Book Review: Keynote Mastery, by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Keynote MasteryMy recent review on Amazon of the new book, Keynote Mastery: The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker was incomplete. I need to explain in more detail the many positive elements of Patrick’s story as well as clarify why I referred to it on Amazon ‘flawed’ and show where other emerging speakers can learn from his mistakes. But make no mistake about it: this is a book every Toastmaster, self-employed professional, freelancer and gig-economy survivor should read. It contains first-hand information you’ll find nowhere else. Go buy it, now!

What I liked about Keynote Mastery

I’ve long been a fan of Patrick’s. We met during the time in 2008/09 that he was speaking for free, and I’ve attended his Meetup groups which are great networking occasions. I’ve also been to Jeff & Kane’s meetings, Stephanie Chandler’s Sacramento Speakers Network and Edith Yeung’s BizTech Day. Heck, I even knew an NSA member who spoke at the same event in Aruba as Patrick. His 2011 guest posting on my blog How to become a Keynote Speaker was an early iteration of the ideas in this book. Back in 2009 I blogged about his Webify Yourself presentation.

So, we swim in the same waters. The major difference between us is that Patrick makes his living as a professional speaker, while I’m at the coal-face in the corporate world. I have the utmost respect Patrick and his achievements.

This book is a treasure-trove of practical tips and tricks that will help anyone who wants to become a professional speaker, or simply a more successful freelancer in any field.

I especially like his worksheets that are referenced in the book and available for free download. For example, here’s eight tips for reducing nervousness found on one worksheet:

  1. Take five deep breaths (by exhaling more than usual).
  2. Give yourself permission to be nervous. Don’t fight it.
  3. Be a compassionate observer of your own emotions.
  4. Start a meditation practice. It will help you remain calm.
  5. Focus on the objective: your message and helping people.
  6. Look good. Wear an outfit that you feel confident in.
  7. Think positive. You’re a rock star. You deserve to be here.
  8. Survey the audience ahead of time. Look at their faces. They’re just people, and they want you to succeed.

This is not just a list he’s plucked out of thin air. Read the book and you’ll see when and where Patrick has employed these practices when suffering from anxiety and panic attacks before speaking (it happens to everyone sooner or later, knowing how a pro like Patrick overcame the issue is a tremendous help).

As I said in the Amazon review, this is an uncompromisingly personal book. Some might not care for the personal information he shares. I think it’s important to read about the challenges he had to overcome in his personal life to succeed. Thanks for being so honest, Patrick.

Other gems in the book include Chapter 55 on Speaking Fees. The reason no-one in the National Speakers Association (NSA) can share this level of detail is that the Association is legally bound not to discuss fees so there isn’t a perception of marketplace collusion. Patrick is not an NSA member–you’ll find details here you’ll find nowhere else.

I also liked his tips on how to structure a speech (Ch 40). His stories about the importance of cross-cultural sensitivity when speaking outside the USA are priceless. He’s also a master of Social Media who made a transition to speaking on other topics. Reading how he stayed ahead of the curve in developing a new niche is one of the best parts of the book.

Where Patrick’s book falls short

It might sound like nit-picking, but someone should have spent a little more time proofreading this book. (Of course, who am I to talk!). In Chapter 55 he references the National Speaker Association. In Ch 56 (at least in the Kindle Edition) there’s two whole paragraphs which are duplicated, first in italics, then in plain text.

National Speakers Association LogoMore importantly, in terms of substantive advice, Ch 59 on the National Speakers Association, needs correcting. He writes that NSA events take place on Saturday mornings and he hates weekend early mornings. Fair enough. But readers should be aware that this true of the Northern California Chapter and many regions meet at other times. The NSA is comprised of a wide range of keynote speakers, platform speakers, workshop and webinar hosts and even a speechwriter or two!

As a long-time NSA member I found myself, time and again, seeing ways in which Patrick could have cut years from his learning curve if he’d have only got out bed early some weekends and attended meetings, or, better yet, enrolled in the annual Speakers Academy (aka Pro-Track). I’ve blogged extensively about mine and others experiences in this year-long speaker training program.

