Tag Archives: authenticity

How to Engage an Audience – Lessons from Professional Speakers


The annual Professional Speaking Association (PSA) Mega Conference is the event of the year for professional speakers in the UK and this year it was held in Nottingham from 7-9 October. It’s where members come together for three days to listen, learn, share and network with fellow speakers and trainers.

The PSA aims to help members to ‘speak more, speak better’ so the sessions were a mixture of tips on how to grow a speaking business and how to further develop speaking skills.

Whilst I have a notepad filled with brilliant takeaway messages from all of the speakers, the purpose of this post is to highlight some of the lessons we can learn from them about engaging an audience. Some are tips directly from their mouths, some are from my observations about the way the delivered their message.

1. Dress Like the Speaker

Jennifer De St Georges was one of the judges of the prestigious Speaker Factor competition and after the semi-final she mentioned that the contestants needed to consider how they were dressed. In her opinion, if they are aiming to become professional speakers they will need to dress appropriately for their audience and in a way that everyone knows they are the speaker. The following day at the finals it was clear who was dressed to win; some speakers really stood out and made the others look under dressed. Jennifer suggested that to gain respect from your audience and be seen as the expert, you need to dress accordingly (and as she says “If you’re not the expert, why are you the speaker?”)

2. Use Props

Props can really enhance your audience’s understanding of your message and over the weekend I picked out three great examples of how to incorporate props for maximum impact.

The first one was a sight gag that appealed to my sense of humour during the Comedy Night. Jason Butler had a couple of boxes wrapped up like presents; it went with line “I was told that as a speaker I need to have stage presents!” A great gag for an audience of professional speakers for whom good stage presence is vital.

Whilst sharing a story about Celebrity Service, Geoff Ramm talked about how he handed over his money to purchase something for his daughter’s birthday. The way he reluctantly reached into his pocket and pulled out a £20 note demonstrated exactly how he was feeling about parting with his cash; this would not have been as effective without the cash in his hand and demonstrated the benefit of showing over telling.

My favourite use of a prop was in Steve Judge’s Speaker Factor competition speech. Steve talked about an accident he had been in which caused him to lose a chunk of his tibia bone. He had a replica bone which he held up and snapped in two places to demonstrate where the bone had broken and then he dropped the broken piece into a metal bin. This prop not only worked visually but the sound of the snapping bone and the clunk as it landed in the metal bin really brought home the seriousness of the situation.

3. Memorable Phrases and Tweetable quotes

Whatever your topic, it’s always a good idea to include simple messages that are easy to remember and easy to share, especially if your audience is encouraged to post on social media such as Twitter. Here is a selection of my favourites from the weekend:

– If you can’t close enough sales, you’ll have to close your speaking business – Simon Hazeldine
– You are your own CEO, Chief Energy Officer – Celynn Erasmus
– If you want to increase the commas in your bank account, decrease the commas in your expertise – Dawnna St Louis
– You don’t own your brand, it lives in the minds of other people – David Avrin
– You have to deactivate to reactivate – Celynn Erasmus
– Don’t do it better, don’t do it cheaper, do it different. Stand out – Katie Bulmer-Cooke

Katie also stood out by using her own very appropriate made up word; she said she was going to share her “Kate-aways” to help make our businesses much fitter and stronger. A catchy phrase like this is a simple way to be noticed and remembered. Another person who does this very well is previous a PSA Mega Conference speaker from the USA, Patricia Fripp, who delights audiences with her “Frippisms”.

4. Storytelling

It has long been known that storytelling is one of the best ways to convey a message and ensure it sticks. Throughout the conference there were numerous examples of great storytelling including talks from Peter Roper, Alan Stevens, Tiffany Kemp, Katie Bulmer-Cooke, Andy Lopata and many more.

But my favourite example of storytelling, and in fact the highlight of the entire conference for me was in Geoff Ramm’s talk on Celebrity Service. Entertaining and engaging, his attention to detail, vocal variety and brilliant stagecraft brought his crystal clear message to life. He not only used the entire stage well to ensure he connected with everyone, but his expressive face and body language drew the audience in so we couldn’t help but be captivated. For a masterclass in storytelling, I highly recommend you spend 30 minutes watching this talk (after you’ve finished reading this post of course!)

5. Authenticity

The most appealing and engaging speakers are those that are true to themselves, who are comfortable in their skin and speak from the heart. Whilst they may learn from others, they don’t try to mimic or copy other speakers.

When looking to improve our public speaking we can often get hung up on the ‘rules’ for crafting the perfect phrases, focusing on where to stand, choreographing when to move and choosing which gesture will have maximum impact.

But more important is the ability to connect with an audience just the way you are. When on stage you need to bring an energy that is slightly bigger and better version of yourself in order to connect with your audience, but you still need to be yourself.

