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  • Writer's pictureEileen Smith


Recently, I had the honor to spend some quality time with Tom Yoder, the owner of Kemo Sabe, a high-end western wear store in Aspen, Colorado.  Yoder is a real cowboy.  He doesn’t just sell hats and boots.  He rides horses and enjoys a tough cattle drive.  Yoder doesn’t want anyone at his store to feel like they just got sold something.  He wants people to feel like they had an enjoyable, unusual experience.  Same goes with public speaking.  Instead of having someone feel like they sat through your talk, the goal is for them to leave feeling like they appreciated an engaging, memorable event.  Here are some cowboy pointers:

1. Swagger – It’s the cowboy way of saying executive presence.   Walk in like you own the place.  Hold your head up.  Keep your posture strong.  Look at the audience like you just won the rodeo belt buckle (that’s a big deal).  Make eye contact.  See the trees, not the forest.  Look directly into the eyes of an individual in each section of the audience.  This forms a connection and makes it feel like you are having a conversation with one person at a time, rather than a large group.  Hold your gaze for the length of a phrase and move your eyes to the next person when you get to a punctuation mark.  Not too long, not too short.

2. Storytelling – Oh, can Yoder spin a yarn!  What comes through is that he cares about people and gives credit to others at every opportunity.  A good story can pull in an audience from the outset.  One part of the Cowboy Code is to talk less and say more.  Curate your stories ahead of time.  Decide what point you want to make and choose a story for illustration. Make sure the story gets to the main event directly.  Remove unnecessary tangents.  Say your story out loud a couple times to make sure it flows. Thinking in your head that you want to tell the story of when you brought in the herd, for example, is not enough to make sure you deliver your message.

3. MTAFI – Yoder’s motto is Make the Customer Feel Important. He wants each of his customers to feel like they are VIPs.  To Make the Audience Feel Important, dedicate your presentation to them.  Think about what this audience needs to hear on this topic at this time.  Give them the most interesting, engaging speech that you can.  They may not remember all of what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel.  

Greet them as they come in.  The size of group doesn’t matter.  Instead of waiting by the microphone or taking care of last-minute details, stand at the door and talk with audience members as they arrive.  If you are in a green room, invite a few participants to join you there. Talking to audience members lets you learn about their interests and look for a way to weave them into the topic.  It also makes them feel like you care.  


Engaging the audience is a key tool for great speakers.  Right from the start, find a way to bridge the gap between the speaker and the audience.  Form a relationship.  Start out with an attention grabber that will draw them in; a story, a question, a relevant piece of news.  Give quality content, tailored to the audience.  Make them feel like they just learned something new, got inspired to make a change, or heard from a fascinating person about an interesting topic.  Then you can accept their applause and swagger out the door.

Ms. Smith founded Spokesmith, a public speaking coaching firm.  Her expertise in delivering your message is built on a career in diplomacy and her extensive study of public speaking, executive presence, and body language.

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