Service

The 3 E's of a Great Speech

I gave a brand new speech at SXSW yesterday.

So, I was nervous about it. I lost sleep over it. I spent weeks writing the speech out, editing it over and over again, making up slides, editing them over and over again, and then I practiced out loud in front of my wife and my parents and a few friends and even the guy sitting next to me on the airplane to Austin until I had the whole thing memorized.

I was stomach-churningly nervous for the speech even though I give over fifty speeches a year.

What helped?

Well, there is a model for giving speeches that helped me yesterday, that's helped me before, that always helps me, which I want to share today.

I think about this model all the time and it applies whether you’re giving a toast at a wedding, standing up in the boardroom, or delivering a big keynote address at the annual trade show.

We always know we need to get our act together.

The hard part is how.

So here are the 3 E’s to giving a great speech:

1. ENTERTAIN

This is the base of the pyramid. Starting point. Table stakes. Want to know how entertained your audience will be by the time you get up to talk? In short, very. For starters, we all touch our phones over 2000 times a day and spend over 5 hours a day on them -- scrolling Instagram, watching SNL clips, reading fantasy football trash-talk, listening to podcasts. This is now your competition. So how do you beat it?

Well, you have one major advantage over the massive addiction that is the cell phone, and it is that you’re here. You’re live. You’re in the flesh. No one’s doing stand-up in the other corner. It’s all you. You get a deeper personal connection from the beginning. Nobody needs WiFi or has to tap a link to watch you. You get 30 seconds of free attention. (That’s a lot more than the average YouTube video gets.) 

So what do you need to do with that momentary leg up on your listeners’ attention? Reward it immediately. Show the audience the bonus they get by listening. Raise interest as you get onstage, create a laugh, and most importantly, be the most into your speech of anyone there. The audience can only rise to your level of excitement—nobody else’s—so no apologizing and no self-deprecating. Banned phrases include: “Now I don’t really know why I’m doing this!”, “I wrote this ten minutes ago so here goes…”, or “Well, how am I gonna follow that?!”

A good test is this: If your speech entertains one other person you’re close to (especially a friend or significant other) during a dry run, it will entertain a whole room.

Start with the toughest critic first.

(Normally I’ll try and open with a funny line but at SXSW yesterday I had this video made by my friends at Adjacent Possibilities to entertain before I walked onstage. Cheating? No. I say entertain any way you can.)

2. EDUCATE

Humans are learning animals. We’re always growing our minds, abilities, and knowledge. Of course we are -- education makes us better at our jobs, better with our money, and better at relationships, so we tend to seek it out. But even when we aren’t actively learning, our brains are absorbing new information. Podcasts share how a chocolate company is changing the world or which books shaped David Sedaris. Even SNL clips give us perspectives on the news. In fact, why are you reading this article? I’m guessing it’s because you’re hoping to learn something. So ask yourself:

What is your speech teaching?

Make sure you can write out the answer to that question in fewer than 140 characters. If the essence of your message is too complicated to tweet, it’s too complicated period:

  • “I’m teaching our hundred closest friends which formative moments shaped my daughter’s beautiful personality” (wedding toast)

  • “I’m teaching my employees why they should feel proud about last year’s results and excited about next year’s goals” (all-hands meeting)

  • “I’m giving people new techniques to apply at work to improve their well-being” (a TEDx–style talk).


3. EMPOWER

This one is the biggest trick of a good speech, the hardest to pull off, and admittedly the most ambiguous-sounding as a result. But “empowering” your listeners really all comes down to making them feel like these were all their thoughts. Theirs! Not yours.

Yes, you’re on stage.

But they have to feel like they own the message if they’re going to take it with them—and, ultimately, change their minds or behavior. Sure, people may ask for opinions, do research online, and read books to brush up on things. We all do that. But we only really do what we want to do.

So, the bottom line is: It can’t be your message, shared. It has to be their message, heard.

Your role is to lead listeners through a series of thoughts that build on each other as they progress, where they keep nodding and thinking to themselves, “Yes … yes … yes… ”

There are at least three reliable tools you can use to generate empowerment in your talk:

i) Pause and interact.

