Tough Times Make Good Story Telling

It’s What You Learn That Counts

We all have tough times and sometimes you don’t want to talk about them, ever.

But if you are ready to consider them, think about what you learned. It’s the learning that’s character-forming. Not whether you succeeded or failed, but what you learned as a result. And if that learning benefits you, then it will likely benefit others. And that’s the basis of good story telling.

Often, it’s the so-called “failures” that provide the most benefit. Knowing not to do something again, is powerful. It’s the beginning of wisdom and confidence in yourself to make the best choices for you. No mistakes or scary challenges equals a boring stunted life.

Here’s a bad experience of my own turned into good story telling:

I was second speaker at a conference, talking about the elusive mystery of work life balance. So elusive, the first speaker was missing. He eventually turned up twenty minutes late and spoke AT the audience instead of WITH them. I had to re-energise, re-engage and refocus a hostile audience. I gained a lot of value from that crappy experience. It propelled me to morph into a specialist public speaking coach.

He Lost Me At “Hello”

Here’s how I translated that bad experience into a two minute introductory story:

“It was hot, it was sticky… it was a tropical conference at the top end of Australia.
A government minister was to open the conference and he was twenty minutes late. In he shuffled apologetically, flanked by four flunkies. He hid behind the lectern and studiously read a long jargon filled paper, clearly written by somebody else. His voice was a fast monotone, his were eyes cast down. Who was this man? Why was he here?
I had no idea what he was talking about because his language was unclear and so was his point. I looked around. The audience was more interesting than him. There were a lot of glazed eyes, long suffering sighs and checking of text messages…
I didn’t hear the rest of his speech because, “He lost me at “hello”.

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Two important things I learned at that hot, sticky conference:

One: When a speaker fails to acknowledge, engage and be relevant to his audience, they switch off and stop listening.
Two: What is the point of speaking if no one is listening?

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As I was the speaker following him, I felt jittery. He was not only over time, but he’d lost our audience. This meant I had to work hard to regain attention and respect from the audience and keep my own spirits up after a dismal start.
The turning point for me was the realisation that there was an opportunity here. I already knew how to help people feel confident, craft scintellating messages and sensitively lead groups. Right then I decided to switch from life coach to speaking coach. I chose to specialise in showing nervous speakers how to relax and give themselves and their audience a good time. A time they would value and remember.

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The result of that initially bad experience of the first speaker, the one who “lost me at hello”, is this public speaking course that you’ve signed up for today: “Free Your Inner Public Speaker. Welcome!“


Be Personal

When you begin your speech with sharing a personal story, it begins a relationship with your audience. Start with a simple, graphic opening line. Pause to let the audience catch up and have their own experience of relating to what you said. Briefly tell the rest of the story. Tell what you’ve learned from that experience and how it relates to the purpose of your talk. Engage their interest first. Then explain how it is relevant to them. Make eye contact one person at a time.

Drop Trying To Be Clever

Don’t struggle with trying to put something “clever” or “perfect” together (that’s a “should” coming from your head). Instead, take a leap to trust your instincts (coming from your body and heart) that what tumbles from your lips will be good enough. It’s your true story in glory and simplicity. Your story telling just may a bit of polish.

The key is to practise again from a fresh perspective, using what you learned from your first story telling practise. Ask yourself each time: What flowed and felt good? What didn’t?

Don’t Forget To Pause

Taking the time to pause often while you speak, gives you time to gather your thoughts, tune into your feelings and speak from that place. It allows your listeners to catch up and travel along with you.

Sometimes speakers feel nervous or believe they don’t have anything of value to say, so they too speak quickly or nervously fade away. Which are fabulous ways to lose your audience. The “pause” draws people in – they want to be with you, because you are with them. Pausing is natural and normal and feels like relief.

It’s Your Turn

Choose a story from your past, it may be twenty years ago, it may be yesterday. Choose a turning point for you, a significant learning that caused you to change, grow or overcome a problem. Or maybe you didn’t overcome it. Perhaps that was the valuable learning.

Take a closer look at the format I used for my turning point story above, “He Lost Me At Hello”.

Right now I want you to resist writing out your turning point story so it doesn’t get caught up as a carbon copy of the one above. Writing things out perfectly often leads to memorising and sounding like a stiff piece of cardboard. Trust yourself you can tell your story, what you learned from it and what you can therefore share or teach others, because… you were there… how could you forget?

Distill The Essence

Start by recalling the story… identify what you learned… and then distill the essence into something you find valuable and can assume your potential listeners will too.

Now say it out loud. It’s ok to ramble a few times. It’s may be easier to practise with some one else. Get the guts out, then reduce and create a good story telling picture. Remember to pause as you recall it and to allow listeners to share in the picture you are painting. Another benefit of saying it out loud first, is your language will sound more natural.

If you want to write it out, you can do it now! And if you’d like to learn the rest of the “He Lost Me At Hello” story, you can download it from my free Treasure Chest of public speaking goodies.

Good Story Telling Is Not Just For Kids

You don’t need to spill secrets, share personal tragedies or make up stories to create drama and get attention. A good story contains all the elements of life: a problem, the journey to resolve, the joy and pain of the learning. Your private life is private. You choose your level of disclosure… and you can bend the truth a little… especially if it makes even better story telling! Adults and children understand that a story is a metaphor for a powerful life lesson. It contains a core of truth. What’s most important is the learning, because that’s what you are transmitting, the learning you gained from your tough time so that others benefit from the wisdom of your experience.

(c) 2016-2019 Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach,


It’s Not Me, It’s YOU

Get The Right You Me Speaking Ratio

Have you ever wondered why some people have the power to galvanise you into action? What these people get right is their use of the You Me Speaking Ratio when they communicate.

Excessive use of “I” and “me” turns listeners off quick-smart.  I love the joke about the actress who says: “Enough about me! Let’s talk about you! What do you think of my latest movie?”!!!

One of the fastest ways to lose an audience (or the attention of your friends and colleagues) is to talk mostly about yourself and from your perspective.

Get The Ratio Right
According to my research, a language ratio of 10:1 of You:Me is about the right ratio to generate a balanced and inclusive speech. It leads to greater engagement and even ownership of your ideas because the speaker shows how their idea will work for you.

  • Examples of me-centred language: “I”, “me”, “my”, “mine”.
  • Examples of you-centred language: “you”, “us”, them”, “they”, “we”, “our”… “together”, “community”.

Examine the difference for yourself in the next 2 short examples by noticing how you feel when you read them or even better, say them out loud:

“I consider it imperative to make my health my number one priority. All the money in the world will not make me happy if I’m sick. My workshop today will show you how I did it, so you can too. I believe that health equals happiness.”

“All the money in the world will not make you happy if you are sick. We all have so many competing priorities and other people to attend to. This workshop will show you how to clear the clutter of your busy life and how to make your health and you, your number one imperative. Your health equals your happiness.”

A Famous Example Of A “You-Centred” Speech
In 1961, American President John Kennedy’s inaugural speech “…ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” uses “me-centred” words only 4 times and uses ‘you-centred” words 50 times. (Now that’s an interesting contrast with the “me-me-centred” speeches given by one of Australia’s most recent Prime Ministers.) So do not let the 10:1 ratio trip you up. It’s not a rule, just a guideline to be aware of if you want to inspire, engage and build trust and an affirmative response from your listeners.

How To Connect And Inspire When You Speak

  1. Take a look at anything you’ve recently written, especially if it’s a “speech” type nature or a self-intro. Identify the proportion of “you” versus “me” centred words.
  2. Emphasise “we” and “us” to keep the spotlight on your listeners or audience. Remember, it’s not about you, it is about them. A speaker or leader is just a temporary conduit of information to help others understand.
  3. Rewrite your speech or report and make it “you-centred” with a language ratio of at least 10:1 “you’s” and “we’s” to “I’s” and “me’s.” Notice and enjoy the difference in reaction.

