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How To Lead Better With Public Speaking - Alex Hunter

succeed through speaking tom bailey Jun 08, 2022

Tom Bailey, founder of Succeed Through Speaking, interviews Alex Hunter.

In this episode we hear about our guests journey with confidence, public speaking and presentation skills and how it has helped them succeed in life and in business - in other words, how to succeed through speaking

He is also the creator and host of Attaché, an award-winning online travel show

Previously, Alex served as the global Head of Online for the Virgin Group, overseeing the Virgin brand’s global digital strategy in its entirety, as well as Sir Richard Branson’s personal digital strategy.

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Tom Bailey  00:07

Hello and welcome to succeed through speaking the place for experts and entrepreneurs who want high value ideas to boost business results Hello, I'm Tom Bailey and in today's speaker stories episode, I'll be getting to know Alex Hunter, who's a branding and customer experience expert and also a keynote speaker. He's also the creator and host of attach a an award winning online travel show. So Alex, hello, and a very warm welcome to today's episode. Thanks so much for including me. I'm looking forward to this.

Tom Bailey  00:47

I really appreciate you coming along and just out of interest whereabouts are you in the world right now?

Alex Hunter  00:52

I am in sunny today somehow incredibly, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. So yeah, I'm not too far from you

Tom Bailey  01:00

know, not too far at all. Excellent. Thank you so much. And I can just share a little bit more about you before we do get started. So previously, Alex served as the Global Head of online for the Virgin Group, overseeing the Virgin brands global digital strategy in its entirety, as well as Sir Richard Branson's personal digital strategy. So, Alex, I know that both you and of course Richard Branson have successfully used public speaking to share your message with the world. So I'd love to know where you always naturally born confident speaker or is it something you've had to work on?

Alex Hunter  01:35

I think I've always enjoyed being on stage from a young age, my mother was an actress. So she instilled that in me from a very young age to be reasonably confident. I know he's got the jitters, you know, just before you step on stage, or even in sort of year three, Christmas play that type of thing. But I've I have always enjoyed it. It's not something I did professionally until quite a long way into my career. But it's somewhere that I've, I've always felt reasonably comfortable. Good, good. Good. So

Tom Bailey  02:03

you're one of the one of the lucky few guests that have got that naturally. And that's great to hear. So when you think about public speaking, and how important do you think it is when it comes to, to business to leadership? Credibility? How long do you think that is?

Alex Hunter  02:18

Oh, it's huge. I mean, so much of my work these days, is getting people to understand what a brand is trying to get them to feel, as opposed to what what product does it create, or what services to provide, as a as an organization as a brand? What do we want our people, our customers to feel when they use it and to get a workforce inspired or a or an audience inspired you have to be able to tell that story in an engaging and emotive way. And there's far fewer ways better ways to do that than then on stage. And in a captivating and, and in many ways, entertaining way. Public speaking is a great way to do that.

Tom Bailey  02:56

Absolutely talks about captivating and entertaining. And I guess that's something that you have to learn that doesn't always come naturally. So when you think back to the very beginning, and you know, what was your first presentation? And how did that go?

Alex Hunter  03:09

My so it's kind of a funny story. I was this is while I was at Virgin and a friend of mine, a fellow American in the UK called Ryan Carson ran an events company. And at the last minute, a speaker he had lined up pulled out and he called me and said, hey, you know, I'm sure you guys are doing something interesting and Virgin. Can you come and talk and I say oh, yeah, maybe when is it tomorrow? Well, yes, it okay, I'm in New York right now, but I think I can make that work. So I jumped on a read I went straight from the airport to the stage opened with a joke, got a laugh and I was hooked. But after that it became actually a lot more of a an education for me. I think I was lucky the first go but I wanted to learn how to do it properly from there on.

