Notes from My Speech Coach

Last week, I spoke at the Re:create 2011 Conference in Franklin, Tennessee. This is an annual conference for Christian “creatives” (e.g., worship leaders, recording artists, book authors, actors, etc.). I talked about the #1 challenge these creatives face: becoming bitter over unwarranted criticism.

Speakers View of an Audience Photo courtesy of ©, Image #7152512

Photo courtesy of ©

A few days after the conference, my friend Ken Davis, who was also a speaker at the conference, gave me some valuable feedback on my speech. In addition to being an enormously gifted speaker himself, Ken is a speech coach. He also hosts the Dynamic Communicators Summit and the Professional Communicators Summit, two conferences designed for professional speakers.

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I was eager to hear what Ken had to say, because he is one of my top five favorite speakers. I have also attended his Professional Communicators Summit and loved it. We sat down at a local restaurant for a one-on-one coaching session.

He was very affirming, but he also had five great suggestions for me. If you do any public speaking, perhaps these will be helpful to you, too:

  1. State the benefit clearly. I had a pretty clear premise (I thought), but I neglected to make the benefits clear. In my speech I said, “There are three truths you must embrace in dealing with offenses.” Ken said, “So what? What’s the benefit?” A better premise is this: “If you want to realize your full potential as a Christian creative, you must embrace three truths about dealing with unwarranted criticism.”
  2. Cut my intro down. I had a good opening. It was warm and pretty funny. However, it was too long. Ken felt I should remove the information that people know or could discover in my public bio. Instead, I need to share the details they wouldn’t know. This adds an element of surprise and connects me emotionally with my audience—especially if I can throw in some humor.
  3. Use more personal stories. I had some personal stories, but Ken felt I needed more. I know he’s right. This is my primary complaint with most of the speakers I hear. The problem is that it takes a lot of personal reflection to find great, relevant stories. Ken also suggested that the more I can share about my weaknesses, the more people will relate.
  4. Engage the audience. I didn’t engage the audience at all. Ken felt that this was a missed opportunity. He suggested I ask the audience questions. For example, before each major point, I could ask, “Do you want to realize your full potential as a Christian creative?” Then wait on a response. Then I could repeat my previous point and move on to the next one.
  5. Craft the ending carefully. I had spent a lot of time on the beginning of the speech. (I had just finished a great book called Better Beginnings: How to Capture Your Audience in 30 Seconds that I found particularly helpful.) This is important, because first impressions really matter. However, the last impression is even more important. Ken reminded me that I need to spend as much time on the ending as the beginning.

I am really excited that I get to give this same speech soon. With Ken’s help, I am hoping to take it to the next level. I have also registered for the Dynamic Communicators Summit. Ken’s other workshop focuses on the business side of speaking. This one focuses on crafting the message. I can’t wait!

Question: What are three adjustments you could make to your speaking to take it to the next level? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Tammy Cannon

    I appreciate that two experts can sit down and talk about ways to improve. So many of us have a hard time listening to suggestions. I quit working as an international marketer to raise 3 kids, so I haven’t had to speak in public for some time, but 3 things specific to me would be 1) increase confidence 2) focus on WIIFM (audience) 3) relating passion for topic.

  • Wade Hodges

    I attended the the Dynamic Communicators Workshop many years ago when it was in Colorado. It was a great experience and helped me become a better communicator. You’re blessed to have him in your life. I wonder if Ken is still teaching the SCORRE method?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I think that he is!

  • Scot Longyear

    Thanks for the example to keep learning, even near the top of your game.
    Enjoyed meeting you at the Summit a couple years ago. You will love DCW. It was a game- changer for me.
    All the best!

  • Randy Willis

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. I’m pretty sure I need to do all those things, and probably more! :-)

    I’m going to take a look at some of Ken Davis’ resources listed on his site(s).

