READY, AIM, SHOOT YOURSELF IN THE FOOT: The 3 Biggest Speech Mistakes Leaders Make

Podium 2You have a big presentation to make to your people. You want to create enthusiasm for your upcoming goals, you want to encourage buy-in for the changes happening within your organization, and you want to give sagging morale a shot in the arm.  Big goals for one speech.

All the more reason to be mindful of EXACTLY what it is you want to accomplish with your talk.

In my Executive Speech Coaching Practice, I work with high-powered leaders who just need a little help aligning their desired intentions with their actual impact. 

Over the years working with these leaders, I have noticed a pattern.

Here are the 3 Biggest Mistakes I see leaders making when preparing an important speech:

#1: TMI: Too Much Information.  It is important to get very clear on what it is you want to accomplish with your speech. Is this an inspirational speech OR a technical presentation? Leaders mean well when they set out to share EVERYTHIING they know in one speech, however this is a sure-fire way to lose your audience.  The solution is to stick to communicating overall concepts and the reasoning behind them, and leave the minute detail for another forum. Don’t lose your audience in the details.

#2: Taking it Personal:  As a leader, your people want to know who you are as a person.  They want a peek behind the curtain to what drives you, what excites you, what you enjoy. Give them a peek.  Don’t be afraid to bring all of yourself to the podium.  In my coaching, I enjoy helping leaders find personal anecdotes that they can use to illustrate teaching lessons.  This is what great speakers do.  They create interesting detail and personal connection on their way to making their point.

#3: Word for Word:  A question I am constantly asked as a speaking coach is: “Do I have to memorize my speech?”  The short answer is Yes and No.  If you are crafting a story, then you should have it memorized.  If you are using humor to illicit a specific response, then yes, you should have it memorized.  However, I am not a proponent of memorizing your speech word for word.  I have seen speakers do this and it is not a good approach.  What happens when you get hung up on memorizing every word, is that you get hung up on memorizing every word. Don’t lose your connection with your audience by getting pre-occupied with committing your entire speech to memory.  A good rule is: Memorize your Opening and your Closing and any stories and humor points. Then outline your 3 main points, get comfortable with the overall flow of your talk, practice well and then go deliver with confidence.

If you are a leader with a BIG message, the intentional crafting and delivering of it deserves your love and attention.  Don’t try to wing it.

Karyn Ruth White is a nationally recognized Keynote Speaker, Award-Winning Humorist, TED Presenter and Public Speaking Coach. She works with leaders and speakers who want to connect and engage through a professionally crafted message. She delivers Funny Keynotes across the U.S., helping business to thrive and have fun doing it! She is the owner of Laugh and Learn Productions, LLC, an enterprise helping people to stress less and work happy.  Visit her at, on LinkedIn or on Twitter @karynruth. TED TALK "She Who Laughs, Lasts" with Karyn Ruth White

Blame It on The Hokey Pokey; The Power of Personal Stories

 Hokey Pokey 2by Marguerite Ham (Re-Posted with Permission)

I was recently teaching a Presentation Skills workshop for a client, and one of my dearest friends, gifted speaker and presenter, Karyn Ruth White ( did a guest presentation on The Power of Personal Stories and how to integrate them into our presentations, speeches, trainings and daily interactions with people.  Karyn Ruth taught us that personal stories can create “universal teaching points” by which we and others can learn and grow.  Karyn Ruth believes that stories are information with a soul!

Think of a personal story, circumstance or experience that you have had and that created an impact on you.  It could involve your interaction with one of your children, a friend, a family member or a complete stranger!  Here is a personal story that Karyn Ruth shared with the group:

Karyn Ruth White was walking into Walmart. She was not having a particularly good day or feeling energetic or social.  (We have all had days like that – part of the human journey!)  As she entered, she saw one of the check-out ladies that she had seen before and had had a casual conversation with from time to time, Tiffany.  As Tiffany was checking out a customer, she was humming the song “Hokey Pokey”.  (Yup!  You got it…. “you put your right foot in, you take your right foot out”…now try to get that song OUT of your head for the rest of today!)  Karyn Ruth  realized in that moment that she had a choice: she could walk right by and not acknowledge Tiffany or her song and continue feeling not so energetic or social, OR she could join in with the song and lighten up her day.  (You guessed it, she chose the latter.)  Karyn Ruth went right over to Tiffany and started singing the song out loud and doing “the dance”.  Before long, there were giggling children and light-hearted adults dancing the Hokey Pokey in Walmart!  Everyone who was participating or just passing by was laughing and clapping along!

