Jan 12

Tearing up the Public Speaking Rulebook

I’ve written about the various tips and techniques of creating effective public speaking skills. A quick google search or a run through some of the peeps on my blogroll can reveal a lot more of the Dos and Don’ts. There’s advice on effective openings, structuring the body of your presentation and so on and so forth. But sometimes I really don’t think it’s necessary. Sometimes I think that the techniques we learn from books, workshops or places like Toastmasters can be thrown out the window entirely!
However, this can only happen if the speaker is really passionate about their subject, knows A LOT about that subject and knows the direction that they are going in.

One such example I’ve seen recently is Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV. This is a clip of Gary giving a 15 minute keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in 2008. (Just to note, he gets quite a few laughs in his speech, but I’m only going to pick up on a few of them).

He walks purposely out on to the stage and opens with “hey“. Why does this work? Why is this better than opening with a quote or one of the other ways that a lot of public speaking coaches (myself included) advocate? The reason, in my mind, is because it’s genuine. It’s 100% Gary and sometimes that’s what it takes.

His frustration kicks in around the 52 second part as he advocates people not doing things they hate. His energy comes through, which makes the audience start to laugh, then he kicks in with “you can loose just as much money being happy as hell”, which gets a big laugh and a round of applause.

Then he starts telling us a little bit about his background. He gives us a very condensed version of what happened. He’s using the “this is where I was, this is what happened” which eventually lead to where he is now. Whether he is using this consciously or unconsciously I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

He is also dressed really casually. Now I am a firm believer in dressing to the level of your audience. Some people say that you should dress better than them, but I’m not sure about that because I don’t want anything to stand in my way of connecting with my audience. Anything.

If I’m doing stand-up comedy, I am more than likely to dress casually in jeans and a plain t-shirt (you don’t want the audience distracted trying to read some logo rather than on you), than I am to dress in a suit. If I’m doing a corporate gig, then I’m going to dress like they do. This was a Web 2.0 Expo, so the chances are that the audience was casually dressed. Not only that, but you know Gary is himself and not trying to be something that he’s not.

Then he gets down on one knee to emphasize what he used to do getting up early to work in a liquor store. He goes on to acknowledge the one audience member clapping one of his comment about making money along the way. This shows he is alive in the moment and not ploughing ahead saying what he’s saying regardless of what the audience is doing.

Then he lets us in on his world  a little bit when he says “it’s not fun answering what wine goes with fish 74 times a day“. This gets a laugh from his audience again because his passion and honesty flood through. He even acknowledges his mistake when he says “on the air” instead of “in the air”. He gets another laugh when he says “I’ll give you, like, 8 bucks each” this gets a big laugh because it’s a very specific figure. Not 10 bucks not 5, but eight.

He also uses a technique that stand-up comedians often use, which is out loud acknowledgement of a comment. He says that he told Domino’s Pizza franchisees to bring back the Noid. This comment gets a huge laugh and a round of applause.  He then says: “why did the Noid get such a big response? I need to use that more often”.

The he ends his keynote with “I’m done“. I think for one so full of energy and passion and sheer commitment to his topic a simple I’m done is enough.

Perhaps it would’ve been a little nicer if he had used a few more “you-based” statements to connect with his audience, rather than the mainly I-based ones. But I think it was so obvious that the keynote was about his audience that he wasn’t especially necessary.

Another comment could be levelled at his use of expletives. Whilst I use them in my everyday life, I make sure that I never use them in a corporate environment. Too many people are easily offended. Not only that, but too many people are offended on behalf of other people which is just stupid (a post for another day I feel). But, you know what? that’s Gary’s way. No-one can ever accuse him of not being genuine or 100% committed to what he’s saying.

With that comes expletives. The thing is, I guess it also depends on the audience. As I said early it was a Web 2.0 Expo, not strictly a corporate audience. I think that but’s a big no-no to swear at a corporate audience, but that’s just me.

Lesson: it’s great to use all the techniques and tips that we read on my blogs like mine, or that we learn in workshops, in books or whatever. But sometimes we have just set that aside and talk from the gut. If we’ve been through a lot of training and studying we should just trust that it’s going to be there.


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  1. Melissa

    I was thinking. This kind of passion in speaking is something that really can’t be taught. However, it’s a crucial lesson for you as a coach, and for your readers and other speakers to learn- that if you (and they) center your speeches around your most authentic passions, you can cut through a lot of the technical tricks. You don’t have to “crowbar” things into place when you’re talking from your gut and your heart.

