The 5-Minute Speaker Warm Up


All performers, from athletes to entertainers, know that a warm-up is essential to peak performance. As a speaker, you can have both a physical warm up and a mental warm up, too!

To get you started with a warm-up routine, I’ll share mine. Take what works for you and feel free to modify.

You may be able to fit a warm up (or parts of a warm up) in your car on the way to a local event, in your hotel room, or in a restroom.  My 5-minute warm up consists of 3 parts: tension-reduction, vocal exercises and mental preparation. If I don’t have privacy, I will often do the vocal exercises in my car or in my hotel room and do the other parts in a restroom just prior to speaking.

Stage 1 (1.5 minutes): tension-reduction

  • Combat breaths: Do at least 4 (breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4)
  • “Tall Stretch”

With feet a shoulder-width apart, and without bending, raise one arm straight up, reaching as high as you can for about 4 seconds, then do the same with the other arm, then rotate your arms & shoulders outward as you pull your arms back and down, with your elbows leading the way down.  (Click here for a video, starts at 3:10–watch until 3:40)

  • Neck rolls: do a few
  • Facial warm up: Smile big a few times, wiggle your lips around, stick your tongue out!

Stage 2 (1.5 minutes): Vocal exercises (can be done prior to stage 1, if privacy is an issue)

  • Sing the Do-Ri-Mi song a couple of times (or any song that takes your voice through a range of notes):

Do (Doe), a deer, a female deer
Re (Ray), a drop of golden sun
Mi (Me), a name, I call myself
Fa (Far), a long, long way to run
So (Sew), a needle pulling thread
La, a note to follow So
Ti (Tea), a drink with jam and bread
That will lead us back to Do, oh, oh, oh . . . Doe . . .

  • Perform a vocal slide a few times (with your mouth open, sing “ah” as you slide from a comfortable low note to a comfortably high note and back down. Repeat, trying to extend your range a little bit, going a little higher and a little lower).
  • Say a few tongue twisters:
    • Red leather, yellow leather
    • She sells sea shells by the sea shore
    • Unique New York

Stage 3: Mental Preparation (1-2 min)

  • Assume one or more Power Poses (hands on hips, arms upstretched in a “V” for victory)
  • Repeat a positive phrase several times, such as: I am smart. I am powerful. I can make a difference
  • Visualize your audience as engaged, looking at you with interest and anticipation
  • Visualize yourself speaking with energy and authenticity
  • Say your first few sentences out loud, with power and purpose

Right before you speak, take a few seconds to breathe, stand tall, mentally rehearse your opening, make eye contact with your audience and smile! (see How to Be a More Confident Speaker in 10 Seconds)

Infographic: How to Master Public Speaking

You may not be able to master public speaking just by reading this infographic, but the concept (and tips) that “public speaking anxiety often results from problematic thought patterns that need to be changed” is on target!

How to Master Public Speaking

FREE Public Speaking Class Jan 11 (Twin Cities)

flyer_Date: Monday, January 11, 2016

Time: 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Location:  Ridgedale Library (Minnetonka, MN) 

Link to reserve your seat (free event presented on behalf of District 6 Toastmasters)

Speak with conviction and confidence! No matter the subject, you can capture your audience’s attention and keep them engaged. In this FREE, interactive class, you will learn how to:

  • Create a “bumper sticker” defining statement to position yourself to your audience
  • Start and end with a bang
  • Keep your audience engaged with stories
  • Develop your points clearly
  • Maintain eye contact, even when using notes
  • Power up your PowerPoint with simple-to-implement ideas
  • Deliver with confidence

Reserve your seat now!



Familiarize. Don’t Memorize.


It was the summer of 2009 and I had eight, 45-minute presentations to memorize as a newly hired high school workshop speaker for a local college. The other new speakers and I had been given scripts for each of the presentations, with topics ranging from budgeting to sexual harassment, and had been told to follow the scripts closely to make sure that the promised objectives were covered. We had six weeks to learn the scripts, and would be presenting four of the eight topics in front of the program administrators and a few of the other new speakers.

For the first presentation, I spent hours breaking it down and practicing in small chunks. I practiced in my bedroom. I practiced in my car. I even practiced on the driveway, outlining the presentation in chalk, complete with colorful pictures.  It was an agonizingly slow process.  And I had to do it seven more times before the end of summer.