  • Mark McDonald

    Great post. I struggle most with my endings. I once heard Andy Stanley describe endings as “Landing the plane”. I think ending are the hardest because you have to give yourself enough time to finish well. Sometimes I get 2 minutes from the finish time and realise that my ending takes 5 minutes, but those extra three minutes can turn an audience off because I went over time. what were Ken’s tips for great endings?

    • Michael Hyatt

      His main tip was to circle back to your premise, re-state it, and then bring it home. Andy says to use the word “imagine.” In other words, help them imagine what their life will be like if they do what you have asked them to do.

  • Mark McDonald

    One more thought, Michael can you do a whole blog post on starting a presentation well based on what you learnt from your time as a presenter and the books you were reading?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I will look for an opportunity. Perhaps I could review the book I mention in the post above. It has been VERY helpful.

  • Theresa Ip Froehlich

    Thank you for sharing your insights on speaking. I just heard Ken Davis speak at Christian Writers Guild conference and admire him a great deal.
    Sharing personal stories to me is more than just having the material. I have to first of all pay attention to my own life experiences and then be willing to be vulnerable enough to share. One thing that impresses me about Ken, and many other speakers I admire, is that they seem to be able to turn simple daily happenings into a life lesson for crowds.
    Conference speaking is also quite different from preaching. I’ve done more preaching than conference speaking. Nonetheless, both types have to answer the question “So what?” If my speaking does not add value to the audience, I am not being a good steward of their time.
    Mike, I always appreciate your generosity in sharing your knowledge with us all.

    Theresa Froehlich

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Theresa. I find that being a blogger makes you notice what happens a lot more, too.

  • K.C. Pro

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this great advice. Definitely interested in how you think the next time you give the speech is different by implementing Ken’s advice.

    I’m still in grad school and working on climbing up the ladder at work, but love the opportunity to present in front of a group and hope to do more public speaking in the future. Again, thank you for sharing the advice.

  • Jaymie Dieterle

    The workshops sound amazing! Thanks for sharing these tips. My struggles tend to be with the preparation of material in the first place – choosing the best pieces, not being redundant, etc.

  • Craig

    I’ve considered going to one of Ken’s training times many times. Now that I’ve read the helpful tips he gave you, I’m definitely making my plans!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am really looking forward to going. I think it will be a major milestone for me.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this post. I was sitting by Ken and noticed him taking notes. I am glad to find out what he was thinking. I am keeping this post close so that I can use it the next time I prepare a presentation.

  • Anonymous

    Great advice. I just forwarded to several public speaker friends. My two biggest challenges when speaking includes illustrations and keeping the content simple. I am constantly trying to ‘Narrow the Focus’ as Andy Stanley would say.

  • mcnair wilson

    Along with a powerful opening, strong closer (not a wrap up, that’s weak), and making it clear the benefits of any presentation, I always craft a clear and certain OBJECTIVE. This answers the question “Why this talk?” What do I want my audience to DO, consider, try, move toward, or change as a result of my presentation. Without knowing your “objective”, a speaker is merely making announcements—sharing information. Every piece of information, each illustration, even every joke in a talk should build towards the listener considering the objective.

    “Objective” is too often the missing piece at the heart of far too many keynotes, sermons, seminars, and other professional presentations. Having a reason and a direction is the whole point behind being a professional communicator. Otherwise, you might just be a great story teller or humorist but with nothing of value to offer your audience.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I couldn’t agree more. If you get clear on this, everything else seems to fall into place.

  • Heath Stoner

    I need to have more evaluators in my audience. I need to have more “mystery shoppers” that give critical feedback so that I can continue to improve.

  • Rick Koelz

    Thanks Michael for sharing this with us. I appreciate your open and honest sharing.

    I’ve heard Ken many times and he is one of the best, I’m sure he’s a great coach too.

  • Nicole

    I’ve been reading a lot of John Maxwell lately, so here’s a couple tips I’ve gleaned from him:

    1. Take time to connect with the audience. It may mean arriving early to walk around and talk to people, or staying late to sign books and answer questions, if needed. When you start, thank them for being there and express appreciation for them.

