Over the past years, I’ve coached hundreds of people to become better at public speaking.
Recently I decided to sit down and look for patterns among my ‘best’ clients, meaning those clients where the collaboration felt especially successful.
Something in my approach to teaching public speaking attracted them, and made them decide to work with me and not another coach.
I think it boils down to two things: shared values and a shared definition of great public speaking.
Combined, these define the destination of our collaboration: to become a better speaker of a certain kind.
But what kind?
The following eight shared values for public speaking percolated after much thinking, free writing and re-writing.
I consider them the eight essential habits for a great speaker. I first introduced these in one of the 10 Noonshine online sessions I gave during the 2020 corona crisis.
Here is the live drawing that Joyce Van Kerckhove of Inkorporate.me kindly made during the session (click to view):
Are you ready?
In my experience, an effective speaker:
1. Speaks well to lead well
You realise that speaking to an audience automatically puts you into a leadership role.
You realise that this role comes with responsibility. Your audience is looking to you for a vision, for answers.
You therefore are aware of who you are, and what values you want to convey to your audience.
2. Shares an inspiring vision
You know that with leadership also comes an inspiring vision for the future.
Your vision is inspiring in the sense that it speaks to both the head and the heart, and moves people to take action.
You speak to your audience’s dreams.
You paint a picture not only of ‘what is’ but also of ‘what could be’.
3. Seeks positive impact
Your intention is to make the world a better place through the work and the speaking you do.
Whether your focus is climate change, female empowerment, making the world better through artificial intelligence… There are many ways.
the output of your speaking — the words you say
the outcome — how you change and inspire your audience
and the impact — the actions they then take to make a difference in their world.
You focus on maximising the latter.
4. Starts with their ‘why’
You have a clear intention and focus for every speech or performance you give. ‘Purpose’ is now more important than ever.
You prepare asking yourself what your audience should know, feel and do after listening to you.
5. Cares for their audience
You know your audience and can step into their minds and hearts. You assess what they know about your topic and what views they may hold. You view that as the starting point for the journey you will take together by telling your story.
You realise that knowing an audience is the key to winning their attention.
6. Is memorable
You focus on creating a lasting impact with your speech.
You do this by 1) determining your single most important message, 2) carefully adding memorable elements and stories to your speech, and 3) being your memorable self!
7. Builds confidence by taking action every day
You realise that you need to speak with confidence to inspire and make impact.
You also realise that this confidence won’t come suddenly and is not given to you.
You therefore build this confidence by getting your mindset right and by challenging yourself every day.
8. Brings their personality on stage
You know what’s the secret weapon of a brilliant speech: you.
You realise that the personality of a speaker is what makes a speech truly captivating and memorable.
You therefore do not hide your personality on stage, but show who you are through what you say and how you say it.
What do you think? Anything you would add? Let me know in a comment.
Last modified 06/11/20
Speaking with impact: a guide about stage presence
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
When it comes to speaking with impact, I usually show one of my favourite TED(x) talks. It’s one that you can view again and again.
The crazy thing is: absolutely nothing is said in it.
Play it for a minute; it only last six minutes:
The title of this talk is How to sound smart in your TED talk. But the title could just as well be How to engage an audience when you have nothing to say. Because that’s the fascinating thing about this video: this Will Stephen says absolutely nothing, and yet you can’t take his eye off him for six minutes.
How is that possible?
Why is it that you take great pleasure in listening to ‘nothing’, and at the same time have dozed away at a lecture that had content that was actually interesting? (Most people only have to think back to their school days to remember those.)
stage presence, or: how you appear on stage, the way you bring your story.
Why is stage presence so crucial for speaking with impact?
There is interesting research on this by Dr Albert Mehrabian1, Professor Emeritus at UCLA (University of California). He did several studies on verbal and non-verbal communication.
Mehrabian concluded that there are three elements of face-to-face communication:
tone of voice
non-verbal behaviour (such as body language)
He makes the following point. How communication ‘lands’ with an audience depends much more on elements 2 and 3 — tone of voice and non-verbal signals — than element 1, the words themselves.
It’s easy to verify for yourself that there’s some truth to that. Think of a “bad liar” you know. Their words make no impression because their body, facial expression and voice betray them.
Mehrabian goes so far as to claim that words only make up 7% of your communication. I personally think that’s an exaggeration. But other studies, such as one by Allen and Barbara Pease2, show that 60 to 80% of the impact in meetings is caused by body language. And that’s my experience, too.
The first step is to know which factors determine your stage presence.
The elements that determine your stage presence (and whether you’re speaking with impact)
For this list, I’m assuming that you have a healthy amount of self-confidence. Because if you are very insecure when speaking in front groups, of course, that undermines your entire stage presence. In that case, you’d better work on boosting your self-confidence first.
I’m also assuming that you have properly prepared your speech. If you don’t have a clear idea of the story you want to tell, that will also come at the expense of your stage presence.
What exactly is stage presence? At its core, it’s your energy.
Energy is an emotional thing. People can emit ‘high energy’ or ‘low energy’. And energy influences other people.
