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 VGA, although outdated, never gave me any trouble.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

Form vs value

Don’t get carried away with form.
That perfect gesture,
That clever synecdoche,
That voice modulation,
That charismatic glance.

Form is important.
Form carries content.
But form is not what speaking is about.

As a speaker your job is to deliver value.
Value for your audience.
Value for your client.

Focus on value first.
Touch the hearts & teach the brains.

Sure, improve your voice,
improve your stance,
improve your form.

But improve your value first.


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. 

Why you SHOULD write out your speech


In the previous post I gave you some reasons why you should not write out your speech. But life is never just black and white.

There are excellent reasons why you should write out your speech. Eventually of course it’s up to you to decide based on your preferences and the situation. Let’s have a look at the pros of writing:

Say it right

Sometimes it is important to say the right things in the right way. If your topic is sensitive or political you might want to stick to the script. Improvising might lead to a wrong message, especially if your speech is recorded or if there is press in the room. (Been there, done that)

Writing down your text allows you to have a good second look at it, to have others look at it, and to craft the message in such a way that it will not be misunderstood. If the stakes are high: write.

Say it again

If you need to give the same speech again, it helps to have a written version of it, especially if there is a long time between the two performances. Alternatively you might want to record your speech and watch it back as preparation for the next time, but writing is often simpler. I sometimes had several month between two presentations, and if it wasn’t for the script I would have had to a lot of work. If you need to repeat, a script is neat.

Say it in time

If you have a strict time limit you may want to choose to write out your text so you know that if you stick to the script you stick to the time. Speech contests are an obvious candidate for a well timed script, but there are (fortunately) many tightly scheduled congresses out there where a 20 minutes presentation is a 20 minutes presentation, and you’re not supposed to go over. Experienced speakers don’t even have to clock their speech, they look at the script, count the words maybe, and know how long it will be. You can’t do that if you don’t have a script.

If you need to be exact, count the words.

Say it well

There is a core reason you will want to write down your speech.

Writing allows you to bring your speech to the next level. Writing down your speech brings some added benefits over just rehearsing your speech from memory.

First, you can get better coaching. I have coached people who did and people who did not write out their speech. From the point of view of the coach, a written text is much better. I have more (consistency) to give feedback on. We can spar over style figures. We can focus on delivery.

Second, writing provides you with an overview of the whole speech. This makes it easier to strengthen arguments, to balance examples, to spot omissions, to sort sentences, to optimise transitions.

For example, I have a tendency to go back and forth between past tense and present tense. Writing my speech out allows me to spot the inconsistencies and make a deliberate decision what tense to use when.

A script allows you and others to play with the building blocks of your speech, with your message and your tone in a structured and thoughtful way.

A building was first a drawing.
A painting was first a study.
A good speech was first a text.

However, it’s just a tool

Writing is a tool for the creation of speeches. A tool to memorize the right words. A tool to get the best out of your time with your audience. But it’s not your only tool, and that is where some people go wrong.

The writing is support, YOU are the vehicle that delivers the speech. Spending 90% of your time going over draft after draft doesn’t leave enough time to enhance your delivery.

But leaving out this powerful tool robs you of the possibility to make your speech even better.

Why you should NOT write out your speech

Breaking your pencil

I’ve seen it many times. While preparing a speech the speaker grabs pen and paper (or more often a laptop computer) and frantically starts writing. And then keeps revising and revising in a process that can take days, weeks, months. As the big day of the speech approaches he or she realizes that the speech needs to be rehearsed as well. Memorized even. Oops. No time left.

The results are often less than stellar. The audiences notes that there is something wrong:

” She relied too heavily on her notes”;
” He just wasn’t authentic”;
” Her sentences were too long and convoluted”;
” I just couldn’t follow it”;
” I didn’t feel he was speaking to me, just thinking about his text”;
” It was way too long”.

And worse.

You’re not an actor. You’re a speaker. You don’t have to interpret a fixed script, you need to interpret your thoughts, convictions, ideas. To different audiences, that need different versions.


If you want to connect with your audience, you will need to at least make it seem like you are speaking from the heart, not from the paper. And written language is not the best vehicle for that. Spontaneously spoken text uses short sentences, sentences that don’t finish, interjections. Spontaneous speakers look at the audience, react on things that happen, are able to reflect on current events. Spontaneous speeches include matching body language and vocal variety. Using memorized texts this is going to be hard. Not impossible, but it takes a lot of practice time. Time that most speakers that write out their texts don’t take.


Because of the congruence of body language, vocal variety and content, spoken speeches tend to be a lot more convincing than speeches read out or memorized. Why not simply skip the writing fase? The only things that you really need to get clear is your topic, your goal, and your main points. Once you know these, how about starting the rehearsing process immediately? Saves a lot of time. And often results in a better, more flexible speech.


If you don’t write down and memorize your speech it will be different every time you give it. That brilliant sentence you thought of might be missing because you simply didn’t think of it. But so what? Instead you will look fresh and be there for the audience instead of regurgitating you material.

Longer presentations

Writing out longer keynotes? Half hour, full hour presentations? That’s prohibitive. Save yourself the time. Instead of trying to perfect each and every sentence and then try to learn it all by heart, you better spend your time on the subject of your presentation. Come up with new angles. Incorporate current events. Be the authority.

Nerve cell

How to rehearse without text

How do you go about memorizing your speech without writing it down?
Simply by doing it. Give that speech in front of your bedroom wall (imagining the wall is your audience). Rehearse parts of that speech during a walk in the forest. Shout it out lou

d when stuck in traffic. What happens is that even though it will be slightly different every time you rehearse it, the flow of the speech will get better and better. And there is no need to fear that you may forget parts when giving it for real. Since you’re constantly doing that during your rehearsals, and noticed that you’re making up for it, you know you’re ready to go.


To conclude: writing out your speech is highly overrated. It takes an enormous amount of time, often consuming the time you should have spent rehearsing and practicing. Not only that, it will often make the speech feel less authentic and less convincing to your audience. Why not skip the writing all together?


Next time: why you should write out your speech.

images: moritz320, ColiN00B – 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