Speaking coach and consultant, Lanie Presswood, is our guest for the 161st episode of The Copywriter Club podcast. Lanie coached both of us (Kira and Rob) as we scripted and delivered our presentations at our copywriting event, The Copywriter Club In Real Life. We asked Lanie to join us to talk about public speaking, what to do (and not do) on stage and this long list of other topics we covered:
• her journey to becoming a public speaker and speaking consultant
• some of Lanie’s early successes
• the time Rob ruined Hillary Weiss’ presentation at TCCIRL
• how to deal with stage fright when getting up to speak
• the best ways to prepare a presentation that an audience wants to see
• how to “lay out” a presentation to get attention and persuade
• the 5 parts of a speech: definitions, scope, explanation, description, illustration
• the biggest mistake presenters make when giving a speech
• what a speaker can expect from the audience
• physicality—what to do with your hands and body as you speak
• things you should never do as a speaker
• whether you should play a “role” on stage (you don’t have to be Gary V)
• developing the “skill” of public speaking… no one is born an expert
• Lanie’s advice to anyone who thinks they don’t have anything to talk about
• whether or not you should write out your speech ahead of time
• the difference between video presentations and live presentations
We also asked Lanie about the future of public speaking (a little twist on the question we usually end with). To learn more about how you can use public speaking to grow your authority, click the play button below, or download the episode to your favorite podcast player. Readers scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Hillary Weiss Presswood
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode 161 as we chat with professor, communications expert, and public speaking consultant Lanie Presswood about speaking from the stage, what makes a good presentation, the simple things we can do to communicate more clearly, and how to avoid the worst mistakes speakers make.
Lanie: Hello. Thank you so much for having me here.
Kira: I feel like this was a long time coming. Especially considering you helped both of us with our presentations at TCC In Real Life this past year. So, we’re excited to dig into that and talk more about you and your story. Let’s kick it off with your story. How did you end up as a public speaking consultant and professor?
Lanie: So, I got into competitive speech and debate as a high schooler. And I was very bent on being a journalist at this point in time. I’m about 15, very, very opinionated, have lots of thoughts, and I think I’m going to storm down the doors of a newsroom somewhere in the nebulous future and right away they’re going to hire me to just take on big names and bash in some skulls and change the world. This was my vision for myself. So, I knew that to do that I needed to get into a good college and therefore I needed a lot of extracurriculars. But unfortunately, I was really not particularly physically gifted and therefore I was really looking for a lot of things to do that didn’t involve me having to go outside and run. I also wanted to get away from the legacy of my older brothers. Two years older than me, and he was very talented and very smart and extremely popular. So, I was really trying to find something to do at that point in my high school career that would just belong to me. And that’s how I wandered into forensics, which is speech and debate, not cutting apart dead bodies and investigating crime scenes for the purposes of the next hour.
And I was terrible. So, so bad. I just had paralyzing stage fright whenever I had to get up in front of people. Would turn this bright purple color. It’s a flush that started in my chest and kind of worked its way up my face. My hands would shake, my knees would knock, my voice would shake. Just all the sights and sounds of terrible public speaking. I was so, so bad. But, I started to learn very slowly, a little bit about what different audiences and different types of judges were looking for, about what was consistent across every different kind of speaking occasion and what sort of changed every time you stood up in front of a different group of people. But I got to the end of my high school career and I was like all right, I’ve learned things, I have improved, I’ve started to gently chip away at that stage fright, but I think I want to do other things. So, I went to college, I got in, my boodle of extracurriculars worked. And I was like, ‘All right, I’m don’t with that now, I’m going to do something else. Maybe the radio station.’ I was excited about the radio station.
And so I had a friend who was two years older than me, who I’d gone to high school with, who knew someone else on the speech team and was like, ‘Hey, you got to join the speech team here like you were in high school, because my friend needs a partner for this paired event.’ And I said, ‘Eh’. I wasn’t super into that idea. But I didn’t have any friends, and I was like, okay, I’ll give it a try to get some friends and maybe I’ll just do it for a little bit and then jump ship and do something else instead. Which of course is not what happened. I got immediately sucked in and really just loved it. I loved being able to travel around the country. That team took me to Portland, Oregon, to Austin, Texas, to everywhere in between. And I got intoxicated with the thought of winning. Because I figured out that once you actually spent hours per week planning and writing and practicing and being coached one on one by a professional, you can improve pretty quickly. So, I started to get better, I started to get over my stage fright, and then I started to win.
