The thing about our stories

For the last ten years, I had this story that I wasn’t capable of quitting alcohol.Close-up of female hands holding teacup in front of opened book

I knew my life would be better without it. I knew it wasn’t serving my most beautiful vision for my life – the one where I am vibrant when I wake in the morning, completely present when I talk with my husband in the evening after the girls are tucked in bed. I knew I was using it to numb out – to take the edge off of what often felt like too many little (and big) things to do.

And yet, even with crystal clarity about the ways in which using alcohol was keeping me at distance from my vision for my life, I had this powerful story that I simply couldn’t give it up. That the edge-softening experience my evening wine brought me – the permission (and physical assistance) it gave me to relax – would always overpower my desire to live this cleaner, more present life.

I tumbled around with this struggle for a while. About three years, at the peak of it. Waking up angry at myself for making choices that I absolutely knew weren’t in service of my vision for my life.
Then, one day, in spite of this persistent story that I wasn’t capable of quitting –  I decided to “not drink for a little while.” I called it my alcohol sabbatical. That night, instead of pouring a glass of wine after work, I made myself some tea.

I went that whole night without having my ritual evening glass(es) of wine. To my absolute astonishment, I did it again the next day. And the next.

Pretty soon, that story about me not being capable of living my evenings without alcohol changed. I had this new story – the one where I wasn’t drinking for a bit, where I was “taking a break” from alcohol.

My alcohol sabbatical is coming up on three years in September. I really like the way I feel. I like not drinking. My life is more vibrant and peaceful. I get along with my amazing husband way better than I did before. I am peaceful and present for my daughters in the evening because I’m no longer hurrying to get to my glass of wine. I am living in congruence with my vision for my life and I love that.

Here’s the thing: alcohol may not be your issue. I know lots of people who have a glass of wine or a beer at night and all is well in their world. They are happy with that. Alcohol is not the problem for them. Instead, maybe…

  • You have a story that says you aren’t capable of getting up on stage and delivering a speech that moves people.
  • You tell yourself you aren’t ready to offer your services at rates that will sustain your business.
  • You believe that you can’t handle all that it takes to have a full and lucrative career and care for your family or your health.
  • You can’t imagine ever figuring out how to fit exercise into your life given the overwhelming list of  things you really must do to be successful in your work and family life.

Or maybe your stories and the beliefs those stories feed are different than these.

Of this I’m sure, though:

There IS a story at the base of whatever is happening in our lives. There is always a story.

Stories are powerful engines. They drive behavior. They energize and they deflate us. This is why, if we want to make a real difference in the world and feel peaceful inside while we do it, we MUST shine a light on the stories that are driving our lives.

We must look clearly and openly at them, the ones toward the surface (“I’ve got way too much to do, I’m not organized enough for this life I lead.”) and the deeper ones (“I’ll never be good enough to make a living doing this work.”)

As you may know, I have created some clear, actionable frameworks for doing great work in the world and crafting and delivering awesome presentations (Speak So It Matters™ and Soul Power to Your Message (my book) are both expressions of these frameworks). I’m proud of those frameworks and know that, when applied full-heartedly, they are excellent guides for brilliant speaking and contribution.

Yet – here’s the secret underneath these frameworks – and all other “frameworks” and “programs” and “systems” you see out there in the world: None of these programs work if we aren’t doing the foundational story and beliefs work to support them. Our stories and beliefs are the underlying, fundamental drivers of all of our behaviors and choices. Which means, they are the wings upon which our future success soars. So, what does it take to turn these stories around?

Turns out, it’s really quite simple:

  1. Shine a light on the stories that drive our behavior
  2. Look at how those stories are serving our vision for our life (or not)
  3. Actively question those stories – play with them, reframe them, hold them lightly, try-on their opposites – and allow the most peaceful and powerful stories to lead

No, I didn’t say “easy.”

The truth is, though, we really do get to decide what stories we buy into.

We decide which ones we play over and over in our mind. We also decide which ones we want to release – both in our minds’ movie-playing experience – and in our day to day action choices. (In the case of alcohol, I had to both begin a story that said I could live without alcohol and I had to create a daily action story that included tea and quiet-time as my end-of-day treat.)

I’m not going to pretend that this stuff is easy. While it is simple in process, our stories become habitual movies in our brain. We’ve got whole deep neural pathways built to keep them in motion. We need support and reminding sometimes to help us build those new pathways for the more-empowering stories in our brain.

Here is what I know for sure, after almost three years of increased peace and freedom from changing just one of my stories: It’s so worth it. Ridiculously, unbelievably awesomely worth it.


My whole life really did change when I changed that story about alcohol – and then took daily action on a new story.

If you are ready to release the stories that are blocking you from getting out there powerfully as a speaker and thought leader, your stories beliefs are the most powerful place to start.

In future posts, I’ll share with you many of my favorite tools for revealing and transforming our beliefs and stories. Stay tuned!


What if they ask me a question I don’t know how to answer?

How to respond to a question to which you don't know the answer - http://www.michellebarryfranco.comYou are in the home stretch of delivering a presentation you have spent the last many weeks preparing. The thrill of “game day” is in full play and you are soaking up the glory of a no-hitch, engaging experience for your audience (and you!).

Then you remember: the Q & A is coming up.

Your heart beats faster again and the anxiety rises. “What if they ask me a question I don’t know how to answer?,” and you lose yourself in your anxious thoughts.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In fact, you can make your Q & A one of the highlight experiences of your presentation – no matter what they ask you.

Your Q & A session in your presentation is a beautiful opportunity to increase trust, deepen your connection and show just how confident you are in your expertise.

Yes – even if you do not know the answer to a question you are asked.

In fact, I have come to find that these questions to which I don’t know the answer spark some of the coolest, most audience-engaging conversations of all.

Here’s why:

  • People love authenticity, honesty and respect. When a speaker takes off her “I’m the expert” hat and easily moves into “hmmm… I wonder what we could learn here together” mode, the audience is often endeared and intrigued. Your confidence in your ability to explore the topic real-time is better than any “guessing” answer you might dig up in the moment. You also show respect for the importance of high-quality, accurate information and a desire to make sure that is what they get in your presentation.
  • People love to share what they know. When you draw on the experience in the crowd to explore the question and search for an answer, you give others the opportunity to shine. Being willing to let others share their expertise shows your commitment to the best learning for everyone. It is also indicative of your own confidence.
  • Trust is the essential element of every presentation. Your audience is looking for evidence that they can trust you all the time. This is about both expertise credibility and character credibility. When you answer each question honestly, including saying “I don’t know the answer”, you deepen that trust. They now know that you won’t try to “B.S.” your way through answers to save your ego. This allows your audience to set aside any uncertainties about the accuracy of your information, leaving them open to even more learning and growth.

Being willing to say, “I don’t know” in appropriate ways shows that you care about your audience and the information you share with them. It shows that you put them and their needs before your ego’s desire to be “perfect.”

All of that said, there are ways to frame your response to make the most of the situation.

As a baseline, here’s my advice about all questions you are asked during a presentation: Be completely honest, stay connected and be as helpful as possible.

This means you really never just say, “I don’t know.” That would be honest, but it’s not that helpful and it doesn’t do much to keep the connection.

Instead, depending on what is true, start with something like:

“Great question… ”

“Hmmm, interesting question…”

“Well – that’s the first time I’ve heard that question… I love it!”

All of these phrases affirm the person asking the question. This is important because, if you think about it, they just took a significant risk themselves. Asking a question is a sort of “public speaking” of its own. As the presenter, you are the steward of the experience for that room full of people. This kind of affirmation helps everyone feel safe joining in on the discussion.

What you say next depends on a couple of things, such as:

Is the question within the scope of the presentation?

It’s not uncommon to get questions that are outside the scope of your topic. If the question falls outside of the agreed upon goals for your current presentation, it is not only appropriate but really your responsibility to keep the conversation focused. You’ve got a whole room full of people who are counting on you to do that. In this case, you might say: “Well, that’s an interesting question. I’m not the expert in that – it falls outside of our topic area – but I know that someone in here can help you find out who can answer that for you.” Then you ask the audience for suggestions.

Of course, this only works if your audience is likely able to help. If that is not the case, you might say something more like, “Interesting question. It falls outside of our topic today, but I know I’ve run across information about that [state where you saw that information]. I bet if you went there you would have no trouble finding it.”

If the question does fall within your area of expertise but you just don’t have the answer, you might choose to say something like, “What a great question! I’ve never had that one come up. I don’t know the answer off-hand, but I do know where I can find the the answer. Will you send me a quick email when you leave here today so I have a way to get back to you with the answer by early next week?”

Are there other experts in the room who might know the answer to the question?

I can’t say this enough: your willingness to do whatever it takes to get the very best information to your audience is the most valuable approach you can take as a speaker. Sometimes this will mean turning the spotlight onto another person in the room with similar expertise to yours and inviting them to share their wisdom with the audience. Assuming you have given the audience a high-quality, content rich presentation experience full of your expertise so far, this choice to point them to the best source for the answer to their question serves to actually increase your credibility.