    2. Show some energy and passion! People will only be engaged with the topic if you are.

    3. Make an impact by doing or saying something out of the ordinary. I still remember when one of my pastors, trying to describe the consequences of sin on God’s creation, grabbed a beautiful ceramic vase and slammed it to the floor. As the bits of glass flew through the air, he punctuated the moment with one word: Fractured. This was over five years ago and I still remember that message.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have seen John speak numerous times. He is especially good at connecting with the audience before the speech. He is a role model, for sure!

    • Air Potter

      Thanks for this! Really helpful

  • Cyberquill

    I would like to say something, but now I’m terrified I may not properly engage this audience or that I could mess up the ending of my comment.

  • Jeff Randleman

    These are all great points. In my youth ministry, I speak to teens twice a week. This gave me a few things to work on for the coming weeks. Using more personal stories and crafting my ending more carefully will be my areas to work on. Thanks!

  • Jstark

    Thanks Michael! You shared a personal story with us that shared some of your own areas of growth. I found the post engaging. Your insights helped me see that I need to share more personal stories too. Whenever I do people really find it helpful. Just like your post!

  • Jack Heimbigner

    -Better Closing comments. I generally don’t close well at all. Things will mostly dissipate and then I go, “well, that’s all I have for ya.”

    -I probably need to fiddle less. Its a particularly bad habit, but I fiddle with my hands or my notes, or what ever else is around me. I need to have better gestures to eliminate these quirks.

    -And probably prepare more thoroughly. I feel like I prepare well, but do not always prepare to a comfortable level for myself, which probably leads to the fiddling that I do out of nerves.

    If I could work those things out, I feel like I could take it to the next level for sure. Thanks for the post!

  • Clay Rohde

    This has challenged me as well to develop clear and concise closings. How is it I want my audience to respond. As a pastor of teens it has to be clear. I was taught to be able to communicate the message in four sentences if needed. I need to get back to that.

    I as well need to put a strong effort into picking out the personal stories that are worthy of mentioning.

    Thank you for sharing your conversation with the twitter world. I will definitely check out Ken Davis.

  • Jeff Jones

    Thanks for sharing this. I find myself doing more public speaking than I could ever want and I feel I have certainly improved over the years but there is so much more I could know to be more effective.

    I hope you will be at Catalyst Dallas this year. If so, I will look forward to hearing you again and learning from your presentation.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I am schedule to speak at Catalyst in Dallas. Thanks.

  • Dan

    Great points. I will defiantly apply them into my next speech.

    Keep serving, growing, and leading


  • Gail

    1. More diversity in speed and tone (I’ve been working on this one for a while but feel I’ve still got a way to go).

    2. Keeping an eye on the audiences’ reactions rather than getting caught up in my love of public speaking.

    3. Allowing people time to absorb what I’m trying to say by including “thinking breaks” e.g. a joke, silence or more descriptive story. As a very direct person I can forget to allow for indirect people’s listening preferances.

    • Michael Hyatt

      WIth regard to “think breaks,” I once had the privilege of hearing Henri Nouwen speak. At the end of each major point, he would say, “Now, let’s think about that.” Then he was silent for a full minute. It was powerful.

  • Daniel Becerra

    I REALLY like the personal stories speakers use, specially when they mix it with their weaknesses. I just love to know the guy I am watching struggles just like me. I remember when I first heard my favorite speaker detail his struggles as a beginner, my life changed. One of the things he said was “Take risks, even if you fail, God will pick you up”. I don’t know why, but when he said it, it actually hit home for me. I heard that many times, but as he shared his story, he drove the point home.

    The one adjustment I still ought to make is fearlessness. I love it when speakers do something new, like they make funny interpretations or funny faces, without being afraid of looking ridiculous. I can’t seem to do that, but I will practice until it comes out right.

