Cultivating Stage Presence with The Second Circle

Second Circle Book CoverA highlight of last week’s PSA World Speechwriters Conference was hearing Edmée Tuyl describe differences in energy speakers bring to the podium. She outlined the concept of three circles of energy that comes from master speech and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg who speaks about the importance of cultivating what she calls “Second Circle energy” as a way for speakers to use their energy to be present (in “the present”) with an audience for maximum impact. Briefly:

  • First Circle energy is inward-looking, drawing energy toward the self, typical of introverted and nervous speakers.
  • Third Circle energy is forced out, toward the world in general, typical of bombastic and opinionated speakers.
  • Second Circle energy is focused on the audience, in relationship, taking in and giving out. This connection with the audience is characterized in theater as having “stage presence”. Presence that allows your message to survive.

Her book The Second Circle: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation expands on the ideas she presents in this short video:

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NY Speechwriters Conference Debrief 3 of 3

Part threeIn this third and final edited highlight of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable conference call from the PSA World Conference, I give a summary of Bob Lehrman’s break out featuring a conversation with David Kusnet who was Clinton’s speechwriter. Katie Gray shares admiration for General David Petraeus’s intellect.

Brian Jenner shares Eric Schnure’s tips on writing for roasts and why it’s important to “singe not burn” and ways jokes can be reused. Schnure recommended writers do a “joke dump” and write 10 jokes for every one used. A good way to structure a joke is by associating a person or place in the news with a different issue. CEOs can get away with humor if they introduce it by saying “As Jon Stewart said…”.

To hear the audio, click on the podcast icon below.

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NY Speechwriters Conference Debrief 2 of 3

Part TwoIn this second edited highlight from the call, social media director Jerry Weinstein reviews postings to the tweet-stream under the #PSAworld hashtag. He discusses the unusual nature of the opening keynote that took people out of their intellect into a bodily appreciation of what is involved in the act of speaking. He comments on the “Know your Worth” breakout session with Fletcher Dean, Julie Conway and Harry Kruglik and the relevance of salary surveys in journalism which might be valuable for speechwriters to initiate. Likewise, in a parallel breakout, Gotham Ghostwriters founder Dan Gerstein addressed the value of freelancers sharing rate information.

Duarte Design content developer Katie Gray was attending her first ever speechwriters conference and was impressed by the variety and cross-section of presentations. She liked the mixed media content of Mette Højen’s presentation on the ways speechwriters can command audiences exactly like an orchestra conductor.

David Murray explains why he chose an experiential opening keynote from Edmée Tuyl. He explains that it’s easy to find tips on the basics of speechwriting which he assumed most attendees at this event knew. He wanted to encourage people to share experiences, with someone who talked about speechwriting on a holistic basis. He discusses the closing keynote by General David Petraeus was himself a speechwriter for General John Galvin, Supreme Commander of European Forces. Petraeus demanded the right to be present every time the General spoke and to be in the car on the way to the event to get the boss fired up before stepping onto the podium.

To hear the audio, click on the podcast icon below.

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NY Speechwriters Conference Debrief 1 of 3: David Murray

Part OneThe Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable conference call took place May 21 at the end of the first day of the Professional Speechwriters Association (PSA) World Conference held May 22-23 at New York University.

There were 9 callers online from around the country. The Roundtable is open to anyone who is interested in speechwriting in Silicon Valley, not just those of us who live and work there. The call lasted 45 minutes, and I’ve divided the audio recording into three segments.

In this first of three edited highlights David Murray, the organizer of the Conference, discusses the mood of the event. In contrast to the 200-person Ragan Speechwriters Conference in Washington DC which attracts generalists, this event was targeted specifically at practicing professional speechwriters—over 50 attendees came from Europe, USA and Canada. David gives a preview of the review sessions that will occur on the final day of the event. He concludes by describing advantages of becoming a member of the newly formed Professional Speechwriters Association.