Whenever anyone speaks, it is to benefit others, right? If not, you are just talking to yourself. And we all know the special terms for that!

If you’ve ever felt you’ve missed the mark when you speak and your friends, colleagues or an audience seem to switch off and aren’t interested in your ideas, examine your You Me Speaking Ratio. Once adjusted to “you-centred” language, you may now become the communicator you’ve always longed to be.

© 2013, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

The Art Of Making An Entrance

How do you make your presentation memorable and stand out in a long day of conference speeches?

“Da Daa!” Introducing, YOU!

And in you come dancing to a funky soundtrack, boa feather trailing behind, your newly shaved head reflecting the strobe lights… is this the kind of big entrance you’d like to make when you give a presentation? Yes, you will be memorable unless of course your colleagues also read this article and boa feather sales go through the roof. Ok, I digress.

Here’s a 3 minute video I made about how to engage the attention of your listeners from the very get-go:


Making An Entrance

Making an entrance is about engaging attention from the start. When an audience’s attention is engaged, they will listen. And they will remain listening as long as you follow it up with valuable content. And when I say “don’t be shy”, I mean, don’t diminish yourself and play small.

Apart from my fun suggestion above, I recommend you focus on creating CONNECTION with your audience first, before you even open your mouth. If you take the time to take a breath with your listeners and be present with them, you will immediately make an impact. Strange as it may seem, old fashioned audience acknowledgement is a simple courtesy always appreciated. Bit of a nod, eye contact, a smile. Costs nothing, takes a minute or so, generates credibility, respect and attention.

What Do You Want To Be Remembered For?
Begin preparing your next speech by asking yourself this foundational question. Your answer will determine the clarity with which you deliver your speech to conference delegates.

Let me give you some practical examples – do you want to be remembered for:

  • An inspiring vision that generates new thoughts in your industry?
  • Being an entertaining and informative speaker that brings joy to a heavy program?
  • Providing cutting edge data to benefit the practice of colleagues?
  • To develop your profile and expand your career influence and opportunities?

Being clear about what you want your speech to be remembered for is similar to being clear about your purpose. Both act like a rudder, steering your speech and audience on an impactful journey toward a powerful conclusion.

What You Can Do

  1. Put time aside to research practical things like how many people will attend, where you’ll stand, microphones, if you’ll be introduced and what they’ll say, so that you’ll set up your speech confidently from the start.
  2. You are “on” as soon as your name is called. Don’t slink in, pretending to be lost in intellectual thought or your notes!
  3. Roll your shoulders gently back, head and chest up, and take a strong, stable stance with room to move.
  4. Establish your physical and energetic presence by taking some breaths with your audience. You are saying non verbally: “I see you, I hear you and I’m with you.” This initial  acknowledgement to the audience is memorable in itself because its still so rare.
  5. Practice your speech; include the the timing for your entrance, exit and pauses and even pfaffing around with your powerpoint slides. Ask friends for feedback and record or film yourself. Are there any flat or confusing moments? Is there too much detail or not enough? Is your message clear and memorable?

To make a long term, memorable impact when you speak, you need to understand and deliver what your audience really wants – connection and value. If you can do these two things, you will be a memorable stand-out in the conference program from the start.

© 2012, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

How To Keep Audience Attention! Look At Me!

Don’t Try So Hard

Trying too hard at anything is tiring. Battling to keep audience attention is exhausting. And people, well we can just be perverse. If an audience knows you desperately want their attention, they will likely choose to not give you any.

Don’t try so hard. Who ever said speaking with people had to be hard work? Now I’m not suggesting you don’t put in any effort. Just stop trying to force people to listen to you. Instead, give them a choice and something worth listening to – you! Below is a list of Do’s and Don’ts and a top 5 summary of things to do to keep audience attention.