I had two main problems. One, the material wasn’t my own and some of the phrasing wasn’t my style. Two, it was really, really hard to memorize something word for word, no matter who wrote it!  But, I tried, and largely succeeded, or so I thought.

On the day of the presentation, I was the first speaker. I went through the script almost flawlessly.  It was . . . too perfect.  Actually, it wasn’t perfect at all. My pace was a little slow, as I was trying to recall the exact wording at times. My words weren’t my own, so I sounded a little “stilted.” And, my eye contact was more of a glazed-over look as I was actually looking at the words on the imaginary page in front of me.  I had studied the scripts so carefully, that I knew where on the page I was when I was presenting the material.

When I finished, I looked over at the administrators. They smiled politely, clearly wondering what happened to the expressive woman who had wowed them with a lively audition just a week before. And then one said, “You don’t have to memorize it and you can even tell your own stories, as long as they are relevant.”

What a relief!  I just got my summer back.  It would still take time to prepare for seven more presentations, but if I could speak extemporaneously, practicing from an outline instead of a script, and include my own material, then not only would it be easier, but I would sound more conversational.

As I was basking in relief, the next speaker started. He had not memorized the material.  I’m not sure if he had even had tried to learn it.  He actually read the script, occasionally looking up, which sometimes caused him to lose his place. This approach, the reading approach, was not going to work at all in front of a teen audience (not in front of any audience, really).

The third speaker didn’t memorize as I had done and he didn’t read the script, either.  He gave an impromptu version, loosely following the outline, but missing some of the key points.  He was clearly not familiar with the material, although he was easy to listen to.

The fourth speaker hit it out of the ball park.  He had discovered the key: Familiarize. Don’t memorize.

Familiarize. Don’t memorize.

If I could familiarize myself with the material, and know it well, but not memorize it, I knew would connect with the teens. I could speak from the heart and really look into their eyes, not at my imaginary script. Of course, certain phrases were still expressed the same way every time and once in a while parts were impromptu, unplanned comments inspired by the moment.

To get away from sounding scripted, I learned I needed to practice from keywords, or an outline.  I had to resist the writer’s temptation to say it exactly as I wrote it. If I did, I sounded “stilted.”

I sounded stilted because I didn’t write the way I spoke.  When we speak, we used shorter sentences and shorter words.  We use contractions. We use an active voice (e.g., Chelsie wore an itsy bitsy, polka dot bikini) vs. a passive voice (“The itsy bitsy, polka dot bikini was worn by Chelsie).

To speak with passion, don’t memorize, don’t read and don’t speak completely off-the-cuff, instead . . .

Familiarize. Don’t Memorize.

Not Just the Facts, Ma’am

Just the Facts

“I just want to get the facts, ma’am,” Joe Friday (actor Jack Webb) famously implored when questioning women in the old TV police show, Dragnet.

Joe Friday might have just wanted the facts, but your audience wants more.

Sure, they want to know your material, but they also want to know you. They want to connect with you as a human being and they want to connect with your material because it matters to them on an emotional level. Even the hard-nosed business types and the highly educated professionals.

Emotions connect us and drive us in a way that dry logic can’t. Logic will get hijacked by emotions almost every time. If you can connect with your audience on an emotional level, they can be more easily moved to agree with your supporting logic.

I once had a presentation client, I’ll call “Susan” who was preparing to present a 3 hour seminar on a topic in psychology. Well, the first thing Susan and I talked about was the need for at least one break for the audience. No matter how fascinating your topic nor how engaging you are as a speaker, people need a “bio” break! That concept was an easy sell.

The second issue was the huge amount of content she wanted to cover, using a PowerPoint presentation that truly was “Death by PowerPoint,” with slide after slide of bullet points, long paragraphs, and charts that were impossibly complicated.  Getting her to put less on her slides was a bit more difficult than getting her to allow for a “bio” break, but she relented when reflecting on her own experiences having to sit through such visual torture.

What was more difficult was getting Susan to try to engage the participants emotionally, through stories, especially personal stories.


Susan, like many other presenters felt that stories were “fluff.”

“I have a lot of material to cover and telling stories just doesn’t seem professional. Stories are fluff.”

After a little more digging, she also admitted that telling personal stories was uncomfortable.

