5 Illustrations Mediocre Speakers Don’t Know: Experience

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Which type of illustration to professionals almost always use that amateurs do not? Every one of the illustration types we’ve covered so far has one thing in common: Explanation, Evidence, Endorsement, Example.

What makes the fifth E different?

All of the previous four Es describe something the SPEAKER does.

The last E of illustrations describes what the LISTENER does: Experience!

What Professionals Know

I’ve done hundreds of reviews and analysis of different speakers, from high paid professionals, to billion dollar company execs, to frightened teenagers.

In my notes, each speaker was evaluated on each of my 8 SpeechDeck principles of audience engagement. I took all my review notes and did an informal statistical analysis to determine, what was the single biggest differentiator between the most inspirational speakers and everybody else.

I found two!

One of those principles (the green one), was utilized by almost every professional speaker and almost no amateurs: Encouraging Participation.

And how do you encourage participation? Using the fifth E — illustrations that are EXPERIENCES.

What is an Experience?

The first four illustration types are all illustrations based on what the speaker says. A speaker can explain, share evidence, recite examples, and quote endorsements — all without any feedback or reaction from the audience.

An illustration of “Experience,” on the other hand, requires the audience to DO something: talk back, do an activity, laugh, etc.

I will give you a list, but the options for an experience are so varied that you should not consider this a complete list. However, some popular types of experience illustrations include:

  • Group activities or games
  • Entertainment to generates emotion: laugh, cry, etc.
  • Back and forth conversation or Q&A
  • Written exercises, quizzes, or feedback
  • Mnemonic devices or do-it-yourself tools and resources

The distinguishing feature of all these options is not about what the speaker does. The distinguishing feature of an experience is that the listener has to REACT!

If the audience can sit politely and ignore the speaker (as if in a lecture), the speaker is not creating a reaction. Passive audiences are a sure sign of communication mediocrity.

Did you ever notice how many political speakers arouse strong reactions and demonstrations on college campuses and churches and conventions? You don’t have to be controversial to get a reaction, but the protests and hysteria generated by controversial speakers does prove the point that speakers who create reactions grab attention.

The easy experience

If you are a beginner, the easiest way to create an EXPERIENCE is simply to ask questions. I find that when I listen to professional speakers (the kind that are paid big bucks to speak), about half of the time the very first words out the the speaker’s mouth is either a question, or a solicitation for a raise of hands:

Raise your hands if you’ve ever …

Have you ever … ?

The best speakers almost always say something similar near the beginning of the speech because it sets the precedent that the audience will not be passive.

By the way, is it easier for the audience to remain passive when you just ask a question or when you say “Raise your hand if …?”

Many, many amateurs are afraid to even ask the listener to do anything. Questions are better than nothing, but the best professionals actually take control of the room and tell the listener what to do: “Raise your hands if …”

A question or a show of hands is EASY. Do it!

There is only one rule — you have to actually get an answer!

A question that the speaker asks, but that the audience isn’t allowed to answer is NOT an experience. A passive audience can ignore rhetorical questions. You’re only creating an experience if you actually allow the listener to respond (react) and answer back by a raised hand or actual conversation.

An private internal answer is a type reaction if done correctly, but it’s so much easier to know you’re doing it right when you get physical or verbal feedback.

Experience in Sales and Business

An “experience” in sales and business usually means a tangible, physical experience.

Would you buy a car without ever doing a test drive?

In sales, experience means allowing the potential customer to touch, see, and test your product. Or when that’s not possible, the successful salesman will create an experience in the customers imagination.

If you are selling a car, let them see and touch and drive the car.

If you are selling a proposal for a new highway, help them imagine the new highway. As long as they actually do the imagining, they are reacting, and you are creating an experience.

Information overload

Sometimes your presentations can be highly informational. If you’ve read my past blog posts you know I advise against information overload whenever possible.

But when lots of information is necessary give the listener something to DO with the information–an experience.

A slides deck can easily be ignored by a passive audience.

Handouts are usually just skimmed. Skimming is less passive than ignoring, but not ideal.

A non-passive handout requires reaction: fill-in-the blank, assessments, activities, exercises, etc.

The laugh factory

If you have a talent for it, make people laugh.

Humor is one of the few reactions that uses all 7 of the principles in the SpeechDeck color-coded speaking system. In terms of our topic today, humor works because it creates a REACTION. A funny example (that generates a reaction) is always an EXPERIENCE for the audience.

If you have the skill, do it!
If you don’t have the skill, don’t force it.

I taught a workshop once, where my co-host unbeknownst to me, printed off a list of jokes from the internet and just started reading the list on stage.

Don’t do that!

That’s not an “Experience” in the terms we’re talking about. Reading jokes is an experience for the speaker. We want an experience for the audience, and that only happens when it is genuine, unique humor, that creates an involuntary audience reaction. Charity laughs don’t count.

The best experience

The best type of experience illustration is actually quite hard. It takes years of practice for most people. The best way for me the explain the “best” type of experience is by calling it the:

Ah-ha moment

The reason this is so hard is because you can’t give someone an ah-ha moment, they have to get it for themselves.

The most highly skilled communicators will lead the listener to that emotional catharsis. Many techniques can be used to do this such as partial syllogisms, analogies, socratic questioning, withheld closure, etc.

I’ve written many posts about some of these techniques, which are beyond the scope of this post.

The basic rule is this:

You want the listener to figure it out before you tell them

If you tell them something, it’s passive. If they figure it out, it’s an active experience.

If our TV weatherman led you to figure out the forecast before he told you, it might sound something like this:

It’s going to snow this week … but when? All your shopping days look to be beautiful and dry, but let’s just say that Mr. Kringle’s sleigh won’t have any trouble this year. We expect the storm to arrive after 11pm just in time for Rudolph.

I’m not suggesting the weatherman actual say that.  I merely illustrating that you know he is predicting a white Christmas even though he never actually told you that the snow is forecast on Dec 25.

You had to figure it out yourself. This is a purely intellectual experience. What makes it effective is that you can’t listen passively. You must actual DO something. You have to actual think, and engage with the weatherman or you will not understand.

There are intellectual ah-has such as above, and emotional ah-has. The best illustrations have both.

There are MANY other types of experiences, but not enough space in this post.

The Five Es of Illustration

You should use a variety of illustration types in all your presentations. You don’t necessarily have to use all five.

Using all five illustration types makes our TV weatherman a little long-winded, but here it goes anyway:

Look here at the 5 day forecast [Explanation: Visual aid] and you’ll see it will be 90 on Saturday [Explanation: Description] … like a Saudi Arabian Christmas [Explanation: Analogy]

Doppler radar [Evidence: Name] shows the next storm will still be 100 miles [Evidence: Number] to our North on Saturday evening.

The National Weather Service [Endorsement: Third-party] confirms that high pressure will build all week, peaking for the weekend. Kathy McDaniel in Summerville wrote in to say “thank you for the accurate forecast last Friday, it helped us plan our family reunion.” [Endorsement: Testimonial]. This week I’m so confident in the forecast you can call me Nostradamus [Endorsement: Association].

Weekends like this are great for nature lovers. Last weekend I went fish fishing with my son and we the most amazing sunset … [Example: Personal] What will you do this weekend? Imagine how great the cool ocean waves will feel on your ankles …  [Example: Hypothetical] or cooking burgers on the BBQ [Example: Cultural]

Send your weekend pictures to the email shown on screen [Experience: Activity] … Also, we’re starting a new segment tonight where we accept live weather related questions [Experience: Conversation]. Our first question comes from twitter …

Granted, this hypothetical weatherman seems a little ADHD, but even with my contrived example, ADHD beats the typical depressed mediocre-ologist.

Mediocre speakers all sound the same, in part because they stick to just one type of illustration and wear out their welcome. There’s more to communication than just lectures and quotes.

  1. Explanation
  2. Evidence
  3. Endorsement
  4. Example
  5. Experience

Use all five.

Don’t sound the same the whole way.
Don’t sound the same as everyone else.
Don’t be mediocre.

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The Big Lie

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The truth I’m about to tell you has lost me a lot of clients and business. People don’t like to be told they’re wrong, and I’m about to contradict your most fundamental assumption about communication.

Two ways to communicate

Whenever you want to communicate a message you have basically 2 choices. You can present your message verbally, or you can write it down. Recorded audio/video can fall toward either end of this continuum.



Here’s the lie:

Communication is the exchange of information.

dictionaryYes, I know, that is the dictionary definition. And yes, I know that communication textbooks start with this basic assumption. That’s why most public speakers and presenters are mediocre.

The concept that communication is the transfer of information from a “sender” to a “receiver” is based on a huge, gigantic, enormously presumptive, yet highly improbable assumption–that the “receiver” actually “receives” the message.

It does not matter how much information you speak or how much information you write. If the “receiver” doesn’t actually pay attention and internalize the information, there is no communication!

This underscores the HUGE difference between written and verbal communication.

rewind-27919_960_720With purely written communication the “receiver” of the information is in COMPLETE control–the receiver chooses what to read.

With purely verbal communication, on the other hand, the “receiver” has almost no control beyond the mere act of lending attention.

A word written (or recorded) gives the “receiver” power to re-read, re-view, and re-wind. A word spoken (and not recorded), disappears into the aether forever, and the “receiver” is denied the power of re-view and re-wind.

The best medium for Information

If you goal is truly to convey “INFORMATION” to someone, what is the best medium? Verbal or written?

Can you earn a master’s degree from any university just by sitting in the lecture hall? Or do you have to do a lot of reading?

If you had one million dollars to invest, would you give it to the friend that “told” you verbally about a great idea, or the other friend who “told” you verbally about a great idea, but had all the information to back it up written down in a business plan?

weatherWhat’s the fastest way to get the daily weather forecast? Watching the TV news or googling it?

In the time it takes the weatherman on TV to verbally “report” the weather forecast for the morning commute, you could have read a written, 10-day, hour-by-hour forecast for three different cites on three different continents.

The most important rule of great communication is simple:

WRITTEN media work best for INFORMATION

Verbal communication maxes out at about 150 words per minute. Whereas, even bad readers manage 200 words per minute. Good readers top out at over 600 words per minute.

Written words give you more information faster–and you have complete control of how, when, where, and to what to pay attention. Most importantly, the receiver can rewind, repeat, and review written messages!

VERBAL media don’t convey INFORMATION well

In a one-on-one conversation, verbal media convey information okay, because both parties are talking, asking questions, and giving feedback.

In a group presentation setting, you almost always lose most of that back and forth.

When the message is delivered verbally to a group, any one “receiver” only has to tune out for a mistimed hunger pain and the entire logic of the speaker will by interrupted.

When there is no rewind button, every second counts, and the sad truth is the every “listener” tunes out for more than just one second.


Public speaking is not about INFORMATION

More than any other principle I teach in my classes, people want to argue with me over this. People really want to believe that the speaker’s goal is to teach INFORMATION, explain INFORMATION, and organize INFORMATION.

Of course all presentations, even verbal, convey some information. I’m not denying that. I’m talking the about your goal.

Every public speaking class and textbook I’ve aver seen begins with the premise that a speaker’s goal is either to entertain, persuade, inspire, or inform.

I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s total baloney!

You can entertain, you can persuade, and you can inspire, but NOT INFORM. If your goal is to INFORM, I guarantee you that you are a mediocre speaker.

I know this with 100% confidence because if you really truly expected me to understand and remember INFORMATION, you would give me the INFORMATION in a format that best helps me receive INFORMATION–you would write it down!

toolsTrying to INFORM me verbally uses the wrong tool for the job.

If you want to pound a nail, use a hammer. Any contractor who tries to build my house with a spoon, cannot be the best builder, and will be fired.

I don’t care how many textbooks talk about using presentation skills to INFORM. You cannot be a great presenter if that is your goal. The best you can hope for verbally is PERSUADE me to agree with your information or INSPIRE me to learn more information.

Let me repeat. I’m not saying that you don’t convey some information, I’m saying that should not be your goal.

The benefits of VERBAL Communication

The truth is that when I give an 8 hour seminar, I actually present very little INFORMATION. If written down, an entire 8 hour workshop could be read and understood in about 30 minutes.

So why do people sign up for classes, go to workshops, and pay for seminars? Despite what they tell themselves, it’s not for information.

People commonly pay $25 for an expert’s book, but pay $2,500 for a chance to see the same expert explain the book in person. Why? The book has more information than the 8 hour seminar!

People listen to live speakers for improvisation, connection, live expertise, customization, and personality.

Verbal communication provides something that written information cannot duplicate–INTERACTION!

Choose the right tool for the job:

Speak It
Write It


What’s the alternative

When the CEO calls you into the office and asks you to present information, it’s a lie.

lieIt’s not intentional. In the CEO’s mind, he/she really does want information–but YOU can’t look at it that way!

If the CEO really wanted INFORMATION, he/she would ask you to draw up a written case study, written budget proposal, or written report. That’s INFORMATION!

When you’re called into the boardroom to present verbally, does the CEO really want you to read all the information from the written report?  NO! Absolutely, NO!

The reason you’re asked to present is because the CEO wants INTERACTION! He/she wants to ask questions, wants to see your confidence level, and wants to see other team members’ reactions!

The reason you’re asked to present instead of write, is not because the CEO wants MORE information, it’s because the CEO wants LESS. In person, the CEO expects you to be able to summarize everything you know and recommend in the simplest possible way.

The CEO doesn’t care about every bit of informational minutia. He/she does want to hire someone else–you–who does.

You are not presenting because the CEO wants the information for him/herself. You are presenting because the CEO needs to know that he/she can trust YOU with the information.

The CEO doesn’t want to read the report and memorize all the information–that’s not the CEO’s job–the CEO needs only INTERACT with you long enough to get an IMPRESSION of what you are going to do about it.

You may be asked to deliver INFORMATION verbally, but if you want to be a great presenter, you can’t look at it that way. In your mind, the goal is not to present the right INFORMATION. You’re goal should be to INTERACT in the way that makes the right IMPRESSION.

In the SpeechDeck communication system, all presentations start with black and white principle: Clarify Your Content. The most important part of clarity is reducing your information to a single sentence.

The number one secret to verbal presentation:

Use LESS information

Continue to part 2 >

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