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This article is Part 2 in a series of articles about spending your time the way you want.

Productivity is consistently completing value-added tasks with minimal inefficiency.  That means:

  • Doing things that matter,
  • All of the time,
  • Without wasting time or resources.

Mastering productivity matters to varying degrees to people in different fields.  But if you want to be successful spending your time the way you want, mastering productivity is a must, since your own efforts are the sole impetus for your success.

You’ve probably read articles on productivity before.  Before writing this article, I Googled the term “productivity tips”, and about 5.5 million results showed up.  That’s a lot of productivity tips. 

So what’s different here?

Many articles on productivity are exactly that: tips.  “6 tips to increase productivity”.  “5 ways to check your e-mail with more efficiency”.

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The people we spend time with are key to our development and a major force in shaping our personalities.  The power they exert over us is omnipotent, and almost unfair.  Think of children born in a bad community–where they have no way to choose a different peer group–who are pressured by the community to join gangs as young teenagers and wind up in jail before their eighteenth birthday.  When you think about it, there’s really nothing different about them from us: they just happened to have terrible influences guiding their decisions.

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This article is Part 2 in a 3-part series on Smart Presentation Skills.

This article covers the specifics and nitty-gritty details of giving a killer speech.  Here, we are talking about the speech itself; in the next article, we will talk about presentation materials (e.g. PowerPoint, handouts, etc.).

Quick Sidenote:

Before you read this article, I highly recommend you read the 1st article in the series, The Public Speaking Mindset.  You should read that article first because giving a great speech is more about mindset than memorization.  If you don’t read that article first, what I write here will seem incomplete.

That’s because mindset inspires and directs action; memorized tips do not inspire action.  If you instinctively know and feel how a speech should be given, it will come naturally; trying to memorize hundreds of pages of pointers (the usual approach) will overwhelm you.

More unfortunately, it will convince you that public speaking is harder than it actually is.

You don’t memorize “how” to talk with your friends, do you?  Don’t do it for speeches either!

All right, let’s get back to the main business.

While we go through these points, think back to speeches you have listened to and think of examples of where these rules have and haven’t been followed.  Do you think that the speech was good (or could have been better) because of these points?

You will give an excellent, indefatigable, brilliant, mesmerizing presentation that will bring your audience to tears, laughter and rejoice all at the same time if you do pay attention to these two things:

1. The Golden Rule of Giving a Great Speech

2. Practice and Fine Tuning Techniques

What you will realize is that giving a great speech actually only comes down to mastery of a few key points.  What that means to you is that giving a great speech is actually pretty easy, if you go about it the right way.

1. The Golden Rule of Giving a Great Speech

The Golden Rule is an absolute: something that, if done properly, will make your speech good no matter what; and if done poorly, will sink the ship.

You’ll notice it’s not a requirement for what kind of hand gestures you should use, how many jokes you should tell, how long you should pause in between each sentence, the way to use tone inflections, or other stuff like that.  It’s something much more fundamental than that.

The Golden Rule: Clarity and interest.

Clarity: “Do people actually know what you are talking about?”  Or are they confused, and don’t know what your main point is?

Interest: “Do people actually care about what you are talking about?”  Or are they just listening to you because they have to?

Clarity is the most important.  Remember where, in The Public Speaking Mindset we talked about the speeches I listened to in my accounting program that usually consisted of reading off Treasury Regulations and legal citations?  Most speeches I hear are actually quite like that: unfocused, without a main point, and without care to how ideas are formatted, organized and presented.

Clarity means that your audience easily derives and understands the key points you made in your speech.

Symptoms of poor clarity: (have your speeches had any of these problems?)

-Unclear what the speaker’s main point is (as we discussed, a presentation needs to have 2 to 3 main points, and no more.)

-You don’t fully understand a concept that the speaker presented; he didn’t elaborate on it enough.

-The speaker’s presentation is too shallow or too detailed.