Tom Bailey  03:53

Yeah, that was I guess quite brave actually opening with a joke for your first ever presentation but luckily it went down well you got that laugh and that really helped set sail the nerves I

Alex Hunter  04:03

guess. It does and it's quite it's quite intoxicating, getting a laugh from an audience and I and I do my son just did his year seven public speaking examiner said you got the first 90 seconds to get them. You have if you don't have the audience or at least the majority of them in the first 90 seconds you're you're going to struggle so something quick and and compartmentalized that you can hand to them. That's easy. That's low hanging fruit just just to develop a rapport and break down that barrier between you and the audience is worth its weight in gold. And also the whole thing much easier.

Tom Bailey  04:40

The I've been told about the first 90 seconds a lot of time by a lot of different speakers. Would you say it's something that you've prepared and practice meticulously so you know, inside out is it? Yeah. Is it that

Alex Hunter  04:50

that well? Absolutely. And I've I've just like a stand up comedian. I work material. I know it sounds a little bit kind Have douchey but it's true and at work, you've got to see what, what resonates with audiences. And yes, I mean, the first 10 professional speaking gigs I did. I recorded myself, I practiced every gesture and movement, every pause, every word, every transition. So that it was second, I didn't even think about it. Yeah. And then all of the off the cuff stuff comes so much more naturally. Yeah. Then if you're not familiar with your material, or your environment, or your or your slides or your account, what do you want to say? So having that first two minutes, just second nature, so it's almost reflex makes the rest of it so much is totally worth that investment?

Tom Bailey  05:43

Yeah, absolutely. So I made the mistake of having this big fear of public speaking that I had one of the first presentations I did, I decided to write the whole script word for word, and learn the whole script word for word. And it ended up being a big mistake, because I got one line wrong, and it completely through the whole presentation. So I understand for the first couple of minutes, but definitely don't script the whole thing.

Alex Hunter  06:06

Totally agree. And it's really interesting, because you, you see, especially in the work that I do, where I'm going all over the world, and I'm doing speeches in very different industries, I get to meet a lot of very interesting people and see a lot of very interesting speakers. But you'll have somebody who was the sort of the former chairman of a big retail brand that we all know and love, and you think they're going to tell interesting stories. And they do exactly what you just described, they either read from a script that they've written, then it sounds like, you know, a eulogy at a funeral. Yeah. Or they, they make this the same mistake that you just did, which is having it completely rote, but then something distracts you or you forget a word and you trip up and the rest of it unravels. It's very tempting to do that.

Tom Bailey  06:57

And it can really damage your credibility, or this expectation of you as this big leader in terms of, you know, big retail brand. And then you stand up and you read like you're at a funeral. So it does really ruin your credibility. So that shows the importance of getting this right as well.

Alex Hunter  07:10

I think it really does. And I think that you being on stage is a is a testament to who you are as an expert in your field, or whatever the fact that they people want to speak. And I think you need to be confident in that you need to be confident in your own expertise, and talk casually conversationally colloquially, colloquially to the audience, because you know, your stuff, otherwise, you wouldn't be on stage in the first place. So you got to relax into that a little bit. Yeah, I feel. Okay.

Tom Bailey  07:40

So a lot of our audience are just thinking about speaking maybe one day. And so I guess that the very start of their beginning, what advice would you give to a young Alex, that's just starting out in the world of public speaking.