Pause for a moment and reflect. What “Universal Teaching Points” do you see in that story? In other words, what’s the moral of the story? [Hint: there can be more than one!]

When I listened to this story, I heard these Universal Teaching Points:

  1. Every day there are choices: to choose to be sad or happy, engaged or not engaged, it’s a choice to stay in a negative place or shift to a positive outlook.
  2. We can choose to participate in life or walk right by and ignore the moments or opportunities that show up in our lives.
  3. We can connect with other human beings or we can retreat into solitude.
  4. Within all of us is a giggling, dancing child wanting to do the Hokey Pokey!
  5. When we are dancing the Hokey Pokey, we are all connected, doing the same dance. We become united through the movement of the dance and joy.  Judgments, positions, titles, all disappear, we become one, dancing the same dance.

You may take something different from any given personal story. When we hear someone else’s story, we can’t help but hear it through our own life’s experiences. What we learn from a story depends on the storyteller AND on what our lives bring to the tale! So, if you took a few different Universal Teaching Points away from “The Hokey Pokey,” don’t worry!

I challenge you to mine your life for stories that can create a “Universal Teaching Point”: an experience you have had, a situation you survived, a circumstance that has occurred or that you have observed.  Dig a little deeper to find a golden nugget of learning and growth for yourself and others.  Find ways to share that story and, more importantly, share what you learned from that moment or experience.  Research shows that storytellers and their audience actually think more alike as the story goes on – the story creates a meeting of the minds! 

As leaders, it is one of our goals to connect with others, to find ways to continuously grow and learn ourselves, and to challenge others to grow and develop as well.  Storytelling is a great tool to use as a leader!  Have fun mining your stories and growing and teaching through the “Universal Teaching Points” of your stories.  And never forget, no matter how bad your mood…you always have the power to “turn yourself around.”

Karyn Ruth White is a nationally recognized Keynote Speaker and Success Humorist.  She is also a Professional Speaking Coach. She works with leaders who want to up-level their impact with personal story and a professionally crafted message.  She is the First Place National Winner of The Jeanne Robertson “Comedy with Class” Competition and delivers Funny Keynotes across the U.S., helping business to thrive and have fun doing it! She is the owner of Laugh and Learn Productions, LLC, an enterprise helping people stress less and work more joyfully. Visit her at, on LinkedIn or on Twitter @karynruth.

This blog was re-printed with the permission of the author, Marguerite Ham. Marguerite is the CEO of Igniting Success.  She works with leaders and their teams to create team cohesion and enhance productivity with training and coaching.  She is an exceptional Trainer and Coach in the areas of:Leadership Development, Team Dynamics, Workplace Conflict, Presentation Skills, and Memory Acuity. She brings heart and humor to everything she touches. Find out more about the author, Marguerite Ham at

The Case of the Clueless CEO


I have worked up close and personal with a great many CEO’s.  Some were great, some were not. I’ve observed how they manage (or mismanage) their operations. I’ve taken note of the degree of alignment between their word and their deed. I have assessed whether they are true leaders of people, or egotistical, duplicitous bags o’ wind.

A CEO of the second ilk, once hired me to help him craft his Annual State of the Company Address.  He was having some PR problems and wanted me to help him come across as more down to earth, or in his words, to help him “appeal to the common man.”

My first encounter with this guy should have sent me running. He left me waiting outside his office for 45 minutes. I overheard him berate his assistant, cut people off in mid-sentence, scream, swear and slam down the phone. Oh yeah…this was going to be fun!

The good news is, while I was waiting, I had the pleasure of meeting his HR Director, Jorge. Jorge was a class act. Soft-spoken, impeccable in manner and dress, an all-around A-Player. He made apologies for his boss, something I’m sure he did often. I pretended to understand.