“I would feel too vulnerable showing emotion in a story. And I might make other people uncomfortable.”

BINGO. She was afraid of being judged for having emotion or recreating an experience that would invoke emotions in others. Her professional veneer might get tarnished by emotion in the telling of a personal story.

But she was willing to try.

I asked her to tell me WHY her topic was important, what difference did it make in the world. I asked her how she first realized the importance. And . . . she told me a story, a story about an experience with a client that forever changed her practice. As she told the story, she was animated and engaging. I could put myself in her place and feel her emotions.

“That’s your story! That’s the story you start with,” I told her.

We worked on the story, and the rest of her presentation, to add some additional touch points (and some audience activities . . . 3 hours is a long time to keep people’s attention without switching it up).

I called her a few days after her presentation to ask how it went, and she seemed almost amazed at how well it went.

“When I opened with that story, I had them all spellbound. It was an incredible experience to connect with them. Some even had tears in their eyes. I made my topic important and relevant to them with that story. It wasn’t fluff.”

Don’t be afraid to connect with your audience by being authentically vulnerable. Tell personal stories that evoke emotion. And tell those stories with passion!

Not afraid, but passionate.

Engage with Passion

60020425-109My husband and I recently had a photo shoot with our 4 grandchildren. As you can see from the above photo with two of them, this was not the typical posed photo shoot. It was wild, with an overwhelmed 17-month old, who had just arrived with her mother from New York that day, almost-3-year-old twins who were chaotic whirlwinds of energy, and a relatively calm 10 year-old, who thought the whole process was so fun that he asked, “Can we do this again?”

It was unlike any photo session I had ever participated in–high energy, directed by the photographer, but unscripted, with no static poses. I was skeptical about the results, until I saw the pictures. Energy and love, a passion for family is clearly evident. I’m tempted to share all the pictures, but I won’t!

This experience and the resulting photos reminded me of the compelling nature of passion. Bring passion to your speaking to bring compelling engagement with your audience.

All too often, especially among business speakers and content-expert speakers, presentations are dry, passionless PowerPoint info dumps. The speakers often care, deeply, about their topic, which is a starting point for passion, but the passion is lost in translation to a presentation.

Why does this happen?

There are many reasons, but three that I see often are:

  1. Ignoring or fearing emotional connection
  2. “The way it’s always been done”
  3. Scripting an entire presentation

These will be explored in detail as topics for the next 3 posts.  Stay tuned to find out how you can be the speaker that holds an audience spellbound (at least some of the time) with your passion, not afraid to connect emotionally, not afraid to challenge convention, not afraid to drop the script.

Not afraid, but passionate.

15 Concise Strategies for Improved Communication (Book)

15 Concise Strategies for Communication

“Whether you are a beginner or have reached a roadblock, this book speaks to busy professionals who want concise communication strategies for work, public speaking, and social situations.  These strategies include how to manage stress, conquer fear, communicate like a leader, sell, listen, evaluate and think critically.”

So starts the back cover of 15 Concise Strategies for Improved Communication, a collaborative effort of 12 authors, all members of PowerTalk Toastmasters. Yes, I am a contributing author, with a short chapter, “Virtually Speaking: Presenting Online.”

Not only can this book provide you some nuggets of communication insight, it can also serve as inspiration for the budding author within you.

The driving force behind the book, Jewel Pickert, had never published a book, and taking on the task of trying to coordinate a collaborative effort added an additional layer of challenge. I told her right up front that I wasn’t a fan of books with several authors, but having self-published a few times, I provided some initial direction, and she shepherded the process, learning many skills along the way.

It was a win-win situation! The contributing authors are now published authors, if they weren’t before. Jewel, with her new-found experience, already has three additional books in the works! Having published works will increase professional credibility, and might garner some income, both from book sales and from possible speaking engagements.

Get the book and consider how you might either collaborate or write your own!


The App I Use in Almost Every Presentation

The app I use in almost every presentation is . . . a clock app.

All it does is tell the time in really BIG digits. That’s all I want it to do.

When you are presenting as a keynote speaker, or doing a breakout session or a workshop, the ending time of the presentation is what is critical, not the overall time. Sometimes a session starts late, or a speaker before you may run long and you have less than the planned time to speak. You don’t want to be the one who messes up the schedule!