Alex Hunter  07:54

Don't do what we just talked about, which is script it and try and memorize it. I think, if you have the will, the trick that I use, and I still use to this day out, you know, 15 years later is I have slides that are for me, chapter headings. Yes, they are visual cues for me, not the audience. But for me, it's time to talk about this subject is timed. And don't forget to mention this little thing, and then move on to this subject. And they're all stored as chapters in my brain. So the content comes out quite naturally. But if I don't have that visual structure in front of me, I'll get lost. And I have no problem admitting that. So be comfortable with the content and have some way and it can be it can be note cards, but with nothing more than one or two words saying, I don't talk about this, do not talk about this. And I'll talk about this. And it's fine to do that. There's no harm in that. Or, like I do with slides, and the slides for the audience are visual kind of emphasizes for the points I'm making. They are never repeating what I say, because that's like, Well, who am I supposed to be listening to? Yeah, they're just sort of visual enhancers to the point that I'm making. Sometimes they're kind of making a parenthetical joke or something like that. So I think that chapter isolation of your content makes it so much easier to memorize than to try and do a whole script like an actor. And then the slides that you develop, know them like the back of your hand, every transition every click every time every movie, then you're not thrown off when a click goes too far and you like too far, because that goes back to the point you were making earlier about. It makes you know, you don't look unprofessional, it just it can throw off your confidence. So those those two things I think are real will get you 80% of the way there

Tom Bailey  09:53

of it. Yeah, just you said a few times now but practice preparation is really key when it comes to this game and So if you want to make a good impression, yeah, absolutely. And okay, great. So we've talked about those people at the very beginning, I guess, thinking about maybe looking to speak and present. What about the other end of the scale? So somebody who's been speaking for a little while now and thinks, I'd love to turn this into a career where I can actually get paid to do this, what what advice have you got for them?

Alex Hunter  10:18

That's certainly something I didn't plan on doing. I just really enjoyed doing it. I love telling stories. And so that the opportunity to tell stories to talk about the things that we've done at Virgin America and in the Virgin Group and things that I was working on, things that I thought were neat, from a customer experience perspective that had happened, and just the ability to share that. And I think, every opportunity that comes up, to get on stage and hone your craft as a speaker, you should take and then I think quite quickly, after a couple of years, you will start to get people saying, can you come and speak at this event? What's your fee? Yeah, you need to be able to answer that question, obviously. But also, when that happens around the same time, it's, it's great to start approaching the speaker bureaus and say, Look, I've done these events. Here's a potted CVE, you know, my experience, and building those relationships, and it may take 612 months before they throw a gig at you. But they will eventually because they want new fresh voices on their books that differentiate them from the millions of other speaking bureaus out there. So colting cultivating those relationships is very important as well. Yeah, I

Tom Bailey  11:31

love that that's really useful. So I guess one of the key things that I've heard quite a few times is having a niche as well when it comes to being a paid speaker. Because if you're a generalist, I guess you talk about everything, it's hard to actually get chosen to speak at events, you know, so what what's your advice around finding a niche or staying within your lane as a speaker?

Alex Hunter  11:53

I don't think you necessarily need to stay within your lane. But you got to have a hook. Right? You have Why are you different from all of the other? I always think of speakers as products on a shelf, right? Like yourself behind me and you've got what is gonna make you stand out in five to seven words. What's that? That hook? And it may be your your experience, That's often why people look and even though I left virgin in 2009, they say that word shiny? Yeah. Yeah, it may be that for you as well, which is, which is great. It's a great foot in the door. But then you have to think about how you're going to package yourself. What is that five to seven word pitch that makes you slightly different. Could be a question could be slightly provocative. Could be a challenge. Could be, you know, a solution to a question that a lot of us are asking in 2022. And beyond that, that type of thing, but be no more verbose than five to seven words, because we are very impatient people as a species.

Tom Bailey  12:52

Yeah. Yeah. Love it. And, and that analogy of the shelf is really important, because there are so many speakers out there. So if an event is going to pick a speaker off the shelf, you need to make sure that you stand out from the Yeah, absolutely. Excellent. So and again, we're talking about people here who are on the journey to become one day and amazing speaker. So are there any particular resources or coaching or support you've had over the years that you'd really recommend to other