And once I started to win, I was just hooked for life. So eventually over the course of my four years in college, I won multiple individual state championships. I went to out rounds, to final rounds in multiple events at one of our national tournaments. And I was even a national championship winner in impromptu speaking at one of our national championships, which was very exciting. And I’m still proud of that, bring it up whenever possible. So, got very successful through college, really learned how to shape my arguments and what worked well for me as a speaker. Once again, throughout the course of this somehow realized that I was never going to be a journalist. So I decided well, if I can’t be a journalist, I’m just going to stay in school. Ended up going to graduate school to focus on rhetoric and communication. Which is the fancy words for public speaking, really. I was like, ‘Okay, now I’m definitely done with forensics. I’ve been doing it for seven years, that’s a lot. I’m definitely going to move on.’ And then they offered me an assistantship position. They offered to pay for my graduate school if I went to Ohio University and coached. And I said, ‘Well, all right, I guess if I have to.’
So once again I got drawn back in and I spent another four years on the other side of the bench coaching students and shepherding them around the country. And learned a lot about what some common errors are and how other people manifest those same feelings of stage fright that I had been feeling all those years ago. And how to used my own experience to talk them through it. At the same time was teaching in the classroom as a graduate instructor. And kind of started to think about how students who weren’t motivated to spend all of their free time doing competitive speaking, needed to be worked through some of those issues. So that takes us up to the graduation from my PhD program and becoming Dr. Presswood and my first real grown up lady job, which was at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. And I was running their Gen Ed public speaking program and giving other professors ideas for how to help their students. And I created this lovely toolkit that we handed out to everybody in this instructor’s handbook. And it was wonderful, but the school was very small. We’re talking like 800 students small. So, I had a lot of free time.
And that’s about the point where Hillary Weiss, who is now, just as of a few weeks ago, my sister-in-law, came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I have this large speaking event coming up. Can you help me prepare for it?’ And I said, ‘I would love nothing more in the entire world than that.’ And that’s what launched me into consulting and specifically into working with copywriters who need some help or assistance turning their brilliant written thoughts into brilliant spoken thoughts. And that just about catches us up to how I met you, Rob and Kira and where I am today.
Rob: Yeah, speaking of copywriters who need help with their spoken thoughts. I think we both qualify there for sure. There’s so much to unpack here Lanie, but before we do that, I want to know about those first couple of speeches that you were giving or even in college, what kinds of things were you talking about? Maybe you even still have some of them memorized, you can give us a [crosstalk 00:07:31].
Lanie: Oh lord, I really do not. I wish I did for you, that would be excellent. In high school I was doing some of the more … Like I started some of the more theatrical events because competitive speech and debate also involves some interpretive theatrical monologue kind of events. So that’s where I started. It’s the easier place to start because you don’t have to focus on learning how to create an argument and speak in front of an audience at the same time. One of my more successful speeches as a senior in 2013, was on how social media sites like Facebook, hold all of your information and how employers were increasingly asking prospective employees to log into their Facebook for them. So you’d go to a job interview and Rob, if you were interviewing me, you’d say, ‘Great, now can you give me your Facebook login and password so I can check up on you and make sure that your interests and your personality fit our culture here?’ Which was alarmingly common at one point in time. I think it’s slacked off a little bit now. So yeah, that was legal at the time. They could do that. They could ask you to do that. And if you reasonably said no as the interviewee, they could be like, ‘Well, you know the last person said yes, so what are you hiding?’
Kira: All right, so Lanie, like you mentioned, we heard about you from Hillary, who was raving about you and then we actually got to see her at our first TCC In Real Life event. And it was probably the most magical moment of that entire event. Because Hillary’s slides were not working and Rob was frantically trying to get the slides to work at the podium and getting more and more anxious and handling it very well, Rob.
Rob: I was going to say, magical isn’t the word that springs to mind for me. It was a little stressful.
Kira: It was magical from the back of the room as I was watching it unfold. And Hillary, she didn’t miss a beat. She saw her slides weren’t working and she just didn’t panic and she just jumped into her presentation and just went for it. And it was one of the best presentations from the whole day. And it’s because we were like, how did you do it? And she said it was because she worked with you.
Lanie: I love that that moment has become TCC lore, and like 90% of it is just Hillary, she’s amazing. The other 10% was Hillary and I spending many hours together over Zoom or Skype and me saying repeatedly, ‘No, that wasn’t good enough, start from the beginning,’ over and over again.
Kira: Well it worked, and yes Hillary is amazing, and she just brought it. So, my question for you is, you mentioned that there are common errors that manifest stage fright, so what are some of those common errors and then how do you help your clients or students navigate through those errors?
Lanie: Yes. I’m just going to launch in here. Because there’s a couple different directions I can take that question, but we’re going to give you all of them. So I think there’s always a few really standard physical reactions that people experience to stage fright that you can track them, there’s research that’s done about them. So the physical sensations of shortness of breath and dry mouth and the shakes that you get, the vocal shake that comes about too, and then the racing thoughts, the panic, the anxiety that comes around. It’s the same for everybody. Which when you’re experiencing it, doesn’t make you feel any better. You’re like, ‘I don’t care right now that everyone feels terrible, because my terribleness is unique and happening to me right now.’ But I think the more you sit in that knowledge, that this is a natural reaction, the better prepared you feel when it happens to you. So step one, I think is acknowledging that that’s a natural reaction, that’s how the human body reacts to stress, and it’s not something wrong with you. And once you realize that, you can say to yourself, this physical reaction that I am having to anxiety, is actually very, very similar to what happens to your body when you get excited. So this is where some fun psychology comes into play.
Because if you tell yourself enough, ‘I feel good, I am excited about this,’ it has a measurable impact on how you respond to those situations. So I have rules in place, both with my consulting clients and with the kids who I coach on my university’s speech team, about negative self-talk. And they all laugh at me a little bit, but it’s for a real measurable reason. Because if you tell yourself, ‘I feel terrible, I’m going to fail, everyone is going to laugh at me,’ it’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy. So realizing that anxiety is natural, preparing yourself to feel it, acknowledging that it’s normal, and then pushing yourself over that edge into thinking of it as excitement instead of nervousness, is a good place to start for beginners. But I also think a lot of people under prepare. Real problem with under preparing. Especially if you’re someone who has historically experienced that stage fright, because it’s unpleasant and you don’t want to put yourself in the mindset where you’re thinking about it and preparing for it. So you just avoid it.
But obviously if you’re just avoiding it, then you’re setting yourself up to just experience it more and more and for that cycle to get worse. So I really encourage everyone to prepare on every level. To really prepare your argument itself. To not just say, ‘Well, I’ve been working in X field, X niche of marketing or copywriting for this many years, and I know my content really well so I think that I can just get up there and do it. I can just wing it and I don’t need to practice.’ Probably not true. You should definitely practice what you’re going to say and you should practice how you’re going to say it as close as possible to the actual speaking occasion. So to me that even includes putting on the actual shoes I’m going to be wearing that day that I speak, so if I’m going to be wearing my nice black leather pumps, there’ll be me standing up in my carpeted bedroom in my black leather pumps to put myself in that right mindset and physical space.
Rob: Yeah, it’s funny that you mention that because when you and I were working together you kept making me stand up.
Rob: You wouldn’t let me sit down as I’m trying go through the things that I put together. So let’s talk more about preparation because it’s obviously not just getting the right mindset or even putting on the right clothes. But there’s a lot that goes into preparing the actual text of the speech. Will you walk us through, what does it take to really put together, not just a good presentation, but one that’s really going to connect with the audience that’s there to hear you speak?
Lanie: I think a lot of it starts with understanding the reason you were asked to speak. So I’m going to assume in this moment that we’re talking about an event like TCC or one of the similar events where someone has invited you there and probably they have given you some sort of direction about what they want you to cover. Whether it’s whatever your niche that you’re known for is, or some sort of need that they have to fill on the program. Starting there and starting at the broadest possible level and then narrowing it down will always, always, always get a speaker to a better point than starting right away with their most specific idea. And that urge to start right away with something really specific is kind of a common mistake that I see. So I’ll tell you what I mean. Often I’ll ask someone if they come to me and we’re having an exploratory conversation. And I’ll ask, ‘Do you want this presentation to be informative or persuasive?’ And they don’t know. And that’s something you really should know right away, if someone has asked you to speak. Are you delivering content or are you trying to pitch something to change someone’s mind, to solve a problem?
So right away at the biggest level that difference in purpose, informative versus persuasive, changes the entire way you approach setting up a speech. There are different organizational structures that file under both of those tactics. There are different argumentative tactics we can put into place there. There are different kinds of sources that apply to those different types of speeches. So first you have to ask yourself, what is this event? What does the organizer want from me? And then, what do I need to get out of this event as well? And then you can start narrowing things down. Okay. If I know that I want my talk to be persuasive, who am I speaking to? Agent of action is our fancy term there. Who am I speaking to? Is it just people attending this event? Is this talk going to be recorded and available on the internet for other people? Is everyone in this room my audience right now or am I maybe talking a little more to one type of listener? Public speaking should always, always, always be audience centered. So if you don’t know who’s attending the talk that you’re giving, right away you’re setting yourself up for difficulty in trying to be able to do a good effective job of crafting that message.