Fast forward, I help this CEO craft his speech, we cull his message to three compelling points, we add several humanizing personal stories and craft some business-relevant humor.  We put together a good speech and he is pleased.  I decide to attend the meeting to watch him in action. He delivers the speech. He is coming across as somewhat human and all is going well, until…

The Q&A Portion.  This is the part of the speech for which he has no script.  He starts taking questions from “the common man.”  A woman raises her hand:

“Sir, I have a question. 

Fine. What’s your name? 


How long have you worked for us Doris?

33 Years.

So, what’s your question?”

BOOM!  In one fell swoop, this CEO has negated his entire Keynote message, about the importance of “being a team” and “working together as a family.”  He has demonstrated to his people in real-time, that after 33 years of service, he can’t even be bothered to learn your name. The reaction from the audience is palpable.  I watch people lean back in their chairs, cross their arms and roll their eyes. There are no more questions and the meeting ends on a very sour note.

Here’s the kicker!  This CEO is TOTALLY CLUELESS as to what has just transpired. He walks out of the meeting patting himself on the back for a job well done, while “the common man,” scurries to avoid eye contact.

Then…we go to Starbucks next door and he asks me for my honest opinion.  This is what I tell him:

“Here’s what I’ve observed.  Your original stated intention to me was that you wanted ‘to better connect with your people.’ Then, I watch in horror, as you miss a golden opportunity to connect with Doris, an employee of 33 years, while alienating the rest of the room in the process. This leaves me to surmise, that ‘creating connection with your people’ is either;

a) Not something you are naturally capable of, or

b) Not something you are sincerely interested in doing.

Either way, here is my heartfelt advice to you:

If you want to lead this organization effectively, then close your office door. From this point on, do not speak to anyone in your organization directly, unless absolutely necessary.  Your disinterest in people can not be disguised, so stop trying.  You should lead as a ‘behind-the-scenes’ CEO. Stick to planning and visioning, to guide and grow the business. Leaving all actual human contact, to your exceptional HR Director, Jorge. Is that helpful feedback?”

The guy’s probably still sitting at Starbucks with his jaw open.

As a leader of people, your word and deed have impact.  Make sure it is the impact you intend. It is imperative that your messaging be aligned with your mission, and that you stay aware of how both you and your message are being received. One of the key lessons I continue to learn from coaching leaders is;

 WHO you are, will always speak louder than your speech, no matter how well written.

Karyn Ruth White is a nationally recognized Keynote Speaker and Public Speaking Coach. She works with leaders who intend to connect and engage through a professionally crafted message, and she helps professional speakers who want to tighten their talks.  She is the First Place, National Winner of The Jeanne Robertson “Comedy with Class” Competition. She  delivers Funny Keynotes across the U.S., helping business to thrive and have fun doing it! She is the owner of Laugh and Learn Productions, LLC, an enterprise helping people to stress less and work happy.  Visit her at, on LinkedIn or on Twitter @karynruth.

3 Quick Ways to Kill a Perfectly Fine Speech


In my adventures as a Keynote Coach, and having observed thousands of Keynote Speakers over the years, I have noticed a pattern. There are 3 main things untrained or unaware speakers tend to do, which unless corrected, have the potential to kill their performance.

#1: The first of these is the temptation to tell your audience EVERYTHING you know about your subject.  I have found that when I work with Trainers who want to start keynoting, the first thing we have to do is cull about 80% of their content.  Repeat after me: A KEYNOTE AND A TRAINING ARE TWO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ANIMALS! Think of it this way, a Keynote is the Why and a Training is the How.  A Keynote should appeal to us on an emotional level, then the training can fill in the tactical details. Amateurs try to combine both. This is a mistake!

#2: The second deadly mistake is: Never make it about them. Wanna kill a perfectly fine speech? By all means, talk about yourself for the full hour.  The most fascinating of personalities bring their audience along for the ride.  Nothing will shut your listeners down faster and send them scurrying to their smart phones, than an egotistical blowhard with a microphone.

