6 things that make me a better speaker

I was first asked to speak publicly sometime in the early 90’s for a broadcasting trade association meeting. I had a small media-buying business, and my model was a little different than the local agencies. The association believed my thoughts on media buying would be useful to those who were trying to sell media. I was part of a panel, but I cannot recall what I talked about or how helpful my comments might have been to those in attendance. I do remember I was quite anxious about participation but managed to get through it because I understand how important public speaking opportunities were to help build credibility for my business and my entrepreneurial endeavors.

Public speaking does not come naturally to me.

It makes me uncomfortable in all sorts of ways, none the least of which is feeling unprepared regardless of how much preparation time I put into the talk. There are other challenges, too. I want everyone to find something of value in my talk, I want to be entertaining as well as informative, so those listening don’t get bored. I want those in the audience to have at least one “ah-ha” moment or walk away with one piece of information that is useful. And I don’t want to hang around afterward to talk to people—the introvert in me needs to recharge—but I do. Public speaking, even for the most experienced, can be exhausting.

I am sure I fail at more than one of the things I noted above every time I speak publicly. That doesn’t stop me from continuing to do so. Practice breeds improvement, not perfection. Improvement should be the goal.

Six things I have learned that make me a better speaker.

Perhaps these learnings from my experiences speaking might be helpful to you:

You will not be perfect. You shouldn’t strive for that in your talk. You will forget critical points you wanted to make, and you may lose a thought or two. Usually, no one will know unless you tell them. Everyone listening expects you to be human, so imperfection is expected and allowed.

Know your audience. By knowing your audience, you can seed your talk with information and relevant personal stories that will be most interesting to that audience. That’s key to keeping their attention and engagement.

Be wary of humor. Humor can be useful, but it is also subjective. You don’t want to say something that will cause some of your audience to shut down or diminish your credibility.

Don’t allow PowerPoint to be a crutch. It’s okay to use slides, but use them for emphasis of your key points and not as a checklist of bullet points to read to your audience. If you’re planning to read bullet points, do your audience a favor and hand out your presentation and forget about speaking. However, if you emphasize your key points in your presentation, they will serve as reminders of the flow and pacing of your talk but not bore your audience.

Practice a little, but not too much. Practice is important, but unless you’re giving a TED talk, you want to seem authentic, not a cog in the speaking machine. If you know your topic, you will need less practice and will likely be less anxious because you’ll be talking about something you know. Of course, one way to feel comfortable in your knowledge is to practice. You'll have to determine how much practice is enough.

For keynote speeches or any talk that goes over about 20-minutes, I practice by writing my speech in its entirety and then reading it aloud several times to pace delivery, plan vocal inflections and pauses for crucial points. Next, I put top points from the talk on 3 x 5 index cards and rehearse the talk a couple of times as if I were making it in person to one individual. This helps with timing. I usually carry those index cards with me to help jog my memory if an audience question causes me to lose my pacing. Oh, and the most important thing to do with those cards is to number them in case they are dropped. I learned this the hard way.

Speak slowly. Most of us can deliver a 20-minute talk in 10-minutes if we get nervous. Take your time. When it seems like your talk is crawling by, you will have pretty close to the proper pacing for your talk.

Now I am often called upon to speak.

Since my first talk, I have given many. I regularly speak to user groups, at conferences, and at trade shows. I speak to groups large and small. I speak on many topics ranging from marketing strategy and branding, to direct marketing, to licensing and trademark protection, and most recently on how to launch a podcast. I even speak on leadership and about motivational topics.

I am asked to speak because my audiences seem to enjoy my talks. I seek speaking opportunities because it allows me to continue to expand my knowledge of a topic, and hopefully to build a little credibility in the topics of which I speak. There’s a Latin principle that applies here: Docendo discimus, which means “by teaching, we learn.”

And I am always trying to learn. How about you?


Some of my favorite resources of speaking and presentations include:

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience (Business Skills and Development)

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations

Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences

Note: The above are affiliate links.

And if you're looking for a speaker for your next event, I am happy to discuss the opportunity with you. Click this link to learn more about my speaking engagements.


Featured image: David Harkins speaking at the Amazon Inventions Tour. Click here to see the talk.

Can long copy still make the cash register ring?

Long copy ruled direct response marketing, once. Marketers could create a brilliant story-driven copy to draw a reader in and then close the sale with a strong call to action. David Ogilvy (in the photo above) and his team at Ogilvy and Mather were the masters. But that was more than thirty years ago.

Twenty years ago, I had a great deal of success with long copy in printed direct mail. Just simple letters to the target market that would bring them along in a story and then get them to take action. I am not sure that’s possible any longer. I believe the proliferation of email spam and the dawn of mobile phones have decreased the effectiveness of long-form direct response appeals.