Alex Hunter  13:20

wanting speakers? Yeah, absolutely. I think if you have the opportunity to speak at an event, don't just rock up for your for your slot, and then leave again, stick around for the whole day, watch the other speakers, when you clench your butt when they've done something wrong, analyze it, hold that feeling with you, and then try and avoid it at all costs and, and figure out how you'd make the same point differently. The value that you will get from the from the community is, you can't synthesize that you can't buy it, it won't come from you sitting in your room and repeating your same speech over and over again, I don't think you'll get as much value from watching people speak on YouTube, because you can't see what the audience is reacting to nearly as well. And then tangentially watch stand up comedy. I mean, don't always try and make jokes. Don't always try to be funny. One or two, I think is fine. But delivery. I mean, those people are masters of captivating audiences. And you'll you'll see little tricks that become consistent among the best. And I think that is a great way to to learn very quickly about stage presence, about timing, about confidence, about engaging with an audience, that that type of thing. That's that's absolutely something I've done. Yeah, loving. That's

Tom Bailey  14:36

great advice. Because one thing that I did, a mistake I made when I started was I bought every single book on public speaking TED talks, presenting confidence. Two years ago, I'd read them all but I still hadn't stood up and spoke. So I guess, being surrounded by speakers watching them, embedding yourself in that environment. Yeah, great advice. And next question from me and it's quite topical one because we're just coming out of the back of a global pandemic, which wiped out public speaking in terms of in person, how did you transition during that period? And what did you learn?

Alex Hunter  15:11

Well, I'm I'm very fortunate because I have a YouTube channel as you, as you said, so I had quite a lot of camera equipment lying around, I also have a podcast that one or two people listen to. So I had like, the decent microphone, and the mixers and all of that, studio lighting and all of that. But I hated it. I hated it, I hated it, I hated it, because I loved talking to the audience, I love seeing my my fellow speakers do their thing. And sitting in a room in, you know, my pajamas, and doing the same thing. It just felt soulless and, and horrible. And I tried, basically taking what I would do on stage, and copying and pasting it into the camera, and it didn't work. It didn't work at all. So I stopped using slides because it just put a barrier between me and the audience. And I if I did, I use this little device called a stream deck so I could fade in between slides, I get up myself and the slide or, you know, I could mix like you would an audio mixer. That took a year to figure out at least. So it wasn't easy, the content had to change because some of it just, you know, got I've you know, my average speaking slot was 45 minutes, no one wants to do this for 45 minutes now, getting getting the key messages down to 15 or 20 minutes was was difficult because you had to kill many of your darlings along the way. But the only blessing in disguise was that I could do three in a day. Yeah. And not have to go well I got it. I can't be in Berlin and Tokyo at the same time. So I'm gonna have to turn one of those down. But now this is hybrid way of doing it is is okay. But it's nice that the in person stuff is starting to come back. Yeah.

Tom Bailey  17:05

And I think some of those nuances you mentioned there are what's going to make it difficult for from a hybrid perspective, you know, people trying to put on a big live event whilst also trying to draw people in from home and there's gonna be a very difficult challenge, I think to make sure that is relevant for every audience member. Yeah, I agree. Yeah, so watch this space I guess and see how it all works out. But from from what I can tell, conferences are back seminars are back speaking gigs are happening again, all over the world. So it looks like we're back in business. Yeah, it's very exciting. Fantastic. And last very last question for me, in fact, is if anybody has resonated with your message or wants to find out more about you or booking you as a speaker, where can they connect with you online?

Alex Hunter  17:48

Best list is my website. Alex is known by Alas, Vegas pornographer. So don't go there. And then yeah, that's all my speaking stuff is in there. Links to my various projects. And I love talking about this stuff fairly, obviously. And I would welcome anybody getting in touch.

Tom Bailey  18:07

I love it. Thank you so much for that offer. And thanks again for your time. Today. What I'll do is I'll post some links in the show notes as well. So we can just click on those and find you online. Fantastic. So thanks again for sharing your amazing story with us and loads of great value for our audience. And yeah, I really appreciate you coming along today.

Alex Hunter  18:24

Oh, my pleasure. Thank you so much for including me