25 Experts Weigh In On What it Means to Speak Like a Pro

Drumroll please . . . the Speak Like A Pro virtual conference launches on Monday of next week! Grab your ticket if you haven't already—there will be five interviews each day, and each interview streams free for 24 hours.

Here's how the week is set-up:

  • Day 1 (Monday): Structure and Outcomes — Begin with the end in mind; how to structure a presentation for maximum impact
  • Day 2 (Tuesday): Practice — Tips for how to practice effectively to nail your content without notes
  • Day 3 (Wednesday): Delivery & Physiology — Pointers for delivering a speech in an engaging, concise manner; physiological tips for calming nerves on the big day
  • Day 4 (Thursday): Impact — How to connect with your audience while on stage, and how to inspire change
  • Day 5 (Friday): Business of Public Speaking — How to build a strong reputation and profitable business as a professional speaker

At the end of each interview, I asked each expert to share their definition of what it means to speak like a pro. I was so impressed by every expert's reply: the focus on their audience, making an impact, showing up fully, and just being yourself.

As a teaser for next week, I'm sharing this closing nugget of wisdom from each interview below!

Day 1 (Monday): Structure and Outcomes

Dan Roam, Author of Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations:

To speak like a pro means that when you are talking to other people, you are so confident in your knowledge that you have an idea that is worthwhile, and you know what that idea looks like. Instead of being worried when you're talking, you are simply just talking and telling the truth.


Nancy Duarte, Author of Slideology, Resonate and Slidedocs:

People who speak like a pro are the ones who become more and more professional as they go, in the sense of investing in their communication and skill-set. They learn to become a better communicator. I've seen people who do this go from manager to VP in six months or they close a $400 million deal. We just had someone in the New York Times a month ago say that because he applied the methodologies in my book, he made $760 million more last year than this year. Amazing!


Pamela Slim, Author of Escape from Cubicle Nation and Body of Work:

Being able to get my work in the hands of others in a way in which they can take inspired action. I was just having dinner with a friend of mine in New York last week. He asked me that big question that really smart people tend to ask, which is, “What’s your big, huge, audacious vision 10 years from now? What will you feel like you really want to have impacted?”

The only answer I could think of in the moment was that those kinds of tools that I have created through my books, through Body of Work, a perspective in how people can know about career development, is actually internalized.

People have the skills in all segments of our society all around our globe, that people, they live it, they breathe it. They don’t have fear around their career. My ability to do that is going to be based on my ability to communicate the message in a way that allows people to be inspired, but actually to take action.


Michael Bungay Stanier, Author of Do More Great Work:

It means to fully service your audience so that you're putting their needs in front of your needs.


Kelly Kingman:

You inspire people, and help them see how the ideas that you're inspiring them with are possible. It's taking responsibility for inspiring them, but also helping them see the tools that they can use.


Day 2 (Tuesday): Practice

Cal Newport, Author of So Good They Can't Ignore You:

The ability to get in front of a crowd and not just deliver the information of my idea, but get people thinking about what I have to say, get people giving serious question to, “How am living this part of my life? How do I understand the world?”

If you can actually change or at least challenge someone’s worldview, have them come away and say, “Let’s talk about that,” they’re talking about it among themselves, to me, that’s good professional speaking. It’s hard to do, but I love when I can accomplish it.

Cal Newport

Clay Hebert, Crowdfunding Expert:

I think to develop a speaking practice that you’re proud of, that makes you money and that changes the audience, that carries your message. That’s really moving.

Speaking like a pro is changing the audience and making a career that doesn’t give you all the stress and anxiety. The litmus test might be that you know if you’re looking forward to giving talks instead of dreading giving talks, I think you’ve made it as a pro.


John Havens, Author of Hacking Happiness:

You have to be genuine. You have to be honest. By genuine, I mean in a moment, if you're genuinely affected emotionally, if you can stay within what you're doing and not necessarily stop because you're having a rough day.

Sometimes people think they have to be sort of formal on stage. Again, if that's their style, that's fine, but for me, I can't do that. I find people like when I speak and you were very kind in what you said at the beginning, because I try to be real.

