Vijay recently asked in the comments on a recent talk:
Thank you for a great presentation. I noticed that your energy was explosive and there was absolutely no point in the presentation where I could detect a lull. I am interested in learning if you have any secrets or techniques in maintaining the focus of not just the audience, but also yourself as I often space out even when I am working on something that I am passionate about.
Explosive energy makes me think of being a drummer in Spinal Tap. Perhaps I should tone it down.
There are four things going on.
- My life is at stake. I have bet I can make a living on my ideas and my ability to express them. I have no guarantees, no salary and no pension. Every time I write a blog post, a book or a give a talk I’m basically an entrepreneur. I’m not half invested. This isn’t a side project. THIS IS IT. I need people to buy my books, hire me to speak, and to tell others about me. When you’ve invested your heart in something, it’s much easier to appear passionate about it, because you are.
- I believe what I say. I really hate phony people. I hate people who water things down, intentionally mislead, or pretend they care about things they don’t. How much of what is said at work do people truly believe or care about? I think very carefully, and long, about most of what I create, and so when the time comes to give a presentation, or write a book, my points are things I truly believe. And I’ve worked hard to make them concise. I’m not holding much back because I know it’s easier to get excited about things you deeply believe, especially if they’ve been boiled down to their essence. If you asked me to talk about my favorite tax software, or which 401k forms I liked the most, passion would be hard to find.
- I’ve extended my range. If you can only play one note on your guitar, you can’t do very much. Musicians, especially singers, practice to extend their range. Most speakers have a narrow range. They only know how to get from volume level 4 to 5. If you practice, and listen to other great speakers carefully, you’ll notice how wide their range is. They can whisper (volume level 2) or almost holler (volume level 7). You also have a range of gestures, and postures, and facial expressions. The wider your range the more tools you have to express passion, or curiosity, or humor, or anything. You extend your range through practice and coaching. I never want to be too passionate, as it’s easy to sound like a preacher on cocaine or Billy Mays. Instead my goal is to be at high level of enthusiasm without crossing over into annoying.
- I have great respect for anyone who voluntarily listens to me. Speaking and writing are very subjective, and I know that reasonable people might not like me, or what I have to say. But their sense of how much energy and effort I put in is something undeniable. I never want to be dismissed by people for not being sincere. They can hate me, prove me wrong, heckle me, whatever, but at the end of the day I don’t want anyone leaving the room, or finishing one of my books, feeling like I gave half an effort. Frankly any speaker is burning way more calories per second than any listener, but that’s often forgotten by most listeners, it’s a consumer’s market when it comes to things to consume.
Hope that helps. Let me know if it doesn’t.
For reference, here’s me speaking at Ignite: