Photo credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Writing for the Ear

A peek into my world as a curator of ideas.

Speaker coaches tend to come from two different backgrounds and ways of working. There are those who focus more on the speakers’ delivery, their posture, and their voice. All the ways that a narrative can be more lively, all the ways that, you, the speaker will interact and resonate with your audience. The ways you will move and look and breathe. Many, maybe most, of these speaker coaches have an acting or theatrical background.

And then there are speaker coaches like me. The writing geeks. The ones who jump in a draft, change the structure and the flow. Always in an open dialogue with the speaker, until the talk feels authentic.

For our entire life we’ve learned to “write for the eye”. To write for those reading our texts: throughout school, in essays, academic theses and work papers. Public speaking is, however, an entirely different thing. Your text needs to be “written for the ear”. This is where I, and those like me, come in.

We help you write for the ear, developing the draft until it feels right. Only when it is right for the ear, is it then time for delivery and rehearsing.

When someone asks me “So, what do you do for a living?”, instead of opening with saying that I’m a speaker coach, I reply “I’m an ideas’ curator”. At first, I thought it sounded pompous. It actually took some time to understand that this is exactly what I do.

A speaker comes to me with an idea. Sometimes I reach out to the speakers, after reading articles on them. The idea is there. The speaker is there. But, the idea is not always clearly visible. I help bring the idea out of its surrounding thoughts, hone it, and make it ready for the speaker to give.

Truth is many speakers have a pool of slides and, while in the airplane to a conference, pull out that deck, shuffle the slides to make it a bit different than their previous talks and then just flesh things out based on the slides. Prepared? Yes. OK? Acceptable, yes. But this is not how you get a brilliant presentation. This approach is like giving your audience a perpetual early draft of your thinking. Just like a blog post, sometimes with excellent slides.

If you want your idea to really resonate with your audience, you have to go further. You have to sit down and write your draft. Trust me on this, it makes all the difference. Prepare a bold opening that sparks the audience’s curiosity, weave a narrative that engages the audience and makes the strongest possible impact, use sources and fact check, and then craft a powerful ending that ensures your audience remembers your idea after you are done. Of course, all that doesn’t happen in one go.

Working with a professional on your talk is like hiring a personal trainer.

You have a goal in the form of a set deadline for a conference that is approaching. There is a sense of commitment to the work done. You feel there is someone there that helps you, trains you, expects deadlines from you. Someone who, like you, wants you to be authentic and bring forward your best self on stage. Someone who will help hold you accountable for bringing your idea out clearly.

Is that enough? No.

It is all about the people.

Preparing a talk is a collaborative process and requires commitment from both sides. Building trust helps people open up leading to talks that are defined by authenticity and, as a result, create the strongest possible impact to the audience. Most of the times, I work with speakers who allow me to become a part of their story and deep dive in their fields of interest.

The bond formed often results in friendships that last longer than the standing ovations they receive.

I’ve worked with hundreds of speakers from all fields and backgrounds. And every time I feel grateful to work and –at the same time– learn from so many wonderful people. Strong minds, visionaries, change makers, explorers, innovators, people who strive to make a difference in their communities and the global community we all live in. From scientists and social activists to billionaire entrepreneurs and Syrian refugees, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing these speakers rock on stage.

What do you get out of this?

After 2–3 months of having somebody work with your words, hone your line of thinking, and rehearse your talk, you will have a presentation that says exactly what you want it to say. One that represents you. One that you feel empowered to deliver. One that is rehearsed so well that you will have the confidence to take to the stage. Most importantly, you will be able to apply all what you learn on future talks and presentations. From a short pitch talk to a longer narrative. You will know how to grab the audience’s attention, work on their curiosity and keep their attention throughout the talk. You’ll see how important it is for you to actually get down and write a draft and not simply have your slides dictate narrative. You’ll be more comfortable on stage, know when to pause and how to best deliver your ideas. Last but not least, you will know that you can give an exceptional talk.

The only difference between a good talk and an exceptional talk is the time and effort you put in it, as well as having something worth sharing to say.

Of course articles, books and online courses about giving presentations can help with many tips. You should definitely read or watch them. There’s a lot of wisdom to be had, as well as an entire toolbox of suggestions to apply, things to integrate or avoid. But this is the thing: not everything in the generic toolbox applies to everyone. A coach, on the other hand, will hear you, read you and –based on experience– handpick and customize the tools that will work best for you.

A few years ago I highlighted three lines in a book by A.A.Gill:

“Travel lead us to the realization that what connects us is far more astonishing and precious than what separates us. We are further apart than we think and closer than we imagine.”

This is exactly how I feel when working with phenomenally different speakers, who share so many things in common.

No matter if they’re famous or not, which corner of the world they come from or what they do for a living, they all share traights like: modesty, introversion, insecurity, perfectionism, stubbornness, passion, devotion, love, pain, happiness and uncertainty among others. When these are revealed in a presentation and masterfully weaved in the storytelling, then words become colorful, and speak to peoples’ hearts and emotions.

Such talks ultimately make people care.