I had this happen with me at a recent meeting. One of my colleagues who is an executive coach – an experienced speaker in her own right – was facilitating a presentation on Executive Presence for a group of professionals. I was in the audience. When the Q & A conversation turned to presentation skills, she shared her initial thoughts with the group then turned to me and asked me to add my thoughts to the conversation. Afterward, one of my clients who was in the room remarked to me how nice it was to have two experts share their ideas in that section of the presentation.

Does the answer to their question really matter in the whole scheme of things?

This one could be misunderstood so let me be clear: this isn’t about deciding whether a person’s question is a dumb question. It’s about helping your audience walk away with what they really need to be more successful around whatever they came to you to learn.

If you get a question to which you don’t know the answer and it is clear to you that knowing the answer to that question really won’t help make life better for your audience anyway, it is best to gracefully shift the conversation. This could be a sign that something from earlier in your presentation caused confusion, so it’s a good time to reiterate some important points.

You might say, “Oh I see where you’re coming from with that question. I think I may have moved through that section too quickly. Let me reiterate the parts you really need to know… “ Or whatever is true for how you can make the important elements clear to the audience.

It’s all about trust.

Your confident, clear response to a question you don’t know the answer to can make or break the trust and connection that you’ve created with the audience. If you stumble around with a half-answer or give an answer that you aren’t sure is accurate, your audience will feel this shift in energy. Things like our micro-expressions (very quick facial expressions that give away what we really think before we even have a chance to mask them) and voice fluctuation and pitch shift when we are uncertain. That last thing you want, after delivering such a great presentation full of excellent content, is for your audience to think: “Uh-oh. What just happened there?” or “Huh… I know that’s not quite true. I wonder why she’s saying that.” This can leave them lacking trust in everything you’ve shared. This is the last thing you want.

So, embrace the Q & A as the extraordinary opportunity that it is to build connection and trust – and to offer the most customized experience possible for your audience. Release any fear of losing credibility by not knowing the answer to a question and instead, invite the gift of being able to help your audience get exactly the information they need to resolve whatever drew them to your presentation, wherever that accurate information can be found. This makes you not just an expert on your topic, but a trusted adviser overall, which goes much further than one successful presentation.


How to Plan Your Presentation Slides (while sitting poolside, if you like)

PowerPoint gets a bad rap.

The truth is, slides can be a really awesome addition to your speech. IF they are used effectively, as the assistant they are meant to be in your presentation.

The first and most fundamental rule of creating presentation slides is this: Step AWAY from the computer! 

No software gets opened until you have completed your speaking outline. Only then do you want to begin to think about what amplifying aids will best illustrate the point you are making. This is the process I use myself – and with private clients – to map out our slides and other amplifying aids. 

I love this way of planning slides because I can easily move them around, remove them and slide in another one when I get a new idea. 

It’s a simple process, really. 

1. Grab these items: 
        – your completed speech outline

        – a sharpie (I love sharpies, can you tell?)

        – a stack of small sticky notes (mix of 4 colors is ideal, maybe more if you will have more types of engagement and amplifying aids)

        – and a folder 
2. Go somewhere spacious and lovely. Somewhere you feel creative and open to new ideas. (Poolside will work. So will your backyard, your favorite chair in your house or office. A favorite nature area.)

3. Choose which sticky notes will represent which type of amplifying aid or slide. Here is an example of my sticky note “legend”


4. Lay out your slide ideas. Use these as prompts to help you search for images that will create those slides. 


One of the many great things about planning your slides this way is you also get a very clear visual of the variety built into their experience. Because of your color coding, you have a powerful visual representation of the experience you are bringing to your audience – the spacing of activities, the signpost slides that help them know where you are in the presentation. Plus, you have simple prompts to help you find the best images and other media to support the ideas you present.

I find this part of planning my presentations so much fun. Something about this process always invites new ideas for engagement – images, yes, but also activities and music and other creative ideas, too!

Have fun with this!


Here’s another example of a speech I did last year:

(This post is just one of the many step-by-step lessons I teach in Speak So It Matters™ – The Online Speaking Course. This is the only online speaking course that guides you in a highly practical process for crafting and delivering a speech that truly matters – and helps you transform any beliefs that might get in the way of you actually delivering your speech with brilliance. Our next session will begin in late August 2015. Mark your calendar.)

