Need to improve your public speaking skills for your podcast or virtual summit? Then you’re in the right place! Get ready for a fun and educational snippet of a session from Sell With a Summit: Podcaster Edition where you’ll learn the right way to speak… but always why it’s so important to ‘speech wrong’ if you want your podcast listeners to know, like, and trust you. Let’s jump in!


Hello, and welcome to The Right Way to Speak and When to Speech Wrong. I’m Lucas Zellers. This is the session for those who want to become more comfortable presenting, more beautiful to their own ears, and more effective to their audience. I hope you’re enjoying Sell With a Summit: Podcaster Edition.

My guess is that if you are a podcaster and you’re like me, you have spent a long time listening to the sound of your own voice. And if you’re more like me than I’m comfortable admitting, you probably have an itemized list of the things that you don’t like about it. I know the feeling. You might be at a loss as to how to improve.

After all, communication is hard and if you improve too much, you risk becoming less authentic – or so you might think. Communication is a process of coding your own ideas into words, and sounds, and gestures, and then aiming all of those things at another human being and hoping against hope that the same ideas that appeared in your head appear in their head. And then you want them to take those ideas and move toward a belief you want them to have, or an action you want them to take. And if it wasn’t hard enough, every stage of this process has some kind of interference – there’s just noise, noise, noise.

So you want to do it right. Good communication, it seems, is made up of factors, which together make the speaker more effective, but which the average listener probably can’t point out specifically. In other words, you know when you bombed and you know when you killed it, but you might not know why and I guarantee your audience is in the same boat.

But you don’t want to do it so right that you sound like a robot. Authenticity is important to your brand, I get it. Podcasting is a personal, intimate medium. You want your guests to enjoy yourselves. There are a lot of reasons why you probably don’t want to sound like a prepared speech or an academic lecture, but you do want to listen to the kind of speaker who is capable of delivering those things.

You want to be easy to listen to. You want to be convincing. You want to spend less time editing your podcast and less time, by extension, listening to the sound of your own voice. You want to keep your listener’s attention and you’re up against a lot of distractions – all that noise we talked about – which brings me to two very important questions:

Why am I here and why am I talking?

This is some of the best advice I got about stage acting and it came from my friend, Doug, who told me whenever you’re on stage, ask yourself these two questions: why am I here? And why am I talking? It’s great advice for life, really, the kind of thing you could write on your bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker and get a long way with, but it’s also a great way for me to lay out my credentials for this particular topic – why I’m here and why I’m talking about this.

See, I got my degree in Communications and I’ve spent my career using my voice as a speech coach and interview coach in media relations; a singer, if you’ll believe it; a radio host; a stage actor; a podcaster – basically almost every way you can use your voice for fun or profit, I’ve done. Almost every way; don’t make it weird.

In short, I know the rules for formal rhetoric – I’ve got a couple of books on the subject – and award-winning public speaking, and I know how useful those rules actually are. By the end of our time together, I hope that you will know when to follow those rules and when to break them – in other words, when to speak well and when to speech wrong.

So here are some of the rules to follow, some of that insider view on formal rhetoric and award-winning public speaking that you want to have in your corner. Most of what I do as a speech coach when I’m working with students is to hold a mirror up to them, show them their own habits and decisions and whether those decisions support their messages or don’t. In other words, what do you do with your feet? What do you do with your hands, especially when you’re not thinking about them? Where do your eyes go when you get lost? You’ve seen me do that a couple of times already. My notes are down here in front of me. And do all of your sentences have the same cadence? Do you sound the same over and over and over again?

All of these are rules that you might want to think about that are part of the formal training that you get as a rhetorician, but you don’t get credit for breaking the rules if you don’t know them – in other words, if you’re just doing it wrong. It’s why musicians run scales. It’s why NBA players practice free throws. It’s why cartoonists sketch pumpkins in perspective.

