Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A fish rots from the head down. There are no bad audiences, just bad experiences. A presenter who feels the audience was boring, was most likely bored themselves. A presenter who finds the audience is angry, was probably stirred up or frustrated. Public speaking acts like a mirror; you see outside of you an amplified version of what is going on inside of you. Great speakers choose their state.

That's not to say that you don't have bad days. Of course you do, we all do. The difference is that if your work that day is to present to a room full of people, you are required to get over it and get on with the presentation.

I spoke In New Zealand the day of 9/11. My audience of 500 woke up to the news coverage. The convener decided to go ahead with the program that day. That required a lot of state preparation on my part. I think it was the right decision but I took a good 3 hours just getting my head into a state where I was OK speaking into that environment. At another event a young delegate had fallen off a balcony during the night and plummeted to his death. Again, they continued with the program. How do you manage the state in scenarios like this?

Often, just before I go on, people will say things like… (and I kid you not, each of these has happened to me...several times)

(a) Gee you shouldn't wear those jeans, they make your ass look big.

(b) You better be good, I travelled 3 hours to be here today.

(c) Oh, it's you again… I saw you speak last year and I didn't like it very much.

(d) OK, so thanks for coming, the speaker we wanted wasn't available so best of luck. and on and on it goes...

In each case I have come up with some pithy retorts. I suggest you stand on the high ground and do not resort to these.

For me, the lighter side of life allows me to shift my state. In any situation, if I can see the funny side I can almost immediately get out of a funk or an unproductive emotional state and choose a better one. Do not give your power over to other people. I think that's a life lesson and one we learn on the road of speaking all the time.

State is also a case of preparation.
Things almost always go wrong and having done what you can to be in a productive and positive state means that these things don't affect you quite as much.

There are several things you can do to help manage your state more effectively;

Focus on the game plan.
A method and outline for what you are going to say, designed in advance, can often help you out when you feel less than inspired. I am often glad that I have a planned opening, I may not always use it, but its acts like a mood fall back.

Develop pre-speech rituals.
I clean my teeth before I speak no matter when I am speaking. I like to shower before a speech if it's possible. You may listen to a certain song on your Ipod. Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago bulls uniform every time he played. The rituals act as triggers for state. Make your rituals mean something to you.

Eat right.
Protein, not carbohydrate food types will help you remain mentally alert. Watch your caffeine intake as it's a diuretic and makes you need to go to the toilet and get a dry mouth. Plan your da
y and force food down. When you are on adrenaline your body shuts down the hunger response and the last thing you want to do is eat. Fight this or else you will end up with a sugar crash and lose the mental energy required to stay in state.

Exercise on the day.
Excess nerves and mental run throughs all compound the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is like the adrenal systems back up fuel. Too much cortisol though can make you angry, sad, afraid or guilty. These four emotions are state killers for a speaker. Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day advised the Groundhog ‘don't drive angry' - you don't speak angry either. Some vigorous exercise on the day of the speech helps take the excess stress hormones out of your system.

Be your own Barometer.
As a World Class Presenter, you try to read your room and adjust what you do accordingly. The problem with this is you can misread a room and assume things are going better or worse than they are. Don't assume you know what's going on with an audience. Stay a little detached and self-referring with your state. Remember, if you feel good, they will too.

Take care of yourself.
People often ask me if I choose my pre show music to match the demographic of the people in my room. That would be so clever. I don't. I choose music that lifts me and gets me ready.



  1. Brilliant advice Matt. Thank You. The best insight I have ever had as a speaker is get over yourself and what other people think and just be you in the moment. Thanks for your great contribution to my journey.

  2. Matt, as usual, GREAT and Timely advice. TA!!! I was invited to present 2x1 hour sessions at our annual conference last week. Right on queue your ebook on speaking out loud apppeared in my inbox and after reading and taking your golden tips into consideration I managed to get the butterflies in my belly flying in syncronised formation. A host of "Thank You" cards after the sssions from my audience has given me immense confidence to get up and tread the stage again sometime real soon... Look out Church.. I'm coming to take over your mantle!

  3. Matt, these tips are fascinating and fantastic. Great advice for those of us who are embarking on the journey. Last year I agreed to speak at a breakfast. Being very polite, I didn't eat beforehand, as breakfast would be served before my presentation. Bad move! I experienced low blood-sugar and my brain didn't work properly. Next time I will definitely eat well beforehand and make sure I'm properly fueled before I speak!

  4. Thanks for the sound advice. Every time I've seen you speak live you were incredibly uplifting, and it felt like you are speaking just for me... If I can mirror half of that in my future presentations I'll be delighted.

  5. Excellent summary and good reminder that it is not about the audience it is about me the presenter and what I bring to the room. Nice review from the WCP program from last week. Thanks for sharing the tips too.

  6. Hey Matt, because you probably get sick of people agreeing with you and thanking you, allow me to come from the other end. What do you mean by diuretic? Excess pee production? Dehydrating? If so, caffeine is not a diuretic. The metabolites of caffeine require about 1mL urine production for every mg of caffeine. Drink 250 mL tea and you will get about 60 mg caffeine, therefore obligated to produce 60 mL pee, leaving 190 mL fluid for your body to use as it wishes. Any dry mouth is probably due to the tannin content, not caffeine. The "caffeine is a diuretic" argument is an common, old fallacy and I'm sure you don't want to be seen as common and old. Eating and presenting is about a relationship between you and food. Dogma don't work. Understanding does. Still love ya. Glenn Cardwell