Brian Jenner of the UK Speechwriters Guild attended the 2008 Ragan Conference and saw first-hand the differences between British and American approaches to speechwriting and was inspired to found the UK Speechwriters Guild. The interest of other Europeans led to the European Speechwriters Network holding their first conference in 2013. He claims that this event has made him realize the differences in style between speechwriters and the “hippie tendencies” of some people who make their living as speechwriters!

To hear the audio, click on the podcast icon below.

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Hollywood Secrets Help Professional Speakers

Over 100 attendees at Saturday’s meeting of Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association heard the benefits of taking a Hollywood approach to writing and delivering presentations in order to elicit emotion in an audience.

FrippHall of Fame keynote speaker and executive speech coach Patricia Fripp joined forces with Hollywood story expert (and Will Smith’s script consultant) Michael Hauge.

Fripp is the founder of our Chapter and a leading authority in the world of professional speaking.

Michael HaugeHauge is a story and script consultant, author and lecturer who works with writers and filmmakers on their screenplays, novels, movies and television projects. He has coached writers, producers, stars and directors on projects for Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Kirsten Dunst, Charlize Theron and Morgan Freeman, as well as for every major studio and network.

Michael also works extensively with Hollywood executives, producers, agents and managers, helping them sharpen their story and development skills, and improving their companies’ abilities to recognize powerful material, employ advanced principles of structure, character arc and theme, skillfully communicate a story’s strengths and weaknesses, and work effectively with writers to achieve a commercially successful screenplay. His skills and experience were immediately applicable to the professional speakers and speechwriters in the room on Saturday.

Fripp introduced the program by saying it is difficult to be creative in isolation, hence the collaboration between her and Michael that enables their creativity to flourish. She stated that to ensure your audience remembers your presentation you must present information in a way that it connects with them by following a basic story outline formula: When? Where? Who? What Happened?

Michale Hauge elaborated on this by outlining:

The 10 Essential Elements of Every Great Story

  1. A Hero. The story must have a hero or heroine. This main character drives the story and has the potential to be heroic. The hero’s desire propels the action.
  2. The Setup. A slice of everyday life before anything heroic happens. It shows how the hero is stuck before they begin the “forward movement” of the story. This is where the writer builds sympathy for the hero in the minds of the audience, which leads to:
  3. Empathy. A psychological connection between your audience and the protagonist before you reveal the hero’s flaws. The audience lives through the characters and empathize with them by seeing the highs and lows they deal with in their lives. Hauge shared three ways to create empathy:
    1. Create sympathy. Make them the victim of an undeserved event.
    2. Put the hero in jeopardy. In Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones escapes a host of threats at the start of the movie that have nothing to do with the rest of the plot, but develop empathy for Jones.
    3. Make the character likeable, kind, good-hearted, generous.
  4. Opportunity. When something happens that has never happened before and gets the story moving.
  5. New Situation. To allow the hero to pursue a visible goal they want to accomplish.
  6. Outer motivation. Or the visible goal that the hero wants to accomplish by the end of the story. This goal must be within the hero’s power to accomplish. As a story coach, Hauge asks “What’s this story about?” In the movie, Gravity, the heroine’s goal was, “I want to get home.” This outer motivation should be easily expressed in a single sentence. The clearer you can be about the visible goal of the hero, the better.
  7. Growing Conflict. A great story provides obstacles for the hero to overcome. To elicit emotion, you must amplify conflict. Whatever goal the hero wants to accomplish, you must convince the reader it’s impossible and then find a way to achieve it.
  8. Climax. At this point of the story the hero confronts the biggest obstacle that must resolve their visible goal. But it’s not the end of the story.
  9. Transformation. The hero must transform to achieve their outer motivation. In a character arc, this transformation is the point when they go from living in fear to living courageously. This element reveals the story’s theme and reveals universal meaning, which increases emotion and story depth. The visible goal can only be achieved if the character can overcome the state of being stuck.
  10. Aftermath. The final element shows the hero living a new life after completing the journey.

Hauge gave each of us a bookmark with these elements listed.