You experience other people’s energy every day:
The receptionist who always greets you with a big smile so that you’re in a great mood when you take the elevator: high energy.
The guy in the sandwich bar who always frowns and where you go only when you really have to: low energy.
You could think that people’s energies are fixed. Fortunately, they’re not! Your energy varies throughout the day:
Coffee can boost your energy.
But when you’re tired, that affects your energy negatively.
You win a game with your team at the sports club. There’s no limit to your energy!
A new customer postpones collaboration. Bummer: your energy plummets.
When you speak in front of groups, you start with a certain energy level. Hopefully, a high level!
After that, there are always several possible energy leaks:
That one lady with no facial expression, who seems to be here against her will.
That guy in the corner is fiddling with his phone — maybe he’s bored?
And then there’s the person who asks a tricky question that you don’t know the answer to right away.
Those energy leaks hinder you from speaking with impact. Because here it comes:
Your energy is the single determining factor in the impact you make
There is research on that, by the way. Olivier Oullier, professor of behavioural and brain sciences at the University of Aix-Marseille, calls this social coordination dynamics3.
In his studies, people facing each other had to make random movements.
First, with their eyes closed — of course, little similarities in movement could be found. Then, with their eyes open. As it turned out, people started to mimic each other’s movements. Even after the experiment, the subjects remained influenced by the movements made by the other person.
Have you ever seen someone yawn, only to do it yourself shortly after? That is the same principle at work.
Back to your energy when you speak
Your energy determines the energy of your audience, which determines how well they listen, how inspired they become, how excited they become, and so on.
Body language expert Vanessa van Edwards proved that in another experiment. She analysed a large amount of similar TED talks to discover why some talks were hugely popular, while others were viewed just a few hundred times in total.
Her conclusion: people created their opinion about a speaker within seven seconds, and that opinion was the most positive for speakers who radiated the most energy.
Another striking conclusion was this: when people rated a talk highly with the sound off, it was also rated highly with the sound on.
So it is essential to manage your energy and keep it high
How high? Higher than you think 😁. Think of the first date with your dream partner.
Note: don’t confuse ‘high energy’ with ‘hyper’. High energy can also mean relaxed, comfortable, content, self-confident.
The good news is: you have a lot of control over your energy. Are you aware of your energy? Then you can ‘turn it up’ as you please to start speaking with impact.
It doesn’t take magical thinking at all. We may think that for the most, our mind controls our bodies, but the opposite is also true. What you do with your body also influences your mind and therefore your energy.
A classic example are power poses: for example, if you stand upright, with your legs slightly apart, and your hands in your hips, you can feel your energy level rise with every minute.
The following five non-verbal areas play the biggest role when it comes to speaking with impact:
1. Your posture
Your body communicates much more than you would suspect. Which makes sense: we are descended from apes that cannot speak (neither could homo sapiens in their first phase of evolution), and yet they could communicate efficiently.
Here are a few ways your body ‘reveals’ you, and where you can make adjustments for higher energy levels:
Of course, your head sends signals non-stop. From how your hair is styled, to ‘micro-expressions’ that subconsciously tell your audience about your mood.
Your torso (back) can be straight or a little bent, which communicates different things.
Arms and hands tell many things too! Think of the difference between a dry presenter with hands in his pockets, and someone who gestures lively as they tell their story.
How you position your legs, is a way of communicating as well. Do you walk calmly across the stage, or rather in a cramped fashion? When you sit down, do you cross your legs or not?
Finally, there are your feet. They can be positioned at different angles. And everyone knows about the tapping foot, which suggests nervousness.
This is just a concise list — there are, of course, dozens of other ways your body communicates with your audience.
What are things not to do when it comes to posture?
Leaning on one leg. Maybe you think this gives a laid-back impression, but in reality, it looks over-casual.
Standing with crossed legs. This gives you the impression that you want to make yourself smaller.
Tilting your head to one side. This can look either apologetic or condescending.
Standing behind a pulpit. This puts something between you and your audience, and sends the signal: “I don’t like speaking in front of groups.”
Keeping your hands behind your back or in your pockets for a long time, keeping your hands ‘busy’ with a pen for example, or putting your hands in your side for a long time.
What are things to do when it comes to posture?
Place your feet right under your hips, and let them point slightly outwards.
Divide your weight evenly between your legs.
Make sure your chest is ‘open’ and not ‘closed’.
Imagine that there is a wire attached to the crown of your head and that it pulls your body up.
Keep your hands moving. Use them to illustrate what you’re saying. Don’t let your upper arms stick to your body like a T-rex 🦖 but relax them!
Note when it comes to your hands: most people use their hands very well in comfortable situations, for example at a dinner party with friends. Chances are, you do know how to do it — you just have to recreate the unconsciously correct use of your hands!
2. Your gestures
Gestures are the most expressive element of our body language. They are the more explicit movements of the head, shoulders, arms, the hands.
Gestures have a clear function within speaking with impact:
Express physical properties, location or movement. Think of size, weight, shape, direction and location.
Express importance or urgency. For example, a clenched fist shows that you want to add emphasis.
Comparison and contrast. By visualising these with gestures, they come to life. For example, you could perfectly imitate the receptionist and the sandwich seller from the introduction.
