The "Grocery Cart" Approach To Public Speaking

As longtime readers of this blog know, I began my media career as a small town disc jockey.

I started by working the 6 a.m. – Noon shift on Sundays. It was often boring work. I’d bring a novel with me and would read in between songs, putting the book down just in time to turn the microphone on and announce the next song.

One day, my program director called me and told me I sounded distracted on the air. His specific comment was something like: “It sounds to me that the people listening to the radio are probably paying more attention to the programming than the person on the radio.” 

I often see the same problem with the public speaking clients we work with. They’re not fully present when they speak.

Many speakers appear distracted when they deliver a speech. One reason? They’re too busy trying to remember what they have to say next rather than fully focusing on what they’re saying at that exact moment. They’re so nervous that they’ll forget what they’re supposed to say after they finish discussing their current point that they allow their minds to fast forward a bit while their mouth remains in the moment.

One of my clients recently told me that he avoids that problem by visualizing a grocery cart. He said he refuses to allow himself to pick another “item” off the shelf until he places the one currently in his hands all the way into his shopping cart. I thought that was a brilliant analogy.

You can help yourself stay fully in the moment by writing a bulleted list of your main topics – your “shopping list” – before your speech. That way, when you’re making your first point, you don’t have to worry about what comes second. When you complete your first point, all you have to do is pause and confidently look down to remember your second point. Then, deliver it while being fully present in the moment. When you exhaust that point, calmly look down, find the next point, and then deliver that one while remaining fully present.

Lather, rinse, and repeat for the rest of your talk – and your hand will never have to reach for a second item until the first one is all the way in your cart.

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