Public speaking is not about youWhat you don’t know about public speaking is that you are never done striving to be better at the speaking craft. There’s never a time where you can say “Check, I’m awesome at speaking.” Being a better speaker is about constantly improving. There is always more to learn. Professional speakers know this truth. Whether you are just starting out on your journey or been at it for awhile – constantly be learning, crafting, and honing the art of speaking.

A couple of weekends ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to learn from a great speaker, Darren LaCroix. In 2001, Darren won the Toastmasters Superbowl – the world championship of public speaking with his speech “Ouch.” Watch it. It’s totally worth 10 minutes of your time.

Watch this video on YouTube.

These were some of my big aha’s and affirmations about speaking from a weekend of listening to Darren.

You must connect before you can empower

Before Darren leapt on stage for his keynote, he showed a 2-minute video of the moments after winning the world championship of public speaking. His mom gave him what had to be the longest hug in the history of the world – inspiring all of us to think about how our own moms sometimes hug a little longer than is necessary.

The video created a connection with an audience of Toastmasters before he even said one word.

How can you connect before taking the stage? It doesn’t have to be a video (although that’s effective). Show up early and mingle with the audience. Say hello, learn their names and just chat.

Takeaway: Connection leads to empowerment.

Let go of the ME mentality

Darren asked, “Do you want to look good on stage?”

Everyone raised their hand. I mean, who wouldn’t? No one want to looks like a jack-ass on stage.

“It’s not about you!” Darren exclaimed.

On that stage when you are focused on the me, you are not focused on the “you” in the audience. It dampens your connection with the audience. It takes you out of the present moment which terminates that connection.

Takeaway: Don’t be worried about the “me” and focus on the “you” in the audience.

You – the most important word in any presentation

I’ve long extolled the virtue of the tiny word “you” to create connection and persuade. There have been some that say – the word “you” is too direct, too accusatory – use “we” instead.

Darren spoke to my heart when he talked about the power of using you-focused questions. Those types of questions engage the mind and relate the speaker’s story to the audience’s heart. When the audience can see themselves in your story, you truly connect.

Takeaway: Speak to one. Look to all.

Expose your vulnerability

Darren is not afraid to be vulnerable. He showed the audience a before version of his world championship speech. It sucked – I mean it was really terrible. If you go to his website, there’s a welcome video showing how he bombed (uncomfortably so) during his first stand-up act at a comedy club.

Exposing vulnerability transforms you from guru on the stage to relatable normal guy (or gal).

I was lucky enough to have a 30-minute conversation with Darren. He was so forthcoming with some of his own struggles that it took me aback. Most people, after months of friendships wouldn’t admit to anyone the things we discussed in a hallway chat after knowing each other for many seconds. Darren is just Darren – on and off the stage. That’s just full of awesome.

Takeaway: Speaking is not about being great. It’s about being you with all your flaws, foibles, and fails.

Banish gestures. Focus on expressiveness.

The challenge: Banish the word gesture from your vocabulary.

Why? Don’t great speakers perfect their delivery by working on their gestures? Nope, not really.

Darren explained that gestures are robotic, unnatural and pre-planned. Gestures are not spontaneous. Instead, you should focus on your body language. Do what comes natural to you like you would in a conversation.

Takeaway: The more natural you are – the more comfortable you appear to the audience.

Speaking is a craft that all of us are constantly honing. The best way to learn more is to look to the people that you admire and learn from them. Then adapt their teachings to your own, unique style. Speaking is not about perfection. It’s about helping your audience with your story.

These were my “aha” moments from basking in the knowledge of a great speaker. What’s your best speaking nugget?