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how to become a better speaker
why traditional speaking advice is bs
I’m trying to get better at speaking.
I’ve been studying great speakers, and even hired a world-class speech coach.
Here’s why I think traditional speaking advice is bs (and what works better).
The pint test
I think traditional advice is geared towards broadcast speech. Like being a news anchor. Speak slowly, clearly and in RP.
This is wrong. It’s like telling an F1 driver to study lorry drivers because they drive more miles. Completely different use cases.
Traditional speaking advice is great if you want to work for the BBC, but pretty weird outside of that. It’s impersonal, sterile and shows no vulnerability. People don’t fuck with that. It’s fake.
Ultimately, the correctness of your speech doesn’t matter. You need to be charismatic and likeable. Your speech should pass the Nigel Farage Test (not Grammarly). In other words, after listening to this person speak — would I get a pint with them?
Speak ridiculously quickly
This is so funny. Videos made by 25–40 year old people start with a split second pause (the Millennial pause). The video starts → micro pause → then they start speaking. It’s so short you would never notice it.
But videos made by kids on TikTok get straight to the point. They start mid-word. Sometimes they even miss the first few words. They grab your attention.
Your rate of speech is a double-edged sword. Speaking quickly can signify a nervous pressured speech (but so can speaking hesitantly slowly).
But something I’ve noticed, smart people speak quickly because they’re confident, passionate and their brains are quick.
The actual rate of speech (words per minute) doesn’t actually matter that much — what matters more is your rate of revelation. How many big ideas are coming out of your mouth every minute?
A hack to speak clearer
Here’s something my speech coach taught me. Here’s the highest yield adjustment you can make.
Enunciate the ends of your words.
Like a lot. It’s hard to explain. But end your words strongly.
That’s the hack. You can speak incredibly quickly (even with a strong accent) and still be understood if you enunciate the ends of your words.
Let your hair down. Curse a little bit. It’s authentic.
Expletives and ‘errors’ in your speech can be a competitive advantage.
They signal that you’re a real person and not a corporate drone.
Occasionally, someone will interview me about my podcast. Maybe this is all in my head, but I think they have pretty high expectations.
They’ve heard an edited version of me only discussing topics of my choice. I’ve also spoken to 100s of incredible entrepreneurs etc in health/bio. Surely I have some wisdom?
Honestly, not as much as you’d expect.
I’m trying to get better at doing it. One of my role models is David Senra. He makes the Founders Podcast. Every episode is a mini-biography on an incredible founder.
Listen to him talk about his podcast here. He breaks every traditional speaking rule. He mumbles, he doesn’t enunciate his words etc — but his energy is so infectious. He’s so hyped.
Not to go too woo-woo, but the exact content or form of your speech doesn’t really matter. Lots of styles can work. What matters is the energy you’re transmitting.
You need to be hyped. You need to be convinced that what you’re saying is the most interesting thing ever. That’s the 80/20.
Fillers are important
Here’s some more mid-tier advice. People will tell you not to use filler words (um, ah).
Admittedly, people who use too many ‘ums’ are a nightmare to listen to. I’ve edited podcasts in which someone’s used 150+ ‘ums’ in a 30 minute recording.
But using no filler words is equally annoying. Try talking to someone who’s a little ‘too polished’. Instead of filler words, they’ll probably use long (dramatic) pauses in their speech. Conversing with them is confusing af.
Fillers words have important social functions ummm:
Um is called a ‘filled pause’. It can signify that you plan to continue speaking. Whilst a long dramatic unfilled pause is confusing: Are they done speaking? Or are they thinking?
They can signify that you are thinking deeply about a topic (not just saying the first thing that comes to mind).
They help the listener with information processing and remembering things later.
Great video by Prof Fridland on why filler words are so important.
Open with vulnerability
I watched a 10/10 comedy set recently. He opened his set with: “Some people are like pretty smart, but ummm — I’m pretty dumb”.
Immediately, he’d disarmed the audience and everyone in the room liked him.
Much better than the comic before him — who opened the set with the typical overconfident "I’m so funny” energy (wasn’t actually very funny).
There’s a limit though. We’ve all met someone who's spilled their whole chronology of past trauma before you’ve even told them your name.
Vulnerability is like a war. You want to drop a small tactical nuke, not usher in a nuclear armageddon.
A bonus? Jon Ronson wrote a book about people who have been cancelled (and those who avoided it).
Imagine you’re the President of the FIA, and a journalist has pictures of you at a nazi-themed sadomasochistic ‘party’ with five ‘paid hires’. That’s what happened to Max Moseley.
Bit of a pickle. How do you avoid getting cancelled?
Own your vulnerability and you become invincible.
Super important. Storytelling frameworks are a formula for being interesting. I wrote about it here.
Talk in feelings not facts
Ben Shapiro is an incredible public speaker. But he’s wrong about a lot of things. One of those things is his iconic line: “Facts don’t care about your feelings”.
Feelings are all that matter.
This becomes so obvious when you’re a doctor. I once sent an incorrect blood test off for one of our patients. This blood test was so important in fact, that his surgery didn’t go ahead that day because of my error (a group and save).
I thought about lying (“the lab must have lost your result”) — but I just gave it to him straight. I put my hands up and basically told him that I’d fucked up and I was sorry.
So this guy now has to spend another day in pain in a dingy NHS hospital. He also needs to spend another 12 hours fasted.
His reaction? He actually liked me more. We sort of became friends and it was all a big joke.
Another patient came into the Emergency Department with a 10 year history of vague abdominal pain. His bloods and observations were all good — and there seemed to be nothing of note.
I felt bad for the guy. I went above and beyond, and spent time traversing through his notes and discussed with multiple specialties. He was on a 9-month waitlist, but I got him a follow-up clinic appointment with a consultant that same week.
Good result right? He was furious. He stormed out and said he was going to drive to a different ED to see a better doctor.
He felt like I hadn’t taken him seriously. The facts of the situation didn’t really matter.
No one will remember what you say. At a push, they’ll remember a few words.
What will they remember? How they felt after you finished speaking. The content of your speech doesn’t matter that much.
Generally, I think you need to make people feel like they are the main character. Not you.
Everyone’s the main character of their own life. Cogito ergo sum. Make people feel like they’re the main character (who can achieve anything they want) and they’ll love you for it.
Hope you enjoyed this one. Email me back with your thoughts on good speaking.
You might enjoy this recent podcast I did on writing good content in healthcare.
I’ll share some cool personal news next time.