I explain further in this 3 minute video, designed to be distractingly over-the-top. In other words, DON’T prepare a scene like the one in my video – it’s meant to be a joke:


Do’s and Don’ts To Keep Audience Attention


  • Pause and take a breath with your audience before you start. This gives people time to give you their attention, rather than you forcing it upon them.
  • Establish credibility and expertise – either through an introduction or subject knowledge.
  • Be fully present and focussed, not thinking about dinner afterwards or lost in self criticism.
  • Be original – get comfortable in your own skin and know what’s different about you.
  • Make things simple. Use simple language, gestures and paint pictures with words.
  • Focus on 1 main message and repeat it, spelling out the impact, benefits and actions required.


  • Assume – research your audience and ask them conversationally if you are on track.
  • Forget to introduce yourself – people like to know who you are and what you offer.
  • Talk too fast and fill every space – people need time to process your ideas.
  • Give too much information – it can be overwhelming and cluttered.
  • Regurgitate and use cliches – it’s insulting and boring.

Summary: 5 Things To Remember

  1. Let go of “trying” and just “be”.
  2. Establish trust and rapport first and invite attention without force.
  3. Interact constantly with your audience, just like a one on one conversation.
  4. Tailor your message to every audience to help them understand “what’s in it for me”.
  5. Offer valuable, original and customised information and deliver it with natural authenticity.

Trust me, if you do these 5 things, you will powerfully maintain people’s attention every time you speak.

© 2012, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Take Control As MC Or Anarchy Will Prevail

Time To Bring Out Your Inner Control Freak

Forget all that mush about egalitarian sharing. The fact is, as Master Of Ceremonies or MC, you must take control of your Event or anarchy will prevail. Anarchy includes people talking too long, ignoring agreements and cues to finish, interjecting, power plays, energy dissipation… the list goes on.

To ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak but not at the expense of others, take control to protect everyone’s right to be heard and to keep the show on the road. Here are tips for MC’s to work effectively with both sides of the fence, Guest Speakers and Audience.

Guest Speakers
Make personal contact with Guest Speakers beforehand and advise your requirements for the Event. This defines a clear boundary of expectation on either side. Be sure to include: length of allocated speaking time, clarify purpose of speaking topic and intended outcome, whether it’s interactive, time or not for questions, expected start and finish time for speaking. Provide Guest Speakers with the Program so they can see their own place within it and understand how to fit the context. After all it’s your Event, not theirs.

When the Guest Speakers arrive, connect with them personally – as the MC your job is to help them feel at ease. While chatting, reinforce the length of time they have to speak. Ensure they understand the Program is packed and keeping to time is important – check their understanding by looking into their eyes. Discuss the signals you will send to let them know when they are Close To Time, or Time to Wrap Up or Time To Finish. This reinforces there are consequences to poor time management and that as MC, you willing to take immediate action to keep the show on the road for everyone’s benefit.

When the Guest Speaker is presenting, make sure you follow the agreed signals. Sometimes Guest Speakers get on a roll and can’t stop, or become addicted to the adrenaline rush of all that attention, so as the MC, it’s is your job to shepherd them graciously off the stage so that others will have their turn.

Thank and acknowledge the Guest Speaker privately as well as publicly. This also sets up a good management relationship for next time.

The Audience
When the “floor is opened to questions”, things can get very exciting if you are dealing with contentious issues. Your diplomatic lion tamer skills are needed. (You may find it useful to watch Jenny Brochie the facilitator from the SBS television program, Insight, for great role modeling.) Of course if the subject fails to raise a ripple of interest, you may want to have some staged questions or prepare some of your own if the Audience is quiet.

Prompt Audience interaction by clearly displaying a time set aside for questions or discussion in the Program.

