Becoming A Better Speaker With Michael Angelo Caruso

The path to becoming a better speaker is a relatively straightforward one, even if you don’t necessarily think you have the natural “voice” or inclination for it. Being a better, stronger, clearer speaker can, in the long run, bring you plenty of benefits – some that you might not have even thought about. Michael Angelo Caruso teaches people how to be better speakers and presenters so they can help more people and amp up their careers. Dr. Diane Hamilton speaks to Michael about what makes a better speaker, and how one can work themselves to that point. Your time to become the best speaker you can be has arrived.

TTL 682 | Becoming A Better Speaker

I’m glad you joined us because we have Michael Angelo Caruso. Michael is an author, a speaker, and an online speaking coach. He gives some great advice on how to make your presentations and speeches better. We’re going to talk to him about so many things.

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Becoming A Better Speaker With Michael Angelo Caruso

I am here with Michael Angelo Caruso, who teaches people how to be better speakers and presenters so that they can help more people and amp up their careers. He utilizes his unique background in the technology sector and a separate career in the entertainment business to deliver keynote speeches that feel like a combination of your best teacher and your favorite comedian. He delivers 70 plus presentations and keynote speeches a year. He’s spoken on five continents and 49 of the 50 states. He’s authored Work Hacks, the audiobook, Dear Michael Angelo–A Father’s Life Letters to His Son and Present Like a Pro. I’m excited to have you here, Michael.

Thank you, Diane. It’s good to be with you.

This is going to be fun. I was looking forward to this because a lot of people need help with their speaking. I know I do and we all do.

There’s an old saying, “Everybody thinks they are good drivers, but there are a lot of dented cars on the freeway.” It’s the same as speaking. We all think we’re good at it but statistically speaking, we’re all average.

There are some below average. I’ve been to a lot of events. What makes somebody a good speaker is somewhat subjective. It’s funny because I’ve had a lot of Hall of Fame speakers on my show and we’ve discussed the difference between how men present and how women present. Everybody’s got their unique things that they like in a presentation. A couple of people have told me that women tend to want to get a lot of content and they may put too much content at times where men are more about the entertainment factor. Have you found that to be true at all?

That’s an interesting observation. I have heard people say, and it’s well-documented, that women are better at communicating than men in general. Maybe they’re better at it because they share more signals, both nonverbal and verbal. That’s generally true gender-wise, but you could make the same argument that young people have a tendency to talk too fast or too much. That’s not to compare females to young people. It’s just that we’re all different. We all come from different places. We all have a different feel and need. If you came from a home that overshared a lot and maybe as a speaker, you’re never stopping on time. If you came from a home where mom and dad were terse and things were answered in three-word sentences, maybe you don’t have any trouble with being too verbose during your presentation. It’s interesting though how everybody approaches it differently and it is subjective.

I was taught to enunciate certain things because my father loved grammar. He loved all the English type of related topics. My mom is always complaining, “They don’t enunciate. They’re talking so fast.” She’s getting older. Everybody thinks I’m talking faster or she’s listening slower. I’m not sure. It’s hard for people to be super entertaining sometimes if they’re maybe an expert in an area and that’s not their forte to be the comedian or to tell the funny stories. Storytelling is a big part of it, isn’t it?

Yeah. Everybody thinks they’re good at telling stories. The story is like an art form. If you reduce it to a microcosm, a joke is a kind of story, and you would agree that not everybody is great at telling jokes. The story is a formatted thing. In fact, there are seven types of stories or narratives. I always have to remind people in my online course that a story is different than an anecdote. Sometimes I say, “Tell me a story,” and they share something that’s 10 or 15 seconds. A story has a beginning, a middle and an end. It takes at least two minutes to tell a story. People get confused about what a story is and we lose our way quickly after that.

When I tell stories, I lean towards self-deprecating ones because they’re funny. The stupid things I’ve done but you can do too much at that, of course. A lot of people who have given advice have told me to take things that have happened to you in your life and make them bigger and more outrageous. Is that good advice?

Certainly, we want a story that’s compelling and the best stories are extraordinary. It’s hard to make an impression with an average story. If you’ve had something unusual that happened to you in your life, maybe you’ve cheated death on an occasion or maybe you saved somebody’s life, these are extraordinary types of stories and they’re worth $1 million in the speaking business. They become what we call in the trade, signature stories. You can build your entire presentation around them. Since most people don’t experience those extraordinary stories firsthand, like I’ve never saved anybody but I’ve never cheated death, at least not yet, I find that it’s beneficial for a guy like me to find a way to craft an extraordinary story from an ordinary instance.