Kira: Okay, so can we break it down even more into how you outline … And maybe this is different with information versus persuasion. But can we break it down to see how you actually should lay out the outline before really scripting it and thinking through word for word what you’re going to say?
Lanie: Yeah. A persuasive speech is easier to think about, because almost always a persuasive speech is going to be either a problem, cause, solution or a cause, affect, solution setup. So if you’re trying to persuade someone of something, whether it’s to opt into the TCC Underground or anything else you might be trying to convince them to do to make a change in their behavior or they’re beliefs, you need to identify a problem first. Is it money? Is it time? Is it something else? What is the issue? Shape the problem that you have discovered through your dedicated research. Because you have talked to your audience and you have done some reading and you know what they think. Understand the problem, shape the problem in a way that pushes it towards the solution you want to advocate for. And I know so many people in copywriting have some kind of marketing background or they’ve done some sort of marketing research at various points. And that knowledge is really, really helpful in persuasion. Persuasion is inherently a tiny bit manipulative. You want someone to change what they’re doing and you have to embrace that feel a little bit to be able to do so effectively. This is why I love public speaking. You get to puppeteer a little bit.
So you have to understand what they need and then you’re setting up a problem. You’re describing it in a way that makes them feel heard or seen. So they say, ‘Yes, you’re correct, that is absolutely what is plaguing my life right now.’ You explain the causes of the problem. Well, if they don’t have any money, why don’t they have the money? Who’s taking the money? Where else is the money going? And then you pitch your solution. You tell them how you’re going to solve that problem for them. And if you have done this well and you have used appropriate kinds of sources, then they will feel like you are the best person who has ever been put on this earth. That no one understands them more than you. That you alone can solve this problem that you have placed before them. So you walk them step by step through what the problem is, how it became a problem, and then how you with them can fix it. Almost every kind of persuasive speech that you can point to in the world follows that general format somehow. Three steps. You might have sub points in there. You might have mini steps. But they all file under that sort of general format.
Informative speeches are going to be a little different based on what your topic is. But there’s a concrete set of tactics that you can always turn to compile your informative presentation. Our informative toolkit. All right. Part one is explanation. What are we talking about? What does it look like? What does it feel like? Part two is definitions. Prove that you’re the expert here. Part three is descriptions. So how does this thing play out in real life? Like where would I find it? Who is impacted by it? And then part four is illustrations, where you explain how to do something or how something was done or tell me how to visualize it.
So there’s always tactics that are already laid out there in the world for you to help put a speech together. There’s 3,000 years of rhetorical history in existence. So many people have done work on organization and my goal is always to help speakers realize that they don’t need to start from scratch. No matter whether I’m working in the classroom, whether I’m working with a consulting client, you never need to feel like you’re staring at that blinking cursor with no one to help you there. Lots of organizational formats already exist out there in the world. You should definitely use them. I promise it won’t seem derivative. It won’t seem inauthentic. It will be easier for your audience to understand.
Rob: So can we talk about some examples of these four tactics?
Rob: When you’re talking about illustrating some of these things and demonstrating. What would we be doing in a speech in order to do these four things?
Lanie: Uh, give me a topic Rob.
Rob: Okay, so let’s say that I was asked to speak about buying a home. I want to buy a home. Something like that.
Lanie: Perfect. Okay. So if we’re thinking about definitions, we’re thinking about what kind of terms are relevant here. So for buying a home, maybe a mortgage, different kinds of mortgage. Maybe you want to think about the market. Define all of those terms for us as they are relevant. Maybe if you yourself are not a realtor, using someone who is. So that means you’re pulling in external citations. You’re saying all right, according to the experts, here’s everything that we need to know. Definitions. Straight coming back to giving the audience the relevant terms that they need to know. That also helps set up scope. So if you’re talking to me about buying a home and you’re telling me specifically which kind of mortgage … And I can’t talk about kinds of mortgages. But if you’re telling me specifically which one, and you’re defining it for me, then that automatically pushes me as your listener in the right direction for what I need to know about. I don’t need to know about the fixed mortgage. I only need to know about the renewable mortgage. Explanation is going to come out into a broader term and often becomes prescriptive. So if you want to buy a home, here’s step one, here’s step two. Explain to me how to do it. What is the process.