Next when you address the Audience, repeat this information, speak slowly, watching your words sink in as you articulate the parameters. For instance, “We have 10 minutes for questions so that’s probably about 3 questions…”, or “Each person has  5 minutes to share their view. Any longer and I’ll have to gong you off (sound the gong to show consequences) to ensure everyone gets a chance” (stating context and appealing to universal fairness.)

After you’ve described the parameters and if you anticipate heated discussion, ask for everyone’s agreement up front and wait. Say nothing until you see a sea of agreements. This method uses group dynamics to enforce the parameters, rather than you.

And of course, you must stick to the parameters. No matter how scintillating the Question from the Audience, the same rules must be applied. If they stir strong interest within the group, suggest they meet later after the program is finished. This keeps the Event on track, provides options to continue the discussion and means Audience members build trust in your ability to handle the situation. It may also give individuals the confidence to speak out, knowing they too will get a fair go.

When you clearly and graciously take control as the MC and Event Coordinator by setting parameters in advance and reinforcing consistently throughout the Event, both Guest Speakers and Audience will relax and enjoy themselves under your firm guidance.

© 2011, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Tips On Speaking To A Hostile Audience

Do You Know How To Handle It?

Ever spoken to a group, discovered they were hostile and you were in the firing line? Hostility is scary, especially en masse. With adrenaline rushing through your veins and theirs, do you know how to handle it?

In a hostile audience situation, I’ve had clients react with the following:

  • Die a little inside and carry on valiantly with sad ‘please don’t eat me” eyes.
  • Get angry and either leave or beat up the audience, creating more hostility.
  • Trust their gut and adapt to the situation. They may break the tension with something spontaneous and genuine, they may verbally acknowledge how the group is feeling or even ask the group for permission to proceed. They may cut short or change the presentation after negotiation with the group.

3 Ways To Help You  & Your Audience

1.  Research Your Audience
In advance of your presentation, research your audience. Ask the organiser lots of questions. If you can, briefly interview a few participants to hear it “straight from the horse’s mouth.” Make it clear it’s confidential to promote honesty. Ask gritty questions about motivation, morale, problems, typical problems experienced and identify what they really need.

2.  Establish Trust and Rapport
It’s just not possible to win all of the people all of the time. Start with just one person in the group. Someone who wants to be there and is willing to listen. They may be leaning forward, smiling or just making eye contact with you. These are the people to whom you give 100% of your attention. Speak directly to them. Notice their reaction to your words. When you take the time to build trust and rapport, that’s what you‘ll also get in return.

3.  Beyond Your Control
I’m not talking about giving up, shoulders drooping, when confronted with a hostile group; I’m talking about recognizing when a situation is simply beyond your control.

Sometimes it is better and smarter to make a strategic retreat or renegotiate, learn from it and survive to play again another day. The key here is to learn how to not let it affect your self esteem.

My Workshops From Hell

The three most difficult workshops I ever facilitated had 3 things in common:

  • Vague organisers who didn’t disclose the participants hated one another;
  • Very late bookings with-ever changing details and numbers;
  • I ignored my intuition to not accept the jobs.

Looking back, I learned an enormous amount from these disasters – some parts of which were beyond my control (participants hating one another; disorganised and vague organisers) and some of which were within my control (good intuition and ability to set boundaries and create trust.)

What You Can Do

  1. Learn as much as you can about your audience to relate your subject, tone and examples to their needs.
  2. Establish trust and rapport, one person at a time.
  3. Renegotiate when you can. Treat your audience with respect to earn their trust. Recognise that some situations are beyond your control and not your fault. Grab the opportunity to learn from them.

Speakers are tightrope artists, balancing the sometimes conflicting needs of audience, Hirer, Event and themselves. Ultimately, you cannot control other people’s reactions, but you can seek to control your own. And hostility may be in the eyes of the beholder. A hostile audience to one speaker, may be thrilling to another.

© 2009-2018, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.