What is a Thought Leadership Speech (and Why We Love TED Talks)


I could spend hours on In fact, I have spent hours watching TED Talks. Blissful, mesmerized, thrilling unplanned hours. Maybe you have, too.

Clearly we are not alone. The 20 Most Popular TED Talks of All Time each have many MILLIONS of views. Forgive me for stating the ridiculously obvious: That’s a whole lot of people captivated by these speeches.

What IS it about TED Talks that fascinate us so? What makes them so different – so much better – than the zillions of other things that we could be doing with those hours we spend watching them?

I know what it is. It’s that TED Talks are specifically designed and delivered to meet our greatest desires for rich experience in our lives, with a low investment of energy on our part. It’s a tropical island vacation in an intellectual wonderland.

See, we are desperately seeking delight and rich engagement.

We want to be moved. We want to be lit up and surprised. We want to feel the thrill of the unexpected. We want to believe that something else is possible – something we never imagined. Something totally mind-boggling – or maybe something so richly right and real that we literally feel the truth of it in our blood and breath. And we are absolutely blissed out to learn what we knew all along but didn’t know how to name. 

The best TED speakers remind us – in beautiful, simple, descriptive language – that there are still amazing new ideas. That every story has not been told – at least not like this.

And in this we see a glimmer of hope. Hope for our own ideas. Hope for inspiring that kind of thrill in others. Hope for seeing what maybe we, too, are capable of creating, saying, contributing to the Conversation.

Much like falling in love, we are infatuated by TED speakers and the ideas shared because they reflect back to us what we most want to see in ourselves.

The beauty in this is that possibility does exist for us. We really can be a part of this gorgeous, rich conversation.

All we need is an idea – one that we are committed to taking a stand for. An idea that changes things.

And the willingness to turn that idea into a message that captivates and inspires others.

So, what do you think? Do you have an idea that changes things?

Are you willing to take a bold, powerful Thought Leadership stand for that idea? This is what Thought Leadership looks like. Your Thought Leadership Speech is the one that makes a big impact with your idea. The one you craft using the perfectly chosen captivation, inspiration and motivation techniques to support your idea. The one that is committed to changing things.

So how do you turn your idea into a TED style Thought Leadership talk? These five things will transform your speech: 

  1. State your idea with incredible clarity. Make it so simple that you could teach it to third graders. (Even if you wouldn’t share this particular adult idea with kids that age.) 
  2. Make it impossible not to care about this idea. Give everything you’ve got to creating connection between your audience and your idea. Help them feel the idea in their belly. Light them up while you do it. To do this, you must understand why this idea matters so much – and to whom. And tell them why in the world this matters this much to you. 
  3. Tell stories everywhere. Tell simple stories that touch us in ways that matter to us. The relevant story about your grandfather. The one from when you first got an inkling of this idea. The one that broke everything before you figured out how to put it back together. Choose story over everything, wherever possible. 
  4. Surprise them with the Unexpected. DARE to say it – the thing your audience wonders, wishes and secretly desires. Visuals, experiences, shocking turns of events. Let them ride the roller coaster of your idea. 
  5. When the ride is over, tell them how they can carry this experience with them into their life beyond the room. Give them specific things they can do to apply this idea. Tell them how to make a new choice when they leave the room. Ask them to commit and remind them why this matters – for them and the world. 

TED presentations and talks have shown us what’s possible in the way of Thought Leadership presentations. We are incredibly lucky to have so many examples of how to share our ideas using all of the most captivating and inspiring speaking techniques. But we do not need a TED stage to step into Thought Leadership.

If you know that your idea will change lives, it is worth spreading. What would happen if every single time you stepped in front of a room full of people you committed to changing lives and inspiring positive action? I love the idea of living in that kind of world.

Let’s do this.


How to Book More Speaking Opportunities

Coffee break at business meetingI walked into the mostly empty restaurant and immediately saw the gathering of women around a table at the back. Since it was only 7:30am, the only business going on at this lunch and dinner spot was this networking event and a lot of glass and plate clinking during table set up. I walked up to the registration table and said “Hello” to the lovely woman handing out name badges. As I pinned my badge to my sweater, a bright light of a woman greeted me.

After a kind greeting, we shared about our kids, where we live and, eventually, about our businesses. When I told her I’m a speaking coach, she gave me this look that has become quite familiar. It’s a mix of “oh dear, she’s going to be analyzing my speaking…” and “ooh, a speaking coach! How unusual!” This look is usually followed by something like, “Well, I’m the speaker today so I can’t wait to hear what you think of my presentation!” Which is essentially what this woman said to me that morning as well.