Can you find something that happens in interchange with this total stranger that can be presented in a way that has value to an audience? That’s tradecraft if you can figure that out. It’s better to have access to both extraordinary stories and the ability to craft extraordinary narratives from ordinary situations. After all, we’re trying to identify with the people and the audience and have them identify with us. If most people have not had that extraordinary experience, but they had an exchange with a stranger twice in the last three days, that becomes the more common denominator. Think essentially of how you can mix and match as you put your content together.

Give me an ordinary situation that we could make into an extraordinary thing to make it more interesting as a story.

Let’s say you’re purchasing something at a store. Somehow, you ended up in a conversation with the clerk and the clerk tells you that she’s got pancreatic cancer and only has two months to live. Because she shares this with you and you’re the only one in line, you can’t say, “Have a nice day,” and skirt out of there. You’re in this seemingly uncomfortable moment. The thing that she says next is something that you can’t stop thinking about. Maybe she says, “That’s why I’m talking to you right now because I value every moment,” and I didn’t 48 hours ago or I didn’t three weeks ago. You carry that back to your car and you sit with it for a while and then you think, “This is a remarkable thing that happened even though I was just returning a shirt to the store.” First, you have to get out of the house but it’s a thing to happen. Maybe you have to be aware that it happened and then you have to have the ability to craft it into something that becomes fodder for a presentation or a speech. That’s the formula.

[bctt tweet=”What makes somebody a good speaker is subjective.” via=”no”]

I had a lot of speakers tell me to keep a notebook and write down things that happened to you. When you’re going around and you’ve got 50 things you’re carrying and all that, I tend to text myself a little reminder, words and different things. Is there an easy, good way to do that?

People can save notes on their phones. I have a spiral notebook I’ve been using for years. In fact, I’ve got a whole closet full of little notebooks that I kept. I call them idea-collection devices because I can carry it easily in the breast pocket of my coat but I need a place to drop all that stuff in so it can incubate. By the way, it’s not usable 48 hours after I write it because I can’t even remember why it was important. If the keyword jars me or if I had enough time to pick the phrase down, and sometimes, it’s an idea or a keyword that’s married to the modality. For example, a clerk exchange blog, now, I know it’s about to become a blog post. I have a Present Like a Pro Facebook group and I’m always looking for interesting content to share with those people. Present Like A Pro is PLAP in my brain, the acronym. I write PLAP and that’s my trigger for my brain that, “I was going to share this with my group.” If I can’t think of how I’m going to use it later, I have a bunch of ideas. It’s like having a pantry that you never go into to cook. It keeps filling up with stuff.

You mentioned Present Like a Pro and this is a highly rated online speech speaker coaching masterclass that you have as well. Tell me a little about that.

It came about in an interesting way because I travel so much. Before technology, video and podcasting became so easy, the only way I could get in front of people is if I came to your town or you came to my town. Since I traveled so much, I developed filters in my distribution list where if I would go to Arizona, I could send everybody in Arizona a message that I’m coming to town, “Let’s get together and I’ll train you up on presentation skills.” It turns out that people don’t want presentation skills, necessarily, when I’m in Arizona. They welcome the week before they have to give their presentation. It has occurred to me, “I could be available to people online.”

The first iteration, and you may have been around for this as well, is teleseminars. Telephone at first and then teleseminar classes and then webinars. Now I have a six-week class where people can enroll and we get you to elite speaking airspace quickly, and then we graduate you. I don’t get you 10,000 hours, but I get you leveled up quickly and you become a better speaker for the rest of your life. The a-ha for me was the deliverability system, which ended up being this video call. It often has a few people in it like the beginning of The Brady Bunch where everybody is on the screen.

The reason that was important was because on teleseminars or phone calls, I only have the tone of your voice, things like pitch and words per minute. On the video, I can see your forehead furrowing and that means you have a question. I can call you out in real-time. It’s more powerful when you’re teaching presentation skills to be able to monitor both verbal and nonverbal signals. That’s when the program took off. We’ve had some amazing success stories and we’ll have many more.

It’s interesting to go to these speaker events. I’ve gone to Toastmasters and I’ve been to different things where they try to help you learn different things. For me, it can be hard in a Toastmasters group to find the time to go to those cons, first of all, because they have a lot at different locations and different things. I like the idea of doing online so I could see why people would like that because that frees up not having to drive and all that. Do you have people give actual presentations in this? How does it work?

One of the deliverables is we will craft at least one signature story, which is this fantastic narrative that you and I talked about. Since most people don’t have one, they’ve never even heard the term signature story, we do a deep dive on it with every student that’s in the class. You lead the class with this cornerstone of a twenty-minute presentation that leads directly to your CTA or Call To Action. Most people, when they tell a story, it’s an icebreaker so that people begin to become familiar with you. The signature story drives your call to action, the reason you’re in front of people.

One of the deliverables for the Present Like a Pro online training is that you’ll leave the class with at least one of those narratives and it’s a deep dive. It comes to me as a two-minute video, we call it a baseline video, of what they look like now. The first session I do with this person often goes 30 or 35 minutes about this two-minute story. The feedback I get often is, “Nobody’s ever talked to me like this. Nobody’s ever given my speech this kind of attention.” It starts to show up almost instantly in other parts of their presentation. It starts to fertilize and nurture other bits that they’re doing in the presentation so it’s amazing.

The signature story is one deliverable. Another is that we help them with getting more gigs, anything related to speaking, but not everybody joins the program for the same reason. Some are joining just because they want to be better communicators for work. Some are joining because they’re launching a brand. We’ve had a lot of salespeople graduate from the class, including a guy who was a top flyer at Athlek. He was in the top 8% of what he did at Athlek. I said, “You’re at the top of your game. Why do you want to be in my class?” He said, “Because I crushed it last year. They upped my quota and I don’t get to go to Bermuda next year if I don’t make a quota,” so I helped him get to Bermuda. He gives me all the credit, but he did all the work.

I’ve thought about many people who’ve been on the show that have been TEDx speakers. A lot of people are trying to craft their talks in a TED-like style. Do you deal with anything like that?

Yeah, for sure. I didn’t initially, but then everybody that joins the class usually wants 1 of 2 things. They either want to do a TED Talk or they want to write a book so I help them with both. A good speech can become a good book and vice versa, a good book can become a good speech. They both consist of the same thing. You’ve got to get the person’s attention. You’ve got to have a market, a narrative, a compelling call to action, and you’ve got to deliver on something. They cross-pollinate quite nicely so I started adding that as a deliverable to the class. I don’t help you write the average adult book that has 200 pages. I’ll help you with a booklet. I’ll get you published for the first time. I’ll help you understand how to get something to market. Let’s face it, your first books are probably not going to be a masterwork anyway. If you read this class and you got a published book and now, you’re an author, that’ll change the way you walk.

I’ve had people say that having a book is the new business card. You almost can’t go without one now. Do you agree with that?

TTL 682 | Becoming A Better Speaker
Becoming A Better Speaker: In general, women are better communicators than men because they learn to share more signals, both verbal and nonverbal.


That’s for sure. Think of somebody like financial planners who have such a hard time differentiating themselves in the marketplace. The first problem is getting their marketing materials pass compliance but their second problem is they all have the same title on their business card, financial advisor. What’s special about you? They tell you, “What’s special about me is we mitigate risk.” I’m like, “Everybody does that. You’ve got to be special to get people’s attention.” That’s what an elevator speech does. That’s what the first few seconds of your presentation do. It separates you from the rest of the herd so that people sit up and take notice, “I’m in a special presentation right now.” I thought that about you when I first listened to one of your podcasts. I thought, “This lady has got it going on. She understands how it works.”

Thank you. I’ve had some experts who have different versions of how they think you should do your elevator pitch. What advice would you give? I’m terrible with mine because I do many different things. What I do is I learn information and share with others who I am. That’s compelling in a way where they want to know more but I don’t say that if people ask me what I do. I’m curious about what will you come up with an elevator pitch if you helped me craft mine. Let’s see how this goes.

Let’s start with two basic premises. The first one is that we always say you have to have an elevator speech singular. We open the call by saying everybody’s different. If the appeal of a speaker is subjective, depending on who’s watching and listening, it doesn’t make sense that you have a different elevator pitch or elevator speech for different types of people. Of course, if there are three billion people in the world, you can probably only have three elevator speeches at any time but at least you get in the right category for the person you’re talking to. I’ll give you an example of this. If I’m on an airplane and I’m sitting next to somebody for a three-hour flight, I’m going to chat that person up. I love the practice. If they don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine, but I’m going to say, “Good morning. Are you going to work or going home?” There’s going to be a little bit of interchange. If I asked 5 or 6 questions, I’m going to be honored by the Law of Reciprocity. That person’s eventually going to ask me a question like, “What do you do?”

By the time that they asked me what I do, I’m going to know what they’re interested in. That’s how I decide which elevator speech they get that leads me to the second premise of an elevator speech. Diane, your elevator speech is not about you. Ideally, it’s about the other person. You can ask me what I do but I’m not nearly as interested in telling you what I do. I am in telling you what I do and how it can help you. Back to the lady on the plane, I’m chatting her up and we’re on our way someplace. She stopped reading her book to talk to me because there was some turbulence or something. She looked up and we had an exchange and now, we’re having a conversation. When she says, “What do you do? I could say, “I’m a keynote speaker,” but the odds of her booking a keynote speaker is infinitesimally low. That’s not useful to her. It might be interesting there but it’s not useful. She’s reading a self-help book.

If she asked me what I do, I’m not going to tell her I’m a speaker. I’m going to tell her I’m an author because I know she’s a reader. I’ve done this many times and I’ve played it fascinated. The person starts whispering and I have no idea why. This is probably because we live in a society that practices celebrity worship like there’s no tomorrow. She starts whispering and she says, “You’re an author.” I say, “Yes.” She says, “What do you write about?” Now, I’m whispering too. I tell her what the book is. She says, “Where can I get it?” She doesn’t know if the book is any good. This is how it works and now I’ve got her. If you think of it like a game show, stop the clock. She’s interested. It’s fun to try to figure out what people want and make myself available to them. The big reason we’re on the planet is to serve others. This is not so much about preying on the weak or selling. It’s about making yourself available to people and helping them out if you have a chance to do so.

One of my works is about curiosity. I help people develop their levels of curiosity. It could be an answer. I focus on behavioral and different things. I’ve written everything from emotional intelligence to perception. When you’re on an elevator with someone and you don’t know they’re a reader and they care that you’ve written something, where do you go from there?

It’s a bit of a crapshoot. I’m not always right when I guess what the other person’s interested in. If you pay attention to signals, you have a better start. Let’s talk simultaneously about an elevator which could be a one-person audience or a real presentation where you’ve got 30 or 300 people in the audience. If you’re paying attention to who’s in your audience, you’re a lot more likely to guess right when you decide what you’re going to say. An example from the elevator, it’s a rough weather day and the person gets in the elevator with an umbrella. I’m terrible about this. I don’t even look at the weather before I leave the house. I’m often caught without an umbrella and a raincoat. When the person gets on with an umbrella, I can pick up that signal and I say to the other person, “You’re a lot more organized than I am.”

They love this compliment but they don’t know exactly where it’s coming from yet. They say, “Thank you. Why do you say that?” I say, “Because you’re carrying an umbrella. I didn’t even look at the weather.” It’s not only does the compliment land because who doesn’t sign for a compliment like, “You’re more organized than I am.” I’m also getting extra points because for them, it’s a point of pride that they were prepared for the day. That’s why they are prepared for the day because they’re prepared every day. This is probably a lifelong habit of theirs. When they’re recognized for it, it creates a little bond between us on the elevator at that moment. I don’t think I’m making too much of this. They could get on the elevator with 100 people and I might be the only one to do that with them.

You know that’s true, Diane because you’ve been on the elevator with 100 people and one of them gave you that engagement. They’re looking at their floor, at their feet or the number at the top. Imagine having the ability to do this when you’re about to give a presentation to a small group of 10 or a larger group of 30 people. You know who’s in the room, what they’re interested in, and you can make a beeline for that topic or subject matter. That makes you a better speaker than the guy before you and the lady after you. Being aware of your audience is super important even if you’re talking about something as seemingly arcane and minimal as an elevator speech.

When you’re talking about being aware of the audience, I was thinking that sometimes, you have smaller, more intimate groups. I gave a talk to 1,700 people and it’s a challenge to reach everybody in the way they want to be when you get a large group. Do you have a tip for how to get them right off the bat? Is there some like beginning or how to start a presentation that can help draw them from the first minute?

Two questions, what kind of content works and then a more specialized question, what do you open with to bang it? Here’s the problem with a lot of people. We all like to think that we’re self-aware but most of us are just self-absorbed, and there’s a big difference. If you’re just looking internally all the time, meaning my phone, screen, clothes, hair, or soup stain on my tie, you’re not paying attention to other people. You’re going to miss a lot of those signals and opportunities to connect with others. Hashtags are a fantastic way to figure out what people are interested in. If you go to Twitter and they know you’re a champion on Twitter, if you look at what’s trending, that’s what people are interested in right now.

The universe rewards relevance. In the same way, Facebook rewards you and this will change over time. The fastest way to get attention on Facebook is through live video because it’s happening right now and Facebook opens up the algorithm for that. You’ve got to figure out a way to open up the analog algorithm when you’re in front of people and you open your presentation because that’s what snaps people to attention and then they start paying attention to you. I imagine at the event you did with 1,700 people that you maybe weren’t the only speaker. It might have been a convention or something so that means they’re sitting through a series of speakers, some good, some bad, and some connecting with them and some not.

You have no control over who was on before you or what’s happened in the segment before you. Sometimes, if you are the first person in the morning when people are fresh or the first thing in the afternoon after the double bacon cheeseburger. To answer the second part of your question about opening, when I’m doing the cavalcade of speakers, I’m paying close attention to what’s going on before me sometimes so I can do a technique that Canadians refer to as a callback. If somebody had a nice bit going before me and I was in the room, I can repurpose that as a callback in my own shtick. What I’m doing is I’m borrowing from a successful performer from earlier in the day.

[bctt tweet=”Figure out a way to open the algorithm.” via=”no”]

Unfortunately, a lot of speakers can’t use this technique because they do a drive-by. That’s what we call it in the business and you probably know that. They show up before they go on and then they leave right away. I was at an event one time where the lieutenant governor of Michigan gave a speech and he didn’t have the benefit of callbacks because he breached in right before his talk and he left as soon as he was done. I don’t think badly of him for this. He’s probably got a busy schedule and he wants to accommodate as many people as you can. I’m just saying that he didn’t have the benefit of callback material.

I’m shy of callback material but I would do it in front of a room of 1,700 and I’m sure you did the same thing that I certainly wouldn’t roll the dice on new material. I’m a comedian. I work in bits and I would use a bit that has killed before in different parts of the country under different situations. There’s the Billy Crystal skit where these two old comedians are talking about how certain jokes get certain reactions. They apply number values to the jokes from 1 to 10. Ten is a gut buster and one is a smirk. The two comedians go, “That’s a seven for sure.” If it’s a seven in Oklahoma, it’s a seven in Arkansas. You probably have a go-to type of bits that you use at the beginning of your talks.

I’ve had to change it because my content has changed, but yes.

The same thing if we have something that we use for the big finish that we find that certain things work in certain contexts of the speech, the beginning, middle, and end. There’s no substitute for experience when they try to decide how to open. Back to your original question, if you’re going to come out, in general, the central nervous system is under siege for most people at the beginning of the talk. Even if you’re an experienced speaker, you’re looking for rhythm. I used to be in the music business and we used to call it palm time. It was a reference to having the audience in the palm of your hand because once that happens, you can relax a little bit. Think about this, an airplane takes more energy to take off than it does to stay in the air. That’s how I feel at the beginning of a talk. I’m working hard to capture you so that I can relax a little bit and have some fun. I’d be lying if I told you that my nervous system was pinging the same way in the first minute as it was in minute seventeen. A lot of things have changed in seventeen minutes. What am I doing? I’m setting up these stats, feedback loops.

There’s an old speaker trick that you want to try to get the audience to do. It’s called call and response, three times in the first few minutes of your talk. If you’re highly skilled and you can skip this step, I highly recommend it. Get the audience to do three things, say, nod their head, raise their hand or yell, “Yes.” Now, they’re engaged with you. I don’t do this anymore but I recommend it for new speakers so they can get those stats, feedback loops and understand that the audience is with them. These are some easy ways they get the audience’s attention early on. One last thing, most of us, because our central nervous system is under siege, when we’re in front of a group, at the time we need to think more of ourselves as speakers at people, we think less of ourselves. Our volume quiets and our words per minute decreases. We start hugging the podium in ways that are almost unnatural. I’m Italian and I speak with my hand but when my system is shutting down, I have the podium like it has handles on it.

Are you saying you’re slowing down? Because a lot of speakers speed up, I’m curious.

Probably true for some. The 1,700 people versus say, 17. You mentioned TEDx Talks, most TEDx Talks have that red circle on the stage. The ridiculous thing is the lighting on the stage is set up for the circle. These people want to emote and they get this tennis match thing go. I call it a tennis match. They want to work with the entire audience. What did they start doing? They start pacing the stage trying to address all four corners of the room but they forget they can just do that from that little red circle by pivoting and using what we call the speaker triangle. They’ve got all this extra energy, which ultimately becomes distracting.

We call it the tennis match because the audience is moving their head back and forth left to right like they’re watching a tennis match. They’re trying to stay focused on this hyperactive speaker. That speaker is talking too fast, almost guaranteed, where the person that’s anchored at the podium is probably not closing in 200 words per minute. It’s an interesting confluence of verbal and nonverbal signals. They go into the blender and they come out in various ways. You’re right, everybody’s different. It depends on the situation or circumstance like, “Are they under the weather? Did they eat breakfast?” All these things.

You mentioned the speaker triangle. Can you elaborate on that for those who don’t know that?