Description often comes about in terms of talking about how someone else has done it. Here’s what each step of the process looks like for you. Illustration might be a case study to help me understand, when Rob bought a house, here’s what he learned from the process. Here’s the literal house that he bought. Look, it’s a picture of the house that he bought. We can look at the documents that he signed to move through this process.
Rob: Cool. So, just making sure or maybe applying this then to something that’s more applicable to our listeners and to our own lives. If I were speaking of copywriting, definitions might be things that are structural like headlines, sub heads, body copy, or it could be persuasive tactics and techniques that I might be using. Scope would maybe be talking about the kinds of assignments that we would do as copywriters or the impact that that might have for our clients. Explanation, obviously walking through what it is that we do and how we do it. Descriptions might be where I would start to … Or maybe it’s illustration, where I’d start to tell stories about how I’ve done this on my own and talking about outcomes. Is that fair?
Lanie: Illustration, yes. You got it.
Rob: All right, I got it. I’m good. Interview over.
Lanie: Ready to give an informative speech.
Kira: All right, so where have you seen presenters go wrong with informative and persuasive presentations? Is it just that you can tell when there is no outline or they veer off of an outline and all of the sudden they’re just free falling? What have you seen?
Lanie: I think the biggest problem that a lot of presenters’ encounter is scope. They want to cover way too much. Way too much. They have all these ideas and often the ideas are all good, but they just don’t realize the time limit that’s been imposed them, whether it’s 10 minutes or 40 minutes, what that actually looks like. Some of that comes into play when a speaker gets really engaged in whatever their first piece might be. So often people hear rightly that you should start with some sort of engaging narrative. Great, good tactic. But they get really caught up in the excitement of telling that narrative and then all of the sudden they’ve spent 10 minutes on their opening hook out of their entire 30 minute presentation, and now they have to cover all of their content in a drastically reduced amount of time. So I always try and help people be realistic about the amount of things that they can cover inside their time window. Especially remembering that the audience knows less than you and you at this point have spent days or weeks working on this script, this outline, this presentation and the audience has never seen it before. So it’s always less that you can cover than you pretty think it is going in.
Scope is a big one. Connecting points is also a good one. And that comes back to not having a good grasp on what your central thesis, your main idea is. So for example, I just saw one of my students give a speech on basketball. And he said up front at the beginning he really wanted to focus on the development of basketball as a sport. Here’s who invented it, here’s what it looked like and why it was invented. Here are the changes that have been made to modern day basketball since then. Great. Makes total sense. Except at the end of that speech, in his third point, he started talking about the reputation that international basketball players have gotten and he gave us some really interesting information about Chinese basketball players being treated like rock stars. But all of the sudden it didn’t have anything to do with this argument that he had started with about the history and development of basketball. So if he had shifted the focus to include the international and national reputations of basketball, maybe this would work. But that’s a classic case of someone who finds a cool piece of information and they’re like, ‘Oh man, I really want to share this with my audience,’ and they didn’t realize that they should have taken a heavier hand editing and focused in more on whatever would help support their major argument.
Rob: So when we first started talking you mentioned that we need to be cognizant of who the audience is and whom you’re talking to and it feels like it kind of pulls back to the audience here when we’re talking about the things that you’re communicating. How much should we expect the audience to remember from a speech? Obviously they’re not going to remember every single thing, but if we have five points to share or seven points to share, is that too much or is it reasonable to expect somebody to walk away with notes and remember something that in depth?
Lanie: That’s a great question. And I think a lot of it depends on the kind of event that you’re at. So if you’re at an event that’s pitched to attendees as educational, where they’re going intending to learn, intending to leave with information, I think it’s absolutely reasonable to expect them to be taking notes. In which case you can give them five or seven main points. Please be sure that you are previewing and reviewing those main points appropriately and using a bit of planned redundancy to give them to the audience more than once, so that they can absolutely remember them. If however you’re in a different scenario, less of an educational scenario and more of a publicity scenario, let’s say, where there’s a lot of different people vying for attention, multiple sessions going on at one time, that’s a great time where you’d want to cut back and say okay, instead of giving this really nice in depth detailed six points analysis that’s going to be a toolkit for someone to take home, we’re going to back it way up, I’m going to have just one major idea and maybe two supporting points for this idea that I know they’ll remember. It does come back to knowing your audience and understanding the event that you’re speaking at.