Here are the five rules that you need to follow as a public speaker, and these are in order of importance.

Rule number one: commit to the bit. In other words, put all the energy you have into your community all the time. This may be a bit of an unorthodox rule for public speaking. It doesn’t have anything to do with your voice or how you stand or where your hands are moving or what you’ve written. But I’ve found it to be true over and over and over in my life and in my professional practice. Diet taught me that a rule you’re not willing to keep when it’s hard or inconvenient or when you’re traveling is a rule you’re not willing to keep. Exercise – if you’ll believe that I do that sometimes – taught me practice only matters over time. James Bond stays ripped all the time because he never knows when he’s going to have to do a pull-up, probably shirtless. And one hour over three days is way more effective than three hours on one day.

In other words, if you wait until go time to practice good communication, you won’t get any practice in at all. PR taught me… public relations taught me that there is no off the record. You might not even know when go time is, so whatever you do, do it with all your heart, always. That’s rule number one: commit to the bit.

Rule number two: you cannot not communicate. Communication is like air: it’s everywhere. Your face, your clothes, the color of your skin, the way that you stand, the way you wear your hair, what you do with your nails, how much you move – all of this communicates. Either to people who are actively reading that code and interpreting what you’re saying with things that are not your words or people who are making assumptions of their own based on their unconscious biases. Everything that you do, even the absence of you communicates.

Don’t believe me? When was the last time you called your mom?

In fact, most communication is nonverbal. Thoroughly examining subconscious bias is beyond the scope of our conversation, but I can tell you about the conscious decisions you should make in your non-verbal communication. And by that, I mean, posture and gestures. That’s the way you stand and the way you move, in short. Again, these are just sort of broad categories that fill out the categories of nonverbal communication, and it gets a lot more complicated from here and by complicated, I guess I should say specific or detailed.

But in general, your posture – the way that you stand – should be relaxed and stable feet, shoulder width apart, shoulders back, chin up slightly. And even if you’re not on camera, it’s the same: sit up straight so you can breathe easily. Keep your hands steady so you don’t have to edit out pen clicks or desk taps.

And rule number four: your voice is an instrument. There’s two parts to this: take care of it and learn to play it. Uh, you can probably see my instruments behind me. I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. The first guitar I ever played cost me 80 bucks. Brian May, the lead guitarist for rock supergroup Queen – who is still touring by the way, and is also an accomplished astrophysicist – he has a guitar that he played on all of his records. It’s a handmade icon called the Red Special, and it’s so priceless that it has its own bodyguard when the band tours.

Just like the Red Special, you can’t replace your voice – it’s one of a kind – and you’re only ever going to get the one, unlike those. So take care of it.

Your voice is made not just by your throat, but by your lungs, the resonating spaces in your skull, your sinuses, and there’s a couple of here, your tongue, the shape of your teeth, your lips. And it’s very sensitive to the way that you treat all of those things over time. That’s why we listen to voices like Tom Waits or Keith Richards; these are voices that show the miles put on them.

In short, your voice is as unique as you are, as unique as a fingerprint, and it’s a reflection of who you are, so it’s worth taking care of. This is Dan Avadon. He’s one half of the YouTube comedy duo Game Grumps, and one half of the musical comedy band Ninja Sex Party. He is, by all important measures, a clown. And yet before he records a video game let’s-plays for YouTube videos, this man does a full hour of vocal exercises. So if this spandex butterfly can take voice care seriously, so can you.

If you were wanting to know how to warm up and how to take care of your voice, I recommend the Speako app if you want to pay for a digital assistant, you can get it for a week and try it out. But if you’re not a fan of paying a monthly fee for apps, I’ve compiled a list of daily vocal warmups that I have made available as a digital download after this and we’ll get to how to access that later. There’s a webpage I’d like to direct you to, but not now! I’ve got stuff to tell you.

