it!

Next morning. You wake up from the alarm. Grumpy. Put it on snooze. 9 minutes later: snooze again. I do NOT feel like getting up. What was I thinking yesterday?


The storyteller and the experiencer

Let’s look at two characters in the mind of our audience that are particularly important to speakers: the storyteller and the experiencer.

Your experiencer knows only one timeframe: now. It doesn’t care about past or future, all it does is measure how things feel now. Experience! It can be elated, satisfied, sad, enamored. But whatever it feels, it’s always there. In the moment. In the now. Fully.


And then there is the storyteller. The storyteller tries to make sense of your life. We can’t just be surrounded by random input, random thoughts, random encounters. Surely there needs to be some deeper meaning, some plan, some bigger story?

So the storyteller invents one – whether it’s right or not doesn’t matter. The storyteller uses the weaving loom and ties all the threads of your life together. That tapestry is what you remember, and the strings that didn’t fit are simply lost.

The storyteller

While the storyteller weaves your memories, the experiencer meanwhile forgets all about the original experience. But the storyteller’s memories can make it experience again.


Who is more important?

Obviously, both are important. But imagine this choice:

You are offered a free holiday. Either:

  • A week to a somewhat interesting location with somewhat interesting things to do and somewhat interesting people to meet. In other words, it’s better than nothing but far from stellar.
  • The holiday of  your dreams, whatever it is – that cruise to the south pole, the safari, a trip into low earth orbit, you name it.

One caveat: if you choose the second option, upon return all your memories (and photos) will be wiped, so you will have no recollection whatsoever of what you’ve experienced.

Which one do you choose?


Your audience is split as well

As a speaker you should be aware that every single member of your audience also has an experiencer and a storyteller.  What does this mean for your speech? Do you cater for both? Which one should you serve first, and how?

The answer is simple.

First, your speech needs to be an experience for them. The experiencer hands the threads to the storyteller to create the memory after all. If you fail to engage it, you fail to reach your audience.

In order to be an experience you don’t need to be good. You need to be different.

And then you feed the storyteller. Indirectly, through the experiencer. You want your message to be remembered. And what does the storyteller remember best? Stories! What kind of stories do you feed it? Lively stories! Because the storyteller gets fed by the experiencer!


The storyteller’s secret

In order to get to the secret of the storyteller in your head, I will need to share a bit of a dirty story. In a study in 1996 Kahneman and Redelmeier did research on colonoscopy patients. Colonoscopy, without going into further depth (oops), is known as a quite unpleasant experience.

In one group the catheter was removed as was the norm: immediately.

In the other group catheterization lasted about twice as long, but the last minutes the experience, though still unpleasant, became somewhat less so.

Overall, the experiencer experienced more pain in the second version. However, when asked afterward, the second version was considered a lot less painful by the storyteller.

It is called the peak-end rule, and it’s the storyteller’s secret. What the storyteller remembers of what you tell is the peak and the end, the rest will likely be forgotten. That’s life.

So what does that mean for your speech or your presentation? Pay special attention to the apotheosis and to the end. Let it flow like a good story, like a fairy tale, like a movie. If you work towards a climax and have a happy ending your audience will love it…

The last laugh

As over time your speech slowly fades in the memories of the audience, your story merges into their own stories. Funny enough, there is one thing that lasts: the memory of the experience.

As Maya Angelou put it so nicely:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

The creative process

The creative process


The outside world may not always be aware of it, but speaking is an art.

And art needs creativity.
And creativity is hard to control.

Right now I’m in the middle of creating a new presentation, on a topic I haven’t presented on before. I’m done with my research, reading, comparing, thinking (yes, speaking is science too).

Now I have to weave it all together in one exciting presentation. That’s where creativity kicks in. And even though you cannot control it, you can create the conditions that allows it to flourish.

We all have our systems for that (I hope!). Here are three things I do to get creative.

Laptop closed

The worst thing you can do is open up your laptop, fire up powerpoint and start typing up bullet points. Write, draw, think, daydream, discuss, try. I usually use these techniques before I fire up my trusty Macbook – not necessarily all of them, and not necessarily in order: it’s a creative process after all.

  • Mind mapping. I have collected my facts and stories (for which I did use my laptop), now I’m going to connect them. Big piece of paper, topic in the middle, as many colours pen as I can find, I connect the main ideas to the topic, connect the sub-ideas to the main ideas, and so on. I don’t have an order yet, but now I get an idea of what I could say. Usually in this phase I come up with at least one new main idea I hadn’t thought of before. My favourite location for mind mapping: the train. (For more on mind mapping try The mind map book by Tony Buzan)
  • Storyboarding. I take a big piece of paper, draw rectangles and fill them with drawings and keywords. The wild map of ideas gets linearized. Alternatively I can use flashcards for this, which allows me to easily swap blocks around.
    (These are the cards I use, but anything will do)
  • Napkinning. Just like painters often doodle on napkins and little sheets of paper I like to write (or draw!) parts of my speech on beer coasters or bils. Or anything.  Sometimes I keep them and later actually use them. Sometimes I throw them away.

And then I turn on my computer and continue to be creative with the slides (if I have them, of course)

Laptop closed


I try to start as early as possible for a new presentation. We all know that most of the work will be done in the last moment anyway, so why start early?

Because my early tries of finding stories, ideas, examples and facts prime my unconscious mind. Once I’ve done that I can safely wait for the deadline to appear, knowing that unconsciously I am making connections and generating new ideas. Of course, at moments these ideas pop up I do have to write them down.

And then, when it’s time to buckle up and do the work I find that most of the work is actually done. I just have to put it out there.



Your desk is an idea killer.

Hardly anyone gets brilliant ideas while sitting on that chair and staring at that screen.

When do the ideas come? Usually, when you are in an environment that, in your mind, is not connected with work. In no stress, no routine situations. In other words, in no desk situations..

So I prime my mind, and go for a walk. I bring a notebook (or just a smartphone) because I know that at least one good new idea will pop up. Not necessarily related to the current presentation though…


What is your process?

I believe the three points above are my most important creation-enablers. There’s more of course, like discussing my ideas with others, pseudo-random surfing the web, searching for awesome photographs, and so on.


We’re all different. If you have never tried the three ideas above, give them a go, and tell me if they work for you. If you use different techniques to get the creative juices flowing I’d love to hear from you as well. How do you get creative?



photos CC0: Melanie Simon,Arek Socha, mikegi. 

How fast is too fast?

Are you one of those speakers that got told several times that you speak too fast?

I am.

And although I do believe that wilfully slowing down should be in your speaker toolbox, I don’t think fast is always a problem. In fact, it’s a great skill. If you don’t overuse it…

There are people out there that tell you to you should speak 150 words per minute. Or 120. Or whatever. The truth is, that rate is highly variable. It depends on the language, the level of education of the audience, your topic, the goal of your speech, and much much more.


Your audience will need some time to get what you’re saying. To connect the new information you give them with the information already available in their neural network. You need to give them time to build a picture in their head of what you’re saying. How slow do you need to go?

Depends. People can make pictures in their head really fast.

Basically, if you’re using too many unwanted filler words, ehms and ahhs, and stop your sentences halfway to start new ones, you should slow down. If your pronunciation is good, your audience native, and your topic lively, nobody will mind your speed.


An example of a fast talker is Tony Robbins.

He has several reasons. His game is to be enthusiastic and energetic. That doesn’t go well with a slow pace. He knows his text – he’s been teaching more or less the same message for 30 years – he doesn’t talk in words, he talks in chunks, so he can go faster with less mistakes and fillers (although he definitely has them). And finally, part of what he wants to achieve is to turn the audience’s critical thinking off – bring them to a place where they wouldn’t go if they were overthinking. And immersing them in words does the job.

Auctioneers can go even faster.


I have no clue what he says (apart from the numbers), but his audience understands him – they know what to expect; it’s numbers going up, interspersed with purposeful filler words (less filler words if the bidding speeds up).

And then there are the famous South American fútbol commentators, who only slow down for a goal.

So go ahead. Speak fast. Depending on your goals and message that might actually help you. But never forget to bring your friends Pause and Variety.

It’s not speed that matters – as long as it serves your goal. It’s variety.





Even if fast talking serves your purpose your speech may be enhanced by slowing down every once in a while.

  • Pause. Inhale. Exhale, completely. Continue. You’ve just rebooted your system.
  • Talk to a metronome. Free apps are available for your phone.
  • Be your own director: when creating your speech mark the pieces that need to be slower. Memorise these pieces. Practice.



  • When it gets real serious
  • When relating hurtful emotions
  • When you need to emphasise your point
  • When you want to signal that what you’re saying is important
  • When you’ve been talking too fast for too long
  • When your audience’s understanding of the language is low
  • When you are being simultaneously translated


  • You want to convey excitement
  • You want to rattle of a list of items, where the content of the items doesn’t really matter for your point, but the number is. German prepositions for example
  • You’ve been talking too slow for too long
  • You want to lift the energy




Original full Tony Robins TED lecture

LeRoy Van Dyk – fastest talking auctioneer

pictures: Pixabay

Why you should tap into loss aversion to convince your audience

The psychology of public speaking

The psychology of public speaking

As a speaker it is your job to influence people. You want them to see a different point fo view, to take action, to change their lives. What tools do you use?

The first thing that usually comes to mind is to paint a beautiful vision of where they can end up if they take action. But a more powerful tool is to play into the general human tendency of  loss aversion.

Say, you want to convince your audience to write a book. How would you go about?

Would you stress the advantages of writing a book?
Or would you focus on the disadvantages of NOT writing a book?

Take a moment to think about it.


Although you might be inclined to take the positive approach, stressing what they would lose out on if they don’t take action might actually convince more people.

Loss aversion.

Banksy girl balloon

In our brains the downside is bigger than the upside. In our evolutionary past this was even stronger than it is today. These were times when one stupid mistake could lead to instant death. Careless people didn’t make it into the gene pool. The people who did, the careful, who didn’t take big risks, are our ancestors.


Empiric proof shows that a loss has an emotional impact that is twice as strong as a win. Loss aversion may lead to illogical decisions, but it leads to decision quickly.

So if you want to convince your audience, don’t argue about the potential benefits, mention the potential aversion of a loss.


Knowing the power of loss aversion it is extremely simple to add this tool to your presentations. It suffices to turn the benefits upside down.

Say, you want your audience to consider buying solar panels. Instead of telling them how much money they will save on the investment, you are much more convincing if you tell them that they can avoid losing that money if they don’t invest in solar.


So start convincing your audience by making use of their loss aversion.

It will make you a more impactful speaker. Or let me put that differently. You will never reach your potential as a speaker if you don’t use this technique.


pics by geralt, pixel2013 / pixabay