Hey, I'm Asbjorn Jensen. I have taught public speaking and storytelling for over 25 years to scientists, entrepreneurs, Ph.D. students and politicians (MP’s). Clients include United Nations, Deloitte, The Danish Parliament, University of Copenhagen, and many more.
Ask me anything!
EDIT (GMT 13:30): Thank you for all of the 140 questions (so far)! I'm very happy about the huge interest in public speaking/presentation skills. I'm trying to answer as many as I can as well as I can. Best regards asbjornspeaks.com
How can I improve on public speaking, especially at virtual events and through the screen?
Great question, that's so relevant right now!
The major mistake I usually see is that people loose eye-contact with the online-audience, because they too often look at themselves in "self-view-screen". So, the first (and very important point) is to turn off the view, so you won't look at yourself all the time.
Also, it's important to be at eye-level with your audience. Don't look down at them. Automatically, the unconscious reptile part of the brain will feel threatened and the audience will feel like they are being talked down to. So, it's very important to put your computer on a box or a stack of books, if you don't have a height adjustable table.
Lastly, the third most important thing is to show passion, smile and use your body (hand gestures and vocal variety) to keep people engaged in front of their screens.
What are natural storytellers doing subconsciously that makes it hard not to listen to their stories?
Just use Kendall Havens story telling line, then people can not help listen to you :-) asbjornspeaks.com
How do you teach someone to avoid using filler words, like 'um, and uh'?
With my clients (fx politicians, professors, etc.) I always use a kind of harsh method. This method is also used to train dogs, and I always warn my client (with a smile) and ask if it's okay. I call it the "BIIIB"-method. It's simply that I say "BEEB" out loud every time they say a filler word. That is so annoying for the client, that within minutes, they've got a new relationship to the word "UUUHM" :)
Try having your friends "BEEB" you.
The reason why you say "UHM" is because your cortisol and adrenaline are high, so your feeling of time can be 3 times faster than it is in real life. And you think, unconsciously, that you have to say a sound all the time. But an effective method is reminding yourself that you can do the exact opposite: make a pause of sound. And that's wonderful for the audience and can help make your points stronger.
Fascinating job! What is the hardest thing/habit you have had to train out of someone?
Good question! This made me think of a few funny stories I had from previous clients.
I once coached a CEO, who was extremely nervous about being on stage. So, when he finally got on stage, his body was so full of adrenaline and kortisol, that he didn't realise what he did with his arms. I filmed him while he was up on stage and when he saw the film, he was really embarrassed because his arms/hands were touching his crotch multiple times during the speech (which is an unconscious motion that relaxes the body and makes the adrenaline and kortisol go down immediately). This is an extreme example of a nervous tic. A less extreme example of nervous tics could be the Ph.D. student who didn't realise he danced back and forth on his feet while presenting.
Anyway, you can imagine that the CEO was very happy after that coaching session, since he had no idea about his "crotch-problem".
One great tip I always give is to film yourself when you present something, because you'll find out what your nervous tics are.
Hey; thanks for this AMA!
Whats something simple a Ph.D. student can do which will make the most positive impact on their public speaking skills?
Great question. I will give you two tips for improving.
First tip is very practical. I would really urge you to join a Toastmasters club. It's a worldwide non-profit organisation that teaches people public speaking by participating in local clubs, where you with like-minded people, train your presentation skills. It's full of incredibly kind, interesting, smart people. I've done many workshops there and I'm still a member there (as a mentor).
Second tip is about using storytelling, and I've copied it from one of my previous answers:
The great scientist Kendall Haven did, back in 2012, the first neuroscience research project on "Your Brain on Story". He studied how our brains react to stories and how different storytelling-elements affect the brain and how the information is received. This research was ordered by Obama (The American Government).
Long story short, the study showed that within the brain, there is a little walnut-shaped area that the scientists chose to call “The Neural Story Net” because it works as a net that filters the information that the brain gets into a storytelling frame, even if the information isn’t told in a story. This storytelling frame is: main character, helping assistant, opponent, fight, and a solution. And by framing your information in this frame you will always captivate people. They cannot help listening. This is roughly the same frame used in Hollywood. Think about the Batman movies for example; They always have a "main character (Batman), helping assistant (Robin), opponent (The Joker usually), fight (About the planet), and a solution (Batman saves the day)".
These elements can also be used when presenting. For example, I once had a client who worked for a major charity (NGO) and she had trouble raising money. I asked her why she was there: "Why are you doing this work? The pay isn't great. The hours are long. You must have some reason to do it?" And she did. Her father was an ambassador in India and as a small kid, she clearly remembers staying in big fancy hotels with views over the entire city. And she could look down at the massive slums from her window and that's where her passion started. I told her, that this is the story she should tell. And she did. And she starting raising way more money for her NGO.
Here is a link to a talk Kendall Haven gave at Stanford University about the study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGrf0LGn6Y4
A video by me talking about Kendall Haven and storytelling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCw8_hMq8hc
Interesting! What do you help the members of parliament with?
Usually, I help politicians avoid using filler-word's when they are under a lot of pressure, for example while being filmed live on TV, answering questions from journalists.
Also, I teach them how to be more engaging while speaking in front of a crowd. And how they can implement personal storytelling in their speeches.
The sheer thought of having to speak to an audience makes me physically sick and restless. When it finally comes to that point, I'll frequently choke on my words, get a dry mouth and stutter and experience general anxiety. It has had significant impact on my career so far. I'm trying to do a doctorate in a STEM field which of course requires at least somewhat reasonable presenting skills. What would you recommend for someone like me to overcome these issues?
One of my major workshops in public speaking that I give, is something I've called "The Scientific Pitch". This is a workshop I've held for Ph.D. students, medical doctors and university professors, and a few others in the STEM field. And you're NOT alone. Most of them are so smart and so dedicated to their field/research project, but don't know how to communicate it, because it's never usually taught at universities.
I have two tools that I especially like to give to them and I want to give you.
First one is the power of Storytelling.
It's fastest and best way to connect with your audience. When you have learned to put your science/expertise into a personal story, you can feel right away that you're connecting with your audience. They become totally alert and very good listeners. I use this storytelling-tool all the time. For example, one of the hardest people to give workshops in public speaking are the lawyers. They are so busy. When I've done workshops at law firms in Copenhagen, Denmark, sometimes the bosses tell me that if the lawyers start being distracted by their phones I shouldn't worry, but I worry. I want them to listen to me. But i feel confident, since I know they can use my storytelling-tool. So, I use storytelling in my start. And it works. When I start telling a personal story they put away their phone and computer right away. Below are a few videos where I show what I do:
Short video by me where I talk about "Your brain on story": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXvQQet3UCE
Longer video where I start with a story (I have a dream - M.L.K.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBqw-5kbja8
The second tool is the importance of body-mind connection.
You can talk with your body through your brain. For example, if you stand in a victory power-pose for 2 minutes (open body language and arms pointing up), it's scientifically proven that your cortisol and adrenaline will go down and dopamine and testosterone will go up. I always have my workshop-participants do this for 2 minutes while I explain the body-mind connection and at the end of the 2 minutes I ask them to scream while they think about victory. This always creates a great laugh. So, if you have to go on stage, try to stand in a power-pose for 2 minutes while you think about your coming victory as a presenter. I would highly recommend you watch this TED talk by Amy Cuddy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc
Here is a video from a workshop I did at University of Copenhagen, where we do a victory power-pose with a scream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOp1Qj91uTw
How did you become interested in your field? Has it been a lifelong fascination?
Thank you for asking. It’s a really funny and random story. It happened back in high school, when I was a 17-year-old kid. I was so tired of school because I got bullied very badly (see full story at my homepage: https://www.asbjornspeaks.com/asbjorns-story).
Luckily, I was offered an opportunity to go have an exchange year in California in Nevada Union High School, in the beautiful Sierra Nevada area. One of the first days at school we were given a ballot with over a hundred classes. Everything from horse riding to psychology, and I came across a class I didn't understand. It was called “Speech”. I asked: “What is Speech?“. The lady at the desk answered: “You learn how to talk”. Confused, I replied “I know how to talk”. And she said firmly: “No, you learn how to talk from a stage.”.
This captivated me, and I immediately signed up. Within the first 3 weeks of the class there was a competition between the different speech classes, and I won. For the first time in my life, I ever won something. I had my very first successful school experience.
Afterwards, my teacher Mr. Loren Brown came up and said to me: "Asbjorn, that was exceptional! This is your thing! Everybody has their thing, this is yours. I want you to sign up to all the public speaking competitions in the state. I will be your driver and coach.” Public speaking became a huge thing for me during that year and with my teacher, I drove around the states participating in multiple public speaking contests. I actually became the first foreigner to win the California League in Public Speaking. Since that year, over 25 years ago, my love for public speaking and storytelling has not stopped. I was so lucky to find “my thing” when I was 17.
What is the single most important component of an engaging story?
I tend to "talk with my hands" too much, do you have any tips on how to break that habit or do it less?
It might be because you have to high cortisol and adrenaline, so first I would try to do some body-mind exercises, to bring down my cortisol. Try to stand in a victory power pose for 2 minutes, before you go on stage. :-)
Watch this TED talk by Amy Cuddy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc
Also try to record yourself. That helps a lot.
Here is an example of the power pose with a scream from my own workshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOp1Qj91uTw
Get back to me if this does not help. Then I have some other tools to give you,
Hey, yeah thanks! I've created this link with a discount if you'd be interested: The Essentials of Presentation Skills and Storytelling
Do you think cadence should be more of a focus for public speaking or should that be reserved for storytelling?
What are your thoughts on intentional planned gesticulation in public speaking?
What’s your favorite initialism or acronym?
Do you - consciously or subconsciously - use your techniques and knowledge from your profession when you communicate in everyday situations?
Yes I do :-)
Do you have any book or course about story telling and public speaking? If no, witch ones do you recommend?
Usually, I teach live workshops for companies and organizations. But recently, I actually made my first online course about the absolute essentials of public speaking and storytelling. I'll paste a link that gives you a big discount if you want: The Essentials of Public Speaking (10 Euro).
What's you opinion on Elon Musks public speaking skills?
Because he always seems a bit awkward on the surface, he has Aspergers after all, but I always love to listen to him.
I think he is doing a great job because he is so much himself. asbjornspeaks.com
Probably a little too late to the q&a but better late than never!
What was your most embarrassing public speaking memory?
What was one of your favorite memories?
A small personal story before I ask my last question. Disclaimer; I love public speaking, I always have. When I lost my brother they opened the floor to anyone to speak at his funeral. I desperately wanted to share my story of how he saved me from a mistake I made in which he got hurt badly in order to save me while we were kids.(I did not let go of a rope swing. He jumped out and gave me an extra boost and fell onto rocks below to help ensure my safety while sacrificing his own.) When I started to share the story I got choked up and fighting tears. I still got out part of what I wanted to but my emotions made it hard and I felt it wasn't my best public speaking occurrence. I wanted to say so much more about him but just couldn't. There was quite a few stories to pick from but it made me so upset to share anything due to circumstances and lack of time to practice or mental preparation, but what really shook me was how emotions can hinder a public speech.
What are tips you have for people to get through emotional speeches that could provoke emotional responses?
So sorry for the long reply, thank you for reading.
Very good Qs. Thanks. I am preparing my eulogy to my father right now. and a black out because of emotions is certainty one of the fears I have, because I love him very much. My father knows that he is dying pretty soon (He has Parkinson) and he has a very strong faith, so he is very clarified about dying. But not me. I am certainly not clarified. I hope that my strong will to give my father a good eulogy will do that i do not break into tears. asbjornspeaks.com
In a way a PhD application interview is a kind of public speaking. Any tips and tricks?
What is your advice to someone who says “um” or other filler a lot?
Breath deep, long and slow. Note for yourself, that because of the cortisol, the time inside you go 3 times faster, than in real life and that its ok to have silence, to hold those pauses in sound. asbjornspeaks.com
I have social anxiety and have a hard time articulating my thoughts. I am also pretty monotone
Its frustrating because I give others my undivided attention and listen careful when they speak but I can tell people stop listening half way through me talking and it makes me feel worthless. What can I do?
Have you tried to see yourself on a recording? asbjornspeaks.com
How do you keep yourself to focusing on repeating things and not producing anything new during talks?
Humm I produce new talks all the time :-) Taking up the newest science :-)
What's a bad public speaking habit that would be best addressed while its not developed yet?
I do not understand the Qs
What is the best word timing per minute to avoid talking too fast or too slow?
How does public speaking change between countries?
Tha Americans seem to be much better at public speaking. asbjornspeaks.com