Do you experience a moment of ‘low energy’? Then a few powerful gestures will get you back on top.
Pay attention to the following to make your gestures effective, both for your audience and for yourself:
Make gestures above elbow height and at some distance from your body. So no cramped gestures.
Put strength and conviction in your gestures. A fast, spacious hand movement to show how big something is, makes a much greater impression than a half-baked, uncertain movement.
Make sure to have variety in your gestures. They are quickly perceived as repetitive.
3. Your facial expression
Your face communicates a lot about what you think and feel. This happens through your eyes, your eye movements, eyebrows, mouth, … Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell estimates that we humans can distinguish as many as 250,000 facial expressions!
The biggest ‘danger’ is that emotions or thoughts inside you ‘leak’ outside through your facial expressions. If they’re not consistent with what you’re saying, you’re missing impact on your audience.
For example, many novice speakers suffer from small tics in their faces, because they are nervous. I don’t have to tell you that’s a great distraction from what they’re actually saying.
Some important tips on facial expression:
Think of your face as an extra gesturing tool: emphasise your story with the appropriate expressions.
Film yourself to control your facial expressions. Unlike your body and your hands, you can’t see your own face under normal circumstances.
Don’t be afraid to exaggerate. Go to a theatre performance. There especially, actors are often very expressive with their faces. That adds dynamism (and therefore energy).
Make funny faces when you ‘warm up’ for your performance. That is often relaxing.
4. Your voice
If you listen to the radio or a podcast every once in a while, you know how much character is found in a voice alone. You don’t see who’s talking, but you still take away much of who someone is, or how they feel at that moment.
Your voice is like a musical instrument, and there are countless ways in which it ‘communicates’:
It can sound high or low
It can be loud or soft
You can speak fast or slowly
There’s dynamic: how much do you switch between high and low, loud and quiet, fast and slow?
How many pauses do you take?
Your language: do you speak general English (or your local language) — possibly with a light accent — or do you speak dialect?
How do you use your voice for speaking with impact?
Double your voice volume. Yes, this sounds excessive. You probably think you’re going to shout. Still, I challenge you to try it. If you record yourself, you’ll see that you simply sound much more powerful. Note: Make sure you use your voice properly. Focus on sound, not pressure. When speaking makes you tired, there is something wrong with your technique. It’s best to visit a voice coach in that case.
Emphasise your voice. In a business context, many people think they have to speak monotonously. There’s no need at all. Emphasise important words and passages. This has two advantages: you speak slower and your ‘connect’ better with the content of your speech.
Pause often. Everyone knows someone whose mouth never seems to stand still. Or — the equivalent in text — someone who puts dozens of lines of text in their emails without ever pressing the Return key. That’s annoying, plus it prevents the message from ‘landing’. Pausing allows you to think for a moment, it allows your audience to think, process their thoughts and nod, and it gives you a more powerful impression.
5. Eye contact
A notorious energy leak is the lack of real contact between you and your audience. You’ll feel a sense of isolation, of being alone, of ‘you against them’.
Creating contact with your audience prevents that from happening. How do you do that? With eye contact.
The principle is simple
Look people in the eye individually, one by one. Connect directly with each of them. When it gets uncomfortable, move on to the next one.
It’s a bit like watering the plants. Instead of spraying all your garden at once, you give each plant water and then continue to the next one.
Sounds uncomfortable? Try it out. For most speakers, this technique has a reassuring effect. Instead of speaking to a large group, you speak to one person at a time. Exactly what you’re used to doing in the rest of your life 😉
What tip for speaking with impact are you going to put in practice for your next speaking assignment? Let us know in a comment.
7 steps to prepare a speech in a surprisingly short time
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Some of my clients are CEOs of large companies. I also meet many small business entrepreneurs. One common thread is that they’re very busy. Successful leaders are mindful about how they spend every single minute.
It’s no surprise then, that when these leaders are asked to speak in public, the one thing they are thinking is:
How do I prepare a speech in as little time as possible?
Today I’d like to share with you an excerpt of my CEO playbook for delivering speeches. The section on preparation contains tips that are useful to anyone looking to prepare a speech in half the time while doubling their impact.
I’ve compiled them into a handy list of 7 steps:
The 7 steps to efficiently prepare a speech
The steps are:
Identify your purpose. Why are you speaking?
Know your audience. What are their aspirations, pains, …?
Add significance. Why should the audience care?
Define your clear message. What should your audience remember?
Establish your structure. Develop a middle part with one or two points supported by an anecdote, story, and preferably backed up by facts and data.
Prepare a strong opening and a strong ending.
1. Define your purpose
For a speech to be effective, it must have a clear goal. A goal also helps you focus while creating the speech.
Ask yourself: do you mainly want to…
Note: these goals may overlap, and one does not exclude another. But one must be your main goal.
2. Know your audience
In order to connect with your audience during speeches, it is important to be able to place yourself in their shoes. Only from this perspective can you truly communicate understanding and establish rapport.
To know your audience is to engage your audience.