Can you use a flip chart where you write something down together with the audience? Can you leave pauses for the audience to jump in with their own answers? Can you do a short interactive exercise or experiment using the content you just shared? Their minds have to chew, not just swallow. Michael Bungay Stanier, author of a great book called The Coaching Habit, sometimes has listeners trade questions with the person sitting next to them.

ii) Find a lesson that’s doable, not just interesting.

We don’t want to hear how you climbed Kilimanjaro if we think we never will. When I talk about happiness I share major positive-psychology studies that show how you can improve your mindset in 20 minutes or less. Then I say, “You just have to do one, not all of them!” I’m trying to make the laundry list feel achievable. Is it harder to do this at a wedding? Maybe. But you know someone is nailing it at the wedding reception when you hear a story and think, “I want to start doing that.” 

iii) Keep it conversational.

It has to feel like a coffee-shop chat with your best friend, not like a charmer onstage tossing takeaways into the audience like candy at a parade. So? Memorize first. Paraphrase later. Don’t be too rigid. You listen to your friends, right? So that works better than a guru on a stage who may entertain and educate, but still falls short of empowering you to make changes in your life.

So that’s it. The 3 E’s to giving a great speech. The little meat grinder to run your speech through in order to make sure it passes the test. And how will you know if you nailed it? Count how many pieces of unsolicited feedback you get more than a month later. That’s real impact. Real change. You’re not asking what they “got” from your talk, you’re seeing what they remember.

Giving a great speech that entertains, educates, and empowers is a tall task.

Are you up for it?

You’re all the way down at the bottom so I’m guessing yes.

Congrats on making the commitment.

Now get out there and inspire others to commit to something, too.

I also did a video version of this article on Youtube:

An earlier version of this article appeared in Fast Company

7 Customer Service Lessons From The World’s Greatest Uber Driver

Do you Uber?

I’ve probably hailed an Uber two or three times a day for the past couple years and every time I do I scroll down to check the driver’s rating and number of rides. Do you do that? I’m always curious so I’ve sort of made a little mental map over time of what the ratings mean. 4.3? May drive on wrong side of the road. 4.5? Get ready for loud GPS directions. 4.7? Messy trunk with no suitcase room.

But something different happened the night I hailed an Uber driven by a guy named Vishwas Aggrawal, who goes by Vish for short. He had a staggering 4.99 rating. 4.99! I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen a 4.99 before. I just figured he was just a brand new driver with a handful of rides until I scrolled down and saw that he’d given almost 5,000.

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How was that possible?

Well, when I sat down in Vish’s car I realized how it was possible. The five-minute drive home blossomed into an interview I did with Vish the following week (in the back of his Uber, of course) for my podcast 3 Books with Neil Pasricha, where I discuss the three most formative books of inspiring people like Seth GodinJudy Blume, and Gretchen Rubin. Vish was officially the first Uber driver on the show, and he shared with me why he cares so deeply about his service quality–even though Uber has no leaderboard, ranking, or major incentives tied to it–and what he does in order to keep that service so high.

1. MAKE A 10-SECOND OFFER, THEN CONFIRM THE DEAL

After Vish confirms his passenger’s name and destination, he always asks, “Do you have enough room back there?” while actually moving his seat up. So within 10 seconds he’s able to show — not tell — that he’s in the high-service game using a repeatable method to demonstrate this quickly.

After Vish moves his seat up, he says, “It will take 11 minutes to get to your destination. Does this sound good to you?” The purpose of the question is to establish the service being offered and find out if the passenger is in a rush. If they are, he’ll work hard to shave even a minute or two off the arrival time. If not, he knows the offering has been crystallized by both sides. The deal is confirmed.

2. YOU SET YOUR OWN STANDARDS EVERY DAY

Born and raised in Indore, a city in central India, Vish earned his MBA and held sales and marketing positions at Coca-Cola and New York Life, where he says, “I learned how to effectively deal with people” with tact and emotional intelligence. Eventually, Vish moved to Toronto and, like many immigrants, found it difficult to break into his adoptive country’s knowledge economy, despite his extensive corporate experience.

“Doing Uber was not my first choice,” he says, but he hasn’t lowered his work standards, even though the company doesn’t compensate him for it. “Why can’t you compare driving a car with flying an airplane? Like the pilot,” he points out. Both are fundamentally customer-service roles, requiring similar skill sets he developed earlier in his career. “One of my mantras,” Vish tells me, “is either I do the thing, or I don’t do the thing. But if I do the thing, I do it the best.”