Imagine that you’re the speaker and you’re on a stage. If you spread your arms out on a 90-degree angle and you extend your fingers, you’d be pointing to the edges of the room. That forms a triangle with you at the vortex of that triangle. With that triangle, you can address the entire room but you can also do a triangle for the right, left, and middle part of the room. Think of a slice of pie. If there are twelve people at the conference table, you can do the slice small that you’re addressing 1 or only 2 people at a table. This is how great speakers are able to virtually connect, because it’s impossible with that many people in the room, like eye-to-eye contact for example.

If you linger or gesturing in those triangles, everybody in that triangle thinks you’re looking at them personally. The Beatles started this way back. They have a famous line in their performance and because all of the rich people were sitting up on the balcony, they said, “Let’s hear from everybody on the floor and if you’re on the balcony, just rattle your jewelry.” Everybody in the auditorium loved it because they felt like everybody was getting attention. It’s an easy trick to create the illusion that you’re connecting with everybody in the room.

As you’re mentioning the eye contact and connecting with people, it reminds me that I never had any desire to speak. The first time I ever spoke was for Forbes, believe it or not. They put me on this big stage in a big auditorium. There were so many lights that I couldn’t see a single thing. In a lot of the talks now, you can have lowered the lights if you want to. There are things you can do. Let’s say you’re in that situation and I’ve been in it before, where there are many lights and you can’t see anybody. All you see is a bright light. How do you get that sense that you’re looking and making eye contact? Just the arms, is that what you’re saying?

Arms, it’s tone and pace, you can move from the place that you’re at. I call it home base. It’s where you set up your base camp. That’s what the red circle in the TEDx Talk is. That’s where you deliver your most salient signature story. You always come back to home base for your CTA, your Call To Action. Good speakers establish satellite locations. If I’m going to tell you about something, “Excuse me. That happened when I was six years old,” I’m going to step away from home base to take you back in time to tell you the story. After I’m done with the six-year-old story, I’m going to go back to home base.

TTL 682 | Becoming A Better Speaker
Becoming A Better Speaker: It’s hard work to present yourself as natural when you just have so much actively working against you.


By the way, there’s no coincidence that we’re talking about a stage and light because speaking is a form of acting. Just because you can’t see the people in the audience, it doesn’t mean you can’t do everything that I suggested, the V, moving, tone, and speaking personally to the audience. They don’t know that you can’t see them. In fact, it’s always a sign of an amateur speaker when they tell you, “I can’t see a thing. I’m nervous.” I always tell people in my online class, “Don’t tell people you’re nervous. Make them figure it out.”

You talked about the acting and things that are associated. I’ve had other people I’ve talked to about the use of improv and how it can help you speak. Do you do anything improv-like in your training?

For sure. Improv is important. The ability to think on your feet, especially during the dicey part of your presentation, I don’t think it used to be this way but these days, almost every presentation has some form of Q&A. Maybe not in your talk with 1,700 people, although I’ve been in auditoriums where they set up a standing microphone, two aisles and people form cues. The interesting thing about the Q&A segment is that it’s the only unscripted part of the presentation. It’s both intoxicating and dangerous because you don’t know what you’re going to get from the audience. I’ve got a healthy YouTube channel and I love to post live videos. I don’t do any editing for the most part of my videos. I like people to see exactly what we saw that day. There are some funny moments often because the audience has been involved. Part of this is because I work in the round, which means I’m in the audience. I’m not at the podium and I’m not even on the platform. I’m in the audience, which makes for a compelling video. People are laughing and having fun. I’m having fun with them.

My point is when you’re like that, you’re like a trapeze artist working without a net. I might have twenty people speak to me on the microphone in a 30-minute keynote, which is extremely risky. You can’t think on your feet and you don’t know how to handle weirdness if it comes up. I’m grateful that I had the tools for this. Part of the reason, and I can explain this to myself even, is that I came up through the music business. I had so much time in front of the microphone and that is natural for me. You’re mentioning the Forbes talk where it was your first time, you’re on stage, all the lights and stuff. It’s too much sensory overload. It might be hard for a person in that situation.

I always tell people that if you want to be good in front of the room, you have to be natural, authentic, and believable. How hard is it to any of those things if you’re nervous, not yourself, not experienced or under-rehearsed? Your content is dog meat, you know it, and you’re trying to sell it to them. It’s hard work to be natural when you have so much working against you. That’s why people need to take this kind of class. They need to get good at it. You can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes. They know that you’re not ready for them. They will say you were fine but they’re lying and you know they’re lying.

I watched one of your talks and how you walked around. You’re teasing somebody who turned 60 and I was watching some of the interactions that you had, and it was cute. I liked that.

Thank you.

You’re welcome. You’re talking about thinking on your feet. For me, the part I prefer the most is the Q&A and the discussions because maybe I was in sales for many decades that I’m used to people asking me hard questions and being able to think on my feet. What advice do you give people who don’t have sales experience? Do you do any sales training and that type of thing?

Yeah. Salespeople are probably the bulk of my students because a lot of them are getting paid on commission. The quality of their lives is contingent on how well they present essentially. Salespeople are messed up. I worked at a company. The sales manager said something to me on the day I was hired by the president of that company. The president knew that the sales manager needed help. The sales manager said, “Tell me a little bit about how you roll.” I said, “I’ll help your team improve their sales presentation.” He said, “Let me stop you right there.” He says, “We don’t need to do presentations.” That’s how I knew I’ll leave that company for a while.

Sales will teach us out of asking questions. They teach you presentations, whether they call it that or not. In my training, I was taught out of a lot of asking curious questions because you had to say certain things. He’s trying to make it sound like they don’t do that as he’s always doing.

He was in denial. He didn’t understand the process. You get it and I know you get it because you’re asking questions and you’re presenting right now in what’s called the reporter frame. You’re good at interviewing. I don’t know how many of your questions are written down.

I don’t write them down. I sometimes ask people if they want me to ask them questions but since you didn’t submit any, we’re just chatting.

Think about the then now, it’s a wonderful confluence of curiosity, which you said your latest book is, about interviewing, which is what you’re doing with me, about sales, which is about asking questions of the prospect, “What are your pain points? What are your problems? Why are you unhappy with your current vendor?” This is a general thing of honoring people by engaging them. The famous thing you need to know about questions is, there are two types of questions, which are open questions and closed. Some people call them binary and non-binary. Most people, because they’re in a hurry, they asked yes and no questions or binary questions, which doesn’t get you a lot of information. You haven’t asked me a single binary question in the whole interview because you know the tricks of the trade. People in presentations if you’re interviewing somebody in front of the room, I do a lot of panel sessions at conferences and you probably do, too, you can’t ask questions like, “Do you think this is a good idea?” Because the uncooperative panel will say, “Yup.”

[bctt tweet=”All roads lead to the call to action.” via=”no”]

“Thank you, everybody and good night.” That’s it. They teach you. It used to be in sales, always closing and all that stuff. We haven’t talked about how you close when you give presentations. You said something about call to action. What should we be thinking about when we’re at the end of our talks?

All roads lead to the call to action unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re just serving people, money’s not important to you, and you don’t have a brand or a platform. You’re giving a speech, but you have no book and training to sell. You don’t have a company with products or services. This is a rare scenario. If we want people to take a piece of us home, we want people to do something as a result, even lamed safety presentations. The same one that the company gives every year about being safe. There’s a call to action. I’ve asked the head of safety, “What’s your call to action?” He looked at me like I’m speaking French. I go, “It’s to not get hurt, isn’t it?” The guy goes, “I forgot about that part.”

Every presentation has a call to action. If all roads lead to the CTA, that means you’re going to be seeding throughout your presentation the CTA. How can you do that? If you’re selling a book, you could use a technique called talking in titles. You use the title of the book before you tell them it’s a book. It’s entered their brain. Twenty minutes later, when you say, “By the way, I have a book. Coincidentally, it’s called such and such,” and they go, “I’ve heard that before,” because you mentioned that twenty minutes ago. That’s cool. You’re seeding it all the way. The other mistake is that people get to the end of their presentation and they’re happy to be done.

The central nervous system is being what it is. It’s like a horse running for the barn. They forget they have things to do. The horse has to cool off before it goes to the barn but the horse doesn’t know that. The horse will go straight to the barn. If you’re in control of your own senses during your talk and of your own presentation, you’re using strategies like a specific call to action. You’re not just ending the presentation. I know you’ve seen this, Diane. You’ve been in a presentation. They’re working through their PowerPoint, they get to the end, and they forgot what the last slide was. They click again and it comes to black and they go, “That’s it.” You’ve seen that, haven’t you?

I have.

I think to myself then, “Does this person even watch their own slideshow before presenting? CTA is a bunch of stuff that happens at the end that allows the audience to understand specifically, exactly, and precisely what they need to do. For example, let’s say you’re selling something in the back of the room. You don’t just say, “Thank you so much for coming, everybody. I hope to see you later. I hope to see you on my website. I’ll see you on YouTube.” No. I’ll say, “I’m going to see you in the back of the room. I’m going to be there in two minutes. I’ll sign books for you. I look forward to getting to know you. We’ll take some pictures if you want.” What am I doing? I’m planting the idea in their head that something’s going to be happening back there and I’m specific about what it’s going to be. In the early days, this was way before Square and you could get credit cards and stuff, people would carry cash or checkbook to pay for books in the back of the room. I would tell them in the back of the room, “Cash is fine, of course, and checks are good as well.” When Square came out, I said, “I’d be happy to zip your credit card,” because I want them thinking about the exact process for the next step.

You can’t always sell. Let’s say I spoke with SHRM, you’re not even allowed to mention you have a book or certain things. That happens a lot. What advice do you give them?

There’s always a way to leave a piece of yourself with a group. You can give something away. I’ve rarely worked. I’ve done gigs for people like Time Warner that made me sign an NDA in advance. I wasn’t even allowed to be in the room before or after my presentation so they whisked me in and out quickly. It’s the same thing with the Department of Defense. They set the guidelines, but most gigs will allow you maybe to give a package of your stuff away. That’s the call to action. Share your business card so we can do a drawing. Now, you’re not selling anything, at least not in the room?

It is good to say, “When I consult with other companies, this is the thing I talk to them about.” It’s not saying, “I want you to buy my consulting business.” You’re alluding to the fact that this is the thing that you do. Do you think that that can be a good way?

For sure. You might have said we had a great success story with a client a while back. Let me tell you about it. Everybody in the audience is thinking, “I wonder if she could be successful with me.” You’re planting the seed, but you’re throwing some fertilizer, light and water on it quickly so they germinate before you leave the room because you want that contact. The longer people wait after the presentation to execute the call to action, the less successful you’re going to be. You want to get them to connect with you right away while you’re in the room. I agree 100% that it’s not always about selling. It’s more about helping.

If the call to action is, “Subscribe to my YouTube channel so we can get you more information,” fine. Another famous one is you’re in the curiosity business, at least for this book cycle. You would say to people, “Here’s your call to action, everybody. I want you to engage with a total stranger as you walk out of this room and practice these things that we talked about so that you can get good at the art of curiosity.” If the title of your book is The Art of Curiosity and that’s the last thing that you said, you’re being strategic about accessing the audience’s brains. The thing in the brain is called the reticular activating system, which the brain remembers the first thing and the last thing that the speaker said.

Also, help them in Cracking the Curiosity Code, which is the title of the book. It has been out for a while. You and I have a lot of similar corporations we’ve worked with and different things. I noticed in your list that you’ve done not only a speaker but you’re the Founder and President of Edison House. You do consulting and corporate and personal development. You’ve worked with top companies like Hallmark, Bank of America, Verizon, Nissan, the Navy, and a lot of these big names. A lot of people who are reading might want to hire you to do something like consulting or they might want to be part of your masterclass as we talked about Present Like a Pro, how can they reach you and find out more?

The website is just my name, If you’d like to learn through video, I would suggest subscribing to my YouTube channel of the same name. All of this is free so far. The Present Like a Pro group on Facebook is a fantastic place to hang out with like-minded people and take upon strategies that can help you with your presentations, talks, and communication in general. Bringing our conversation full circle, I’m not a fit for everybody but there’s nothing I love more than helping people, watching the light bulbs turn on and improving the world one presentation at a time. I’ve made it my life’s work. I never get tired of it. I can help almost anybody that wants to be better at it. It’s been such a pleasure sharing some of these ideas and strategies with your readers.

TTL 682 | Becoming A Better Speaker
Becoming A Better Speaker: The brain often remembers the very first thing that a speaker has said and then the last thing that they were able to say.


This was fun, Michael. Thank you so much. I’ve learned a few things more. Every time I talk to different speakers, everybody’s got unique perspectives and you can tell that you’re a real pro. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Thank you and thanks for all the great podcasts. I enjoy your platform.

I’d like to thank Michael for being my guest. We get many great guests on the show. If you’re looking for more information on Cracking the Curiosity Code book and taking the Curiosity Code Index, that’s at my site as well or you can go directly to it at I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Michael Angelo Caruso

TTL 682 | Becoming A Better SpeakerMichael Angelo Caruso teaches people how to be better speakers and presenters so they can help more people and amp up their careers. He utilizes his unique background in the technology sector and a separate career in the entertainment business to deliver keynote speeches that feel like a combination of your best teacher and your favorite comedian. Michael delivers about 70 presentations and keynote speeches a year. He has spoken on five continents and in 49 of the 50 states. Michael has authored Work Hacks, the audiobook, Dear Michael Angelo — A Father’s Life Letters to His Son and the Present Like a Pro DVD. He also has a highly-rated online speaker coaching masterclass titled, Present Like a Pro.

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