Brown Bag Lunch: How to Get A Standing Ovation Every Time, The Sequel

Redfin this week launched a brown-bag lunch program to teach ourselves how to be better at our jobs. So now we’re on the look-out for brown-bag speakers to talk about stuff we don’t understand, like how to read term sheets, or how to manage employees, or how a new programming language works.

Since this blog is as much about start-ups as it is real estate, we’ll touch on a few of the brown bag topics here, too. Hopefully we can pick up some pointers from the comments.

Today’s topic is public speaking. Guy Kawasaki has written the authoritative guide in eleven easy steps (his best advice, by far, was to focus on entertaining, and to tell stories) leaving us with the dilemma faced by the kung fu alcolyte addressing his master: what whiteness can we add to that whiteness, what candor?

Answer: steps 12 – 23!

12. Take your time. You have something important to say.
13. Start with a joke. It immediately establishes that your project is to please.
14. Quote others. It lets someone else talk. People perk up for quotes.
15. Use large, funny graphics. Search Flickr (try the colorful tag) and Google Images. The images can be completely irrelevant (I learned this from a speaker who once explained his odd choice of graphics by saying “I like animals”) . Most PowerPoint decks are a sensory-deprivation chamber.
16. Get a wireless microphone and move around (slowly). Only a Beckett play leaves all the actors rooted to one spot.
17. Have a good time. Most speakers stifle their own excitement to be speaking. Channel bad nerves into energy. Someone’s aunt, a lady I barely knew, once told me that a human being’s most important trait is the quality of her energy.
18. Work off an empty stomach: Norman Mailer’s advice from Armies of the Night, to give you that savage edge (his other recommendation was to get blitzed).
19. Reach for an emotional moment: Martin Luther King’s famous speech reached its apogee only after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson said “Tell ‘em about the dream Martin.” Without emotion, communication is pointless.
20. Look ‘em in the eye. If the lights aren’t too bright, make eye contact with people at different places in the room. Pick one person out, make eye contact for a few seconds, then connect with someone else.
21. Me –> we. Find a way for the audience to interact. Muhammad Ali’s great commencement address, which consisted of only two words (“Me…” — here he put his hand on his chest — and then reached from his Parkinsonian catatonia out to the crowd to say “WE”), was speaking perfected to near-speechlessness.
22. Don’t read the slides & welcome questions: the bullets are points of departure for you to say something interesting. PowerPoint is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control & prevent dialog.
23. If you get the sense you’re running long, stop.


  • Phil

    I particularly agree with Norman Mailer’s advice to talk on an empty stomach. This is particularly true if you’re prone to indigestion and are using a microphone. “Savage edge,” indeed.

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    You can’t even get my product out to the market place.
    What is so great about your concept?

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