-The speech is dragging ooonnn and ooonnnn……’s repetitious, talks about random things, makes random points…and you pray that divine intervention will end it NOW!

I can understand why a speaker would have trouble with clarity:

-They know so much about their topic, and want to make sure the audience understands it too.

-They never thought about clarity before, and approached giving a speech as reciting facts.

-They can’t really tell what information is most important.

I even struggle with that last point in writing my articles, namely and ironically this series about public speaking.  I know so much about giving a speech, that I have trouble figuring out exactly how to organize and present the key points.  That means clarity usually doesn’t happen on its own: it must be thought out, played with, and practiced.

The path to clarity is deliberate organization.  You must design and adapt your entire speech, from the beginning, in a way that presents ideas in the most clear manner.

Here are the techniques I use to do this:

Technique 1: Base component organization

For your topic, what is the simplest relevant way that it can be described?  Base component organization takes your complicated topic and divides it into smaller, easier to understand base components.  A base component is usually:

-Decide what your top 2 to 3 points are.

-Explaining it in layman’s terms (or the simplest terms relevant to your audience).

-Explaining the non-technical reasons that something technical happens.

Base Component Organization Example:

For example, take something hyper-technical like this (and, in my classes, this is likely something that would have been said verbatim during a speech):

The United States uses a global system of international taxation in order to mitigate double taxation.  Under such a system, the US taxes worldwide income and gives a credit for foreign income taxes paid.  
Per IRC §904, the foreign tax credit limitation is calculated using the following formula:

(foreign source income / worldwide income) x (worldwide income x US tax rate)

The lesser of the foreign tax credit limitation or the foreign tax actually paid is then subtracted from worldwide income, and the remainder is taxed at the US rate.

Let’s use base-component organization to explain this in a way that is easy to understand:

The United States taxes American citizens on money they earn anywhere in the world, not just in the US!  That would be okay, except that if you earn money in another country, then that country will want to tax you as well.  So if the US taxed you 30% on money you earned in China, and China already taxed you at 25%, you’d be paying 55% in tax.  That would be unacceptable, don’t you think?
So the government gives you a credit–that is, a dollar for dollar reduction–against the taxes you paid China.  So you get a credit for the 25% tax you paid in China, and the US taxes you only on the remaining 5%; that is, the amount of the US tax (30%) minus the credit for China (5%).
 But think about how this could get tricky.  What if China taxed you at 40% while the US rate was 30%?  Do you see what would happen if the US system gave you a credit for the whole amount of tax paid to China?  The US would be giving you a refund for money paid to China to the tune of 10%!! (The China tax of 40% minus the US tax of 30%).  Obviously, Uncle Sam isn’t going to give you money to pay for taxes of other countries and say “we feel bad that China’s tax rate is 10% higher than ours; so we’ll give you that 10% back”.  As such, there’s a credit limit: the most tax credit you can get is for the amount you would have been taxed at if you had made the money in the US.

I used base component organization because I explained in a simple to understand way:

-why the tax system would be unfair without a credit (and as such, justified its existence).

-why there needs to be a credit limit

-how the limit works.

Did you gather any of that before the base component analysis?

Try to explain things using base component organization, and you should be able to explain yourself fully each time.

 Technique 2: Example enforcement

The best way to enforce a well-explained concept is through the use of examples.

Examples relate an abstract concept to something tangible and specific.  An excellent example relates that abstract concept to something that the listener is familiar with.

You should always use example enforcement to clarify difficult concepts.  Notice how I used example enforcement to help describe the tax issue above.  I used an example of the US and China with different tax rates. Imagine trying to understand the interplay of the tax rates without seeing a specific rates or countries.  Had I not used example enforcement, you likely still would have no idea what I was talking about.

Technique 3: Audience feedback loop

You must proactively ensure that you are relating to your audience!  Way too many speakers do not do this: they just get up there, talk talk talk, and sit down.  Actively ensure your audience knows what’s going on!  Focus on this in two ways:

A.) Make sure the audience actually knows what you’re talking about (make sure that your base component organization actually worked!)