To take a couple of examples of the benefits of the NSA that address challenges Patrick faced. In Ch 22 (Make It Funny!) he writes that he believes he could double or triple his business if he was funnier. Our local NSA chapter has held many workshops on humor. There’s even a group within NSA who focus exclusively on humor.

GSF logoPatrick loves to speak internationally. The Global Speakers Federation (which every NSA member is automatically a member of) shares leads and information with speaking organizations in Canada, South Africa, France, Singapore, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Belgium, Holland, the UK & Ireland. I’ve spoken (for free, like Patrick!) at a PSA event in the UK.

Finally, there are many speakers who make a good living from selling informational products to their audiences. While Patrick has had some success in this area, I can’t help but think that he’s left a lot of money on the table over the years, and could have learned from NSA members who know how to make big bucks while they are sleeping.

In Summary

Unlike Patrick, I’m not a single guy whose been able to live off credit cards and eat chicken thighs and broccoli for dinner night after night while I built my career. I’ve a family to support. Indeed, I’m one of the ‘distraction-free’ people he writes about in Ch 58 who work in tall office buildings in San Francisco. But I’ve been laid off from corporate jobs more than once and survived as a freelancer. In an era when there’s no real job security, the lessons Patrick shares about his decade-long struggle to make a living as a self-employed professional speaker are invaluable.

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Toastmaster Magazine: Learning to Write for Others

I’m pleased to have an article in the current January edition of Toastmaster Magazine. With the editors kind permission, here’s the text of Learning to Write for Others for you to download and read. I discuss the ways the Toastmaster Competent Communicator program helped me become a better speechwriter.

Unfortunately the typo in the first sentence slipped by the proofreaders: it should read “are a great first step”, not “is a great first step”. But hey, it’s only in a publication sent to over 300,000 Toastmasters worldwide… :-)

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Meeting Report: Success Secrets for Small Businesses

Rick GilbertPast NSA Northern California Chapter President Rick Gilbert presented ‘Mind-Blowing Success Secrets for Small Businesses’ at the Saturday Chapter meeting.

Back in the 1980’s Rick quit his job in Silicon Valley to found Power Speaking, an organization that delivers transformational workshops and executive coaching to turn people into world-class speakers.

His 2014 guest posting in this blog outlines many of the successful techniques he shares with middle managers who want to learn avoid common pitfalls when presenting to the C-Suite.

Rick shared the lessons he learned over the past 30 years, building his company from the proverbial Rolodex in the bedroom in 1985 to a company with 35 employees and a world-wide footprint. He found that much of the standard small business advice was not helpful. Such bromides as “winners never quit,” or “work/life balance,” or “have a positive mental attitude” are, Rick claims, mostly useless nonsense.

His uncommon strategies to help build a successful small business include:

  • There’s no such thing as ‘work/life balance’ and women who want to be successful business owners will need a supportive partner and plenty of help.
  • Avoid the wrath of the IRS and State Tax authorities and make everyone you hire a part-time employee rather than a contractor.
  • Think more like a a jazz musician than a classical musician and be willing to improvise.
  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses and build partnerships to compensate. Rick developed an idea that in the speaking business people are either a ‘Greek’ or a ‘Roman’. Those who are Greeks care about passion and poetry while the Romans are all about power and money. Greeks need to partner with a solid Roman to succeed.
  • Kill PowerPoint. Rick recommended Whiteboard Selling: Empowering Sales Through Visuals, by Corey Sommers as a more effective approach.
  • Being a quitter and a pessimist is good for business. Rick substuties ‘Insanity’ for ‘Success’ in Winston Churchill’s statement that “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Know when to quit.
  • Every small business owner should be slow to hire additional staff and quick to fire those who don’t work out.
  • It’s essential to take calculated risks to succeed. He quotes Orville Wright who, in 1910, took his 82-year-old father on his first and only flight. As Orville gained elevation, his excited father cried out, “Higher, Orville, higher!” Taking no risk is the biggest risk of all.

