Gift Books for Presenters

book recommendations for public speaking

With the holidays fast approaching, you may want to gift yourself a book on public speaking skills.  I’ve read many books on public speaking, but only a few more than once. Consider adding to your library (physical or ebook) one of the 5 books on public speaking that I own and have read more than once:

1. Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln: 21 Powerful Secrets of History’s Greatest Speakers by James C. Humes.  This book is packed with practical tips (like the “power pause”) gleaned from leaders in history.

2. World Class Speaking: The Ultimate Guide to Presenting, Marketing and Profiting like a Champion by Craig Valentine and Mitch Meyerson.  By reading this book, an aspiring professional speaker can learn both speech creation  and speech marketing techniques.

3. Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte. This is a gorgeous book that beckons you to study its concepts with engaging visuals and examples.  I found the section on the Hero’s Journey to be most useful as it made me consider the audience as the hero and me as the guide.

4. Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. This is the book that inspired me to have simple, clear and beautiful PowerPoint slides.

5. Cat Got Your Tongue? Powerful Public Speaking Skills and Presentation Strategies for Confident Communication or, How to Create the Purrfect Speech by Diane Windingland. Yes. I wrote this book and I still refer to it!  As a special gift to you, the ebook version is free through Saturday.  Get it now!

Gift yourself a book on public speaking!



How to Deliver a TEDTalk: The Catchphrase

Would you like to know the secrets of the world’s most inspiring presentations?

In his book, How to Deliver a TEDTalk,  Jeremey Donovan shares nuggets of wisdom mined from studying the most popular TED Talks.  Just in case you are somehow unaware of TED Talks, TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading worthy ideas through “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”  Their exclusive conferences are expensive, but the talks are freely available online.

Donovan’s book, easily read in one sitting, is divided into 2 sections:  Part I covers content, story and structure, and Part II covers delivery and design.

If you are a serious student of public speaking, there will not be much new information; however, framing the advice in the context of TED talks is what makes the information seem fresh.  In fact, I was inspired to watch a few TED videos after reading the book, and that alone makes the book worth reading.

One of my favorite chapters was “How to Craft Your Catchphrase.”  Here is a summary of that advice:

  1. Keep it short.  Three words are best, but you can go up to twelve.  Some examples from President Obama:  “Hope and Change”, “Yes We Can”
  2. Issue a clear call to action.  Examples:
    1. Simon Sinek’s TED talk:  “Start with Why”
    2. Johnny Cochran’s jury instruction in the OJ Simpson trial:  “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” (referring to the infamous glove)
  3. Employ a musical, often rhyming structure
    1. Repeat words at the beginning (anaphora) or end (epistrophe).                                                           Example from Dickens Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . .”
    2. Repeat the same word in different parts of the phrase. Example from Simon Sinek “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
  4. Punch up the two-part catch phrase:
    1. Make the second part positive and sharply contrasting with the first part (“people don’t buy what you do . . .” cause the audience to think, “well, what do they buy?” which is answered by the second part of the phrase,  “ . . . they buy why you do it.”
    2. Put the punch word or punch phrase at the end.  “You must acquit if the glove doesn’t fit” doesn’t build to the punch the same way that “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” does.

Donovan is clearly a student not only of TED videos, but also of Toastmaster World Champion speakers, as he quotes both Craig Valentine and Ed Tate in this little gem of speaking wisdom.

Get the book and/or watch some TED videos and be inspired to share your ideas with the world!

Thanks to subscriber Joe Sharp for lending me this book!

Ending Your Speech with a Call-to-Action

When you give a speech, you want your audience to think, feel or do something differently than before, right? Even if your speech is primarily informative in nature, don’t you want your audience to do something with the new information? Don’t you want them to consider your ideas and apply them in some way?

In my opinion, almost every speech needs some sort of call-to-action. If I have somehow been changed by a speaker, I want to DO something about it.  The speaker does me a great favor by telling me what to do!

But don’t just commando in a call-to-action at the end of your speech.  You may have captivated your audience with your speech, but if you drop a call-to-action in out of the blue, they will feel like they’ve been taken prisoner by a poser, someone who seemed to be authentic until the end. You need to build up to a call-to-action with both logic and emotion. An effective call to action is the crescendo of your speech.

As you build toward that call-to-action in your conclusion, not only should you summarize the “logic” or main points, but you also should help your audience relive the powerful emotions they felt during a story or example earlier in your speech by referring back to it (or completing a story).  In many cases, giving your audience the exact next step to take is appropriate (“vote for me” “buy this program” “if you promise to never text while driving, stand with me”).

The basic steps to adding an effective call-to-action to your conclusion are these:

1. Transition from last point.

2. Summarize main points.

3. Pull the heart-strings.  Refer back to something in your speech that creates a strong emotion.

4. Call-to-Action

Craft your call-to-action statement with care.  Consider using rhetorical devices to create a memorable statement.

For example, at the end of President Kennedy’s inaugural address, he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”  Kennedy’s call to action was a call to altruism (collectivism)–to give more than to take.  He also used a reverse echo rhetorical device (reversed the words for a different meaning).

Your last words will probably be the first words your audience remembers, so give them a memorable call-to-action!

How to Engage Your Audience with Questions

Why start and sometimes end your speech with questions?

Questions engage your audience by causing them to think.   Questions can tap into prior knowledge.  Questions can challenge assumptions.  Questions can be used as a bridge to the next segment of your presentation. Questions take your audience from passive listeners to engaged participants.

Here’s the top mistake that some speakers make when asking questions:  they don’t personalize the question. If you want to make your audience members feel as if you are speaking to them individually, use the specific  “you “and “your”  and not the general “anyone” or “anybody”  when you ask questions.

Say, “Do you want to make more money?”  and not,  “Does anyone here want to make more money?

Let’s look at two basic types of questions:  rhetorical and response.

Rhetorical Questions. A rhetorical  question is a thought-provoking question for which you do not actually want a response.  A rhetorical question can arouse curiosity and motivate people to try to answer the question, causing them to pay close attention to what you say next.  So, if I start a speech with “What does it mean to be human?”  I am using the question as a set-up.  I might even follow it with a series of rhetorical questions, “Does it mean . . .? Does it mean . . .? Does it mean . . .?” that I then answer in the course of the speech.   I might even end with a rhetorical question, “So, are you merely going to be a human being or are you going to be human?”

You can also use rhetorical questions as story openers to set the stage for a story.  “Have you ever stood up to give a speech in front of 200 people, looked at the audience and had your mind go completely blank?  That’s what happened to me . . .”

Audience Response Questions.  Here are a few types of questions that require a response:

  1. Raised hands. You can handle this by stating, “Raise your hand if you . . .” Or, “By a show of hands  . . .(and then raise your hand up high to encourage hand raising).  You can also just ask the question, “Have you ever . . . ?” and gesture to the audience with an open hand before you raise your hand.  The open hand appeal invites them to answer and the raised hand models what you want them to do. It helps to nod at the audience while you ask the question.

 2. Audience members answer.  Let’s say you want to have an audience member or two actually answer the question.  This can be risky, especially near the beginning and I don’t suggest it as on opening move if you haven’t already established rapport. Even if you have a good audience connection, make sure it is an easy question and extend your open hand toward the audience as you ask it.  What if nobody answers the question?  Definitely be prepared for that possibility.  You could seed the audience ahead of time with one or two people who will answer.  You could make eye-contact with someone, raise your eyebrows and extend your hand directly at the person and ask him or her specifically to answer (only do this if the person’s body language indicates high engagement).  You could say something funny like, “I’m not going to grade your answer!” which will loosen people up.

3. Audience echo.  This takes guts and practice, but can be extremely memorable when used throughout the speech and at the end.  Let’s say you have a short foundational phrase or even a single word for your speech that you want people to remember.  You can repeat the phrase or word several times as an answer to a question and then have the audience respond with the phrase or word when you ask the question.

For example, if I were giving a speech on sales attitude and I wanted to get the idea across that you can’t dwell on rejection; I might have a foundational word, “Next!”   I would probably tell 3 short stories illustrating 3 common sales situations in which I use the phrase “Next!” At the end of each story, I would have the audience practice saying “Next!” in response to a question related to that story.  At the end, I would wrap up with the same 3 questions, one right after another, gesturing to the audience as a cue to say “Next!”   And then make a concluding call to action using the foundational word/phrase.  “What do you say when you can’t get past the gatekeeper? . . . (audience) Next!  What do you say when someone says “No”? . . . (audience) Next!   What do you say when you want to quit? . . . (audience) Next!  Don’t dwell on the past, but look to the future and say,  . . .“Next!”(audience response)\

For your next presentation, engage your audience with questions!

