Speaking with Purpose: A full day of words, wisdom and wonder

At an event about public speaking you would expect excellent speakers, and Speaking with Purpose provided exactly that! A day full of great, engaging, professional people. I had expected the content to only apply to public speaking situations — but the beauty of the day was everything I learnt feels relevant in many elements of both my personal and professional life.

There was so much beauty in the content shared — that I have decided to try do justice to the stories shared and share their opinions rather than bring in too many of my own in.

Michelle Dickinson: Speaking as an Introvert

Michele opened up the event by talking about a girl who failed her degree because she could not present her research on stage. Eventually we found out this was her… She used this story to help unpack her experience of being an introvert in an extroverted world.

One of the key things she shared is for us to consider public talking as the opportunity of giving a gift. Each time you stand on stage think about the gift you are giving. What is your audience receiving? How have you packaged it? What are they going to walk away with?

Most of the time people don’t care about your words — they will remember how you made them feel.

Additionally Michelle helped frame the challenge of introverts, not just in the context of public speaking, but also in daily life. Eg in parties (they tend to talk with 1–2 people deeply rather than mingle with many) or even in meetings (they find it hard to give an answer on the spot).

Something most people were probably not expecting is that she said: “public speaking is actually great for introverts!” Her reasons were that no one will interrupt you, you can prepare what you want to say and the dynamics can be reframed to like a 1 on 1.

Michelle’s key message was that 90% of public speaking is preparation:

- Find your inner superhero — Michelle is often known as NanoGirl. She created this character when she first took the stage 11 years after failing her exam. It was the catalyst she used to find the courage to re-step on stage!

- Find your story — she started this lecture with a personal story. And she encouraged all of us to go story hunting! Find the story behind your words. Don’t have bullet point slides — have pictures.

- It’s ok to be nervous! Transform that fear into excitement and energy around your message.

- Rehearse out loud. If you write a script it imprints on your brain in written form. Practice out loud. Film yourself and then watch it without the sound.

- Know your first line — as once you have your first line the rest of the words will flow.

- Prepare for your physical changes — if you sweat, dress accordingly. Your sense of panic is fine — think of kittens!

- Preparation — Find your music or routine. What do you need to do in the 10min before walking on stage?

Michele ended with a wonderful plea: “Please don’t think we (introverts) are rude.” Maybe I am an introvert and you are an extrovert? How can we meet? How can you make space for me? 50% of our population are extroverts, but 96% of our managers and leaders identify as extroverts. So how can these extroverts help understand introverts? It’s not that introverts don’t have something to say — they just want to say it differently.

“Sometimes the quietest people have the loudest minds”

Sarb Johal: Speaking for listeners

Sarb opened with three key questions:

1) What is the content of your talk?
2) What is the message you want to send?
3) How does this make you feel?

He then asked us to consider: were does language come from? Apparently there are many different schools of thought. Language (the actual use of words) is not the only thing people are giving and receiving — there is a lot going on when talking and listening is happening!

Apparently the words go to the left hemisphere of your brain — but the everything else goes to the right hemisphere (pitch, emotions, context, rhythm etc).

Therefore when we explore public speaking we should not just focus on the content we need to talk about body language. Enter first (and only!) slide of Donald Trump. The master of physical gestures….. I found it intriguing to look at that list of gestures and recognise how Trump uses his body language strategically.

Sarb is actively involved in the TED community and said that the TED speakers vary four parts of their speech:

  1. Rate: fast and slow (generally most TED speakers use ~3400 words in 18min at a conversational pace)
  2. Volume — loud and soft
  3. Pitch — high and low
  4. Pauses — to punctuate their points.
Believe what you are saying — if you don’t you will leak it everywhere!

Michelle: Finding your voice

What I loved mostly about Michelle’s workshop is that I felt like everything she said was not just related to speaking but how to create a space which is welcome and open to all people (in this case both extroverts and introverts).

As a facilitator I’ve always thought it’s good to ensure all voices are heard in a room. And Michelle re-stressed how important this is to create space for introverts to contribute. Additionally an easy way to make an introvert friendly meeting is to send the agenda out before the meeting. This means people can process that data before turning up.