The Empathy Map is a handy technique from the world of user experience and marketing, where it is used to better understand potential or existing customers. It works remarkably well when you prepare a speech, too.
The big idea is to go over the different areas in the map and come up with the elements that create your listeners’ mental world in relation to the topic.
Suppose you are to deliver a speech on the use of sugar in processed foods. Some questions the empathy map would trigger are:
What do they think about the use of sugar and how does it make them feel?
What do they hear about sugar from their environment or in the news?
What do they see when it comes to sugar, e.g. in terms of advertising or packaging?
What do they say about sugar to their peers? What do they do – what actions do they take (or not take)?
What pain, or significant disadvantages, do they associate with sugar?
What gain, or significant advantages, do they associate with sugar?
Note that the answers to some of these questions will overlap. Don’t worry about that — this is just a brainstorming tool to trigger relevant information stored in your memory. The point is not to organise information in any neat way.
Try it, even if it’s for 5 minutes! You’ll be surprised how helpful the answers are for:
finding an angle
finding the right words
and much more.
3. Add significance
Why significance is key when you prepare a speech
Crafting any good story starts with the why. What’s the point exactly?
There’s a saying in public speaking: you win the heart before you win the mind. Knowing the why of your speech is essential in accomplishing that.
Speakers engage an audience by being significant; by creating meaning. Audiences feel engaged when they have the feeling the talk is also about them. A great example is Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. The audience did not come to see Martin Luther King, they came because they identified with his ideas. They felt his speech was about them, their lives, and their dreams.
That explains the importance of step 2: Know your audience. You can only add significance if you have a clear image of the receiving end of your speech.
How to find your speech’s significance
To find the significance of your speech, ask yourself the following questions when you prepare a speech:
Why am I giving this speech?
What do I believe, that I want to share? What do I stand for?
So what?! Why should my audience care?
4. Define your clear message
Today, people are flooded with information. There is an image circulating on the web which goes so far to say that a person today receives more information in a day than a person in the middle ages in his entire life!
True or not, we can all agree that in a device-rich world, the information intake has never been more intense.
How does that translate to speeching? Well: to make your speech memorable, I suggest you focus on extracting one key message.
Your key message should be as simple as possible, regardless of the complexity of the issues and topics at hand. It will consist of one or two phrases that express your main point.
If that sounds daunting, let’s look at a model that can help.
The Message House model is a time-tested PR tool to condense complex stories into a thematic ‘house’. This house is made of a set of three messages that together form the overarching key message (called the Umbrella Statement in the model).
The Core Messages on the second level represent your Umbrella Statement, but in greater detail. They can be supporting arguments, sequential steps to take, conditional statements, descriptive (think: who, what, where, when, why and how), or of another kind.
Finally, the lower part of the house provides evidence, proof points and support. This is the foundation of your story.
How to use the Message House
In some cases, your Umbrella Statement (that’s your key message) will be very clear to you. If that’s so, it’s useful to come up with the 3 Core Messages that make up the Umbrella Statement.
At other times, you’ll have 2 or 3 messages in mind as you prepare a speech. In that case, consider those your Core messages and start to look for the single Umbrella Statement.
Examples of Umbrella Statements and their Core Messages
We need to allow our employees to do more remote working.
Employees lose time and energy in traffic.
Some employees report they feel less productive in larger office spaces.
Candidates for jobs that are hard to fill, are not attracted to our current policy.
We’re going to paint all of the streetside walls of our shops bright yellow.
First, I will introduce the idea at the annual shop owner’ meeting.
Then, I will have the team communicate the exact steps to each shop owner.
Finally, our sales representatives will check each shop they visit.
We’ve generated the most profit in the history of our company.
The Polish and Swedish teams did exceptionally well.
May and June were top periods for sales.
Orange bicycles are super popular and account for a large part of the profits.
5. Establish your structure
The way you organise information is essential if you want your audience to follow and understand your speech. Ideas must be put together in an orderly manner.
I therefore recommend every speaker to use an outline as the backbone for their speech.
An outline is simply 10,000 feet view of your speech. It’s as if you would zoom out completely and see the major turns your speech takes.
Why use an outline?
That’s easy: our brains are simply not capable of creating quality content from beginning to end.
Compare it to cooking a meal. Imagine yourself standing in front of different foods. Without thinking ahead, you grab a couple of ingredients and start cutting, cleaning and preparing them.
Unless you’re an experienced chef, that won’t result in a remarkable meal, will it? Without a gameplan to prepare a speech, the end result of your creation will be underwhelming.
Here are a few general directions your outlines can take. These are based on effective storytelling principles:
Problem – pathway – solution
Problem – solution – reasoning
Situation – complication – solution
Past – present – future
After you’ve decided on the general direction, flesh out your outline. See if you can describe your speech in ten to fifteen bullets. Refer to your Message House (see previous point) to make sure your outline includes your Core messages.
What structure works best for your purpose? Do you have a preference? Try a few structures for your speeches and choose the one that is most persuading.
Next, integrate even more storytelling. Your bigger picture might be represented by a story, but can you integrate ‘mini-stories’ to illustrate specific points?
