Giving a speech? Three sneaky ways to get your audience loving you.

Updated to Business, Speaking on January 23, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

If you’ve ever delivered a seminar, presented on stage, or facilitated a meeting you know how hard it is to keep the attention of your audience. You have their full attention one minute, the next a cool wind is blowing through the meeting room.

Speaking louder might work once, but your goal should be to have them leaning in and interested, not shocked into paying attention.

Through many days of trial and error, I’ve discovered three ways that always work for getting your audience’s attention and getting them to love you.


Woof, woof, yes you can train an audience. Let’s think what your goal is on stage. Your role, certainly as I’ve experienced it, is to get your audience to respond. They respond to your ideas, lessons, insights, jokes – everything (if they don’t you’re in trouble). You also want them to say “Yes” at the end – hopefully in the form of a standing ovation, or buying product – at the very least with a resounding applause your event planner can hear all the way to the reception desk.

The trick is to not wait until the end to find out if they will respond. Instead start early and start small. Have them turn to a partner for a dyad, stand-up to talk with a new partner, do an exercise that anchors a lesson, or write in your handouts. Train them early and you’ll enjoy the big reward at the end. Woof, woof.


Here’s a tip right out of the must-read book Influence by Robert Cialdini – make them say yes. Stick with me here…..about half-way through and again just before your close, ask your audience “Is this valuable for you?” If you’re any good, the response should be an overwhelming “Yes!” – at least from 60% of the audience. That’s social proof.

Bingo! Your simple question, at just the right time, is all you need to have your audience convinced you’re the gem on the agenda.

Social proof happens when we believe something because the majority do. “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation” says Cialdini, “to the degree that we see others performing it.” 

Bingo! Your simple question, at just the right time, is all you need to have your audience convinced you’re the gem on the agenda.  Even if only half convinced before, now they’re fully on board.



There’s a line in the speaking industry: Q: Should you include humour in your speech? A: Only if you want to be invited back.

Q: Should you include humour in your speech? A: Only if you want to be invited back.

Let’s face it, it’s no fun to spend a day in an air conditioned conference centre, sitting all day, and eating hotel food. But you can bring some fun to your time on stage and you don’t have to be a comedian. Show a funny (relevant and short, please) video, tell a story where you goofed up, or share some strange and entertaining facts.

Today, I present a list of statistics about how busy we have become, it’s an interesting list, but, after all, it’s still statistics. So I insert the final bullet: “98% of all statistics are made up”. Anything that gets a good laugh, about every 10 minutes, will have them throwing money (or something).

Download the Instant Speech Template. You can use it immediately (this will save you hours of grief!).