She suggested to considering the following points to help find your voice:

- Preparation — what you do for the 10min or hour before your talk is really important. Find your thing — for some people it is food, some people heavy metal, some people (like Michelle) just want to hide.

- Clothes — consider what you are wearing — down to the details of what the battery of the lapel mic will be attached to!

- Mic — ask for a lapel mic. Not a hand held one.

- Core message — What is the core message you want people to take away? How can you help everyone remember the same thing?

- Words — how will you remember them? Some people write a script and others don’t. Your slides should be a hint. Careful if you have a script, as it means you can’t adapt.

- Key message — before you step into any public speaking situation, know your key message.

Practice with you phone

Michelle asked us to record ourselves telling a story to our camera — and then watch it with no sound. It was so intriguing to just focus only on my facial expressions. I highly recommend you try this —you do need to try and reduce the judgement of yourself that crops up! It’s an incredible learning opportunity. I noticed I tighten up my mouth as I try to think what to say next... Often we are so busy thinking about the content — that we forget our face!

Then we just listened to our voice — eeek! I said AND so often…

So how do we then combine that experience? At this point I realised we hadn’t even focused on content! Just thinking about facial expression and tone was enough.


Nano girl is Michelle’s alto-ego. In actual life she feels really different. Who you want to be on stage might be different to who you want to be full time.

So who do you want to be on stage? What qualities do you want to extenuate? What do you need to tap into? We each schemed who our superhero might be.

Anyone could give your talk if you wrote them the script — so what are you actually bringing to the stage? What is your unique thing you are bringing? What is your unique superhero status that you want people to remember you by?

Emma Hart: Facts into fabulous stories — the power of the metaphor

Why are we REALLY here? Lets take out the jargon and cut to the case — tell me what you mean? With these questions Emma began! What a provocative awesome way to start!

 Apparently we use 6 metaphor a min! I think the Enspiral network is the outlier here and has prob contributed to bringing the average up…

Metaphor comes from a root meaning to carrying over or to transfer. It is when X=Y, when we give a name to a thing which means something else.

Metaphorical truth is harder to argue with. So will good metaphor usage you will be seen as more powerful.

Media is a great learning tool — how do they pull people where they want them to go? Learn from the media how to grab attention.

Emma works with some incredible global and national leader to tell their stories. Emma’s key message on how to talk:

- Talk like you talk, not like you write
- Be conversational — talk to me not at me
- Have emotions — let them out
- Don’t drown people in the back story. Garnish it.

Sarb Johal: Speaking for Listeners

How do men and women use words differently?

Sarb showed a list of words and asked us to rate which words we thought men or women used more of. [I have included my groups guess in brackets.]

1) First person singular (I, me, my): Women (our guess Men)

This first option most of the room had thought men used more often — but in fact it was women! It could be because men speak on behalf of others more often, and thus women need to say ‘I’ more? Addionally people who use first-person singular more often tend to be more anxious.

2) First person plural (we, us, our): Same (Women)

3) Articles (a, an, the): Men (Both)

Men tend to use the three articles more. Men exist more in world of objects and women in the world of relationships.

4) Positive emotion word (love, fun, good): Same (Women)

5) Cognitive words (think, reason, believe): Women (Men)

6) Social words (they friend parent): Women (Women)

Women describe the social world much more and you need more words to do that.

This research was based off the work of James W. Pennebaker.

But all of this needs to be layered over the context — eg in formal settings we more talk like a prototypical male. Additionally older people tend to use more positive emotional words compared to younger people. This divide happens around age 40. At the same time gender differences diminish with age — the genders become more similar.


Sarb then gave us the following list and asked us to rank which were most and least personal:

My group came to the following ranking: A, C, B, E, D

But actually only one is personal! The first one.

- The you-and-I we (A)

- The my-friends-and-not-you we (B): you are not included

- The we-are-you we (C ): is actually quite distancing. It is telling someone to do something.

- The we-as-I we (D): the royal “we”. This is not personal.

- The every-like-minded-person-on-earth we (E).

