In this article I interview World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix.
This is an advanced Public Speaking Masterclass containing lots of great tips and advice you’ve probably never heard before.
In this article you will learn:
- Advanced Public Speaking tips
- How to deal with the fear of Public Speaking
- The 4 Questions to ask yourself before you give a speech
- How to tell great stories
- Public Speaking mistakes to avoid
And much, much more
What do you want the audience to do?
Michael Frank: What are some of your favorite public speaking tips that the average person probably isn’t aware of?
Darren LaCroix: Okay before you create a presentation, whether it’s a corporate presentation, a Toastmaster speech, a professional speech, one of the biggest challenges I see is people lack clarity of what they want the audience to think, feel and do. Like what’s the point? Why should we listen? So get clear.
What I coach people on doing is figuring out beforehand:
What do you want the audience to do, think and feel when you’re done?
What do you want them to do differently or better?
What do you want to think?
What do you want them to feel?
If you can’t say it in 10 words or fewer, don’t even begin to put the speech together.
So it all starts with getting clarity of what you want your outcome to be.
Michael Frank: So know you outcome. Know what you want the audience to think, feel and do.
Darren LaCroix: Yep. In 10 words or fewer. If you can’t narrow it down to 10 words or fewer then you’re not clear, and if you’re not clear, don’t even try to put together a presentation yet because that becomes your ultimate editor.
What’s the best opening? Well, what’s the best opening for what you want the audience to think, feel and do?
What’s the best closing? Well, what’s the best closing for what you want the audience to think, feel and do?
What’s the best case studies if you’re doing a corporate presentation? Well, which case studies makes the best point of what you want the audience to think, feel and do?
So it all gears back to that.
How to deal with the fear of Public Speaking
Darren LaCroix: The other thing a lot of people deal with is the fear of public speaking. And I have two different strategies that would be helpful if you’re dealing with the fear of speaking. Write these down.
Number one: Music.
Music is the fastest way to change your emotions. So if you have a lot of anxiety just before you walk up on stage, you need to create a three song playlist of your favorite songs that you know will literally change your emotions. And everyone will have different ones, but choose songs that as soon as you hear it, it switches you from a bad mood to all of a sudden boom, you’re in a good mood and you’re grounded. You’re rocking it out. Those three songs. Listen to those. That’s what I did in my early days of stand up when I was afraid to go up on stage. I would listen to my mix tape and that would give me the courage to go in and do what I had no business doing. So number one, create a playlist.
Ask yourself these 4 questions
Number two: Write down and ask yourself these four questions. These are four questions that I ask myself right before I go on stage still to this day, because you can practice all you want, but if your brain is not synced in and linked in to your presentation, you’re not going to do well even if you know it inside and out, if you panic just before, all your practice goes away.
So I say this: Skill set without mindset will leave your audience upset.
So here’s the four questions that I ask myself. Write these down.
Number one: Am I present?
Am I right here, right now, with this audience? You’ve got to get present. You’ve got to forget about your problems. Forget about your fears. When you start worrying: “Do I have Broccoli in my teeth?” “Is my zipper down?” “Will I remember it?” That’s all about you. You need to focus on the audience outcome. Take that nervous energy and focus it on what are they going to leave with? So number one: Am I present?
Number two: What is my intent?
Get clear on your intent. You have this opportunity to influence people. What will you do with that? Your intention should always be audience focused, not self-focused, not trophy focused, but always focused on the result you’re trying to help the audience with.
Number three: Will I have fun?
If you want your audience to have fun, you have to have fun first. It starts with you.
And then the fourth question, this one’s a little longer, but I believe it’s the most powerful. This came from Willie Jolley a mentor of mine. He said, ask yourself:
Number four: “How would I give this presentation if I knew it was my last one ever?”
If you knew it was going to be your last one, you’re going to give it differently, you’re going to bring it all. So that’s the mindset we need to walk up with. That will bring you confidence, that’ll make it a better presentation, and it will help the audience more. Ask yourself those four questions:
1. “Am I present?”
2. “What is my intent?”
3. “Will I have fun?”
4. “How would I give this presentation if I knew it was my last one ever?”
If you’re interested, you can go to my website and get the Top 10 speaking mistakes and I’ll send you a PDF for free. And that’ll give you some more ideas.
How to tell great stories
Michael Frank: I want to unpack storytelling because it’s a very fascinating topic and I’ve noticed that all the best speakers are storytellers.
What are some elements of a great story or good storytelling?
Tell stories in dialogue instead of narration
Darren LaCroix: When it comes to telling stories, you need to tell them in dialogue rather than in narration, or in past tense. What dialogue means is that we bring people to the moment of the story to witness the story that’s happening, rather than telling people what happened to us last week, last month, last year.
