How to Improve Your Public Speaking and Pitching Skills: The A-Ha! Method
I’ve been a paid, public speaker for nearly 20 years, and a frequent get-up-and-talk-it-out kinda guy for as long as I can remember.
n.b. My first grade teacher sent back the following note to my parents on my initial report card (my childhood nickname was Gaby): “Never have I met a more aptly named pupil.” The Gift of the Gab, indeed.
Since beginning my professional career, I’ve also started, invested in and coached hundreds of startups and founders.
Through this process, I’ve learned that most people — unfortunately — are terrible at public speaking, pitching and leading meetings.
This of course, isn’t surprising. Public speaking has always been one of humanity’s greatest fears. Despite this, its importance to a career in industry, academia or non-profits has only grown. And with the rise of distracting technologies, and the radical transformation of work due to the COVID pandemic, things have really changed.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that old-school public speaking education is irretrievably broken. From an over-emphasis on on being funny or correcting for filler words (like “umm” or “ahh”), the ways we teach this critical skill are just wrong.
What matters most now is that you are authentic, compelling and unique. Or as RuPaul likes to say, “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.” In order to thrive at pitches, speeches or meetings — whether live or virtual — you must be able to accomplish the following things:
- Overcome the audience’s device distraction (and tendency toward boredom).
- Overcome the audience’s cynicism and distrust.
- Change people’s minds and behavior.
This is a tall order, even in the easiest of times. And now, with Zoom and social media everywhere, it becomes even more challenging to accomplish this in a few, cold minutes. Not being able to “read the room” only makes the task of speaking harder — not easier — for most of us.
So I decided to completely rethink how people learn to communicate publicly, and I came to a few conclusions.
- We need to leverage our tendency to distraction or boredom, and not fight it.
- I believe behavioral science holds the keys to effective persuasion.
- The skills of the best public speakers can be learned without copying their style.
- An agile methodology is necessary to optimize performance.
The result is “The A-Ha! Method” — a new course, certification and (upcoming) book that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. It combines everything I’ve learned about speaking, pitching and leadership with the science, data and agile strategies necessary to cut through the noise, establish your premise and change hearts and minds.
What is an A-Ha!, you ask? It’s that moment that someone says something that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, flooding your brain with dopamine and serotonin. These moments are vital: they are how we cut through the noise of distraction, and ensure the audience remembers us and what we’ve said. Finding, perfecting and timing your A-Ha! moments is core to being successful in your career, and something I explore extensively in this work.
The whole course and book are based on an iterative approach, which will be familiar to those in the tech industry. From discovering your voice to understanding the science of persuasion, at each step learners iterate on a concrete speech or pitch they are developing. No forced humor or one-size-fits-all timing, pacing or tone. And at the end, you get a tight, personal talk that is uniquely your own.
Because this is an expressive, practical art form, I’m combining the self-directed coursework with constant feedback. From weekly pitch sessions to some new tech I’m working on, the goal is to enable you to practice and consistently improve. Think of it as six-sigma for your communication skills.
I’ve run the course a couple of times to iterate the content, and am excited to share it with you. Of course, I’d love your feedback — and welcome you to check out the course on Udemy. An A-Ha! Method workshop is also available for corporate clients who want private instruction, alongside private coaching.
Over the next several months (and hopefully years) I’ll be sharing many of my thoughts about professional communication here. I really want to see the world speak more beautifully, and am eager to help you get there.
You shouldn’t have to be the gregarious, chatty kid in elementary school (that everyone thought would be an actor but is terrible at playing any role but his own) to communicate well as an adult. It’s a skill you can — and should — learn, and there’s no better time to improve your career than the present.