A recent grad school assignment asked for the creation of a two-step direct response campaign. In such a campaign, the first step generates the lead and the second step closes the sale. In the direct mail days, a long letter—often several pages—was more effective as that first step—it told the story and offered the benefits to the prospect. The close came with a phone call or a response card. It was highly effective, and of the campaigns, I was involved in we often pulled a 5-6% response with a 50% conversion to a sale.

The assignment further asked for the creation of a “squeeze page.” A squeeze page is a page on that “squeeze that last bit of info out of you” so that you might get what you’re looking for from the site.  Typically, it is your name and an email address.

In the early days of the Internet, that long-form direct mail piece was often used in a two-step process. You may remember that time. The pages were often a single page with a lot of copy, a few photos, some bulleted text, and multiple opportunities to buy or subscribe as you read down the page. If you took action, you would go to another page—the “squeeze page”—to provide your name and email address for more information or so the sale could be completed.

For the assignment, I wanted to know if long-form still worked in a two-step process for a particular target market (women 25-to-60) for a health and wellness opportunity. My hunch was that given the volume and frequency of content and information we already get it would no longer be effective. Let’s see what happened.

Step 1 – The solicitation.

I wrote a long-form direct mail piece below (click the image to read the entire letter). Granted, I know my long-form direct marketing skills are rusty, but I think it reads well and tells a decent story. I purposefully chose not insert photos or bullet points because it would have impacted how a perceived target would see the offer. In other words, I wanted readers to commit to reading it would have done in a direct mail piece back in the day.

My intent was that this solicitation would be delivered by email, or possibly by mail, to the target market.

Step 2 – The squeeze page.

I created a small squeeze page (see below) to encourage sign up for the offer, a 1-month free trial to a recipe/meal planning service delivered via email. No credit card number was required to participate, and all I asked for was the first name and an email address. As far as offers go, it was pretty low risk.

Step 3 – Testing with the target market.

I posted the letter and the image of the squeeze page to my Facebook page, as well as shared with some friends directly asking for input. Eight of my female friends in the target market responded on Facebook or in private messages.

The Feedback.

Overwhelmingly the response to the long solicitation was negative. Aside from some suggesting bullet points or images to break up the copy, the response was that it was too long. Although my friends read the letter at my request, all but two said they would not read it if it came in an email, and probably would not read it if it arrived by mail. And because they wouldn’t read it, they wouldn’t get to the call to action at the bottom of copy.

The squeeze page faired a little better, assuming I could get them there in the first place. Some didn’t like the color choices or food choices I made. Those things turned them off and likely would have affected their interest in subscribing.

A few said they might subscribe if just presented with the signup graphic via email or on a page.

My takeaways.

Clearly, this was not scientific. There were too many variables and too few responders.  Still, I think it supports the idea that long-form copy has a lot of competition these days and not too many people will read it. There’s just not enough time for most people.

I do recognize that the readership might improve with bullet points, graphics, and probably even stronger copy, as one of my friends—an accomplished copywriter pointed out.  Those things could have helped it. There is the possibility that those who were reading were not the true target market – I did not ask more clarifying questions to drill down. That’s possible, too I suppose, although I think it really has more to do with the time-length equation. And the goal of direct marketing is to fill the funnel with a higher number of leads.

Although the squeeze page might work as is, I think I would pull images of food. I struggled with this before putting testing because I did not want to turn people off if they didn’t like grilled peaches (which look sort of like sweet potatoes in the photo). The challenge is determining what kind of image to use so as not to alienate a prospective customer based on their individual likes or dislikes. That will need additional research and testing.

Final thoughts.

The squeeze page might work better in the form of a pop-up on a web page. Personally, I hate them, but they work well. I use them on an e-commerce website for newsletter sign ups (with a discount incentive) and have about a 3% conversion rate, which is about the average conversion rate for top performing e-commerce websites. Those customers over time have a solid sales conversion rate, too. This might address the signup or step-two in the process. Figuring out the best way to get the attention of the target market in the first place might prove to be the bigger challenge.

It seems those of us who are till working, getting emails, and answering texts don’t have the time, interest, or inclination to read those long messages. As a writer who once made a living writing copy, I have a hard time giving up on the idea that long-form direct response is not as effective. Of course, it should be noted that this blog post is clearly long. If I had a squeeze page in the right column of this page, might it entice a reader to sign up for more information?


It depends on how committed that reader is to what is written in the post and their desire to read all the way to the end.

Who does that anymore?

I do. And if you’re reading this, maybe you do, too.

What do you think? Might long copy and the David Ogilvy approach to direct marketing still be effective in a world of information overload?


Featured Image Source: Getty Images / Keystone

P.S. Check out these thoughts on the matter from Mr. Ogilvy himself…

How social media trust changed marketing

Trust is one of the great cornerstones of life. The most successful relationships, whether personal or business, are built on trust.  Trust is a key factor in the consumption of news and information, too. Over the years, many readers, listeners, and ultimately viewers placed trust in their preferred media channel for the most current and accurate news and information.  Subsequently, each channel began to exploit the trust gained from consumers by accepting advertisements which allowed businesses to leverage the media’s credibility and intimacy through association. The challenge was then, as is now, to determine how to align the marketing and advertising of the business with the media most apt to have the greatest trust among the target customers. Unfortunately, those trusted channels of media and communication are constantly changing.