Rule number four: your voice is an instrument, so learn to play it. You probably aren’t even aware of all of the things your voice can do and the possibilities are too many to list, but just as I do for my speech students, I can tell you the five things that you should pay attention, to these five sort of dials that you can spin on your voice to get a variety of sounds out of it.

These make up the bulk of the self-evaluation ballot that you’ll get at the end of this speech, so feel free to take notes, write these down, but don’t kill yourself – you’re going to see these later. These are the sorts of the five elements of any vocal performance, whether it’s an informative speech, a persuasive speech, a stage play, whatever. All of it boils down to these five things in one way or another.

First of all: pitch. That’s how high and how low is your voice? It’s generally split into the head, throat, and chest voices. A low voice reads as powerful and authoritative, whereas a high voice might carry further in a large room and it also reads as more intense, generally speaking. So pitch is something that you should think about and split it in three ways on that dial.

Volume. You can grab your audience’s attention quickly with a loud voice – sorry, uh, headphone users – but never underestimate the power of a soft voice. The person I learned radio broadcasting from, my mentor in that, is the quietest person I’ve ever met, and yet he has the most stage presence of almost anybody that I know. When he talks, people listen, and he never has to raise his voice very loud to do it.

I’ve skipped ahead. Rate, here on the left, is how quickly or how slowly you speak. And just as in music, faster rates of speaking, or faster tempos, have more energy, but they ask more of your audience. You won’t see a professional band playing solid gold bangers every time; there’s gotta be a slow dance in there somewhere. So have a variety of rates, of tempos and the way that you speak. Do some parts of your speech quickly and some parts of them slowly.

We’ve talked about volume already. I want to move to rhythm. This is also another musical analogy. Remember all of this, but it’s also called prosody it’s, uh, or prosaicness, I guess, is where that word comes from? It’s how your words fit together and how slowly or quickly you speak each one. It’s the kind of rhythm and flow and inflection that they have. All of that’s under rhythm. So just as you don’t want to have the same pitch, the same sort of flat monotone all the way across your speech, and speaking at the same rate the whole time, you want to have a variety of rhythms. Some things should go more slowly. Some things should go very, very quickly.

Lastly is clarity or ennunciation or pronunciation. This is where you might have, if you are in the UK, gotten this from your diction classes. This is how crisp are your consonants? How round are your vowels? And you might be thinking, what is this, My Fair Lady? But remember, as a podcaster, you will very probably be played back at x1.5 speed, on crappy speakers in a noisy environment, so the extra effort is worth it to make your words clear and serve your ideas well.

Again, all four of these rules that I have are on the ballot that we’re going to get to at the end, and it brings me to rule number five: eat celery. Insert the food of your choice – Doritos are also acceptable – but you’ll remember that when you do this, when you chew on something crunchy, it’s thunderous in your own ears, but it’s probably not noticeable to someone sitting across the table.

Changes in your speaking style are exactly the same way. They’re going to be most noticeable to you. After all, who knows the sound of your own voice better than you do,? Who has more beefs with the sound of your own voice than you do? Hint: it’s probably no one. So don’t be afraid of overdoing it. You can’t be too clear. You can’t have too many changes in pitch, rate, volume, or rhythm. You can’t enunciate too much, because it’s probably not as much as it seems to you at the time.

Remember, there are sort of three rules of doing this. If you want to own the stage, if you want to present, if you want to be big, you have to make funny faces, you have to rattle the lights, and do you have to spit. If you’re a podcaster and you can keep an eye on your levels, you want those decibels in the zero. In other words, eat celery. Don’t be afraid of overdoing it.

So here are the rules that you need to break; rules to speech good, or when to speech wrong, or how to speech good. You can see I’ve added authenticity to this by some slight confusion.