I think the other thing is stories. I have to get better at the stories. I always remind myself teaching is great, futuristic stuff is great, but stories are really what draw people in.


Monica McCarthy, Show and Tell Stories:

Speak like a person, and learn the tips and tricks so that you can be fully you when the time comes to be in the spotlight.


Dirk Haun, Author of Presenting for Geeks:

Actually do your homework. Don't just go up on the stage and talk about something, to pair it and think about your audience, don't put too many facts into it; prepare, rehearse, make a good show. That's speaking like a pro.


Day 3 (Wednesday): Delivery & Physiology

Shane Parrish, Farnam Street Blog:

It means connecting with an audience and doing that in a professional way. The professional way for me is that you’ve done your homework. You’re not showing up and looking up at a PowerPoint and reading the slides to an audience. It’s that you know your topic, you’ve done your work and you can tell them stories that resonate with them.


Michael Port, Author of Book Yourself Solid:

It's simple. Just be in service of others. Someone had a book coming out or a book that came out. She said, “How do I be good?” I said, “You can't.” She was like, “What?” I said, “All you can do is be helpful. That's it. You can try to be helpful. That's it. Everything you do, helpful, helpful, helpful.”

There's lots of things technically that we need to learn; how to block performance on stage, how to stay with the audience, but our ultimate goal is to be helpful and everything we do is in service of that. The story we're telling is in service of being helpful. It's in service of being relevant to them. The bit that we came up with is in service of the story which is in service of being relevant which is in service of being helpful. That's the best we can do.

If we work really hard at that and I mean really hard—I mean more rehearsal than you think you could ever possibly do—and then multiply that by one thousand, and then maybe you've rehearsed a lot.


Christina Rasmussen, Second Firsts: Live, Laugh and Love Again:

What a great question. When you just asked me this question I realized that I haven’t achieved the ultimate presence that I know I will one day yet. My definition of that is to be able to listen to the heart and get rid of the white noise around it. When we’re able to do that and trust ourselves to know that our heart tells us the truth, we will look like a pro and sound like a pro and speak like a pro and then some.


Scott Dinsmore, Live Your Legend:

To leave the stage with people seeing the world a little bit differently because they had heard what you had to say and the way you told your story. By seeing it differently, hopefully seeing it and open their eyes to what’s possible. In my case, it’s opened your eyes to possibility and think of it that way as opposed to just, “Okay, a couple ideas, whatever.”


Tom Asacker, Author of The Business of Belief:

Just moving people, to understand that you’re not there to try to change someone’s understanding. You’re there to try to light a fire in people so that they’ll go out and discover more for themselves. That’s the thing that we forget. Listen, I started out that way because I never planned on speaking for a living.

That first speech I think I ever gave was that doctor saying, “What are you doing here with this shoddy information?” I used to believe that it was to impart information in a lawyerly way that could be defended. That’s not it at all. It’s to convey your passion for what you think the world should be like and try to take people on this ride with you and then when they get off they want to get back on it again. They go out and they start discovering how to get back into this.


Day 4 (Thursday): Impact

Ross Fisher, Paediatric Surgeon:

Effective. Maybe that’s why I’m struggling with the idea of speaking like a professional. I’m not a professional speaker. I’m not even a professional educator. When I encourage my colleagues, I say to them, “You don’t need to be a professional. You don’t need to be completely slick. You just need to be yourself and then effective.”

If you communicate, if you engage with people, then it will work, rather than being the most polished, having all the style, all the kick, all the ideas. Just stand and talk to people. We do it every day, so why not do it when you’re on stage?


Cheryl Dolan, Author of Poised: The Inner Art of Powerful Presence:

It’s to be yourself, but to be your best self. We’re always public speaking, always, unless we’re home alone. You’re always public speaking. How do you show up best in the world? How does your audience then perceive you? Self-awareness really is the key to that. So I would say speaking like a pro you need to be incredibly aware of every move you make, all the words you say, not in a way of self consciousness, but in a way of really empowering yourself to have a lot of influence and impact.


