How to be an Edge-Of-Your-Seat Speaker

Edge-Of-Your-Seat Speaker Tip 2. Keith kept the audience in suspense with interactive questions.

This is the second posting regarding who stood out in a lineup of impressive keynoters at this year’s INC 5000 conference held recently in Washington DC.

In the previous post, I selected Keith McFarland as an example of a speaker who instantly captured our attention and kept it from start-to-finish. Here’s another reason he was so riveting.

Instead of simply reporting his research, Keith took the audience along for an emotional ride by posing a real-life scenario and asking our opinions about whether we would invest in a prospective company.

Keith said, “Everyone needs nuts and bolts. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nuts and bolts vending machine so you could buy them whenever you needed them? How about a nuts and bolts store?”

Instead of jumping ahead to the end of this company’s story, Keith turned it into a mystery which kept us guessing.

Why was this so effective? Well, why do people love reading suspense novels? We’re motivated to keep turning pages because we want to know how the story turns out.

Keith used the same principle to keep us engaged by revealing, one question at a time, whether this rather humble idea for a company ultimately turned into a profitable venture.

He wrapped up his story by asking, “Who did stock-rating firm Morningstar select as the Best CEO in 2006? Was it Ken Chenault of American Express? John Chambers of Cisco? No. It was Will Oberton of the billion dollar nuts and bolts company Fastenal, which has tripled its market capitalization over the past ten years.” That’s impressive.

When and where will you be speaking next? What is your main point? Instead of presenting it as a fait accompli (which turns talks into one-way lectures and relegates people to being passive listeners), could you turn it into a mystery and keep audience members engaged with ask-as-you-go questions?

I’m always on the lookout for edge-of-your-seat speakers. I study what they do right and use their examples as benchmarks in my books, blogs, keynotes and Speaker Camps (next one is November 1-2 in the Washington DC area). There’s nothing like real-life role models to show how effective speakers positively influence audiences, leave lasting impressions and motivate people to act.

Who’s an edge-of-your-seat speaker you’ve had the pleasure of seeing in action? What did this presenter do to capture and keep your interest? Did they illustrate their points with memorable props or first-person examples? Did they turn their speech into a mystery by asking questions to keep you guessing?

I’d love to hear from you. You’re welcome to submit your nomination for “Edge-of-your-Seat Speaker for 2008.” Post your nominee to to this blog or email us at and explain, in 300 words or less, why you your nominee is an edge-of-your-seat speaker who keeps his/her audience intrigued from start-to-finish.

I will include the most interesting choices in our November newsletter (request it at and will announce the winner in our December newsletter.

The person who submits the winning nomination and the winner of the 2008 Edge-of-Your-Seat Speaker of the Year will receive a free registration for a 2008 or 2009 POP! Your Business and Brand Camp, a $900 value. (The next one is Nov. 7 at Washington’s DC’s historical National Press Club.)

I look forward to receiving your nominations and sharing additional examples of individuals who are positively influencing their audiences with their outstanding speaking skills.

  1. Norm Bouchard is my nominee for Edge of Your Seat Speaker for 2008. Norm uses stories from his childhood and life as a Catholic priest masterfully. My favorite is when he talks about forgiveness and tells the story of locking his aunt and grandmother in the confessional until they cleared up their 30 year rift so they would both attend a family wedding. He uses mime and music and exudes authenticity. Although I’ve heard Norm present certain presentations dozens of times, I still laugh and learn from him.

  2. John Graden is one of the best speakers I’ve seen. He has a great story to tell and the way he speaks really engages you.

    I saw him live in Dallas and in Florida.

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