5 Minutes to Change Your Public Speaking Approach

Public speaking is one of the most common fears people have. It was something I was terrified of for years until I decided to tackle the fear. To help you start to conquer your own fear of public speaking, I’m excited to share wisdom from a veteran public speaking expert, Gary Lo. Gary’s background is incredible, boasting experience as a TedX speaker and High Impact Presentation Winner. He has given over 500 presentations in 30 different cities and has worked for numerous impressive global brands and universities. 

I asked Gary a few questions about how he has mastered public speaking and what people can do to follow in his footsteps. 

Made To Hire: Years ago, what were the most important things you did to help you conquer public speaking fear?

Gary: When I was in school, I was a pretty shy kid with low self-esteem. I recall myself feeling extremely nervous whenever I had to speak in front of others, with my heart thumping like a drum. I think the turning point came when I became a student ambassador of the MBA program I was studying in. I had to face an audience of 200 to 300 people, and it changed me into a completely different state. I believe the most important thing was the shift in my intention. When I was younger, my intention was all about trying to impress others. That was a “focus-in” angle, where I would be extremely conscious of how I was speaking and what others thought of me. And because of that, I appeared very stiff and “mechanical” when I was on stage, being overly self and image conscious. As a student ambassador, my objective was very different - my sole intention was to inspire my audience by sharing a life transformational experience of mine. Everything that I said was something I truly believed in, and I was not in a state of trying to prove anything. At some point, I learned to enjoy the stage and interaction with my audience. It was pure sharing from the bottom of my heart, and I felt more humble and solid. I believe the key here is about “focus-out”, where my focus is on how my sharing can benefit those on the receiving end of my presentation versus me trying to present the best image of myself. 

Made To Hire: What three things do you think Ted speakers tend to do exceptionally well?

Gary: It was a remarkable experience to get to speak on the TEDx stage, and I would say there are a few things that TED speakers have in common:

1.   They make their messages “essential”– Out of all the public speeches that I have made, the TEDx stage was the toughest due to its time limit of 18 minutes. In that setting, you really need to clear out your thoughts and be very focused on the “one idea”. When you go through that process, you will realize giving a lengthy presentation is actually an easy thing, while being able to make it short and precise is much more difficult. It’s not about making a message “simple”, but making it “essential”. The challenge I posed myself would be: “What would my story sound like if I only had 15-20 seconds?”. A message that is simple, direct and that resonates with the audience has power, and this is important for any kind of presentation we want to make. 

2.   They speak from the heart, not the mind– In the corporate world, I have seen many eloquent speakers, who usually speak with high confidence and great logic. You may be impressed by their “presentation skills”, but you rarely feel inspired by them as a person. For TED speakers, they usually share personal stories versus giving the audience a lecture. We are encouraged to expose our true selves, and to share genuine personal experiences. When we go into that space, our heart opens up, and the same happens to our audience. The more we feel at ease in our own skin, the more we can make the audience feel the same way. 

3.   They have the intention to inspire– As a TED speaker, we are not on the stage to prove anything, nor to impose our beliefs on anyone. We are just a group of people who were given an opportunity to share some of our life's inspirations on a brilliant platform. That’s it. This is our mindset, and that’s exactly why the audience feels a different connection with TED speakers. We want to be related as a human being, not a presenter. At the end of the day, influencing how our audience think and feel is our intention, and that is way more powerful than using any skills and techniques to impress them.  

Made To Hire: What’s one piece of advice for how someone can work on becoming a better public speaker?


1.    Be Curious– if we want to engage others, the first thing we need to do is learn to engage ourselves. What topics do you love to explore? What inspires you? Go study them – get a book, join a few forums, look for some online videos. Through that process of curiously researching a topic, that’s how we can come up with the ability to come up with interesting ideas and insights. 

2.    Be Courageous– talking about a concept is one thing, and personally experiencing it is something completely different. As a speaker, you really want to inspire someone with your actual experience, as that’s when you can really speak from your heart. 

3.    Be Passionate– once we start to share our ideas on stage using our passion and not our skills, that’s how we start to truly touch the hearts of our audience. 

4.    Be Grateful– when we are grateful, we become humble and genuine. When we speak from that perspective, the energy that we send out will naturally enlighten the crowd.

Made To Hire: Who inspires you as a public speaker?

Gary: Steve Jobs is the most important role model of mine. His philosophies and beliefs inspired me a lot in terms of how I can become a better speaker. Stay focused, be real, believe in yourself, speak with passion – there are so many great qualities that I learned from Steve, and that’s exactly why his speeches were able to influence millions of people around the globe. I watched his Stanford commencement speech at least 20 times, and studied every single one of his presentations and interviews. I would say if there’s someone you admire as a speaker, just try to do the same by learning from him. The more we watch and feel the energy of that person, the more we will be able to create a similar influence. 

Interested in learning more about Gary? You can watch his TedX Talk, “The Little Giant: How to gain your life momentum” (starts at 6:09:00) here http://bit.ly/TEDxHKU2018