Thomas Edwards, The Professional Wingman:

Speaking like a pro is being able to selflessly convey a message that’s meant to resonate with an audience that’s entertaining, that’s fun and it’s so inspiring that you encourage them to become their own agent of change.


Susan Weinschenk, Author of How To Get People To Do Stuff and 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People:

My definition of speaking like a pro would encompass two things. One is that you are really passionate and confident, and the other thing is that you inspire people, that they come out of the presentation, no matter how mundane it is, no matter how technical it is.

Maybe you’re teaching tips of using Excel spreadsheet. It doesn’t have to be an inspiring topic, but whatever it is, they come out and they say, “Oh, wow. I didn’t know that.” That’s – if you can make people have that reaction, then I think you’re really a pro.


Mozart Guerrier, MG Speaks:

To speak like a pro means to articulate the message that is at the core of you are and make sure that it’s well prepared.


Day 5 (Friday): Business of Public Speaking

Adam Carroll, Author of Winning the Money Game:

This was brought up at the Canfield training and I thought it was a very interesting and apt way of putting it: “The goal of being on stage is not be seen, it is to see.” When I am on stage, I am constantly watching my audience to make sure that people are getting, they are picking up what I am laying down.

If they are not, I literally will go out into the audience and I’ll reach out to someone and say, are you with me? I literally pinpoint someone and make direct eye contact with them and say, are you with me? They are nodding because I want everyone in the audience to think I am talking directly to them.

I’ve had a number of people come up to me afterwards and say, “I don’t know what it was but I felt like you were talking directly to me the entire time,” and part of that is you’ll probably have people comment on this on other interviews but when you are locking eye contact and if you lock eye contact long enough that you are hearing me and I know that you hear me, and then I move onto someone else and I lock eye contact with them, people are going to feel like they were spoken to and not spoken at.


Barry Moltz, Author of How to Get Unstuck, Bounce!, You Need to Be a Little Crazy, Bam! and Small Town Rules:

For me, to speak like a pro is really to realize that just like any pro, it takes a lot of hard work and practice. People come to me after a presentation and go, “Barry, you are just a naturally good speaker,” and I am like there isn’t anything natural about that. I have probably practiced that speech you just saw a thousand times, and they go, “Wow, it just seems so off the cuff,” and I go, exactly. That’s what it is, be a pro. Just like every other profession who goes through the practice and don’t think you can wing it.


Jacquette Timmons, Author of Financial Intimacy:

It is being intentional, being contemplative, and being thorough, and at all times showing up and giving your best.That doesn’t mean that it will go perfect. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have any audio glitches. But even with all of that, you just follow through and you do what you said you were going to show up and do.

Speaking like a pro really means showing up as best as you can, delivering as best as you can, and realizing that the best today might be different than the best tomorrow, and that, too, is okay.


Michael Parrish DuDell, Author of Shark Tank Jump Start Your Business: How to Launch and Grow a Business from Concept to Cash:

I hate this answer because it's such a hot topic right now, but it really is 100% storytelling. It really is 100% storytelling. It doesn't matter if I'm talking about marketing or branding or whatever. If you don't have incredible stories and you're not able to share those stories in incredible ways, you will never be a pro. People won't listen to you.

I go to conferences all the time where I see people speak. They're reading off pages. They're not engaging. They're clearly over rehearsed and their entire Speak Like a Pro speech goes unheard because people are bored, nervous for them. It's 1,000% about connecting and telling the story.


Mike Robbins, Author of Nothing Changes Until You Do, Be Yourself, Everyone's Already Taken, and Focus on the Good Stuff:

Speaking like a pro is about being yourself. It’s about being authentic. It’s about coming from your heart. It’s not about being slick. It’s not about having it all together. It’s not about being polished.

Speaking Like a Pro It’s actually about figuring out how you can get out of your own way so that it’s about who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about and making that connection, that impact. It’s always going to be about us a little bit, but the least amount it can be about us, the most effective it’s going to be for the people who are listening to us.


More About Speak Like a Pro

What's your definition of how to Speak Like a Pro?

Share your thoughts in the comments, and join me at the conference Aug 25-29!