How to Make Powerful Speeches – Book Interview

Heidi Cohen Interviews Eamonn O’Brien

How_to_Make_Powerful_SpeechesWhat’s your best piece of advice for readers looking to improve their marketing?

Beware of making assumptions. It’s difficult to influence audiences if you don’t know where they are coming from. Remember “to know” versus “to think you know”.

It’s a mistake to think your audiences will think like you do or that you instinctively know what they “should” care about, or even believe or expect. 

What was the inspiration for your book? 

Less than 1 in 4 Business people claim to have any confidence in public speaking. That’s the reason for this NEW book and The Reluctant Speakers Club!

My goal for this book is simple – It’s to help readers to banish fears of the podium by learning what it really takes to inspire others into action through their words.

What is the key concept behind How to Make Powerful Speeches?

The idea is to provide a step-by-step guide that will help anyone in business to transform their speech making abilities – helping them to win more business and make memorable speeches and presentations.

What do you want readers to take away from your book?

 Three things:

1. Appreciate that less is more when you speak

No matter how much you know, it’s important to never hit an audience with oodles of detail. Regardless of your speech length, most people can’t and won’t remember too many details. In this era of unrelenting information overload, here’s a mantra to live by when speaking:

Simplify, simplify, and simplify again. Make it easy for your audience to get your point, remember it, act upon it, and share it with others.

2. Pass the Back-of-the-Envelope Test to Create More Compelling Talks

Every speech needs solid foundations. Once you’ve figured out a central theme for any talk, create an outline, in as few words as possible, to help you to distil, shape and sharpen your thinking.

Like a painter who masterly sketches out ideas beforehand, use structure as a tool to assemble and marshal your thoughts. It will help you to organise what you want to say to your audience and jettison anything that doesn’t strengthen your arguments.

If your outline argument is solid, clear and compelling in its own right ─ congratulations, you’ve created the basis for a coherent speech that will inspire confidence. If not, keep polishing until it glitters.

3. Favour storytelling ahead of detail

Speakers who tell stories win far more attention and recall for their words than those who trade in facts and figures. When you share details in a typical telling mode, it commonly leads to a passive and quite forgettable experience for your audience.

Stories, on the other hand, are far more engaging and entertaining for those who hear you. Told well, they allow you to connect at a deeper emotional level with your audience – as they put themselves into the situations you create and imagine what this might mean to them.

And here’s the bottom line. When you tell stories ahead of sharing facts, your audiences will tend to inject their own meanings into your words. And this multiplies the chance they’ll want to take action later for their own reasons rather than yours.

And that’s a winning and a memorable formula.

How do you describe yourself professionally?

I help executives and professional to speak memorably – making any idea more interesting.

What are 1-3 books that inspired your work/career?

That’s your toughest question, as there are so many to choose from! But, off the top of my head and recognising that I may be aging myself with my answers, here goes:

  1. The Hungry Spirit by Charles Handy – because it provoked me to think more deeply about how easy it is to chase the accumulation of things ahead of sharing time and experiences with others. The latter, in my view, provides more meaning and happiness in life.
  2. Thriving on Chaos by Tom Peters – because I liked his notion that there is no point in stressing about things which may happen and that are not under our control…rather, it’s wiser to focus your energies in arenas where you have the capacity to influence the outcome. Words to live by and a mentality that can greatly reduce stress in your life.
  3. Rhetoric by Aristotle – because he managed to describe more effectively than anyone before or since what it takes to be more persuasive when we speak. I was introduced to his thinking and writings over 20 years ago and it changed and shaped the way I have communicated ever since – as a speaker, died-in-the-wool marketer, and at a personal level.

What is the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your life or career?

My experiences when setting up a multi-lingual call center business many moons ago – which I had grown, with others, from 0 to 60 people and everything was on an upward curve.

Then a combination of the death of the dot com boom, savage exchange rate movements that moved in the wrong directions between the Euro and the Dollar and Sterling, and a change of personnel in our largest client (which resulted in a competitor winning this business) produced a perfect storm within the space of 6 to 9 months. This culminated in half of the business being wiped out and profit margins being slashed to a point where it was going to be tough to make money for the foreseeable future. What a sinking feeling and a horrible time!

While, thankfully, it eventually proved possible to sell this business, there’s no doubt that this experience altered my attitude towards what I was prepared to do for a living thereafter.

I vowed then, and I have stuck to this mantra since, that I would never again work on anything that didn’t truly interest me to the point where I couldn’t wait to get out of bed in the morning to start each and every day.

What’s something unusual or fun that most people don’t know about you?

I learned to sing opera by mistake!

Umpteen years ago and pre children, my wife came home one evening and announced that she was going to do an evening course. So, I said fine, I’ll do one too and signed up to study German at Georgetown University.

However, as soon as I met the Professor who was taking the class I had instant cold feet. I didn’t like her and knew I had made a mistake.

Not wanting to lose the nigh on $1,000 I had invested in this class, I ran down to the admissions desk to say that I had made a dreadful mistake and to ask if there was any chance I could get my money back.

The admission officer laughed at my request and said “No, but you can still change classes”. Of course, I was delighted until she continued…”providing you do it in the next 20 minutes!”

The short version of the story from here is that this was the last day of admissions and I happened upon an elderly lady playing a piano 20 feet away from the admissions desk and inquired if she did singing lessons.

She gave me a feigned dirty look over the rim of her glasses and told me that she only taught ‘Bel Canto’.

“Great”, I said. “Can I have a bash at that?”

She asked if I could sing and I suggested I could, to a fashion.

Then she asked me to do quick audition.

After admitting that I didn’t actually know more than 2 lines in any song, she asked me to sing Happy Birthday. Which I did and, finally, I won a smile.

“Oh yes”, she said. “I can definitely do something with you!”

And that proved to be the beginning of 3 years of voice training and 6 recitals.

Is there a piece of content, a social media campaign or a marketing campaign that you worked on that you’re particularly proud of? 

While many things come to mind, I was especially pleased with my decision to add podcasting into my marketing content mix in recent times.

I decided to do a 90-day experiment with podcasting about 18 months ago and I have been amazed by the results.

Prior to my experiment, average dwell times on my blog, which had been as much as 8+ minutes 2 years previous, had fallen to about 4.5 minutes. And while I knew this wasn’t bad, I wanted to see if and how podcasting might help to swing the balance in the right direction.

It did. Dwell times surged to almost 10 minutes within weeks AND conversion rates rose by 50% as well and I haven’t looked back since.

Also, podcasting opens so many doors in terms of collaborations with other experts who can share awesome ideas and insights for my audiences. And the beauty of these conversations being shared is that everyone wins.

Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you’d like to share?

Yes. And I can’t immediately remember my source for the following phrase (which is irritating me, because I know it was recent), here’s an idea I believe is helpful to all marketers:

“Choose to be relentlessly helpful”

I love this notion and believe it will (where combined with a clear message and meaningful stories) help you to open more doors in any business and via any marketing communications – resulting in happier clients and a happier you.”

And in this era of relentless noise and inattention, it will set you apart from others and help to cement deeper and more powerful relationships with those you’d like to influence.

Eamonn O'BrienContact information

Thanks, Eamonn.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

Marketing AI Conference Marketing AI Conference
July 26 – 28 in Cleveland, OH

MAICON is for marketers who want to explore the impact of Artificial Intelligence and understand how it is transforming digital marketing. Presentations will include use cases, tools and vendors; ethical and legal considerations and AI's impact on education, the workforce and the economy.

Take $100 off by registering now with the promo code: RAIMOND100