So, as I always do when this happens, I reminded her that she clearly has beautiful, bright energy and she obviously came prepared (supplies for an interactive exercise were already on the table). I suggested that she simply take a few deep belly breaths and enjoy sharing her awesome expertise, just as she planned. I invited her to talk with me afterward if she had anything she wanted to debrief about the presentation but that I was already certain we were in for a fun, engaging learning experience.

As the morning session drew to a close, I approached her and told her what a lovely time I had. She asked me for my feedback on her presentation and I gave her very specific things that I thought went beautifully. (It really was an excellent, engaging presentation.) I asked her what she thought of her presentation. We talked about it for a few minutes and I thanked her again for her wonderful interactive exercise.

Then, I asked if she thought this group would enjoy a presentation on how to use speaking to attract clients. Before I even finished my sentence, she flung into scheduling action. “Oh my gosh, absolutely! When do you want to speak – April, May? That will be perfect!”

By the time I left, I had secured a spot as the presenter at the April meeting of these passionate business owners, a room full of my ideal clients. Needless to say, I was giddy happy!

Let me tell you, though – I haven’t always been this good at securing speaking opportunities with rooms full of people who are my ideal clients. Frankly, it’s not easy to get the opportunity to speak – even for free – when you are just getting out there with your message.

So today I wanted to share with you three things that will increase your chances of getting to speak to rooms full of your ideal clients.

Before I dive into the specifics, though, let me say this very important thing:

Nothing I do or recommend that you do is intended to manipulate anyone into doing something that is good for you but not good for them. In fact, the entire story I share above happened completely naturally. It wasn’t a “strategic” approach I took to getting a new speaking opportunity. It was the result of my wholehearted desire to be helpful, useful and meaningfully engaged with people doing beautiful work in the world.

I am certain that is how you approach your business, too, and that’s why I want to make this very clear. The energy we bring to our work is as important as any specific strategy or approach we utilize.

Now, on with your three ways to help meeting organizers book you to speak.

Above all, you’ve got to make it clear to the organizer that you deliver a high-value, rich content totally non-sales-pitchy presentation on a topic that their audience is really wanting to hear about. This is what they want in their speakers.

How do you let them know this when they don’t even know you yet?

  1. First, you be totally real and delightfully engaging at the meeting(s) you attend beforehand.

    You listen well to others and offer to help where you can (like I did with the organizer’s presentation feedback request and encouragement). You take your moment in the spotlight to introduce yourself with confidence and grace and then you help others shine, too, when they are doing their introduction or sharing their input. You show that you are a confident communicator and a team player (you want her to trust that you won’t turn on a sales pitch as soon as you have the spotlight for a long period of time). All of this shows the organizer that you “get it” about how to contribute to the overall success of a meeting.

  2. Have your Story of Transformation soundbite ready to share – and share it whenever you can.

    Especially if your topic is based on your own personal growth story, have that story distilled down to a quick and powerful summary that you can share in your formal introduction. It might sound like, “Hi, I’m Sarah. I went from a completely frazzled and cranky Mom of three kids who was, I am not kidding, daydreaming about running away to start a whole new life because I was so miserable – to a peacefully productive and loving mom and wife who spends her days doing work I love, enjoying a home life of ease and beauty and doing the unthinkable – drinking tea while reading  a novel on Sundays. I want other moms to know it is really possible to be a loving mom, a driven career woman and also a happy, peaceful person.” (Don’t you just want to hire her immediately?! I do.)

  3. Offer a custom talk for that particular group that reflects their wants and needs as well as your expertise.

    When you feel you understand the group’s real needs well enough and feel confident you can offer a talk that will truly make their lives better, approach the organizer to offer to speak. Be sure to suggest a topic that will delight and serve this particular audience. This might mean tweaking a talk you usually offer. For example, if this is a service-oriented organization, you might shift your talk about “healthy meal planning for moms of small children” to one on “meal planning to maximize energy so you can make a big impact in the world.”

I can’t emphasize enough how beautifully speaking has increased my own place as a thought leader in my niche, especially on a local level. When your ideal client gets to experience you as a confident speaker generously sharing your expertise with a room full of people, her own uncertainty about whether to hire you is decreased. She gets a sample of your style and has already received value from you before even hiring you!

I have literally had people hand me their business card on my way back to my seat after speaking and say “call me.” This is such a beautiful way to start a client relationship.

So go forth and offer up your speaking! With these three strategies in place you are sure to get way more “YES!” responses than you might imagine.