If you want your stories to be memorable and to truly give a memorable presentation, we have to feel it. We have to sense it. And when you’re telling stories in narration, in past tense, it’s harder to sense it, it’s harder to feel it, so it’s less likely to be memorable. So you have to take your stories and convert them into dialogue, and what this also does it it allows you to say more in fewer words because now we’re adding the emotion in our delivery to that story.
So to give you an example, one of my first stories was when I went home to tell my parents I wanted to be a comedian.
When I originally told it, it was:
“So I went home to tell my parents I wanted to be a comedian, and they didn’t know what to say. They were speechless.”
Okay. Blah. That’s boring. So what I do now is I bring the audience to that moment so they can experience the conversation along with me as the character in the story.
So it turned into:
“Mom, Dad, I want to be a comedian”.
And as I tell it you can see their facial expressions change from happy to disappointed, from excited to deflated in a matter of seconds, and the audience watching me sees it on my face and they notice that shift of emotion, and that’s important because one of the keys to great storytelling is to show the reaction, the emotional shift in the character, because that emotion is where the audience connects to the character.
So always tell your stories in dialogue instead of narration.
A good story needs conflict, a hero, and setting
One of the things that a lot of storytellers miss, is that we need to get to the conflict as quickly as possible. Conflict is the hook. Conflict is what gets us to want to know what’s going to happen. If we don’t have a good conflict, we don’t really care about the story.
And we also need a hero, a likable hero that we want to see win, and we want to see how they get through this. If we don’t like the hero, if they’re not likable, then who cares? Well good. I hope they lost their job. But we want to see that resolution. The key is the hero, the setting, the conflict, and then the aftermath is really important too. What’s the difference? How did the character evolve? How is life different because of that journey?
And let us picture the scene, the setting in which the story takes place. A lot of people miss out on that too. Like: What did you smell? What did you see? What did you feel? Bring us the listener to that setting. Get us to the conflict as quickly as possible.
Stories need emotion and structure
Another thing you need to do is that you need to elicit emotion in order to make the story memorable. Your presentation isn’t going to be memorable unless you elicit emotion.
Structure in a story or a speech is also important, and it gives you the deliverer confidence, and it gives your audience clarity. Both of those are essential to creating a connection because when I’m coaching presenters, whether it’s a corporate presenter or a professional speaker, ninety nine percent of what I coach is clarity, clarity, clarity. Everyone thinks they’re clear, but they’re so far off track it’s ridiculous.
Use the stage strategically
Michael Frank: What are some mistakes that we should watch out for?
Darren LaCroix: The use of the stage. Most people go back and forth aimlessly. One of the things I teach is how to use the stage strategically, because you don’t want to go back and forth without any thought involved, without any choreography.
When you make your points, you should be standing and delivering and your energy focused out at the audience.
If you have three points, you could use the stage in three different sections. So point one, you stand in one place, deliver all your information and evidence from that one place, and then have a transition phrase that transitions you to another part of the stage where you say the second thing you need to know and give all your evidence from there. And then you transition and deliver from that third place. So the stage helps you to structure your speech, and it also helps you to memorize it and internalize it, and it also helps the audience to conceptualize it. They can see and they can understand, and they can see your speech structure.
Structure your speech
Another mistakes is not structuring your speech.
1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
2. Tell them
3. Tell them what you told them
Practicing your speech
Michael Frank: How do you go about practicing your speech? Do you practice in front of a video camera? In front of your family? In front of the mirror? How do you go about practicing a speech?
Darren LaCroix: Never use the mirror. Ever. The mirror is useless. If you want to do something, you could videotape yourself and then go watch it after. But trying to do it in front of the mirror, that’s the most ridiculous advice, but it’s passed on through a lot of people.
Everyone’s got their own style. Some people like to write out their speech and say it over and over again. Sherrie Su who came in second in the world championship this year, she practiced her semifinal speech 300 times. There’s no substitute for that experience. You’ve got to just give it, give it, give it, whether there’s people there, whether it’s the cat, the dog, nobody, but don’t just memorize a speech, internalize your speech, until it becomes a part of you. Josephine Lee who came in third a few years ago is awesome and has great advice. She says: “Don’t practice your speech until you get it right. Practice it until you can’t get it wrong.”
And so you’ve just got to give it, give it, give it to anyone who will listen, to the cat, the dog. But here’s the key in my opinion, there’s really no such thing as a “practice speech”. There’s no such thing as a practice speech. Every time you’re in front of an audience, you have an opportunity to influence.
You’ve got to give it in front of as many people as you can, but don’t give it for the sake of giving it, give it to help someone. That’s a different intention. When I was practicing my World Championship winning Ouch speech
I gave it at a Toastmaster club at MIT in Boston and there was a foreign exchange student there, and to me it was just a practice speech. I was just practicing to get better. But when I was done this foreign exchange student, she could barely speak English, she came up to me after and she said: “I’m failing out of MIT. My family said I should quit and go home. I heard your speech. I stay.”
Michael Frank: Awesome.