Michael Hauge Bookmark


All great presenters speak in easily Tweetable soundbites. Here’s some I noted:

Michael Hauge:

  • Real life is not properly structured
  • Stories must be true, but they don’t have to be factual.
  • Audiences don’t want to hear that you became courageous; they want to hear how it happened.
  • Whatever you want your audience to learn and do, you must have the hero of your story learn and do.
  • Stories give your audience a direct experience of whatever it is you want your speech to convey.


  • Freeze your gestures while the audience laughs or applauds.
  • Deliver stories that happened in the past in the past tense.
  • The audience does not see how you feel, only what you project.
  • You are speaking for the audience of your audience.


Hauge illustrated his concepts with movie references. He started the morning by sharing a clip from the movie “Hitch”. If you’ve never seen this romantic comedy, take a look:

Hauge’s books on the craft of screenwriting and storytelling are best sellers in the genre. I went home with two of his books and an audio CD:

Fripp has launched a Virtual Training website where you can immerse yourself in her speech and sales presentation coaching 24/7.

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Same Same … But Different

SameA recent discussion in the National Speaker’s Association Facebook Group addresses the problem of the lack of originality in many speeches. The discussion was prompted by a LinkedIn article by Richard A. Moran which highlights the repetitive use of the same case studies by speakers at business events. The author requests:

Let’s broaden the conversation and stop talking about the same companies – usually Apple, Zappos and Southwest Airlines.

Instead of the same old stuff he wants:

…to be motivated, not sorry I don’t work somewhere else. I want to know how I can improve, not how a brilliant leader did it a few years ago somewhere else. And, I want genuine advice that might include some practical tips about how to be better and what pitfalls to avoid.

Professional speakers and speechwriters are in total agreement. Their comments show they understand the importance of delivering content that is unique, different, and ensures their message will be heard above the noise. (Since the NSA Group is a closed one, the names of the contributors have been removed.)

  1. The problem is a global one – same old stories, same old case studies, same old messages. We need to use our own stories, our own research, and if we must talk about companies, use current news stories.
  2. It’s best to tell stories from our own experience. It’s what I do in my own talks and it’s what I encourage executives to do when I’m helping them with their speeches. Not only are those stories going to be original, the speaker is going to be more connected to them.
  3. Speakers must bring us a very different idea or way of doing something we’ve not heard before. I can honestly say few exist per my life’s experience. The same ingredients in a food processor still yield pretty much the same outcome–no matter what order you add them. Real Thought Leaders make us think long after the book, podcast or event. I believe great speeches have a beginning, a middle and a definitive end. I also know there are three presentations happening simultaneously: the one you planned, the one you executed and (most importantly) the one they take away. Our own stories and the lessons we share keep our content fresh and unique, as long as we continue to study how to connect the dots in a way the audience most relates to.
  4. As a speech writer for others, I want to take their experiences and create a speech based on them, not on what can be found in college business textbooks. Not all case studies are as they seem.
  5. We live in an age where everything changes quickly — we have so many examples to share.
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Guest Posting: How Not to Introduce a Speaker, by Adam Grant

Adam GrantAdam Grant is Wharton’s youngest full professor and single highest-rated teacher. He has been recognized as one of BusinessWeek’s favorite professors, one of the world’s 40 best business professors under 40, and one of Malcolm Gladwell’s favorite social science writers. Previously, he was a record-setting advertising director at Let’s Go Publications, an All-American springboard diver, and a professional magician. Adam is the author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. This post was first published on his LinkedIn Influencer page and appears here with his express permission.

How Not to Introduce a Speaker

by Adam Grant

When I attend a presentation, the first thing that captures my attention isn’t the speaker or the material. It’s the person who introduces the speaker.

After giving a few hundred speeches in the past year, I’ve been struck by the variety of ways that different people introduce the same speaker. Some introductions energize me and seem to leave the audience excited to hear from me. Other introductions inadvertently make it more difficult to deliver a successful speech.