We were fortunate to witness a number of different speaking styles throughout the conference; the American speakers tended to have a larger and louder way of communicating their message whilst the British speakers were just as capable of engaging an audience even though their style was often very different. The importance of being true to your own style was is was highlighted by Andy Rogers, last year’s Speaker Factor winner, whose quiet demeanour and natural storytelling had us spellbound and the refreshing approach of Katie Bulmer Cooke who chatted away in her strong Northern accent just like we were having a conversation over a coffee.

Peter Brandl, a speaker from Germany challenged us in his keynote by asking “Are you willing to remove the mask on stage?” He urged us to stop trying to be the person we want to be seen as; it might protect us but it also protects our emotions from coming out and therefore stops us revealing our true self.

Authenticity is so important in speaking that Lee Jackson, the new President of The Professional Speaking Association announced that it is his theme for his PSA presidential year.

So when you are preparing for your next speech or presentation, remember to consider these 5 tips around image, props, memorable phrases, storytelling and authenticity to ensure you engage your audience like the professionals.

For more information about the Professional Speaking Association go to www.thepsa.co.uk. If you’re based in Scotland, why not come along to our next event in Edinburgh on Thursday 10 November – click here for details.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_


What’s Your Theme For 2015?

Image - Courage quote

We are already more than three weeks into the new year and there has been a lot of talk about new year resolutions. But I wonder whether you are sticking to your resolutions? Have you already broken them or at least some of them? Often we set too many or make them completely unrealistic so that it is impossible to stick to them.

I haven’t made new year resolutions as such for many years although I do set personal and business goals as part of my planning. What I tend to do is to give myself a theme for the year. Last year was about focus and discipline (which appeared to be waning in relation to writing blog posts towards the end of the year but that’s a whole other story!)

Having a theme is easy to remember and allows me to remind myself on a regular basis. I can check in with myself to ensure that whatever I’m doing aligns with that theme and I find that it always moves me forward personally in some way.

So what is my theme for 2015?


That’s it. Courage.

People who know me well can’t understand why I would choose courage as a theme. I am generally seen as quite courageous in a lot of ways; here are a few examples from the last 10 years:

  • I left a great job and a great life in Australia in my mid-thirties to travel the world alone
  • I arrived in the UK with just a backpack and started a new life halfway across the world away from my family and friends
  • I wrote, produced and performed in my own one woman play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
  • I left another safe, secure job that I enjoyed to set up my own business from scratch
  • I regularly speak in public by choice!

In some ways, in some people’s eyes, I am courageous. But in many ways I don’t think I am. So my next step in my courageous journey is to share publicly some of the areas that I would like to focus on this year.

Deep breath and here goes!

I will have the courage:

  • to go deep within and get in touch with my authentic self (I’ve been so busy focusing on building my business that I have lost touch with the essence of who I am and what I really want from life)
  • to step up and fulfil my own potential (whilst I am on my way with this, I believe there is more that I can offer to the world)
  • to let go of the perfectionism that sometimes stops me taking action
  • to let go of the fear of being judged by others
  • to let go of the limiting beliefs that are keeping me comfortable
  • to be true to myself and not follow the path others expect (or that I think others expect!)
  • to say goodbye to what I ‘should’ do and hello to what I ‘want’ to do
  • to be honest with myself
  • to make decisions and trust that they will be okay
  • to take some time away from my business to question, to dream, to plan (I’ve been in reactive mode and not taking the time to consider whether what I am doing is truly fulfilling me)

So there you have it. I’ve laid my soul bare. It’s funny how one of the most challenging but the most important points on the list is the final one – having the courage to take time away from my business.  But I’ve been so busy working that I’ve not even had a chance to review my business plan and outline my objectives for 2015. I’m grateful to my friends, mentors and advisors who convinced me that I need to stop in order to move forward. And now that I’ve accepted how important it is, I can’t wait to do it! I know how beneficial it will be and I have committed to going away for the first two weeks in February to reconnect with myself and map out what I would like to achieve personally and professionally over the coming years. With courage as my theme, I’m really looking forward to rediscovering what makes my heart sing, working out how I’m going to incorporate that into my life and business and just going for it (no matter what others might think!) So stay tuned…

What about you? Do you have a theme for 2015? If you feel comfortable to do so, I encourage you to share it in the comments section; there is definitely something very empowering about declaring your intentions publicly and maybe you’ll inspire someone else to share theirs too.

Mel Sherwood is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, a company passionate about providing the seeds to speaking success. Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer.

Specialising in helping others transform their life and their business through clear, confident and credible communication, Mel empowers ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to clarify their message, engage their audience and use their body, voice, mind and heart to enthusiastically and authentically express their ‘inner oomph’. To find out more go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential