The Public Speaking Guide

Upspeak, Dammit!

My public speaking professor at Brown, Barbara Tannenbaum, would stomp her feet and call out all the upspeak during our in-class speech critique. “The rising intonation makes you sound unsure of yourself,” she said to a class of 15.

In case you haven’t heard of upspeak, it is basically this higher pitch intonation that makes all your statements sound like questions. Try to read the following sentence out loud:

“We just got back from an amazing family trip? Which was, like, really really fun?”

To fix the upspeak, try replacing the question mark with exclamation marks.

“We just got back from an amazing family trip! Which was, like, really really fun!”

See the difference? Do you feel more confidence?


Before we get into more advanced communication skills tomorrow, I want to talk about how far we will go to please our audience.

Since audience is harder to change, I find it more effective to talk in the value of the audience, which may or may not be the value most important to us. The question often comes down to: Will you compromise or be compromised?


Understanding Your Audience with WIIFM

“Do you have any deck I could use for the executive review?” I asked my mentor.

I was excited to get the magic deck, so that I could reuse what had worked.

However, he replied with one question:

Who is your audience?

Ah, right. I was so fixated on the goal that I forgot to share the other critical information: the audience (and their point of view).

We need to clarify the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), so that we get the audience interested in our idea from the get-go.

Identify your target audience

To find the WIIFM, we need to understand our audience first.

Do some research to understand their interests, missions, and values:

  1. What are they like?
  2. Why are they here? Start With Why.
  3. What keeps them up at night?
  4. How can you solve their problems?
  5. What do you want them to do?
  6. How might they resist?

Identify their archetypes

You are trying to answer this question: How do they relate to your idea?

  1. Doers: Can they help you get things done?
  2. Suppliers: Can they fund or give you resources?
  3. Influencers: Can they promote or block your idea?
  4. Innovators: Can they help you create new ideas?

Once you know the role of your audience, you want to clearly address their concerns.

Check out President Reagan’s masterclass (4min).

Can you find out the five kinds of audiences President Reagan is addressing?

(Spoiler: USA, Family, School children, NASA employees, Soviet Union)


How Steve Jobs Built His Big Idea

“The field we choose is music. Why Music?

Well, we love music. Music is a part of everyone’s life. It’s going to be around forever. It’s a very large target market.

Interestingly enough, there is no market leader

Are you familiar with this pitch?

This is the first 30sec of Steve Jobs’ inaugural iPod introduction. He started by addressing the audience’s core needs of music. Then, he went on to talk about why other competitors suck and brought up this big idea:

Not only can we find the recipe, but we think the Apple brand is going to be fantastic because people trust the Apple brand to get their great digital electronics…

(Btw, “because” is a universal trigger word because people want to know the WIIFM.)


What’s Your Big Idea?

Take a note of where your audience is today and where they want to be tomorrow.

The agent of change is your big idea…

  1. Start from what people know:“Here we are on the iPhone home screen…”“So, let’s start from the Google search bar…”“Imagine taking your bathroom, and multiplying it by 100. Then…”
  2. Have a POV: It doesn’t have to be any good. It just has to be your unique POV.As you develop your point of view, think about the second order effect:
    1. What will happen if people accept your POV and act upon it? 
    2. What are the negative consequences of inaction?
  3. Say the WIIFM: Tell the audience what is at stake and give them reasons why they should care. Even better, give them a story that they can use to tell their stakeholders.

Once you have the big idea in one sentence, you will spend the rest of your presentation to prove that your big idea is true.

At the end of the presentation, don’t forget to give your audience a clear call-to-action, even if this means stating the most obvious thing (fix five bugs, get more head-counts, etc).


Structure Your Big Idea with Content Triangle

“I am going live on Instagram in two hours, but I haven’t decided on what to talk about,” I told my coach. What a timely coaching session!

“Charlene, let me introduce a new way to think about content. This is how we structure pitch decks, meeting updates, and large presentations.”

Charlie had been hinting at this magical content strategy for two weeks, I couldn’t wait…

“I call it content triangle,” Charlie pulled out a deck with this triangle…

Why Triangle? Because we are wired to think in the order of three. Three words. Three messages. Three main points.

To maximize your learning, I recommend you to take a stab at the questions before peeking at my answer. By the end of this letter, you are going to have a talk outline too!


“We’re going to do this real time,” Charlie went on to ask me a few questions.

  • What is your topic? Balancing work, passion, and life.
  • Who is your audience? Early career professionals who are overwhelmed or searching for the next thing.
  • What do they care about? Step-by-step process to navigate career and life challenges.
  • What do you want them to do? Write down what they are going to do differently today.

I loved this audience-first approach. Even though I still didn’t know the content, I at least had a good idea of what my audience might care about.

Then, Charlie wrote down my answers in the middle of the triangle:

Does the audience demographic make sense to you?


“Okay, now let’s talk about your introduction. We will come up with three key messages in a few words,” Charlie asked.

  1. First message? Identify core values.
  2. Second message? Take action.
  3. Third message? Prioritize.

“Short and sweet. Let’s write your thesis statements for each key message…”

  1. Identify core values: What is the source of your energy? What makes you you? What do you want to be remembered for?
  2. Take action: What is the first step you can take today?
  3. Prioritize: Design your day with the most important task at hand.

My talk outline was done in 15min! Check out the livestream here.

This is the triangle that will help you structure any content into 3 messages.


Wrapping Up: Q & A

  1. Listen (without rushing to think about the answer). This is what active listening takes.
  2. Repeat & Rephrase (without saying “the question is”). I caught myself starting the response with “the question is…” three times.
    When I started the answer with “How to balance a challenging full-time job and a passionate hustle?” and “How do I maximize my coaching to LivingOS’s team and students?” the response became much more powerful.
  3. Lead with the Answer (with one word or two). That’s how you lead the audience with strong confidence and credibility.

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