Master the Metaphor

SCREAM Metaphor Anchor

“The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor.” –Aristotle

Metaphor is the last rhetorical device in the acronym SCREAM (Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphor).  Metaphor is the comparison of two UNLIKE things without using the word “like” as in a simile.  In  a previous post, I briefly explained the difference between similes and metaphors.  A metaphor is a substitution.  With a metaphor you say that one thing is another thing, as in  “Jack is a pig.”  Of course, Jack is not literally a pig; he just acts like one–greedy, dirty or gross*.

Metaphors usually link something that is tangible that we can physically sense (see, touch, hear, smell or taste) with an intangible concept. A metaphor can be a powerful shortcut to meaning, helping people see something in a new way.  Metaphors and the other figures of speech in SCREAM will anchor your points in your listeners’ minds.  (Note the use of “anchor” as a metaphor).

Steps to Creating Your Own Metaphors

1. Decide on the mood you want to convey, but don’t be too specific just yet.  Pick a basic emotion:
Anger, fear, disgust, contempt, joy, sadness, surprise

2. Ask yourself, does this remind me of something from my childhood? Another experience? Is there some outstanding characteristic?  Jot down whatever comes to mind.

3. Within the “mood” constraints, brainstorm by asking yourself 5-sense questions to make a concept more concrete.  Go for quantity over quality at this point:
a. What does it look like? (Visual impact is paramount in presentations.  Go for greatest quantity here.  You want VIVID images).
b. What does it sound like?
c. What does it feel like?
d. What does it taste like?
e. What does it smell like?

4. Draw it out.  If finding a metaphor is difficult, try drawing pictures to loosen up your creativity.

5. Remove “like” or “as” to switch from a simile to a metaphor.  Does it have more power without the like or as?  (Compare “you are like my sunshine” to “You are my sunshine.”)

6.  Say it out loud.  Say the possible metaphors out loud to hear how they sound.  What looks good on paper doesn’t always sound good.

An example:

Next month, I will be presenting “Networking for Effective Engagement” at the Minnesota School Nutrition Association Conference.   I’d like to come up with a metaphor for “walking into a room full of strangers.”
Here’s my attempt at going through the first 4 steps:

1. Basic Emotion:  Fear
2. Memories:  First day of kindergarten, going to husband’s office party
3. Sense questions:
a. What does it look like? A Chinese buffet with lots of strange foods.  Or, a school cafeteria with lots of selections and limited time.
b. What does it sound like? Rumble of an approaching storm
c. What does it feel like?  New clothes on the first day of school (uncomfortable, unfamiliar, but good-looking)
d. What does it taste like?  Kimchi, the first time I ate it.  Vitamins—not the kiddie ones.
e. What does it smell like?  Kimchi. . . (I now like Kimchi, Korean spicy, fermented cabbage, but it really has a strong odor.)
4. Draw it out—When I drew out a simple representation of people at a networking event, I made circles and it reminded me of “connect the dots.”  So, a networking event is a huge connect-the-dot activity, but with strangers, you don’t know where to start or what connections to make.

I’d probably have to spend more than the five minutes I just spent to come up with some better ones, but now that I’m thinking about it, my mind will be open to ideas.   Got a good one?  I’d love to hear from you.
Add metaphors to your speaking tool kit and tap into your listeners’ minds!

*Pigs, unfortunately, have a bad reputation.

Polished Presenters Use Awesome Alliteration

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Fred Flintstone,  SpongeBob Squarepants.

All cartoon characters.

All examples of alliteration.

Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of nearby words. It is the fifth rhetorical device in the acronym SCREAM (Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphor).  Use the techniques of SCREAM to capture your audience’s attention with colorful language and anchor your points the minds of your audience members.

Like rhyme, alliteration can be a powerful memory aid, anchoring points in the minds of your audience members.  Alliteration is one reason we easily remember clichés such as sink or swim, a dime a dozen, and the favorite of every speaker, perfect practice prevents poor performance.