6. Prepare a strong opening and strong ending
Scientific research shows it again and again. If you ask people to rate a certain experience they had recently, they will base a lot of their opinion on how it began and how it ends. Looking back at an experience, whatever happens in the middle seems to carry less weight for us.
A classic example is a visit to a restaurant. Smart restaurant owners focus extra on doing two things impeccably: the welcoming and the dessert. Although they pay great attention to the overall experience, of course, they know that a sloppy greeting of their guests, or a below-standard dessert, can easily spoil their guests’ memory of the whole evening.
For you, it means it’s smart to think twice about how you open and how you close.
Ideas for a strong opening
Here are a few angles to inspire you in crafting your opening:
‘Start with a bang’: use a quote, bold claim or striking fact, or ask a question.
‘So what?’: Go straight to the point and open with why your audience should care.
‘Introduce yourself’: But do it in a compelling way. Tell a juicy story. What would the tabloids write about you?
Make the purpose clear – What impact do you want to achieve?
Ideas for a memorable ending
Repeat your Key Message. Think ‘key takeaway’. This is a natural-feeling and effective way to make a firm point.
Refer to the beginning. Most good stories develop in a circular way. A problem introduced in the beginning gets solved in the end. Balance gets restored; etcetera.
Present a call-to-action. If you want your audience to take a certain action, always end with that.
1. Write out, practice and tweak (optional)
At this point, you could write out your speech in full text – if you have the time.
Read your text out loud for a few times until you’re comfortable with the content. You will probably still tweak a few parts.
If you don’t have the time, or you feel comfortable working with just bullet points, feel free to skip to step 2!
I do highly recommend you write out your opening and ending.
2. Bring back to bullet points and practice again
Once on stage, you don’t want to hold the full text of your speech in your hand. You will be tempted to look at it often, which will break your connection with the audience.
So now, reduce your text to a list of main points, keywords, facts and anecdotes. And practice your speech again. Refer back your outline from step 5 for the general structure.
This will also help you memorise the speech completely by heart faster.
Do I have to know my whole speech by heart, you ask?
My answer is: not necessarily. But as just mentioned, do know your opening and ending from the inside out.
3. Take your practice to the next level
Here are my rehearsing tips for the best results:
Record yourself. Most beginning speakers find this tough, but it’s an essential way of spotting weaknesses in your speaking and improving them.
Practice for real people. The gap between practising in front of a mirror and practising in front of a crowd is just too large. Practice for a small group of colleagues or family members to get used to the stress that comes with having an audience.
Ask for specific feedback. If you practice in front of people, help them evaluate you by asking them specific questions. It could be the content, your body language, or your opening. Anything you feel you need feedback on.
Rehearse often. Once you’re happy with your speech’s content and your performance, practice your speech ten times – if you have that luxury of time. If you need more practice, go for it. There’s no better confidence booster as knowing you’ve rehearsed your speech until it hurt 🙂
Although I could elaborate on each on the above points, this provides you with a larger plan to optimally prepare a speech.
Which point(s) do you find especially helpful? Maybe you have a point to add? Do let me know in a comment to this article.
Last modified 24/01/20
The day a man joined my women-only training, or: what you can learn from being an outsider
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Here’s an interesting take on what it feels like to be an outsider.
This is a feeling that many women in the working world experience on a daily basis. Many men are not conscious of this — which makes for a very interesting situation when the roles are reversed for once.
The feeling of being in a minority is a huge factor in how you experience or approach speaking in front of an audience, which is why I’d like to include this on our blog.
Here’s the story:
I had my first Christmas party of the year at The Library Group in Brussels which is ran by Anne-Sofie van den Born-Rehfeld and her team. As always, it was a great event with wonderful people.
When I was about to go home, I ran into Gaëtan Vanreusel. I had to think for a second where I knew him from, and then it hit me. ‘Weren’t you the only man in my Powerful Speaking for Women session for Leadarise some years ago?’
And he was! Gaëtan Vanreusel is an executive recruiter who founded Camario. His company won Best Excellence Recognition Award” at the HR Excellence Awards in November 2019.
So I asked Gaëtan a couple of questions on what that experience felt like, and thought I’d share the conversation with you. Many thanks to Gaëtan for letting us share his experience with everyone reading!
How did you end up to be the only man in a group of women?
“As a member of The Library Group, we are invited to events now and then. In a discussion with Anne-Sofie, I mentioned I had some trouble speaking in public. She then told me about a seminar that was planned at The Library by a great trainer. Seats were limited, she asked me if I was interested in joining, and I was glad to. Looking back, there was one thing she didn’t mention…
Arriving at the event itself, I was welcomed inside… only to realise I was the only man among 30+ women! I had just joined what was supposed to be a ‘women-only’ event.”
Was this the first time you were the only men among a group of women?
“I have never experienced anything like this before. I am usually quite an extraverted and highly sociable person, but I now felt I was in unknown territory, and that quieted me down.
I felt a bit uncomfortable for a minute, not sure how I was going to be accepted as a man in the audience. I really felt like a minority.
I’ve said before: “Hey, I wouldn’t mind being part of a minority”. But here, I really got the experience of getting all the attention that comes with it. It made me feel vulnerable.