Much like early newspaper readers became radio listeners, and radio listeners ultimately became television viewers, social media platforms give individuals a different way in which to consume news and information, and this influences how trust is granted. Trust is still the currency, but it is no longer given freely to traditional media (newspaper, magazines, radio, or television) and marketers do not benefit from this association as they once did. Social media has taken the concept of trust in one-on-one personal relationships and created a somewhat commodified version of trust with online peer relationships that are enabled through the distinct differences of each platform. Trust has shifted from the medium itself to an ever-evolving value placed on an online peer relationship with roots established through relational identity (Pan, Lu, Wang, & Chau, 2017). More specifically, if an online peer seems to like and do things similar to the individual granting such trust, a value is created regardless of whether there is any meaningful engagement outside of the online relationship. Social media, then, has established an entirely different trust model—a model built on peer influence and not channel trust. This new model requires entrepreneurs to think differently about advertising and marketing.

Entrepreneurs may realize the benefits of social media tools to both spread word about their business and to engage with customers in a meaningful way. However, it is not enough to understand the broader value of social media use; it is more important to know how to use each platform to engender trust (Cesaroni & Consoli, 2015). Each social media platform, for example, has a specific way of facilitating engaging its users and each user has his or her pattern and practice of using the different platforms (Kerpen, 2015). No one platform can reach all customers or prospects effectively. Each has its purpose. While Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest get the lion’s share of attention, social media and engagement are much broader than these few networks. In fact, the number opportunities for social engagement is vast and growing every day.

Analyst and cultural anthropologist Brian Solis has been tracking social networks and their use in an ongoing study since 2008. The latest version of The Conversation Prism (below – click to see a bigger version) is Solis and Jesse Thomas’ visualization of these networks. Solis shows large buckets of engagement identified as Listening, Learning, and Adapting, and then further subdivides into smaller buckets related their functional business support: Brand, Community, Service, Development, Marketing, Sales, Communications and HR (Solis & Thomas, 2017). Solis’ work argues that social media is not necessarily platform driven, but instead, engagement is driven based on the unique needs, values, and expectations (NVEs) of individual customers.

Arguably it is the NVEs that drives the platform choice; therefore, a niche platform that aligns better to an entrepreneur’s business offering may prove more productive for the entrepreneur than the more conventional networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This is especially true when considering the growing number of platforms. It can be difficult for an entrepreneur to determine where to place his or her time and energy for social media use. In fact, determining the best fit between the user patterns and the most appropriate platform for the business’ current and potential customers can make or break an online marketing campaign. This is not to say the more traditional networks should not be used at all. Instead, they might be utilized in a more limited manner depending upon the target customer NVEs.

Regardless of the hype, social media is not a replacement for face-to-face customer engagement. A social networking platform, like letters and the telephone, is a tool in the entrepreneurial toolbox. It is imperative to select the tool or tools that will help best achieve the business goals and then stick with the plan. Do not, for example, launch a Twitter account, Facebook Page, or even a blog and then let it go dormant. In today’s active social environment, a stagnant online presence can be more detrimental to the business than no presence at all (Geho & Dangelo, 2012). Keep in mind that the wrong tool or using the right tool in a wrong way can also be detrimental to the business, and no one social media tool is likely to reach all current customers or prospective customers. In the end, marketing online is largely like marketing offline: Go where the customers are, engage in a relevant dialog, and gain their trust. Valued relationships are what build businesses.



Cesaroni, F., & Consoli, D. (2015, December). Are Small Businesses Really Able to Take Advantage of Social Media? (P. Peres, & A. Mesquita, Eds.) The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(4), 257-268.

Geho, P., & Dangelo, J. (2012). The Evolution of Social Media as a Marketing Tool for Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial Executive, 17, 61-68.

Kerpen, D. (2015). Likeable Social Media (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Matney, L. (2017, June 22). YouTube has 1.5 billion logged-in monthly users watching a ton of mobile video. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from techcrunch.com: https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/22/youtube-has-1-5-billion-logged-in-monthly-users-watching-a-ton-of-mobile-video/amp/

Pan, Z., Lu, Y., Wang, B., & Chau, P. Y. (2017). Who Do You Think You Are? Common and Differential Effects of Social Self-Identity on Social Media Usage. Journal of Management Information Systems, 34(1), 71-101. doi:10.1080/07421222.2017.1296747

Solis, B., & Thomas, J. (2017). The Prism Chronicles. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from conversationprism.com: https://conversationprism.com/the-prism-chronicles/



Featured Image Source: Getty Images, Pixelfit