Darren LaCroix: WOW. What it did for me was made me realize there’s real people in front of you right now. Don’t practice for the sake of it. Take care of these people right now. In the process, it’s gonna get better, but your intention is set differently. And so my beliefs and my speech went through the roof because of her comment, so it built my belief, and I remembered from then on, there is no practice speech. These are real people in front of you sitting there listening and have that intention set to help them.
When to arrive at the venue
Michael Frank: Let’s talk about the actual presentation of the speech. When you’re giving a speech, whether it’s to 50 people, 100 people, 1, 000 people, how early do you tend to get to the venue?
Darren LaCroix: I always make it a pact to be there an hour early, to set up the room, because most people who set up a room have never given a speech before. It’s just their job to set up the room. So the lectern will be in a place that’s right in the center or blocking a quarter of the audience on one side. So I go there ahead of time, set up, change the chairs if I need to, sit in the four corners as an audience member and look at the stage, to see if there is anything blocking it? We’ve got to realize that most people who set up rooms have never ever been onstage so they don’t know what’s important. And if they do set it up great, well perfect. Now you ask: What’s the temperature? Can they see you? How’s the lighting? Can they hear you? How’s the microphone? Do a mic test.
If I’m doing a presentation, I’ll try to spend as much of the day with the group as I can. Like if I’m speaking after lunch, I’ll be there first thing in the morning, noticing every other speaker. Is there a spot in the stage that creeks? Is there a microphone that doesn’t work? Is there a place that there’s a shadow on the stage?
If there’s a great joke or a funny line said by another speaker before I speak, I want to bring that up in my presentation to tap into that emotion that was elicited before I took the stage.
How to hook the audience
Michael Frank: How do you hook the audience at the beginning of a speech? With a story? With a question? Or are there some other things you like to do to hook the audience at the beginning of a speech?
Darren LaCroix: Every time it’s different, because every audience is different, and it depends on the subject. I usually like to start with a rhetorical question, an interesting fact, or go right into a story.
What to focus on
Michael Frank: What about when you’re actually delivering your speech? What do you focus on when you’re speaking? Are you looking for friendly faces in the crowd? How do you go about reading the audience in real-time?
Darren LaCroix: I’d love to tell you there’s some method, but it’s just experience. The one thing that you can’t do that a lot of presenters do, is they focus on that person in the third row with their arms crossed. Do not focus on them. They will drain your energy. There’s always gonna be somebody who walked into the room and that day they found out their kid has cancer or their spouse cheated on them. There’s always that in the audience. You look for the friendly faces, the people that are giving energy back to you. Focus on them.
What if you lose your place in the speech?
Michael Frank: What if, and this is a worst case scenario of course, you lose your place or forget what you were saying in the middle of a speech?
Darren LaCroix: Well, number one that should never happen. Number two, you should always have bullet points laid out and have your notes handy if you need to refer to them. I mean it happens, but number three, be authentic. Be real. Tell the audience. They can tell that you lost your place. Don’t try to hide it or fake it. Just acknowledge it. And then move on.
Darren LaCroix: World Champion of Public Speaking
Michael Frank: Darren LaCroix. It’s been an absolute pleasure. A public speaking masterclass. How do we find you online?
Darren LaCroix: If you want to learn from me go to Stage Time University. That’s where you can connect with me and my coaches and get access to all the programs I’ve ever created. If you want to know more about Darren LaCroix go to Darren LaCroix. If you’d love to get my tips go to Top 10 Speaking Mistakes
Darren LaCroix, CSP, AS
2001 World Champion of Public Speaking
After a failed business in 1992, Darren LaCroix took the stage in a Boston comedy club and bombed miserably. It was horrible. The headliner that night told him to “keep his day job.” Friends told him that his dream of making people laugh for a living was crazy and stupid. He didn’t listen.
He may have been born without a funny bone in his body, but Darren possessed the desire to learn and the willingness to fail. These were the essentials for achieving his dream. This self-proclaimed student of comedy is living proof that anything can be learned.
Less than nine years later, in 2001, Darren LaCroix outspoke 25,000 contestants from 14 countries to become the World Champion of Public Speaking. He did it with a very funny speech. Some said it was one of the best speeches in the history of the contest.
Since that victory, Darren travels the world demystifying the process of creating a powerful presentation. His story has roused audiences in faraway places like Australia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, China, Oman, Malaysia, and Taiwan with his inspirational journey from Chump to Champ. He is passionate about showing people that if you are a sponge and have the right mentors, anything is possible.
Darren is currently the only speaker in the world who is a CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), an AS (Accredited Speaker), and a World Champion of Public Speaking. Darren always stresses, “Don’t go for the designations to get letters after your name; do it for the professional you will become in the process.”
Through his live workshops and online programs, Darren works with presenters eager to learn what it takes to connect deeply with their audiences. He is the founder of Stage Time University the ultimate online programs for presenters.