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The “Free Skate” Is Not Really Free

Breathless and inspired, I watched every hour of coverage of the biggest annual event in figure skating: the World Championships. Best in the world. Foreshadowing the 2022 Olympics.

What strikes me, now that I’m deep into coaching speakers for TED Talks and other speaking occasions, is there is an order to the skating program, just as there is an order to your speech. The “free skate” is not FREE. It looks free – – spontaneous and flowing, so it’s exciting. BUT–they are not just “winging it.” The free skate is 4 to 4 ½ minutes of planned program. There are 12 elements listed: jumps, spins, step sequence, twizzles!

Same with your speech. We create it and deliver it in order. What determines the order is how the audience wants to see the ideas develop. They want you to answer the questions in their mind, so they can “get it.” You will see the smiling and nodding as they take it in—without “audience whiplash.” You can see it—they whip their head to the person next to them, and say, “Huh? What did she say?” You have lost them.

When you “wing it,” that is, you think you know your content so well you can “just talk” about it, you are trusting your brain to think in a linear fashion. What if it doesn’t? What happens when you draw a blank? Do you root around in your notes, right in front of the audience, muttering, “It’s here somewhere….?” The audience is thinking, “Please. Life is hard enough. I don’t wanna watch people struggle! I don’t even watch the news before I go to bed.”

Here are 3 steps to not “wing it:”

1) Memorize the first sentences you say very well. I say “Lead With Their Need.” You need to point out the pain, problem, or situation of your audience to answer the question in their mind: “Why should I listen? What’s in it for me?” It’s why they need to hear their problems, and your solutions. When they are engaged, they will lean in and listen. Then, they are open to learn and be entertained.

2) Create and practice your speech in an order, answering the questions in the audience’s mind as they occur — in an ORDER. We do that when you work with me.

3) Have a great ending with a “call to action.” People need to know what to do next to engage your services. Rehearse your ending so it’s smooth. Most important – be passionate about it –lots of energy!
To see how to do that, here are 2 short videos.

How to Manage Your Butterflies: Part 1

How to Manage Your Butterflies: Part 2

I know, it sounds like a lot of work. So is anything with spectacular results. Look at the skating competitions: discipline to execute technical elements, and smooth, heartfelt artistry, coming from countless hours of practice. We can be inspired. Speaking in front of people is a privilege. So respect your audience, and the process.

[Photo Credit: Associated Press/NBC Sports]