In my experience, the best introductions avoid three mistakes:

1. Don’t read the speaker’s biography. Much of the time, introducers walk up to the stage with a written biography, and proceed to read it verbatim. This is a mistake for several reasons. First, it’s boring. Bios are usually written to inform, not fascinate. Second, a typical bio is far too long to hold the audience’s attention. The goal is to pique the audience’s curiosity, not cover the speaker’s entire life history.

Third, even if introducers are armed with a short, punchy bio, they usually trip up when trying to read the words. This often happens to me when I’ve tried to read introductory remarks, leaving me mystified: why can I give a 45-minute speech from memory without missing a beat, but stumble through reading a few words that are right in front of me? (One explanation comes from classic research by psychologist Robert Zajonc: the presence of an audience enhances performance for well-learned tasks, but hinders performance when we’re novices. We’re used to reading silently, not out loud in front of large groups, and the arousal interferes with fluent processing.)

Instead of reading a bio, I like it when introducers highlight a grand total of three or four interesting tidbits about the speaker. Here’s one of the best intros I’ve ever received: “Adam Grant is a Wharton professor who has advised leaders ranging from Google to Goldman Sachs to the U.S. Air Force. He’s the author of Give and Take, and he used to perform as a magician.”

2. Don’t give away the speaker’s content. On numerous occasions, during the introduction, I’ve watched presenters turn white as a sheet. The introducer steals the thunder of the speech by giving away a punch line, a surprise, or a memorable quote. This has happened to me several times recently. One of my most requested speeches introduces three styles of interaction: givers (helpful), takers (selfish), and matchers (fair). I poll the audience: which group is least successful, and which is most successful?

Then, I reveal an unexpected conclusion from a decade of research across multiple industries. Givers are more likely to finish last… but they’re also more likely to finish first. It was a bummer when the CEO of a Fortune 500 company introduced me by announcing that I would be speaking about how good guys finish first.

Goodbye, element of surprise! Goodnight, audience interaction. Hello, pivot!

My rule here is clear: introducers should avoid the content altogether. It’s fine to explain the relevance of the talk to the audience. Just tell us the purpose of the presentation, or the topic of the speech, without divulging the message or the conclusion. You can also create a curiosity gap, as described by Chip and Dan Heath inMade to Stick. Pose a question that the speaker might answer, and the audience will be intrigued to find out more. For my speech, it works well when introducers simply say, “Today’s speaker will challenge our assumptions about what drives success” or “Adam will ask, ‘Is giving the secret to getting ahead?’”

3. Don’t make the speaker sound superhuman. I’m thrilled to share this idea with you, because the next paragraph is going to be the most profound argument you’ll read this week.

Many introducers wax poetic in superlatives about the speaker. This is a good idea in principle: extensive evidence shows that whether the speaker is a teacher or a leader, high expectations can fuel self-fulfilling prophecies. When the introducer emphasizes what’s impressive about the speaker, audience members are more likely to be smiling at the edge of their seats. This can enhance the speaker’s confidence and reduce self-doubt, and then a virtuous cycle ensues. The audience is more likely to engage with her insights and laugh at her jokes, further enhancing the speaker’s confidence and ability to command attention. If something goes wrong, the audience will be more forgiving.

Yet an over-the-top setup can lead to what social scientists call a self-negating or self-disconfirming prophecy. In a nutshell, if the audience’s expectations are too high, there’s a greater risk of a gap between anticipation and reality. If the introduction is too glowing—like my tongue-in-cheek opening sentence above—the speaker will have a hard time living up to it. To paraphrase one of my mentors, Jane Dutton:

It’s better if the introducer under-promises, and the speaker over-delivers, than vice-versa.

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Here’s more than you ever needed to know about what differentiates England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland from Great Britain and why vestiges of the British Empire are alive and well in isolated parts of the world like the Falklands.

Explained brilliantly by C.G.P. Grey.

Watch the video and be informed!

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Book Review: Cold Cream, by Ferdinand Mount

Cold Cream CoverA memoir by a shy and retiring British aristocrat with the unlikely title Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes would not usually grab my attention, or warrant a review in this blog.