If you’d like to read more of Rick’s wit & wisdom I highly recommend checking out the social commentary and writing on his blog. After all, it’s not often an NSA member happened to be in Golden Gate Park one day in 1966 to take an incredible series of black & white pictures of the legendary Janis Joplin:

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Meeting Report: Systems for Professional Speakers

Ruby Newell-Legner Colorado-based customer satisfaction expert Ruby Newell-Legner, CSP — the current President of the National Speakers Association — was the featured presenter at Saturday’s NSA Northern California Chapter meeting.

Ruby shared many of the tips and tricks she has learned while building her speaking business in the sports, leisure and entertainment industries.

As an award-winning, customer satisfaction expert who speaks professionally, Ruby is well known for being a “Fan Experience Evangelist.” Whether focusing on internal or external customer service, she works with organizations to build better relationships: from front-line employees to customers, between co-workers and their peers, and from managers to the employees they supervise. Her blue-ribbon client list include 28 professional sports teams. She trained the staff for Super Bowl 41, the 2008 US Open and the 2010 Olympics.

Niche Marketing

Ruby became a celebrity in her niche market and built a thriving business through referrals. The importance of owning a niche is well-known in the speaking business. Ruby highlighted how presenting at industry association meetings enabled her to get in front of the people who could hire her. She expressly believes in ‘paying it forward’ and making sure the meeting planner looks good, no matter what it takes.

In her market, the football teams and stadiums that like her work are happy to refer her to baseball and hockey organizations who in no way compete with them. She adds value to each group by sharing best practices between industries.

Efficient Systems

Ruby has developed systems to improve her efficiency. Working with her virtual assistant she uses a 37-step checklist to coordinate each and every booking. This ranges from checking all the logistics are handled to customizing presentation material and printing two copies of the specific introduction she wants the person introducing her onstage to read: in large font with key points in red.

She has systematized referral gathering by the creative use of evaluation forms. These evaluations go far beyond the standard ‘smile sheets’. The feedback she collects from the audience includes a list of what each person learned from her presentation. She asks audience members to check-mark programs they would like her to present in the future. She asks for testimonial quotes. She adds value by sharing this data from the audience with the meeting planner — showing what parts of the program resonated and what the audience wants her to do at their next meeting. Assumptive marketing at its best! The audience members who check the box to learn more get a follow-up call.

By being herself, developing niche market expertise and delivering value to her clients Ruby has built a great speaking business.

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Avoiding Misquotations

Quote YouNothing spices up a speech better than an apt quotation. Someone else’s words help to reinforce your ideas, boost your credibility and demonstrate your learning. However, delivering a misquotation quickly undermines your credibility and can make you appear foolish. We live in a time when the audiences can instantly fact-check a speech on their always-on, internet-enabled mobile devices. So it pays to double-check each quotation. And it’s very easy to misquote famous people. In many cases, well-known quotes were never uttered.

Writing in today’s Financial Times, John Kay lists a series of misquotes that, while common currency, are not accurate. For example:

  • “Play it again, Sam” — was never spoken by Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, in Casablanca.
  • “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne” — were not British economist John Maynard Keynes’ dying words (he said this at a Cambridge University event while in rude health).
  • There is no evidence that Oscar Wilde ever said “Youth is wasted on the young.”
  • Winston Churchill never said “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Nor did he say “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

There is, however, a valuable resource at Quote Investigator which examines the validity of famous quotes.

Unfortunately it groups quotes by speaker, not by topic. This means it’s not as useful as sites like Brainyquote and Wikiquote for finding a quote on a specific topic. But it’s well worth checking into the origins of any quotation you do plan to use on Quote Investigator, or just browsing for inspiration.