Simple questions here and there like “does that make sense?”

B.) Relate what you are talking about directly to the audience.

Take another look at my tax example above.  Did you notice how I related everything to “you”?  I got “you” to imagine yourself dealing with this tax issue; I got “you” to imagine you were an integral part of what was going on in the presentation.

This goes back to the concept of “skin in the game”, which means that people are more engaged with and care more about something that they have a personal interest in.  Think of investing in the stock market: don’t you think you’d pay attention to the stock market by….the…hour!!! if you’ve invested there?

Making your audience a part of your presentation is the exact same concept.  I’ve put a couple videos at the bottom here to show you what I mean.

Practice and Fine Tuning Techniques

The practice and fine tuning techniques are pretty straightforward.  It’s the way I learned to speak, and the way that you can learn too.  I already talked about it in the first article of the series:  learn through osmosis.  Place yourself in an environment where you automatically learn without having to go out of your way to absorb knowledge.

The best way to use osmosis to learn to speak?

Go watch speeches!  Watch speeches of all types: standup comedy, informative, inspirational…

Take specific note of what you do and don’t like.  Make a list.  Try to give a speech using some of the attributes you saw in the speech.

For example:

1. I watched speeches by Ronald Reagan.  I noticed there were some things that I liked:

-Always seemed friendly

-Told jokes

-Used an extensive and colorful vocabulary

-Spoke at a good, moderate pace.

I also noticed there were some thing I didn’t like:

-His overall style was well-suited for someone of his age, but seemed too docile to be authoritative.

I found some speeches that were excellent: not excellent because they’re perfect, but excellent because they have distinctively good and bad elements.  I put them to you here as a start.

Craig Valentine on Leadership

Craig Valentine Coaching

Motivational Speaker

Ronald Reagan 1981 Inaugural Address

My offer to you: I want to help you with your speech!

I’ve had years of experience with public speaking, and it’s something I love.  I’ve had people compliment some of my speeches years after I gave them.

I want to use that knowledge to help you, and others who need it.

If you want some help with your speech or presentation, just contact me!  Use the Contact button above, or click here to get there.

I’m looking forward to working with you!


Photo Credit: Photo : Bresson Thomas in the immediate vicinity of the image. [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons




This article is the 3rd in a 5-part series on spending your time the way you want.

You wish hanging out here was what I meant.

Let me be clear about one thing before I even get started:

This post isn’t about how to make lots of money doing nothing, which is something that can only be done through inheritance or investment.  “But what if your passion is sitting on the beach and relaxing”, you ask?  You think you got me.

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This article is Part 1 in a 3-part series on A Smart Presentation and Public Speaking Skills

Before you read any of the other articles in the series, read this one first!

I can’t overemphasize the importance of the right public speaking and presentation mindset.  I emphasize this because mindset is the only way to learn to speak and present well.  Thinking about and understanding what makes a speech good or bad makes it easy to take the action needed (e.g. hand gestures, tone inflection, etc.) to give a spectacular presentation.

That’s completely different from the way most teach public speaking.

As I mentioned in the introduction to the series, public speaking and presentations are situational.  It’s not a math equation, where you succeed by memorizing variables and processes.  Being able to speak and present well means:

- Being able to think on your feet.

-Adapting what you have to say to the situation (e.g. the audience, the atmosphere, the size of the room, etc.).

- Coming across as confident–and making your message count–no matter what the situation.

Before learning the Public Speaking Mindset, understand a couple things about why you fear public speaking, and what you can do about it:

You probably fear public speaking because it is situational and lacks a specific structure.

Do you fear public speaking for any of these reasons:

a.) What do I do if I get heckled by a member of the audience?

b.) How do I know if the information I’m presenting is what the audience wants to hear?

c.) What if I’m boring?

d.) What if I screw up?

If public speaking had a specific structure, there’s no way you could fear any of these things: just like a math equation; you’d memorize how to say what, how to say it, and then give a great speech.

But think about it: how can you know what will happen during your presentation?  How do you know your audience’s reaction?  You won’t know for sure until you get there.  Public speakers who accept speaking for what it is–a situational, fluid process–can get over silly ways to purportedly master public speaking (reading “tips”) and get onto more useful techniques.

The only way to improve your speaking abilities is through habit formation.  That comes only with practice.

Not through reading books.  Not through reading my blog articles.  Not through talking about it with friends.

I think some will say “that sucks!  I’m not going out there to try to give a speech without knowing what I’m doing first!”

When I give a speech, it just happens.  The speed at which I talk, the way I move my hands, the way I make eye contact, my tone inflections…I think about exactly none of it when I’m talking.

I can do that because I’ve practiced like hell.  It’s just a habit.

I recently gave a speech about an equity valuation my team and I did on a company.  Half way through the speech, I offered to sell our “patented” valuation model to the professor, or exchange it for a better grade.  The audience broke out laughing!  The professor–who usually never showed emotion–cracked a smile.

I hadn’t planned for that at all.  It just seemed like the thing to say.  And I was right; I think ours was the best speech of the 10 that were given that evening.

Think of trying to master public speaking through tip memorization like grocery shopping with a long grocery list, except that you don’t get to bring the list with you.

“What am I supposed to buy?  Let’s see: milk, salad, ham, oatmeal, prunes (maybe I won’t get those)…”.  You’re trying to juggle a million different things in your mind at once.

What happens when you get home?

“Crap, I forgot the vanilla wafers!”

The same concept applies to tip memorization during speeches.  How do you think you’re going to be able to juggle a million different tips in your mind at once?

You can’t.

But through practice, you convert an idea into a habit.  

So let’s talk about that now.

What is the Public Speaking Mindset?  

The Public Speaking Mindset

1. Understand your purpose and your value-added.

Before you say “duh, I need to know what I’m giving my speech on”, read the rest of what I have to say here.

Your purpose is more than your topic.   Understanding your purpose is the bedrock and guiding light for forming a presentation that is relevant, engaging and inspiring.  Think about it:

- How many times have you listened to a speech where the speaker rambled on, and it was unclear what his main point was?

-How about presentation slides?  Ever seen any with way too much writing?

Before you even start writing your speech, you should ask yourself, “Of all of the things I could say about my topic, which are value-added?”.  Then, only talk about those things that are value-added.

A perfect example:

In my Masters of Taxation program, everyone in the class was required to give a presentation about a complicated tax issue.  How do you think most of my classmates gave them?

-They would repeat each and every fact about the case (often a 10 page court case).

-They would cover almost every facet of a large Internal Revenue Code section or regulation.

-They would give an extensive analysis with each line being something like this:  ”According to Treas. Reg. § 1.213-1(e)(1)(v), the cost of an in-patient hospital care is an expenditure for medical care, however for the institutions other than a hospital, the qualifications depend on the condition of the individual and the nature of the services he receives.”

Imagine having to listen to these presentations.  The thing I realized from sitting through 40 of these is just how bad a speech is if the presenter isn’t focused on staying on point and conveying only value-added information.

It’s important for the speaker to know what aspects of his or her topic to actually discuss!

The best way to do this: think first about your conclusion.

A lesson I learned long ago when I volunteered for some local political campaigns?:

The most people are going to remember about your speech is 2 or 3 things.  So when you’re preparing your presentation, think to yourself- ‘what are the 3 most important things I want my audience to remember?  Focus your entire presentation around those 3 things’.

So- what is your bottom line?  What is your conclusion?  Whatever your ultimate point or punchline is: that’s what you should focus every word of your speech on.  Eliminate those words which add no value.

Think of the excerpt above that cites the Treasury Regulation.  When you think about it, the actual value added here is knowing that care at a hospital will always count as a medical expense, but it will depend if it’s at something other than a hospital.  The regulation citation and the faux-professional $10 words add nothing to the sentence’s basic meaning: it only adds complication.

So the next question naturally flows: how do I know what my conclusion should be?

2. Understand your audience’s disposition.

-What does your audience already know?

-What do they want to know?

-What kind of attention span do they have?

Way too many speeches I’ve heard simply exist for their own sake.  The speaker just wants to–or has been forced to–talk about something random.  And so they do just that; talk about whatever they want with minimal consideration to the audience.

But the real question is: “what does your audience want?”

3. You are an entertainer in addition to the main purpose of your speech.

I’m pretty sure I can, instead of listening to your speech:

a.) Go read a blog article

b.) Go read a Wikipedia article

c.) Go read a joke book,

and get the same content and ideas that I could from your speech.

But I’m taking time out of my day to listen to you.  Are you going to make it worth my while?

All of the aforementioned formats can convey the same content that your speech does.  But can they convey the same feeling and emotion that your speech does?

I don’t necessarily mean “be funny”; I mean “be entertaining”.

I don’t need to spend much time here, because it’s easy to prove this point.  Just think of any speech you’ve listened to.  Have you ever enjoyed listening to a boring speech, even if the words spoken were informative and enlightening?  Of course not.  If you’re like me, your attention starts to wane after about 45 seconds, and you’re on facebook within a minute fifteen.

I will hit this in more detail in Parts 2 and 3 of this series, on speeches and presentation materials.

4. Learn to speak through osmosis.

Osmosis is the process of absorption; the process of absorbing cues and stimuli in your environment, and making them a part of you and your habits.

Great speakers learn to speak through osmosis.  Excellent students of rhetoric don’t just think about it or read about it: they watch other great speakers, and they take note of what they do.  How do they stand?  How do they use their hands?  What kind of tone inflections do they use?

If you want to give a funny speech, why not watch stand-up comedy?  If you want to give a political and authoritative speech, go watch Ronald Reagan’s inauguration speech.  If you want to learn how to tell stories to deliver points, watch Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Address.

Why reinvent the wheel?  What makes sense to me is to watch the greats already at work, and to learn from them.

It’s like giving someone advice on how to dress.  What is easier: trying to use words to explain proper suit combinations?  Or showing people the combinations while being worn?

Final Thoughts (for this article).

I’ve given you a lot to think about here.  And that’s okay.  I think this will leave you well prepared for the upcoming articles on speeches and presentation materials.

In Parts 2 and 3, I will relate the concepts and action-points presented there directly back to the mindset outlined here.  I want you to see how abstract concepts like the ones presented here make a huge difference when applied to a particular speech.

Remember: mindset is most important.  When you’re up there speaking, there’s no starting over; there’s no rewind; there’s no list of pointers to keep you on the right track.  There’s only you.  And with the right mindset, all of the “tips” don’t matter: you will automatically articulate your points well, and have your audience thoroughly engaged.


Why fool yourself into thinking that only conventional ways of finding opportunities will work? Don't you think most successful people try something else?

Today, I had lunch with a buddy I haven’t seen in years.  I knew he was working on a start-up out in San Francisco.  I was curious to learn more.  He and I chatted for an hour and a half.  By the time we were finished, he told me they could “really use someone like me” to help with their start-up, and the he would talk with his business partners to see if there was something I could do to help out.

Coincidence?  Luck?  I think not.

You see, directly in line with my advice about integrating my goals into my daily routine I devote a large amount of my time to finding other entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

At first, I had these grandiose ideas in my mind:

“how could I possibly start a business?  I don’t know of any good opportunities.

I’m not good enough”…the usual downtrodden frames of mind that I have devoted this blog to combatting.

Once I got over that silly though process, I could see that there were a huge number of opportunities already around me.  All I had to do was reach up and grab the fruit.

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