  2. Jason Peck

    Hey Melissa,

    This reminds me of a story that Mel Brooks tells about working on “The Producers” and he’s talking about talent (I think). The actor Andréas Voutsinas, who played Carmen Ghia, says to Brooks “Or you got it, or you don’t”. Brooks says: “Andréas, you can’t start a sentence with or.”

    With regards to passion about your subject “or you got it, or you don’t”. Obviously, there are some presenters who have to give presentations that aren’t always part of their passion. But it leads me to wonder fi they are doing a specific job, surely that’s part of their passion.

    Sadly, we both know that this is not always the case. A lot of people are still falling into jobs. You don’t wake up one day and go “I’ll think I’ll be a traffic warden. I was want to fine as many cars as humanly possible!” Which means people can’t always present on their passion.

    It’s because of that they a lot of people need help. However, even if you have raw, unbridled passion I DO think that knowing different techniques can help you harness it. The trick is, the same as with acting, sometimes you just have to go on stage and forget the training and trust that it will be there.

    Thanks for your feedback

  3. David Portney, Public Speaking Training "Wizard"

    I generally agree with your idea that “being yourself” and going with the flow and “being genuine and being authentic” is good advice.

    My analogy is from years of teaching and being trained in Karate: the Master used to tell us that in the “real world situations” you don’t do Katas (the prearranged forms) and you don’t do drills from practice sessions, you “go with the flow” and deal with the reality of the moment. But, it’s the prior training that allows you to be able to “go with the flow” and deal with the moment.

    Similarly, if one has been trained properly in public speaking training and presentation skills, it’s much, much easier to “wing it” or “be yourself” or “be authentic”.

    My 2 cents!
    David Portney

  4. Jason Peck

    Hey Daivd

    Thanks for dropping by. I agree with you. I used to do karate many years ago and always wondered hoe the katas would help. As I got older I realised they were training drills as you say. The provide practice in the technique so that when it comes to the fight you just do it because it’s engrained.

    As I said the saem with acting. When you’re doing a play or a movie you’re not thinking about your dead dog or whatever. You’re doing the job. The work on yourself and the play happens waaaay before opening night, so that you can just do the job.

    A lot of times though, I think some people who are really passionate and clear in what they’re saying can just nail it. Like Gary did.

    However, I have seen managers do the same and they literally just talk with no direction, no point and no passion. Many of them don’t have the basic training to underpin their decision to “wing it”.

    Thanks for your 2 cents.


  5. Freddie Daniells

    hi Jason: Interesting discussion that you have going here. My 2 pennies worth are:

    Firstly, I suspect that this speech is much more finely tuned that it looks. Much as the good comedian or actor has worked through and honed their act, it is totally possible to do the same with a well thought through (though necessarily scripted) speech.

    Secondly, Gary brings tremendous energy to bear to his speech and this reflects the belief he has in what he is saying. As I always say to people ‘if you don’t look like you believe in what you are saying, why should I?’. Gary reflects this.

    Regarding the broader corporate world, my sense is that many people are ‘selling’ ideas in pitches, presentations or simply meetings but have forgotten how to show belief even if they really do have it. One of the small criticisms I have of TM is that sometimes is can be a bit mechanical. Raise an arm, look there, make a pause. I believe there is a role for coaching that points out to the individual the difference between the way they speak about private passions eg football, golf, TV, whatever, and business beliefs. Making the link between the two would, I believe, make a huge difference to the effectiveness of the corporate presenter, bringing in much more natural voice, gestures and eyes etc

    Finally, regarding the dress issue, I think there is a difference between where you are the focus (ie people are here to see you specifically) and where you are simply a small part of the proceedings. When you are the focus, they have come to see you and what your represent (ie your brand). You can (and possibly even should sometimes) get away with all sorts here. In the second situation, your role is to fit in.

    Gosh this is a bit rambling! Hope it makes sense.

    Keep up the good work,


  6. Jason Peck

    Hey Freddie,

    Good to see you Monday night and thanks for yer two pennies. Always welcome.

    I completely agree with you. Much like the way Eddie Izzard performs his stand-up, it’s rehearsed with a clear direction but no script. He allows himself the freedom to go off on tangents, but essentially remains “scripted”.

    Yes, the mechanical nature of TM bugs me too. There can often be forced, unnatural gestures that just wouldn’t work in a “real environment”. A lot of the times it’s about ticking the gestures box.

    I know he’s a different type of speaker, but I could never imagine Barack Obama using overt gestures.

    You’re bang on about the connection between outside passions with certain business beliefs and passions. Business peeps need to make that connection, much like Gary does in his.

    But alas, we both know that the concern is more about getting the sale, or whatever, when really seeing some who’s THAT passionate often means that you “want in”.

    I appreciate your comments!!


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