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Speechwriting in Ancient Rome (II)

CiceroRe-reading the wonderful historical novel on the life of Cicero by author Robert Harris – Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome that I last enjoyed back in 2010 I was struck by this quote on the effort Cicero expended when he was preparing a speech (p. 83):

No one can really claim to know politics properly until he has stayed up all night writing a speech for delivery the following day. While the world sleeps, the orator paces by lamplight, wondering what madness ever brought him to this occupation in the first place. Arguments are prepared and discarded. The exhausted mind ceases to have any coherent grip upon the purpose of the enterprise, so that often — usually an hour or two after midnight — there comes a point where failing to turn up, feigning illness, and hiding at home seems the only realistic options. And then, somehow, just as panic and humiliation beckon, the parts cohere, and there it is: a speech. A second-rate orator now retires gratefully to bed. A Cicero stays up and commits it to memory.

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Slow Train Coming

Writing in the Weekend FT, Matthew Engel highlights the benefits of modern railway systems and notes that the UK and US both have their unique limitations.

The British invented the railways and spread them across the world. I grew up in the rail town of Crewe, which was always considered something of a joke, as depicted in the 19th Century music hall song Oh! Mr. Porter

Oh! Mr Porter, what shall I do?
I want to go to Birmingham
And they’re taking me on to Crewe,
Send me back to London, as quickly as you can,
Oh! Mr Porter, what a silly girl I am.

Many in Britain have had the experience of changing trains on Crewe Station. A select few call the town of 60,000 their home. It’s been in decline since the locomotive works closed and Rolls-Royce motors moved (although luxury Bentley’s are still manufactured there).

High Speed Network planned

However, plans are afoot to change the whole basis of a Victorian rail network trying to compete with French TGV’s and Japanese and Chinese bullet trains.

Engel notes it is facing an uphill struggle:

HS2, the planned multibillion pound, 170mph high-speed line from London to the north that is the government’s pet project, is almost universally derided. The concept is indeed flawed — it offers too few useful connections with existing lines — but on all current projections it is essential, not for its extra speed but for the extra capacity to deal with record numbers of passengers.

The local Crewe newspaper recently announced that a £5bn HS2 “super hub” station will be built in Crewe. It’s slated to open in 2027 and will help deliver more than 120,000 new jobs and see over 100,000 new homes built across the region. Anyone wanting to enjoy the bucolic Cheshire countryside would be advised to do so while it remains.

Crewe HS2 Station

Good Morning, America, How Are You?

The rail network in the US is quite different. As generations of hobos and Matthew Engel have noted:

..the 140,000 miles of railroad are synonymous with freight trains, which still play a major part in the US economy. Indeed, outside the Amtrak-owned Boswash corridor, the freight companies own the tracks: if there is a question of priority, it’s the passengers who are likely to get shunted into a siding. (This is almost exactly the opposite to the UK, where freight traffic has always been marginal and is now in decline yet again, because of the closure of coal-fired power stations, the withdrawal of biomass subsidies, and the collapse of the domestic steel industry.)

Plans to launch high-speed trains between LA and San Francisco and cities a similar distance apart in Texas and the North East, are, like Britain’s HS2 plans, being measured in decades, not years.

All of this is in stark contrast to the rail network in China where over 10,000 miles of track serves over 2.5 million riders.The 800+ mile journey from Beijing to Shanghai takes just 5 hours.

Engel concludes:

A successful public transport system is a national benefit. William Gladstone understood this in Victorian times; Japan, China and most of western Europe accept it explicitly. For much of the world, the past 40 years have indeed been the second age of the train. British politicians get the point implicitly but execute policy furtively and cack-handedly; only American Republicans are visceral and obstructive deniers.

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Guest posting: A Speechwriters Wish List, by Boe Workman

Wish List ImageAt a recent conference for senior speechwriters, Boe Workman the Director of CEO Communications at the AARP shared a one page ‘wish list’ for speechwriters to use when developing a presentation for their client. Boe said he keeps this list pinned to his notice board and refers to it whenever he starts a new project. Click here to download the one-page version for your own notice baord. Boe can be reached at This list is posted here with Boe’s express permission. Photo Credit: ladydanio via Compfight cc

A Speechwriters’ Wish List: (Questions Every Speechwriter Should Ask)

Situational Variables

  1. Why was the speaker asked to speak to this group at this time?
  2. What does the speaker/organization hope to achieve by this speech?
  3. What does the organization being addressed hope to achieve by this speech?
  4. What is the relationship between the speaker and the organization being addressed?
  5. What is the relationship between our organization and the organization being addressed?
  6. What is the organization’s interest in the topic?
  7. What is the occasion for the speech?
  8. What is the physical layout of the room and podium?
  9. If the occasion is a dinner or banquet, will the speaker speak from a head table, a separate lectern, or neither?
  10. If the occasion is a conference or a panel, where is the speaker positioned? Who else is on the panel? What other topics, issues, organizations, or viewpoints will be represented?
  11. If the occasion is an internal speech, will other members of the organization be on the program?
  12. Are all visual (or audio) materials in proper working order?

Audience Variables

  1. Who is the primary audience? Is it the people in the room? The news media? The television or satellite audience? People who will read about the speech in the newspaper or another publication? Social Media? A third party?
  2. What is the size and composition of the audience?
  3. What is the audience’s attitude toward the topic?
  4. Is the audience well-informed about the topic?
  5. What is the audience’s attitude toward the organization and speaker?
  6. What do the speaker and our organization have in common with the audience?
  7. Do you know enough about the audience to adapt your approach to the topic to fit their attitudes and frame of reference?
  8. Do you know enough about the audience to adapt the language of the speech to their educational and knowledge level?
  9. Do you know enough about the audience to guide your choice of supporting materials?
  10. Will audience members be live tweeting from the event?

Message Variables

  1. Is the purpose of the message clearly defined and understood by the speaker and the audience?
  2. Does the message have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion?
  3. Is the message designed for the audience?
  4. Does the message promote identification between the audience and the topic?
  5. Does the message promote identification between the audience and the speaker?
  6. Do the ideas and evidence in the message withstand the scrutiny of reasonable individuals?
  7. Does the message employ an appropriate style and use of language?
  8. Does the message follow an organizational pattern suitable to the audience, occasion, topic, and speaker?
  9. Is the message reinforced with appropriate visual material and/or handouts (if applicable)?
  10. Is the message organized to meet the time and programmatic constraints of the event?
  11. Does the message incorporate the appropriate blend of logical, emotional, and ethical appeals?

Speaker Variables

  1. What do I know about the speaker’s delivery style including: phrasing, tempo, words or phrases the speaker likes to use or avoid?
  2. Is the speaker comfortable with appropriate technical jargon?
  3. Does the speaker favor some rhetorical devices over others (i.e., metaphors, oxymorons, rhetorical questions)?
  4. Does the speaker prefer some types of evidence over others (i.e., statistics, analogies, expert opinion, examples)?
  5. Does the speaker’s style lend itself to humor? If so, what type — jokes, humorous story or anecdote, one-liners, etc.?
  6. Is the speaker comfortable using gestures and visual aids?
  7. Does the speaker have favorite authors, stories, or subjects he or she likes to use for quotations or for relating ideas?
  8. Is the message one the speaker feels strongly about personally?
  9. Is the speaker an acknowledged expert on the topic, and what is the depth of that knowledge?
  10. Will the speaker be responsible for a question and answer session after the speech?

Do you have any additional ‘wish list’ items you check before you start work on a speech? Share them in the comments section below.

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Movie Review: Steve Jobs

Steve JobsFor anyone who has worked in the speechwriting, executive communications or PR business and supported an executive who has presented at a major event, much about the new movie Steve Jobs will seem very familiar.