Here are the rules. This one’s more for podcasters: don’t listen out loud. So the rule for active listening, for good conversation, is to give feedback – remember rule number three. These are words like, okay, uh-huh, great, yeah, absolutely. Communicate without those words. You’ll have to edit them out later as a podcaster and they could interrupt the flow of your guest’s thoughts. So don’t listen out loud; use nonverbal cues instead. Remember you’re always communicating. There’s a lot that you can say without actually saying anything.

Next, don’t rush in to fill the silence. As a radio host, dead air is the enemy. It’s the opportunity for someone to check out. And it’s why people tend to rush in to fill the silence is why they’re uncomfortable with it. They’re worried about losing people’s attention. Trust me, if you’re trying to speech good, dead air is okay. Believe me, you will regret less the dead air before a well-chosen word than you will regret poorly chosen words quickly spoken. So don’t rush in to fill the silence; leave your recording running and let your guests fill the silence instead.

Fifth, how to speech good: use more interjections! Uh, Oh my gosh. Uh, Holy cow .

In other words, remember rule number three and care about the object of your communication enough to put energy into the conversation. the same vein, use more colloquial and non-standard words. In other words, get your guests to translate their jargon. Don’t risk your guests leaving your audience behind. Or if you’re the speaker don’t risk leaving your audience behind by using acronyms or industry terms that are just so much alphabet soup to the layman.

You can also thinking about this as using fewer different words, repeating yourself more often ,and only referring to something as one thing, rather than having a few different names for it. Or using words with fewer syllables – shorter words, words that are easier to understand it. Both of these are hallmarks of an oral style, because again, remember, we’re not trying to sound like this is a prepared lecture or written in a book somewhere; they’re different mediums. So use more colloquial and non-standard words, a conversational tone, the words you would use when talking to someone. Wonder where that came from.

You can also use shorter sentences. Written language tends to sprawl a bit, because again, you have time to reread what you’ve written, to go back and read it over. A spoken language should not do that. You can speak in fragments if you want.

So that is how to speech good and when to speak well. If you have found this useful, you can evaluate yourself.

So thank you for coming along with me on this journey through your own voice. The good news is that as a podcaster you already have the benefit of many hours of recorded samples of your own voice.

So my challenge to you is to take these rules that we’ve talked about and evaluate yourself. Are you breaking the right ones and how can you specifically improve? So to help you do that, I’ve created a ballot you can use to score your performance as a speaker. I’ve taken the guesswork out of it. You can find this at virtualsummitsearch.com/lucas-ballot.

So if you do nothing else from this, trust me that you might get something out of this experience: take any podcast you’ve recorded or any interview you’ve given as a sample and use the elements we’ve discussed today to score your performance.

For example, how much variety was there in the pitch of your voice over the course of the speech? Did it every sentence have the same rhythm or prosody? And if you were on camera, how all over the place were your hands and were your gestures supporting the words that are coming out of your mouth?

If you’re self-conscious about doing this, if you’re saying yourself, “oh my gosh, I can’t listen to the sound of my own voice anymore,” here’s something: choose something that you recorded a while ago. First of all, give yourself the benefit of some distance and the option of having, you know, knowing that you’ve improved over time, or choose a few of those things – one that you recorded a few years ago, maybe one that you recorded last month – and give yourself a series of scores to show how you’ve improved over time.

Again, just visit virtualsummitsearch.com/lucas-ballot. And once you’ve done that, I’d love to hear how it went. So, if you want to connect with me, you can find me on Twitter at twitter.com/sparkotter. That’s my own little mascot. And you can also find me on the Making a Monster podcast – it’s on literally every podcast platform I could find. Or you can email me at lucas@virtualsummitsearch.com and I’d love to chat with you, see how this went.

For now, I’ll look forward to hearing from you and feel free to check out what’s on that website and get that ballot. Thanks for your time. I hope to goodness that this has sort of demystified the process of communication for you and given you a certain amount of confidence and clarity that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. There’s a lot of potential in the sound of a human voice. It’s the most influential sound in the world, and I want you to get the most out of yours, so thanks.


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