#3: The third quickest way to kill a perfectly fine speech is to use inappropriate, irrelevant and inauthentic humor.  Remember: If you use a funny video you found on the internet, chances are at least half of your audience has already seen it, and you run the risk that another speaker has used the same video in their talk.  Gratuitous use of videos of dancing babies is not the professional standard we want to set.  USE ORIGINAL HUMOR…that way you stand out and there is no chance that your audience has “heard/seen that one before.” This is why we invest the time to craft “Signature Stories”, because no one else has yours!

If you have a great message to share with the world, then you owe it to us, and to yourself, to share it well.  We want to hear what you have to say. If you need help crafting your message, hire a professional speaking coach.  Make sure they are someone who “gets” you and what you are trying to accomplish, and that they honor your original voice and don’t try to mold you to their style.  A great coach is a success partner and their guidance and expertise can make all the difference on the impact you make with your spoken word.

Karyn Ruth White is a nationally recognized Professional Speaking Coach. She works with leaders who want to up-level their impact with a professionally crafted message, and she helps professional speakers who want to tighten their existing talk or re-work their branding with a new Keynote. She loves helping speakers craft their original voice with their original humor. She is the First Place National Winner of The Jeanne Robertson “Comedy with Class” Competition and delivers Funny Keynotes across the U.S., helping business to thrive and have fun doing it! She is the owner of Laugh and Learn Productions, LLC, an enterprise helping people stress less and work more joyfully. Visit her at, on LinkedIn or on Twitter @karynruth.

Uncovering the Why Behind the Buy; The Art of Sensemaking

mad scientistNever send a statistician to do an anthropologist’s job.

Big Business is learning that all the big data at their fingertips still can’t uncover the essence of WHY people will buy and buy again. Turns out, you have to talk to and observe people, in order to gain that magic insight.

An article in the fall 2017 edition of Harvard Business Review ( by Christian Maadsberg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen, titled An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar…, talks about how organizations like Lego re-discovered their core business by doing something truly radical….really getting to know their customer. They engaged in a discovery process called Sensemaking.

Sensemaking; is the art of merging the hard and soft sciences to dig deeper into what motivates human behavior. It is the study of how people experience life. Smart companies use this information to inform strategy, product development and corporate culture.

The article outlines the 5 Steps to Sensemaking:

  1. Reframe the Problem; Stop labeling it a Problem and start thinking of it as a Phenomenon to be studied. Switch your perspective from Inside Out (how the business perceives the problem) to Outside In (Understanding how your customer ACTUALLY interfaces with your product or service.)
  2. Collect the Data; Ah, but here’s the magic formula – you must approach the data collection process without a pre-conceived hypothesis. Enter the process with zero assumptions about what you might find. The goal here is raw, personal, real-time data.
  3. Look for Patterns; Now Peel the Onion, go beyond the outer layer of observable behavior and start to analyze the data for patterns and themes, to unearth the underlying causes behind customer behavior. The real WHY.
  4. Create Key Insights; Look for gaps between your assumptions and your customer’s actual behavior. Ask questions like “What are we missing? “How can we look at this differently? And What if?”
  5. Build the Business Impact; Now, translate insight into initiative. Create an innovative strategy to bring to market the solutions for your customer’s newly uncovered needs and desires.

I am personally very excited to see a high-touch approach like Sensemaking being used by business as an avenue for understanding human behavior. 

I have always studied and observed human behavior, my own and others. As a comedian and humorist for over 30 years, my self-appointed job-description has always been; “To keep an eye on humanity and report back.”

I think of myself as a social anthropologist with a punchline…using humor to help spotlight the funny in the foibles of human behavior and inspiring positive change.

Comedians ask the same questions as all great innovators: “What if? What’s missing? Why do we do this? Is there a better way?” You could say, that we use humor to achieve sense-making.

And now, a parting piece of wisdom from one of the all-time, great social scientists, Star Treks’ Dr. Spock:

Logic is only the beginning of wisdom.”

For more information on Sensemaking go to or pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review; The Leader’s Guide to Problem-Solving at your newsstand.

Karyn Ruth White is a Success Humorist, Social Anthropologist, Comedian, Author and Keynote Speaker.   Visit her at,