3. IT’S ALWAYS THE CUSTOMER’S FIRST TIME

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Despite the thousands of rides he’s given, Vish knows that “it’s always their first time with me.” He keeps wet wipes under his seat and cleans the floor mats between every ride. Why? “This car is my office. This is the only office I have in this business, so I’m supposed to keep it up, I’m supposed to maintain it, I’m supposed to clean it,” he explains. “Every day, even when I go home, I also take out the carpets, I clean them. If it is snowing or dirty, I wash them.”

As an Uber driver, Vish says, “I know I’m doing a service,” not just operating a vehicle. His passengers’ experience is really what they’re paying for, more than just getting safely from point A to B. Vish has his phone programmed to silent, and an auto-responder menu pops up on his screen to handle incoming texts and calls, allowing him to tap and send replies without losing focus on his passenger. The one I kept getting while trying to set up our interview said simply, “I am in a trip, please text me if needed” (followed by the smiley face and thumbs-up emojis).

4. GIVE THE TASK TO THE “YES” PART OF YOUR BRAIN

Vish says that the classic self-help book The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz gave him “a formula in life always–the formula of ‘yes man’ and ‘no man’.” As Vish explains, Schwartz argues that “the human brain is like a factory  with two foremen: one is a ‘no man’ and the other is a ‘yes man’ . . . If you give the job to the ‘no man,’ your own mind will start finding logic and reasons to prove how can’t you do this job.”

“You know debate competitions?” he asks me. The debater “who is speaking in favor looks quite right, and the person who’s speaking against also has valid logic, so at the time you feel both are correct.” In other words, we all have a choice as to which parts of our own brains we charge with executing certain tasks and tackling challenges. After reading Schwartz’s book, Vish says, “I started working on my ‘yes man.’ That’s what I do at Uber as well.”

Vish lets customers alter routes if they choose. He even calls passengers at home to tell them their UberPool-ing friend was dropped off safely, and tries to accommodate small requests along the way.

5. WE BUY WITH ALL SENSES

Vish only eats raw vegetables and salad in his car to avoid smells or odors. His car needs to be a blank slate that passengers can immediately feel ownership of, not like they’re suddenly in somebody else’s kitchen. He has the same theory about sounds, which is why his radio is never playing when a customer climbs in. If they want the radio on? That’s fine. But he turns it off for the next person. And if they’re eating a garlic stir-fry or smell like smoke? That’s fine, too. But he sprays a lemon air freshener and opens all the windows to start fresh the next time.

6. USE THEIR NAME

Vish says that Uber wants drivers to say “What is your name?” to customers before they get in the Uber. He ignores that. Instead, he greeted me with, “Is it Neil?” and a big smile. In fact, the excitement in his voice made it more of a statement than a question: “Is it Neil!” Real name, right off the bat, plus an immediate flash of intimacy.

“I try to break the ice by appreciating people,” Vish explains. “When you appreciate someone, you are not giving a discomfort to him or her.” Instead, he’s found that these simple moments of warmth he creates are almost always reciprocated. “They will surely come back with a positive remark or a positive affirmation, sentence, or a line or a word to you.” He adds, “If you start with a smile, 99% of people will smile back.”

7. KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER SPECTRUM (AND WHO FALLS OUTSIDE OF IT)

I asked Vish how he deals with drunk customers on busy Friday and Saturday nights. He surprised me by saying he doesn’t serve them. Drunk customers aren’t his target market. As soon as he lands one, he heads home. It’s a signal he’s serving folks outside of his customer spectrum and his day is done. (In fact, Vish also benches himself whenever he’s having an off day because he says driving is too risky–a judgment call that takes real self-awareness, especially in the gig economy, where there’s no direct boss to manage your performance.)

“The most important thing in your life is to enjoy what you’re doing,” Vish adds, and for him, it’s as simple as that. Driving an Uber wasn’t his first choice, and it isn’t what he intends to do indefinitely, but he’s doing more than just making the most of it.

He’s enjoying what he’s doing–and creating an unbelievably positive experience for everyone he interacts with in the process.

Can we all say the same?

An earlier version of this article appeared in Fast Company