About thirty years ago, I was lucky enough to get some great advice about public speaking, which has stayed with me ever since.

Motivational speakers: sporting and non-sporting

I was at an industry conference in the States, where most of the presentations were on technical or business subjects; but I‘d discovered previously that US conferences often have a motivational speaker of some kind too. This one was no exception; it had a football coach, who was renowned as a motivator; but it also had a man who was a million miles from being a football coach, as you will read, but was a motivator extraordinaire. His name was Kenneth Wydro; and you can learn more about him via the links at the bottom of this post.

The title of his talk was “Productivity Under Pressure”; it was all about controlling stress before any important event. He also had a book called “Think on Your Feet”, focusing on the one event that most people find extra-stressful: speaking in public. I snapped up a copy; and I noticed that half the audience did too. The book’s popularity was a lesson in itself, as it told me that not only was Ken Wydro an excellent speaker, but that he was telling the audience news they needed to hear. It was “News I can Use,” as the saying goes.

Since that day, I have spoken in public scores of times but I have never forgotten Ken Wydro’s presentation. I’ve also never forgotten the story he told at the beginning of his talk.

The football story”

When he was at high school, Ken was unathletic and overweight: a big disappointment to his father, who had been a star sportsman. Ken was never selected for school teams but one day his father, maybe a big donor to school funds and certainly a strong character, persuaded the school’s football coach to let Ken on to the team, on the basis that it would be for just one play. (For newcomers to American football, a play usually lasts just a few seconds.) Ken had to run just a few yards to a predetermined spot, and then the quarterback would throw him an easy pass: again just a few yards.

“I dropped the ball. And those few seconds have stayed with me every day of my life”.  

When Ken finished the story there was total silence. Everyone there could empathise with him, even if they had never played any sport in their lives. His retelling of a small but significant-at-the-time disaster, which he’d always remembered from childhood, resonated with everyone.

Of course his reason for telling the story was to remind us of the fact that negative memories from our past (and, by extension, negative expectations of the future) can have a negative and long-lasting effect on our lives, unless we can find ways of populating our subconscious minds with positive expectations. And Ken Wydro proceeded to demonstrate some ways of doing just that, which I shall deal with in future posts on this theme.

Compliments and insults

On a related subject: film director Baz Luhrmann says: “Remember all the compliments you have ever received; forget all the insults. And if you can do that, please tell me how you did it.”

Wydro’s talk contained many other interesting and useful tips but this one stands out:

  • We all know that humans can survive long periods without food; but not so long without water, even less without air! So, in advance of speaking or any other potentially stressful event, avoid the temptation to swig coffee (the adrenaline rush of the event will substitute for any caffeine rush you might think you need) and to munch on muffins. Instead, drink water; take a walk round the block. (On the subject of taking a walk around the block, did you know that Elvis Presley always insisted that his trailer was parked exactly 1000 yards from the stage of the venue?)

One way of being a more effective speaker, as well as reducing nerves before speaking, says Wydro, is to focus not so much on yourself and what you want to say, but on your audience and what thy want to hear or know. That message has served me well. In fact during my own speaking career, the testimonial that I treasure most says that I did just that, during a speech inOslofifteen years ago.

Kenneth Wydro’s still-remembered speech from 30 years ago contained more gems, which I feel could be of immense value to anyone who has to speak in public. I will thus be summarising some of them in my blog in the coming weeks. Watch this space!

Remembering that talk, and the interest it generated, has inspired me to develop a package of talks and seminars, both for clubs and for businesses, with the aim of providing advice to anyone who has to speak in public.



To get up-to-date info on US author Kenneth Wydro, click here.

For info on his book “Think On Your Feet”, click here.

To find out more about my talks; or to book me to speak to your club, group or business, click here.





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