But alliteration can be very effective without being so obvious.  I analyzed John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural address and found several instances of subtle alliteration (If you want to read or listen to this speech, click here):

  • same solemn oath
  • man holds in his mortal hands (parallel alliteration)
  • for which our forebears fought
  • to friend and foe alike
  • whether it wishes us well or ill
  • we shall pay any price, bear any burden
  • the survival and the success of liberty
  • colonial control
  • struggling to break the bonds of mass misery
  • sovereign states
  • writ may run
  • before the dark powers of destruction
  • the steady spread of the deadly atom
  • peace preserved
  • bear the burden
  • a grand and global alliance
  • high standards of strength and sacrifice
  • let us go forth to lead the land we love

 A couple of alliteration “Don’ts:”

1. Don’t go overboard.  Usually 3 words starting with the same consonant is enough.  Extreme alliteration starts to sound like a childhood tongue twister such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
2. Don’t use weird words.  While you can get ideas for synonyms using a thesaurus, don’t use words that you wouldn’t normally say.

In other words, have fun, but not too much fun with alliteration.  Don’t say things like:  “Abundant alliteration is always awesome” or even, “Polished Presenters Use Awesome Alliteration.”

The Echo Technique in Presentations

You may have heard people say that giving a speech is simple: Tell them what you’re going to tell them.  Then tell them.  Then tell them what you told them.  That’s one basic, boring use of repetition.

A more exciting use of repetition is the echo technique.  Echo is the repetition of a word or phrase.  It is the fourth rhetorical device in the acronym SCREAM (Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphor).  Use the techniques of SCREAM to capture your audience’s attention with colorful language and anchor your points the minds of your audience members.

An echo not only lingers in the mind, but it can build to a climax, gathering emotional force. If you are striving for a conversational speech, be sparing in your use of echo.  Too much echo can seem over-dramatic and contrived.  A little echo can go a long way.

The most common type of echo is starting echo (anaphora), which occurs at the start of successive clauses.

My kind of party:  Good food.  Good friends.  Good fun.

Note the set of three in the above simple example.  Using a word or phrase three times has a natural, powerful cadence, but it is not an absolute rule as the next example illustrates:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
(Winston Churchill)

A more recent example of starting echo:

Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can. (Barack Obama)

You can also use ending echo (epiphora):

When I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. (I Corinthians 13:11)

A difficult, but extremely memorable use of repetition is the reverse echo.  When you reverse the echo, you are reversing the meaning as in these examples:

Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country. (John F. Kennedy)

Eat to live, don’t live to eat. (Ben Franklin)

Echo can also be used to evoke an echo response in your audience.  One speech I heard that used this technique quite effectively was Toastmaster World Champion Speaker Ed Tate’s “One of Those Days” speech.  He told an ordinary story of how he was at the airport and everything seemed to be going wrong, ending each part of the story with “it was . . . one of those days.”  He ends the speech with “I knew it was going to be . . . (and the audience completes the sentence) ‘one of those days’”

Don’t let your presentations fade into the distant memory of your audience.  Use echo to create rhythm. Use echo to create momentum.  Use echo to create a powerful speech.

Prime Your Audience with Rhyme!

Rhyme builds rhythm, momentum and memory.

Rhyme is the third rhetorical device in the acronym SCREAM (Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphor).  Use the techniques of SCREAM to capture your audience’s attention with colorful language and anchor your points the minds of your audience members.

Short rhymes can be very effective in foundational phrases in your presentations.  Think of a foundational phrase as a “slogan” for a point you want people to remember.  It can even summarize your main points.  For example, I helped a recent presentation client boil down her 3 action steps to:  Dump it! Claim it! Do it!  In this case the rhyme is the same word, “it.”     Someone speaking about moving around to stay healthy could boil the message down to:  Be fit. Don’t sit.

Use ending rhymes with caution.  If you have more than 2 sentences ending with rhyming words, it can start to sound like a nursery rhyme.

However, you can use suffixes that rhyme to create a sense of parallelism, which enhances memory.

A short example, I’m sure you’ve heard:  Your attitude determines your altitude.

A longer example (Product Development):

Quality focuses on specification.

Research focuses on exploration.

Design focuses on innovation.

Production focuses on creation.

You can also use internal rhyme (i.e. not at the end of phrases), which is subtle, but powerful.

Winston Churchill:  Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.  Humanity, not legality, should be our guide.

So, how can you come up with your own powerful rhymes?

Online, of course!

  1. Try using synonyms to explore words at  Maybe you want to use a different word than “angry” for example.
  2. Use a rhyming dictionary, such as
  3. Search for words that end in specific suffixes at (for example, if you want words that end in “ity” you can use a wild card asterisk in your search.  You would search for *ity and then narrow your search by selecting “common words only”). is linked to the searches at (“Want more ideas? Try searching  for words ending with *ity”)

Isn’t it time you added some rhyme?  Prime your audience with rhyme.

Using Contrast in Presentations

contrast What if in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet had said, “I wonder if I should kill myself?”

Nobody would have remembered it.  Instead, Hamlet says, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Shakespeare knew the secret power of contrast.

Contrast  is the second  rhetorical device in the acronym SCREAM (Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphor).  Use the techniques of SCREAM to capture your audience’s attention with colorful language and anchor your points the minds of your audience members.

In short, contrast occurs when two opposite viewpoints are placed close together.  It can be used for powerful phrasing, or even to structure an entire speech.

Many are called, but few are chosen.” –Matthew 22:14

Hot Eats, Cool Treats” –Dairy Queen

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”—Mohammad Ali

“The best means of insuring peace is to be prepared for war.”—Alexander Hamilton

If you need some ideas on opposite pairings, check out

When you input a word, you get related words,  definitions,  synonyms (similar meaning) and antonyms (opposite meaning).

For example, in the listing for courage , under the “boldness, braveness” definition, the antonyms listed are:

“cowardice, faint-heartedness, fear, meekness, timidity, weakness”

Choose a word (or investigate other meanings) that fits with your concept and has a catchy sound.  In the case of courage, I’d probably pick cowardice (which also has alliteration) or fear (which is short and to-the-point).

Not only can you have contrast in phrasing, but you also can have contrast in your speech structure.

In an insightful look at a few famous speeches, Nancy Duarte,author of Slideology and Resonate, gave a TEDx presentation, The Secret Structure of Great Talks in which she reveals that the speeches she studied have a common structure, of talking about “what is” and then about “what could be.”

This is a powerful structure to create a vision for your audience by taking them on a hero’s journey to a “new bliss.”

Take your speeches from dull to dynamic by using contrast!

Similes in Your Speech Are Like Water in the Desert

He was as phony as a three dollar bill.

She grinned like a Cheshire cat.

Your mind works like a computer.

“Like” and “as” are the typical words of comparison in similes.  Simile is the first rhetorical device in the acronym SCREAM (Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphor).  Use the techniques of SCREAM to capture your audience’s attention with colorful language and anchor your points the minds of your audience members.

Both similes and metaphors compare two different things which have some similar properties.  Similes typically use “like” or “as” to make the comparison.  A metaphor, which will be a later subject in this series, substitutes one thing for another:  “you are the wind beneath my wings.”  A simile would state it as “you are like the wind beneath my wings.”

The simile compares ideas explicitly side by side.  It is a literal comparison.  “A” is like “B.” The metaphor superimposes the ideas.  “A” is “B.” It is a figurative comparison, usually of a concrete, tangible thing taking the place of an abstract or less tangible thing.

Simile vs. MetaphorYou can use both similes and metaphors to create vivid images in your listener’s mind.  But, similes can be more precise than metaphors and are often used to explain something unfamiliar in more familiar terms, enhancing understanding.  “Your heart is like a pump.”

How can you create your own similes?

  1. Pick a concept, a quality, or an image
  2. Are there other words to describe the concept?
  3. Consider possible synonyms (check an online thesaurus)
  4. What else is like that (or for an ironic simile, the opposite)—brainstorm!
  5. Add more interesting details,

Here’s an example:

  1. Something was all of a sudden easy to understand, even though it was complex
  2. Another way to describe:  It was all clear to me!
  3. Possible Synonyms?  Crystal, sunny, bright, smooth, cloudless, see-through
  4. Clear as a crystal (or ironic:  Clear as mud)
  5. The concept, all at once, was as clear as a crystal.  Its shining facets beamed new insights that forever changed my thinking.

Without similes or other rhetorical devices, your speech is like a vast desert of dullness!  No more dry, boring speeches!  A simile is like water for your presentations, giving life to your message!