No matter how truthful a portrait it is of the man (played by Michael Fassbender) who founded Apple — debate rages among those who worked with him — it is an accurate account of life behind the scenes on the day of a product launch presentation. Actually, we are given a backstage pass to three events: the launches of the Mac in 1984, the NeXT cube in 1998 and the iMac in 1998.

Poetic license

At each event it is marketing VP Joanna Hoffman (played by Kate Winslet) who attempts to keep the tech guru focused on the product launch. His attention is continually distracted by a series of visitors to the green room, from angry and frustrated co-workers (chief among them Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and CEO John Scully) to angry and frustrated family members (chief among them his daughter Lisa and her mother Chrisann).

This is extreme poetic license. No executive could tolerate such emotionally charged conversations moments before stepping in front of an audience. Indeed, for the real story on the focus Jobs brought to his presentations, and the intensity of the preparation, read Carmine Gallo’s excellent analysis of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

Familiar Details

Familiar details about life behind the scenes at a major event include:

  • The chaos of cables, monitors and cluttered hallways the audience never sees from the front of the house.
  • The auditorium before the doors open, with a random scattering of people watching the final rehearsal.
  • Swarms of black-clad, production people on headphones trying to keep everything on schedule.
  • The fruit baskets and cans of soda in the green room.
  • Techies frantically trying to get the demo to work.
  • The script outline spread on the floor, undergoing last minute edits.

The movie captures these universal aspects of the world of executive communications.


What is unique to Jobs and Apple was the evangelical fervor of the launches with enthusiastic audiences behaving more like those at a rock concert than the introduction of a new computer (one of which, in a memorable line, is accused of “looking like Judy Jetsons’ Easy-Bake oven”).

It also conveys quirky aspects of Jobs personality, such as using yoga poses to relax before going on stage; insisting the graphics person show him 39 images of a shark before selecting the specific one that he wants on the slide; and needing, over the fire marshals express prohibition, the exit signs in the auditorium blacked-out for a demo.

The movie is of the time and place that birthed Apple and revitalized Silicon Valley. We see flashbacks of Jobs and Woz arguing about the future in their Cupertino garage. The influences on Jobs — from the Bob Dylan soundtrack to knowing references to dropping acid and glorious images of the Golden Gate Bridge — are intertwined with the theme of reconciliation with his estranged daughter.

Much has been written about how confrontational Jobs was, and this film certainly highlights the difficult aspects of his personality. While not too many executive communications professionals have the challenge, or privilege, of working with as mercurial character as Steve Jobs, I believe all will enjoy this inside look backstage before the presentation starts.

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Meeting Report: The wit and wisdom of speechwriter Hal Gordon

Hal GordonOn Thursday September 17, 2015 the Silicon Valley Speechwriters welcomed Hal Gordon as our guest on a conference call.

Hal was a speechwriter for the Reagan White House and later wrote for Gen. Colin Powell. Since 2005, Hal has provided executive speech writing for top executives of Shell Oil, Royal Dutch Shell, CenterPoint Energy, GE Aero Energy, UPS, Sim-Tex LP, cPanel and the Greater Houston Partnership. He’s also lectured on speechwriting for NASA, Texas A&M University, the National Association of Government Communicators, more than half a dozen national speechwriter conferences and the U.K. Speechwriter’s Guild.

Hal was a speechwriter in the Reagan White House, where he wrote for Counselor to the President Edwin Meese, OMB director James C. Miller, and other top domestic advisors to the President.

Hal has a web site——and blogs for Follow him on Twitter @paidpen.

Shield of ParadeIn a wide-ranging conversation Hal discusses working at the White House and his views on the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates (including Donald Trump who he satirizes in this version of a Trump speech to Evangelicals). He comments on the debt Winston Churchill owes to Irish-American statesman William Bourke Cockran and the importance of Churchill’s essay on Scaffolding of Rhetoric.
Hal reminds speechwriters to always be on the look out for material, which he illustrates by telling how he used the Shield of Parade which he admired on a visit to the British Museum in a later speech.

To hear edited highlights of the call, click on the podcast icon below.

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