Many rooms do not have a clock, and many organizations do not provide a timer. Of course, you could go “old school” and place a watch on the lectern or a nearby table, but why not just use your phone?

In order to end on time, or a couple of minutes early, I keep an eye on the clock and adjust my content and the audience activities as I speak.  If I am running fast, I might allow the audience more time to interact with each other, or I might add in a  story. Conversely, I can take out somethings if my time is compressed.

The app I use is Big Clock HD (iPhones and iPads only).  Although it costs $0.99, it is well worth the small investment! I’d love to hear what non-iPhone users use! (I did a search and found some Android apps such as Giant Clock).

Big Digital Clock App

If you prefer a count-down clock, one app that I have used for practicing is Presentation Clock (pClock), also a $0.99 app on iTunes. The numbers countdown and change colors at times you choose (for example, Green at 30:00, Yellow at 5:00, Red at 0:00).

Never go over (or terribly under) your time again!

Don’t Just Create Your Presentation . . . Create an Experience!

Audience Experience Wordle

You want to create an experience for your audience, one that engages and makes a difference, right?

One way you can do that is to create a tailored experience for your audience. This does require a little extra work than giving the same canned presentation to every group. The good news is that you don’t typically have to create a 100 percent custom presentation for each audience. Many topics will have a broad application, with material that you have refined through presenting to many audiences. Just a few tweaks can make all the difference.

I propose that you have a process for making your presentation a tailored experience for your audience.

Here is a graphic that outlines my 4-step process for creating an audience experience:

Presentation Process


1. Event Purpose
2. Learning Objectives
3. Audience Research
4. Experience Design

The first three steps, the Event Purpose, Learning Objectives and part of Audience Research, are accomplished primarily through conversation with the meeting planner and, usually, a pre-program questionnaire (sometimes I send it to the meeting planner, but often I go through it verbally–Click here for a copy of my pre-program questionnaire).

I basically want to know their “WHY.” Why would my presentation be important to the event and to the attendees?  What would they like the outcome to be? I also ask the meeting planner for contact info for 4-8 attendees, representing a cross-section of the audience.

I then conduct informal interviews over the phone (arranging the time via email) with the 4-8 attendees to gain insight and sometimes content for the presentation.

Typical questions:

  • Tell me a little bit about what you do . . .
  • What are your biggest pain points [related to topic]?
  • Have you used [topic of presentation] or what is your experience with [topic of presentation]?
  • What would you hope to gain from my presentation? What would make it a home run for you?

Once I have completed, or mostly completed the first three steps of the process, I am ready to design the experience for the audience.

Often, I will use pictures of the people I spoke with (usually obtained from their profile pics on LinkedIn) and quotes from them on some of my slides. Sometimes I will invite one of the people I spoke with to tell the audience an example that was uncovered during the interview (I check with the person ahead of time if that is OK). Depending on the topic, I may use information I find on the attendees’ websites.

One easy graphic to change up for different audiences is that of a “Word Cloud” of relevant terms for the audience as related to your topic, such as the graphic at the top, made with Wordle. You just paste in some text, writing some words multiple times to make them more prominent. For the top graphic,  I typed “Audience” seven times, “design” four times and “insight” twice. Wordle is a fun way to tailor your presentation, but it’s not the only way!

How can you tailor your presentations for your audiences?

Release Your Story with Right-Placed Details


How many triangles are there in the illustration below?  Don’t read further until you answer that question.Triangle illusion

Two? Eight? More?

Note that I didn’t ask, “How many triangles do you see in the illustration?”

How many are there actually?

The correct answer is “zero.” There are only V shapes and 3 Pac-Men type figures.

At a recent NSA-MN Chapter meeting, David Mann, Actor/Director/Professional speaker, used this illustration to make an analogy to storytelling.

His point was that we don’t need to give ALL the details of a story, but that giving enough details, in the right arrangement allows the audience to imagine the story.  “The right facts,” said David, “can release the story.”

If you have too few details, or have them arranged poorly, people may misinterpret.

What could this picture mean?


Or, if you have too many details, people become confused.

An example of chaotic information:


Remember these images when you craft your stories and get just enough details in the right place to “release the story” and to allow the audience to “see and own their own version.”

Next week, I will share how I made these images on PowerPoint, for you PowerPoint geeks. :)