  • Daniel Becerra

    One last question Michael, why is it that the ending is more important? I would love to get your perspective on that, if that’s okay with you :)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Because it is the last thing people hear. It is what they are left with. Thanks.

  • Deiric


    The ending is what I struggle with – and the impact is enormolus. Deliver a great talk that fizzles into a ‘that’s all I had to say’ and it’s like popping a balloon. A great book recommend.


  • TNeal

    I’m on the road and just catching up on your blogs. I appreciate your sharing your own personal story in relating this information. Your five points stir specific thoughts which I’ll enumerate in separate posts.

  • TNeal

    State the benefit clearly. Often when I speak, I assume the benefit is crystal clear to the audience. Yet, like writing a book, a lot more thought is in your preparation than in your presentation. People don’t know what’s in your head until you disclose it.

    Also stating the benefit helps focus your message and keep you on task as you speak.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I literally write out the premise and the benefit. It’s the one sentence I want my audience to remember after they have forgotten everything else. Andy Stanley does this, and it is powerful!

  • TNeal

    Cut my intro down. I’ve heard it said you can usually rip out the first few chapters in your WIP and improve the reading experience for your targeted audience. I just chopped off 10,000 plus words, better than 10% of the manuscript, in order to start where people said the story really begins. Ouch!

    You’ve got remember, whether speaking or writing, your listeners and your readers should dictate how you share your material.

  • TNeal

    Use more personal stories. My pastor and close friend had a great message a few weeks ago. What made it great? He told a personal story, one as his friend I had never heard, that deepened his point. You can usually tell when a congregation connects with the message. No shifting in their seats, no coughing, no rustling in the pews. Chuck got that kind of response when he told his story.

  • TNeal

    Engage the audience. A speaker certainly takes a risk on this point. I remember preaching and asking the question, “Does God need our help?” I thought the answer was obvious. “No, He’s God.” Someone spoke out, “Yes, He does.”

    But the risk is worth it. Despite my surprise, her response really made me think and I’m sure it hooked the congregation’s curiosity. I had the opportunity to build on her answer and their curiosity.

  • TNeal

    Craft the ending carefully. Boy, is this something I’ve learned my lesson on. I spoke to a gathering of missionaries in the Russian Far East at a Resurrection Day service (often known in the U. S. as an Easter service). I really hadn’t preached in more than six months at the time.

    I had a strong message (after all what better message do we have as Christians than “He is alive?”), came to the end, realized I had no conclusion, simply stopped speaking, froze for a moment, then bowed.

    People stared at me with deer-in-the-headlights surprise then clapped.

    My message became a performance (clapping but no standing ovation) simply because I didn’t “craft the end carefully.”

  • Alece

    Mike — I was disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to thank you after your session. So please know that this is long overdue. Thank you for speaking so strongly and poignantly a word that was so timely for my heart. I needed to hear the challenge in your message. I needed to be reminded of the vast grace I’ve received. I needed the gentle but firm prodding to forgive and let go… To extend to others the grace I’ve been given. I took so much from your session, not only on dealing with criticism and offenses but also the deep wounds and hurts in my past. Thank you. Really.

    (I learn so much from your leadership — and your seeking out Ken’s input the way you did speaks so much of your character and heart. I’m grateful to know you and Gail. I can’t wait to be back in Nashville permanently so I can get my heart’s fill of Tuesdays…)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Alece. I can’t wait until you are back and part of our community. I so appreciate your kind words. Bless you!

  • Connie McKnight

    All your points made so much sense. Don’t you think the same suggestions apply when writing a post?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I do. Thanks.

  • Ricardo Bueno

    I need to work a stronger closing into my speeches. I often close by opening things up for Q&A. Any recommendations, samples of strong closings Michael?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Not really, other than Ken’s suggestion to tie the bow and come back to your original premise. I wish there was a complement to Better Beginnings.

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  • Fpeiqin

    I’ve seen the Spirit move the most are the times when I’ve prepared the most.

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