However, Ferdinand “Ferdy” Mount’s autobiography is a delightful book filled with tales of a vanished world. He grew up a member of the British upper class. His family was never wealthy, but he was in line for a Baronetcy and they had enough money to send him to private schools and on to Eton and Oxford. Throughout his life, relatives, friends and acquaintances saw to it that Ferdy was alright. His career required “the oxygen of influence” from members of the Establishment who take care of their own. After working as a children’s nanny and gossip columnist, he did a stint as a leader writer on the now defunct newspaper the Daily Sketch. Following his time as a newspaperman, Ferdy then spent a few haphazard years assisting various Conservative Party politicians with reports and considered running for Parliament in a half-hearted way.

Margaret Thatcher

Then, out of the sky blue yonder, on p. 281 of his life story, the phone rings:

By the time Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister I had long ago abandoned any thought of a political career and had happily settled for a life of writing anything that came to hand or mind. So it was a total surprise when her economic adviser Alan Walters rang up on 3 March 1982 and asked whether I would care to come and work for her.

He’s offered the job of running the policy unit and Number Ten Downing Street.

Mount comments “…I had never run anything and had zero experience of the workings of government.” Not a concern to the Iron Lady.

It transpired on meeting Mrs. Thacher that there was a fundamental misunderstanding: he thought of himself as a policy wonk, she hired him as a speech writer. Oh well, thinks Ferdy, “…I suppose many marriages have started on a worse basis.”

His description of life inside Number Ten is astute and hilarious. The strategic position of the gents loo allows cabinet ministers respite from their colleagues. He details where Dennis Thatcher keeps his golf clubs, how the residence of the Prime Minister was accessible via a back stairway where he could slip last minutes notes in the PM’s briefing boxes late at night, where the Downing Street cat sleeps. He confirms the accuracy of the way the Civil Service is portrayed in the BBC series Yes Minister.

Speechwriting at Number Ten

Mount reveals the “full horror” of the speechwriting process in preparing for major events.

The first draft I served up was there simply to be torn up and binned, while she began to think what she might actually want to say.

Politicians would submit jokes for his consideration. They were ignored.

Eccentric members of the ruling class would offer suggestions for speech content, including one who “sported a thin Mafioso moustache and grubby tennis shoes under a pinstripe suit (who) claimed to have a squad of West Indians on roller skates whom at a moment’s notice he could despatch all over London to find out what word on the street was…”

In addition to speech content, Mrs. T. needed coaching in delivery:

Her ear was unfailingly tinny and, though she could be devastating and inspiring in unscripted harangues, the sight of a written text would make her freeze. Even though the words might have been of her own devising…at first reading they would fall lifeless from her lips.

A “portly, fruity” playwright “redolent of the old West End” was there to advise on delivery:

‘Come on, darling, they want you to show you really feel it.’ She would look at him, bewildered but dutiful, the novice on her first engagement in rep.

Preparing her address to the annual Conservative party conference in a year when she was not challenged for leadership (that would come later) bemused Mount. Thatcher spent 18 hours preparing “for the one speech in the year in which she was assured of receiving a rapturous standing ovation.”

The final version of the speech contains none of his “smart phrases” but has the conventional “more direct, brutal way of putting things that she felt comfortable with.”

He acknowledges that speeches like this are where politicians focus their energy because they are about the “mechanics of getting and holding power.”

The humble manner in which Mount tells of his time in the corridors of power make this a delightful read and a lesson in the many ways speechwriters can function. Recommended.

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Guest Posting: Speaking Up – Surviving Executive Presentations, by Rick Gilbert

Rick Gilbert is the founder of PowerSpeaking, Inc. and the primary developer of PowerSpeaking (the workshop), HighTechSpeaking, and Speaking Up: Presenting to Executives. He is the author of Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations and has authored articles in over 100 national publications on communication. Before starting PowerSpeaking, Rick held management positions at Hewlett-Packard and Amdahl. Before that he was a psychologist and a university instructor. His PhD is in Humanistic Psychology. This article is reprinted with his express permission.

Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations

by Rick Gilbert

Speaking Up CoverYou are a smart, high-potential middle manager rocketing up the corporate ladder. Your team is working on a project that could catapult your company ahead of the competition. All that remains is to convince senior leadership to give you the funding to make it happen.

You walk into the C-level presentation room with your 30 PowerPoint slides. Almost immediately, a full-blown executive food fight starts. You look to your sponsor for help, but she isn’t paying attention. The executives drift off agenda as you fumble with your slides. You wonder, “What the hell just happened,” as you are politely dismissed from the room. Leaving the building, your dream of corporate stardom fades quickly.

If you are in middle management, you live with daily ambiguity, lack of control, and even chaos. To get anything done, you must present your ideas to people up the chain, and those presentations can be brutal. Careers and projects can come unwound in a matter of minutes if a presenter at the top level doesn’t know the rules.

Like an anthropologist in some mysterious far-away land, for the past ten years I’ve been working to discover the secret rules that govern the C-suite. Doing interviews with over 50 C-level executives, I’ve pieced together this puzzle. What we’ve learned in this research could save your career, your project, and even your company. So, what are the rules?

The good news: the rules are simple and easy to learn:

  • You have 30 seconds to get to the point;
  • You must present with confident (not slick) style, lately called “executive presence;”
  • Present like a jazz musician: improvise;
  • Dump the slides and have a discussion.

Unfortunately a staggeringly high number of mid-level people (67%, actually) march right into top-level meetings and shoot themselves in the foot by:

  • Not saying what they want at the beginning;
  • Being too aggressive or too passive in their delivery;
  • Rigidly sticking to their scripts;
  • Having too many PowerPoint slides.

The cost of a 67% failure rate is staggering. If you are presenting to the top five people in a mid-sized company ($6 – $8 billion in revenue), the executives around that table are costing the share holders about $30,000/hour. Do the math. Two or three meetings a week at a failure rate of roughly $20,000/meeting, can cost hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars/year in lost productivity. These stats come from the executives we’ve interviewed.

As you walk to the front of the room and take your place at the head of the oval mahogany table, you better know the dynamics and history of that C-level group. It is not your meeting. You are a guest at their meeting. They can treat you with respect, or callous disregard. In surveying middle managers, we’ve learned there are “Seven Deadly Challenges” you need to be prepared for:

  • They cut your time
  • They get distracted with their devices
  • They have an executive food fight
  • They change the topic without warning
  • The key decision maker walks out
  • They engage in side-talk
  • They have a fast-moving energetic discussion

Executive Presentation Survival Tips

Know the culture. Check it out with your sponsor. Talk to others who’ve presented to this team. Keep in mind the reality of the stressful world top-level people live in. They are very bright, time pressured executives with little job security. Their average job tenure is 23 months. They are under huge financial performance pressures. At the end of the first year on the job, if the stock price goes down, there is a 73 percent chance the new CEO will be fired, according to a report in the Harvard Business Review. However you are treated in the brief moments of that critically important presentation, whether with appreciation for your contribution, or with disrespect, it is not about YOU. They have bigger issues to deal with.

As one HR executive put it:

I’m a tool of management. My job is to give senior executives information, lay out a set of options, or maybe ask for a decision . . and then leave. I’m not there to be their buddy or to get pats on the back. A presentation isn’t a personal development opportunity or a chance for increased visibility. I’m there to do a job. And that job is to help prepare the executives to make the best possible decisions for the company.

Seeing your presentation in the cold hard light of day will help you be successful. It is not about a promotion. It is not about being friends with the executives. It is about helping them be more effective.

If you follow these tips, the chances of getting what you want and being someone they trust go way up. You will be seen as having “executive presence.” Since you will get the funding, you will become a hero to your team. Your career prospects will brighten. Good luck.

For a peek inside the book and to hear from some of the people who have been through Rick’s workshop and senior executives he has interviewed, take a look at the video below.

Speaking Up Book Release Party from Rick Gilbert on Vimeo.

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