Kira: Let’s talk about the delivery of a presentation. I know you wrote an article about what to do with your hands, with lots of tips and I know that’s something that you and I had talked about because I was like, ‘What do I do with my body? What do I do with my hands?’ So could you just give some advice or some tips around what to do with our body while presenting?
Lanie: Physicality should always enhance the content, the verbal content, the planned content of your presentation. So I actually recommend printing things out on paper. I’m super old school. I like hard copy papers. I was just talking about that on Twitter. But actually, look at something on paper and markup where the stress is, where the emphasis should be. So, anytime you’re talking about relations, specifically causality, like the occurrence of thing X directly led to the popularity of thing B, that’s something you can show us with your hands. You can use that body to directly reinforce the message you are giving to your audience in a way that really helps them understand and approach your content. But that requires getting into that content and understanding what your message is going to be. Especially if you’ve worked with someone like me. If you’ve worked with a co-writer or a ghost writer and you haven’t written all of those words on that page, even more important to do a run through where you’re looking at where the stress and the emphasis in those points should be.
Rob: Okay. So let’s talk about some never do’s. Let’s say that we’ve been invited to speak on stage. Maybe it’s the first time or maybe we’re speaking quite a bit. Are there things that we should just never do once we get up on stage? Never say? Even from moving our bodies to the things that we talk about?
Lanie: Never turn your back on your audience. Especially if you have slides. I see people think that well, if I’m not speaking or if it’s more important that they’re looking at my chart right now, I can prove that by turning around and looking at the slide. And this’ll show everyone that they should be also looking at the slide with me. But don’t turn your back on your audience. It’s just kind of rude. And it doesn’t set you up for success when you continue speaking so people can see your face and they can engage with you. And even if you have your audience looking at a slide, you certainly want to be looking at them to see if they understand, to see if anyone looks confused, so you can adapt to those needs. I don’t want people to try and be something that they’re not, which is a bit of a vague point I know. But that’s another common mistake I see for new people and that’s my big no, is just because something worked really, really well for that all-star keynote speaker you watched last year, doesn’t mean it’s going to work really well for you.
Rob: I’m sorry, I just want to jump in. So if somebody’s really energetic you don’t necessarily need to get up on stage and be really energetic because that’s the [crosstalk 00:31:03].
Lanie: Rob. I got to say to the audience for just a moment here that Rob and I tussled because I wanted him to be more energetic with his presentation. I feel like this is a pointed question from Rob here.
Rob: It wasn’t really intended to be that. I was actually thinking of other people that I’ve seen on stage that I really admire. And I think, ‘Oh wow, I wish that I could get up on stage and show that kind of energy, but there’s no way that’s going to come naturally to me.’ So there’s definitely-
Kira: You were jumping up and down on the stage.
Rob: There’s a happy medium somewhere in there.
Lanie: Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s value in pulling up your energy, your emphasis, your inflections for the stage, the same way you would pull up your makeup for the stage. But that doesn’t mean that you have to all of a sudden become … Who’s the workout guy?
Rob: Gary Vee or some of these other guys.
Lanie: You don’t have to become Gary Vee. You don’t have to totally change your personality. If by nature you are a calm, reserved person, you can pull yourself up a notch. But your audience, if they know you, is just going to be confused. And even if they don’t, it probably won’t ring true. It won’t be effective.
Kira: Yeah. And maybe this is a similar question, but I’ve heard within some of our copywriter groups, a couple of copywriters say, ‘I really want to speak on stage, but I’m really quiet and soft spoken or I’m an introvert.’ And I feel like it’s really easy for us to make excuses. Especially if we aren’t the Gary Vee or even close to that. So what would you say to someone who is questioning whether or not it’s possible for them?
Lanie: I would say, and I do say all the time, that public speaking is a skill, not a talent. Some people are born with a little more flare or confidence, but I already told you that I was terrible and so scared for years. And it took me 14 years to get to the point where I could feel really comfortable speaking in front of people, speaking off the cuff. I just last year hit the point where I can listen to myself in a podcast recorded like this and feel zero discomfort. That was a big moment for me. I was very proud. But, it takes a long time and it takes practice. So it doesn’t ultimately matter and I say that with nothing but kindness and love. It doesn’t matter if you’re quiet interpersonally if you don’t jump into stranger’s conversations. Public speaking is a different skillset. It’s one that you can learn. It’s one that you can practice. You don’t have to be born a good speaker. That’s a persistent myth. It comes from Cicero, the ancient Roman empire.