Story archetypes

There are three basic stories (as told by Kurt Vonnnegut) that we tell each other:

  1. Man in Hole (pink) — start just above average. Get in trouble and get out of trouble. The end.
  2. Boy gets girls (blue) — starts average. Great thing happens eg gets girl. Loses girl. Then gets girl back.
  3. Most popular (green) — start in bad position. Things slowly get better. To a climax situation. Everything crashes. Then slowly build it back up.

The basic structures of stories do not change much across cultures. You can stop and start you story anywhere on this arc depending on what you want to achieve.

Glenis Hiria Philip-Barbara: Tōku reo, tōku ohooho, my story, my purpose

Glenis began by telling us the story of where she came from — but then she said this session is about us, and our personal narrative. I did not realise this, but she told us that in Māori there are 26 personal pronouns that are not gender specific.

To provide context she gave us a Māori proverb that she received from her grandmother, which translate to: “Every person has an intrinsic mana and intrinsic tapu — no matter who they are.”

Simple idea: We all have mana and all have tapu.

Your story is no more or no less important than any other. All stories have a power to connect. As human beings we have a fundamental need to belong and a need to connect. Tap into this! If you are talking about something that is important to you a fire will light up inside of you, and then public speaking will be possible.

And so we practiced that.

We each had a buddy and were asked to explore something that was important to us. We paired up and shared what was important — what a buzz entered the room!

Sharing back, beautiful stories emerged. From a friend who passed away yesterday, to professional life changes, and a passion for music, and a mother sharing her daughters story who is working in a refugee camp, and finally a women sharing her passion for working in a library.

I felt the room and awareness just “shift” a notch. The listening increased.

Speak from your space of power — your authentic self. People don’t actually care what your job is they want to know who you are as a person. Stand in that. Get comfortable with that. Find your power from there. We all have a nose for the bullshit — it creates suspicion.

Glenis Hiria Philip-Barbara: Ka-u-papa, purpose as foundation for story

Kaupapa. This may be a word we are familiar with. But when you break the word down it means to hold fast to your foundations. To connect to those things which affix you to the earth and to who you are. It’s a very basic term, but it asks us to think about who we are

“When you start the narrative of your life, where do you begin?”

Where does yours start? What is it about you that shapes the way you think of yourself? What is your core? How much time do you spend pondering this? When you tell people about you, where do you choose to start your story.

For Glennis it starts with her earliest memory. Reporua Marae. Population 5 — all are her grand aunts. They care for the Marae and the cemeteries. Her earliest memory rests in waking up in the Marae and seeing the sun coming in and bathing one of great-great-great-grandmothers. Now this women had a moko. And from that point on she knew she wanted a moko, even though none of her living family had one.

She spent many years exploring moko ko wai and how that might develop in her context. What a conversation and what a journey! By 2004 she, and her family, were ready and she became the first in five generation to carry a moko ko wai.

“When your grandchildren talk about you in fifty years time, what will they say?”

For Glenis is was actually more about them than it was about her to have a moko. She did not want for children to have to go to a museum to experience their culture. She wanted it to be real. That all kinds of people carry a moko and everything that want to learn about it they can learn from real living people. How do you want to be remembered? What is the legacy that you want to leave? How much time are you prepared to invest in that legacy?

When we think about legacy, we think about Dalvanius Prime and Ngoi Pēwhairangi.

Ngoi composed that song thinking about her children leaving home. She is saying to them — fly, be free, but don’t forget who you are and where you come from. Explore, but remember I am here. The words are words of love. Dalvanius brought the music.

It was a hit in 1984. Most people don’t know all the words beyond Poi E — but that does not matter. People love the song! There is no language police, its relatable. And that is the legacy that they wanted to leave.

“What do you stand for?”

The ability to articulate what you stand for is an absolute skill. Explore this question in your own time. What you stand for is what flows over into your legacy. That is what you leave behind and what people will remember about you.

“What is your kaupapa?”

If you want to develop yourself as a speaker your most powerful platform is what you are most passionate about. When we take the attention away from ourselves and instead look at the benefit of others, then all of a sudden the insecurities disappear. When you are talking about something that matters to you all of a sudden your voice finds power. When you speak from a place of passion the word just tumble out. Find that place and find that power.

The people with great stories are the ones who are rocking their kaupapa!