Not knowing how man-friendly the crowd would be, I paid extra attention to what I said or did, being afraid of being misunderstood or being undermined.
It also made me think afterwards on why had I felt like this. I work with many women every day. But it’s remarkable to realise that I did not know what to expect in this situation, or what the ‘social pattern’ would be.”
I really got the experience of getting all the attention that comes with it. It made me feel vulnerable.
Did it make you reconsider how others experience being part of a minority in a professional context?
“Absolutely. I just didn’t realise what certain women were experiencing or how certain situations made them feel.
To be frank, I think before this, I was sort of missing the point. I used to think that negative experiences in this context had to do with the person in question probably being over-sensitive.
What I see now is how much social pressure is put on you when you are part of a minority. It was intimidating to stand out so much, and I suppose I was afraid of not being valued or judged beyond just my gender.”
What else did you take away from this evening?
“During this event, many women shared their experiences working in men-dominated environments. I realised that what I was experiencing these couple of hours, was actually everyday life for many women…
This experience of first being the only man and second, hearing all these different stories of how women need to fight for respect and equal treatment, was a real eye-opener.
It made me aware of how fragile we feel as part of a minority group. Since the experience, I try my best to give people who may feel part of a minority group, sufficient space to let them be who they are — without the need to conform themselves. I try to make them feel accepted, included, and like a part of a friendly environment.”
I try my best to give people who may feel part of a minority group, sufficient space to let them be who they are — without the need to conform themselves.
What is it that you will never forget about this experience?
“The mixed reactions I received as an extreme minority. For example:
Being eyed critically. I could see some women thinking, “What the hell is he doing here?” “Doesn’t he notice he’s the only guy?”.
Being taken “under their wings”, which sometimes came across as patronising. “Are you all right?” “Not too impressed being the only man here?” “Well, I have no problem with you being here!”
There was the very friendly type constantly making conversation and putting me at ease, taking my attention off of the seminar contents. I couldn’t help thinking, “She wants me to pay more attention to her… This must be how a woman feels when men don’t leave her alone…”
All this may sound silly, but those are the things that stuck and that I won’t forget.”
It’s something that needs to be talked about more. I think men need to be more receptive about this, but I would also sincerely invite women to mention it more.
What do you tell other people about this experience?
“I encourage them to communicate more. I personally did not realise how some women struggle to be respected, listened to, and treated equally.
It’s something that needs to be talked about more. I think men need to be more receptive about this, but I would also sincerely invite women to mention it more. I am convinced most men don’t have a clue, and an experience like this would foster great progress in the matter.
I feel fortunate to have been able to experience this. If it were not initially based on a misunderstanding, I probably would never have been ‘invited’ to such an event. Why not invite a man to a women-only work session, yoga class or gym once in a while?
After this experience, I am convinced that still in this day and age, we need to keep fighting for equal rights for men and women in our everyday lives. Plus, we need to make sure we protect ‘our’ minorities. I can’t ignore that any longer.”
Thank you for sharing, Gaëtan!
What can you take away from this story to improve your public speaking?
What fascinated me most about our conversation is that Gaëtan went through a transformative experience. One that changed his view of the world forever. And it’s exactly these experiences that are the perfect starting point for a brilliant speech.
Imagine for a second that Gaëtan had heard female colleagues complain about company culture, and had then agreed to give a speech, based on a meeting with these women, to encourage better gender equality.
Everyone can gather knowledge and create a speech around it. Only the bold go after actual experiences and instantly set their story apart from the rest.
Now, imagine him creating and giving a speech with the same purpose, but after his unique experience. Which, do you think, will have the most impact?
Everyone can gather knowledge and create a speech around it. Only the bold go after actual experiences and instantly set their story apart from the rest.
What do you take out of this interesting story? Let us know in a reply beneath.
Last modified 20/12/19
Writing A New Year’s Speech: Your Checklist (VIDEO)
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Are you planning a New Year’s speech, but are you experiencing a writer’s block?
Know that’s completely normal. Writing a memorable New Year’s speech is tough. Because it’s a milestone speech, it can seem like an overwhelming task.
Still, it is the perfect occasion to look back and look forward together, and thank the members of your team.
Here are my tips to prepare your New Year’s speech. (See text below video for tip details)
1. Define your speeching intention
There are unavoidable elements to a New Year’s speech, which we’ll look into below.
But to start off, ask yourself: What do I want people to take away, say one week after the speech?
Think not only in terms of what you want people to know, but also what you want them to feel and do.
What will they know? That even if this felt like our best year ever, they can prepare for an even better one
What will they feel? Proud, excited and curious
What will they do? They will act motivated and keep the objectives clearly in mind.
This way, you get one clear message that gives your speech direction.
2. First, look back
New Year’s is the time to review the past year. There are different angles you can mix and match:
Spot trends: As a leader, people look to you to paint the bigger picture. What are remarkable developments in the world? Your industry? Your organisation?
Tell stories: Every year has its good stories. Which can you use in your speech, that illustrate your main point? Or maybe they are just plain funny.
Give credit: In true holiday spirit, call out those that have accomplished valuable things. You will win hearts and confirm your image of a leader who is well aware of the value of their team. Try to include people on every level — not just your management team.
3. Then, look forward
New Year’s is also the time to formulate resolutions. Leaders have a vision. What are the big goals you are setting for your organisation or team?
These can be numeric (growth in sales, staff or offices, for example), but it might be appropriate to formulate ‘softer’ goals such as what you as an organisation will make happen in the world.
People love to have a direction to work towards, and this is your occasion to provide it as a leader. This is your ‘I have a dream’ moment!
4. Keep it light
Every speech has a context.
In the case of a New Year’s speech, that context is: your people have the holidays just behind them. They’ve had their fair deal of family dinners and receptions. They’ve probably eaten and possibly drank more than was good for them.
The message here is: a New Year’s speech that is too serious or too long is a bit like a cold shower at this point. Better to inject some warm feelings and a sense of humour.
5. End clearly and on a high note
As always, the end of your speech determines the final impression you make.
Ever had a splendid meal at a restaurant, but the dessert was disappointing? Then you know what I mean. So don’t waste that chance.
In the case of a New Year’s speech, it’s good practice to bring out a toast.
You could prepare your audience by using a ‘bridge phrase’ toward the then of your speech, such as:
“So, as I close this toast and we bring in a new year…”
And then you bring out your toast. Here are a few of our favourite ones:
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” — T.S. Eliot
“Here’s to a bright New Year and a fond farewell to the old; here’s to the things that are yet to come, and to the memories that we hold.”
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Dan Millman
“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” — Brad Paisley
“May all your troubles during the coming year be as short as your New Year’s resolutions.” (a funny one – ideal for keeping it light 😉 )
You can of course find another quote about change or gratitude that you like, or write your own.
Good luck writing your New Year’s Speech! Which tip will you implement? Do you have additional tips? Let me know in a comment.
Last modified 11/06/20
‘My life after Nelson Mandela’: An interview with his former aide, Zelda la Grange
by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh
Today, 18 July is International Nelson Mandela day. A day that invites us to follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela who has fought for social justice for 67 years, to start with 67 minutes volunteering or community service to fight poverty and promote peace, reconciliation and cultural diversity.
Zelda la Grange was raised as a daughter of white apartheid. She would become President Nelson Mandela’s most trusted and loyal assistant after she started working in the presidential office in 1994.
Brussels-based Speaker Coach Elizabeth Van Den Bergh had the honor to help Zelda la Grange prepare her TED Talk for TEDxFlanders 2019. The day after they found time for coffee and a talk.
I was nervous for our first skype call. In the first few minutes of my online meeting with Zelda la Grange, I was presenting myself she said ‘Elizabeth, I think you are selling yourself short’ and smiled. The ice was broken and we had a fruitful talk about what she would say in her Ted Talk about Nelson Mandela’s legacy. Only two hours after our first Skype call I already received a first draft of her Talk in my mailbox. Zelda la Grange is that kind of person: warm, kind and committed.
After having been so close to Madiba for 19 years, how did you deal with his passing?
Writing the book Goodmorning Mr. Mandela was cathartic. Madiba (a title of respect for Nelson Mandela, deriving from his Xhosa clan name) is still very present in my life because I talk about him every day and that helps.
It is almost 6 years since he passed away. I have not really taken two months off to mourn and process what has happened to me. I haven’t had the time to sit and think about it. I prefer it this way because otherwise I could have become conceited.
Working alongside Madiba with everybody from Bono, to President Clinton and everybody who felt they needed some of his time and a photograph alongside him, must have been so intense. After 19 years of working at times day and night, what kind of life did you see for yourself and what actually happened?
Haha, good question. At some point I just longed for a quieter life and was thinking of opening a florist shop, but things turned out quite differently!
People ask me ‘Zelda, do you have a five year plan? I don’t!’
Looking back at my life, I did not have the ambition to become so close to Madiba.
I believe my life purpose is revelations.
I am revealing the person that I worked for. In doing so I am also pursuing my passion.
Looking back now, how did you end up working alongside one of the most famous presidents in human history?
At the age of 23 I didn’t want to be the office assistant, this rookie job. But I committed and became the manager. I am extremely hard-working, I simply get things done.
I don’t know why President Mandela picked me to be his personal assistant, but he did.
I am an all or nothing kind of person. If my heart is not in something I cannot engage and then I’d rather leave it. In my work with Nelson Mandela my level of commitment is what differentiated me. I was 110% in the job, you cannot ignore such commitment.
It is important to be in the moment and doing the best you can with what you have.
It’s really about becoming the best in your craft with dedication, loyalty and commitment, just like Nelson Mandela.
If I would have said ‘I can’t do all this by myself, being a personal assistant, being a spokesperson and being a crisis manager, I wouldn’t have gone through the wonderful rollercoaster I have.
I didn’t always like my job, but it gave me opportunities. And that’s the thing, we don’t always see opportunities. But I have learned do what you do with complete conviction then the next step will be a secure one.
If I had had children I would have been the best mother. But motherhood is not what life presented me. Life presented me a different path.
But, I had such a privileged life. To be so close to someone like him.
I have an obligation. It is my way to show gratitude. Gratitude that I am paying forward by making people understand what Madiba’s work is all about.
How did you become a professional speaker?
My speaker career started in 2010, when we were cutting on Madiba’s public life because physically it was not possible for him anymore.
A friend of mine who works for the rugby association invited me to speak to the Sprinkbok national women’s team.
Not being used to public speaking. I actually I enjoyed it. And then more and more speaking engagements come from that.
In 2010 Madiba was still alive, but I stopped taking on speaking engagements 3 months before he passed away. There was a lot of admin work around his office and supporting his wife Graça Machel.
I didn’t plan that my book would come 6 months after his passing, but that’s what happened and then the speaking engagements picked up.
There was the desire to hear his story. I must say I was completely overwhelmed by the selling of the book. People asked how many books do you want to sell.
I have no idea about the sales numbers. The demand for it just didn’t stop.
I had other plans. Around publishing time I had plans to go to a more simple life.
Dealing with the politics around Nelson Mandela is exhausting. This was the moment I was determined to open a florist. But as you can tell, things turned out differently.
You are getting caught up in another roller coaster?
Yes! So many things have happened to me since the book and the passing.
I am getting involved in interesting things. I co-curated an exhibition in London.
There is a documentary in Afrikaans about the young life of Nelson Mandela.
8 years have gone by since he passed away and nothing has been done in terms of broadcasting. Nothing about the history and I am passionate about that.
I am involved in a weekly women’s talk show that I present in Afrikaans. I enjoy the variety of all these many things.
And then life enfolds itself?
Indeed, from all of these things the next opportunity will come. I believe the universe reveals itself in time. Whenever I want to stop I’ll meet someone who will inspire me, encourage me. To continue. I take it as a sign.
So, I don’t sit down and think I have a particular role to play. Or my voice is important.
I just do. And when I do, I do with complete conviction.
If it was in my nature to sit down and reflect I could have become conceited.
Like look at me, but I don’t. Even now I don’t have time to think, and that’s good. It goes to your head. I find satisfaction from doing.
How has Madiba’s way of being affected you?
The learnings from Mandela become part of ones nature.
I have adopted a different regard for other people. Mr. Nelson Mandela was a very mindful person by nature. Being mindful takes practice. It is so hard these days surviving in today’s fast moving world, you would easily forget to be mindful.
For example, when someone serves me at the restaurant, I make eye contact and connect with that other human being.
We live in our little silos and that’s why we have become so unaware of each other’s struggle. Many of us are just making it through the day. So if you look up at the person serving you, and say’ thank you very much are you having a good day’ you are making a difference in someone’s day.
Or, like in the supermarket, the person taking your money, I look at the name tag and say something kind. This is important for someone’s survival. Other people are human beings as well.
Nelson Mandela also taught me to think about people’s circumstances, specifically in the South African context.
It has to do with empathy. For example, you are driving your car and someone cuts into you. Despite of the tensions and road rage, I would not get angry because the person made a stupid mistake.
Not judging but asking why is this person behaving in a particular way. Realising that there may be a very good reason. That I would not understand because I am just in my moment dealing with my frustration. We are all so full of prejudices and that’s only human, but our challenge is to question our prejudice. I don’t reduce other people to their actions.
It will shock people but if I look at the most hardened murderer, I still feel empathy.
Nelson Mandela believes no one is beyond redemption. He would reach out to a murderer and say ‘you have made a mistake, you have to deal with the consequences, but it doesn’t mean we have written you off.‘
When you speak in public do you act or are you being yourself?
It is not about not being yourself it is about the delivery. I am very much at ease with one on one conversations, or talking in groups of friends. But as an introvert I find it challenging to speak to big crowds or strangers. On stage I bridge that for myself. It is out of character for me in that big room. That’s where the acting comes in. I dramatize in the delivery. And the storytelling behind it.
I wanted to be an actress growing up. I didn’t become one, but in my 19 years with Nelson Mandela I was surely given the opportunity to act. Being the frontperson for him requires acting and role play. I was not skilled but got to do it. In speaking it is also exactly that.
I use a lot of humor. Nelson Mandela also had a great sense of humor. I use that and it’s entertaining. I add both prepared and unprepared jokes.
Certain stories people find funny.
When Madiba (Mandela’s clan name, editor’s note) met Queen Elizabeth, he first looked at her from the other side of the room. He had every intention to respect the protocol. But he also wanted to break the ice.
He took a long time to cross the room, and finally he said ‘Elizabeth. You lost weight!’ And she burst into laughter.
Ms. Machell, Madiba’s wife, quickly tried to correct him: ‘You cannot call her Elizabeth!’ ‘Why not?’ he replied, ‘She calls me Nelson’.
In any situation he could use his sense of humor to diffuse tension.
If you meet young people what do you tell them?
I believe things will happen as they should and that we should know that we are at the right place and right time.
So, I tell young people ‘Be present in the moment and do everything with complete conviction. Because we never realize which opportunity could come to us.’
And remember, ‘It always seem impossible until it’s done.’