Rob: Okay so, this is maybe a question you don’t get a lot because you’re working with people who have been asked to speak or who have accepted speaking assignments, but one thing that we hear a lot when we’re talking with other copywriters and saying, ‘Hey, you should be on stage, you should be on podcasts,’ is that they don’t have anything to say. What would you say to somebody who feels like they don’t have anything to share on stage?
Lanie: I’d ask them to start taking notes in their daily life. Like literally I would keep a little notebook with you or your notes app on your phone is a great place for this. And just start jotting down ideas when you have them. So anything from, ‘Ugh, I heard about this today and it made me super angry,’ to, ‘Oh man I had the best idea for what is the next step for my business.’ Periodically go back to the list and look either for patterns in things that are jumping out to you on a day to day basis, or try and answer your own questions. So if there was that thing in the news that really bothered you, ask yourself why? Why did that bother me? Is there a platform there that I can start to talk about? But taking note of things on a day to day basis in a smaller way can build you up to a much better personal platform than just being put on the spot and being like, what’s your elevator pitch Rob? What are your ideas right now?
Kira: All right so, when we’re thinking about the hook, the intro, breaking the ice, I feel like I’ve heard a variety of advice around this and I always feel like okay, it has to be big, it has to be exciting, you have to grab attention so you can hold their attention. What should we think about as we’re crafting the ice breaker or the intro, whatever you want to call it?
Lanie: I’m not sure I agree that it always has to be really big. I think there are ways to hook people in and get their attention that can be really quiet. Again, depending on what your context is there. I just actually saw a really great one, not from someone I was working with, I wish I was. But she was talking about doing research via creative nonfiction writing. And she was using this example of Freelee the Banana Girl and the fruitarian diet. So those people who eat like 30 bananas a day and only raw fruit and nothing else. So she started this very gently by talking about this life narrative of a woman who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in the 21st century and how she had felt totally broken down. So the story was very quiet. One woman used to be a competitive swimmer, lost total control of her body. But the way that that narrative quickly, quickly spiraled downwards, kind of had that true crime impact, is why people love those true crime shows. Because you have questions, you want to know more.
So there was no shouting or yelling or flashy visuals there. There was just the impact of a well told story that really hooked people in because it keyed into this common fear. What if my body breaks down? We’ve all thought that at one point or we have experience with someone who’s actually been there. And it made everyone literally lean in and be like, what’s next?
Rob: So slightly different question. Do you recommend that people work from an outline or from a script and why? Like why would one be tetter than the other?
Lanie: I think that … I like to speak from a manuscript and I am highly unusual in that regard. Extemporaneous speaking, using limited notes or speaking just from a shorter outline, is much more common. And my public speaking instructor peers would want me to tell you that that is what is recommended. I think that people who are newer to speaking … So that very specific niche of someone who is newer to speaking but also has to give a 30 to 40 minute speech, I think that’s a difficult task to do from an outline. And in that very specific scenario, writing out the whole speech can give you a head start. Does not mean you have to speak from the manuscript, but preparing the speech, understanding where it’s going to go, understanding where it’s high and low points are, knowing exactly where you’re going to pull your research into play, I think that really sets you up to be a rockstar and to stand out in a crowd full of people who are out there giving speeches that are really exempt and not well put together.
Rob: Yeah, so to follow that up then, you’re saying we should probably script it out, we should practice the script the way that it’s written, but then when we get up on stage let it be more natural. You’re not necessarily saying we need to memorize every single word?
Lanie: No, no. Definitely don’t need to memorize every single word. Especially for those longer talks. I know that’s asking for a lot. I wouldn’t recommend that. But yes, I think that in an ideal world where time is not a problem for any of us, my best recommendation is write the whole speech out and then condense it into a speaking, shorter notes outline to use with you at the actual event.
Kira: All right, so you mentioned that you used to turn purple and feel anxious, which actually makes me feel better because it’s good to know that we all start from the same place. Most of us start from the same place. So do you still get nervous or do you feel like at this stage it’s just easy breezy and you’re confident on stage? How has that changed?
Lanie: I get nervous in specific scenarios. Absolutely. I always get nervous on the first day of a new class. And if I have a particularly bad day teaching, I can be plunged right back into that scary head space really easily. And I’m sure, I’m positive my students can see it. That I stumble a point or I give the wrong explanation, and I realize it in front of them, and I just crumble into one million pieces.
Kira: Okay, this makes me feel better too.
Lanie: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always a journey.
Kira: So going back to your competitive days where you were winning all of these championships that you listed, what were the judges looking for and what did it take to win?
Lanie: Sure. Judges are looking for, number one, polish and preparation. Can you get through a … In forensics those speeches are all 10 minutes and they are all fully memorized. It’s like the only corner of the world where things are still memorized. So they’re looking for how well you are using time. Are you using time equivalently in all of those points? Do you have that speech fully memorized, but does it sound like you’re really talking to us like you’re not a scary robot who’s reading something off a page? That’s another reason to not have a full manuscript with you, incidentally, during your actual presentation. And then once you pass the delivery benchmark, they’re looking for argumentation. How well are your ideas supported? Are you using a variety of sources that’s both hard and soft data? So both statistics and things like testimony or narrative. Are your sources all recent? Do they come from places that are generally free of bias? Like I talked about earlier, do your main points all connect to your thesis? If you’re doing something that’s persuasive, does it have a workable solution? Have you ignored an aspect of the problem? Et cetera, et cetera.
Rob: So Lanie, my last question for you is, is there a question that we should be asking that we’re not simply because we don’t know enough about public speaking or we’re not good enough yet to even know the question to ask? What else should we be asking you?
Lanie: Speaking to video or speaking to audio, which I’m sure both of you know at this point, is not the same thing as speaking face to face. And just because you’ve worked with someone on prepping a presentation for a stage does not mean that you are all of a sudden going to be the world’s best, most prepared, videoed Ted talker. That is what I wish people knew the most right now, is that speaking to a camera is a distinct genre. It has requirements.
Rob: Yeah, it’s good to know because we probably all speak more to a camera than we do on stage and it’s really different.
Lanie: Absolutely. And I think it’s only going to become more of a presence or an impact as people are concerned about both financials and the cost of traveling to conferences, and the environment. Flying in a plane has a big carbon footprint so I really think that video conferences are going to become more and more of a presence.
Kira: Wow, you just took my last question. I was going to ask you about the future of speaking on stage. What does that look like? So maybe even beyond what you just shared about more video conferences, what else do you see happening in the future with speaking? What will be important? What might not be as important?
Lanie: I think that it’s going to become only more important from here to be able to define the narrowest segment of your audience. And I almost wish that wasn’t the case. If you think back 200 years to the earlier days of presidential elections, which is topical to where we are right now, you’d literally have someone like Abraham Lincoln on a train traveling across the country. The train would stop for 20 minutes, Lincoln would stand out on the back of the caboose and give a 20 minute speech just to the entire town. Didn’t matter who you were, didn’t matter what town you were in. It’s where stump speech comes from. Just get out, do a talk to everyone all at once, no matter where you were.
Now, you can’t get away with that at all. You can’t give the same speech everywhere. You can’t count on everyone in your audience wanting to hear the same thing. Things have really become increasingly specialized. And I think it’s going to just head more and more in that direction. So really paying attention to who is listening to you and why they are listening to you today, I think is a good idea right now and will only become more valuable.
Kira: What did you learn from recently officiating a wedding from someone we know very well? What lessons did you pull from officiating that would be useful to us as we build our speaking careers?
Lanie: Sometimes people are going to want things out of specific occasions and sometimes what they want won’t always align with what other members of the audience wants. So a good speaker, especially in a situation like a marriage ceremony, is going to understand how to marry … Ha ha, puns. How to marry those different requirements and desires of the audiences in a way that everyone feels like they got what they were asking for. Which is a little next level.
So this particular wedding was for two people who, since obviously they asked me to do it, didn’t want a priest to do it, but there were some more traditional members of the family who wanted some more traditional religious elements so I got around that in some creative ways by talking about ancient Greek philosophy and the rhetorical tradition. I told a story from Plato. So pulling still on a long tradition using a formal story, much like the kinds you would get in religious traditions, giving it the feeling of something that had meaning and tradition and structure to appeal to all of those different audiences.
Kira: Wow. All right. Glad I asked. That’s next level officiating.
Rob: Lanie this has been awesome. So much good advice for a lot of us who want to speak more or want to be better, for those of us who are already speaking. If people want to connect with you or find more about you, or even better, work with you to improve their own speaking, where should they go?
Lanie: You can catch me at my website, www.laniepresswood.com. That’s Lanie, as in L-A-N-I-E, and Presswood, as in press and wood. You can also catch me on Twitter, @LaniePresswood, where I promise a fun follow even if you are not into all of the public speaking things.
Kira: Okay. Lanie, thank you so much for jumping in here with us and also coaching us and helping us become better speakers too. Thank you.
Rob: Thanks Lanie.
Lanie: Thanks for having me.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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