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Public Speaking Tips from My Dog Balou

By Joey Asher

Category: Content, Eye Contact, Facial Energy

My dog Balou was a 60-pound, black-lab mix that we adopted at a PetSmart rescue day 15 years ago. He passed away last week after a long and wonderful life. I always said that if he could only talk and write on a flip chart, Balou would have been a great public speaker. That’s because Balou understood how to connect with people better than most humans.

It’s About Connection Not Perfection

First, Balou knew that you could do a lot wrong if you established great rapport.

Balou made lots of mistakes. He ate the insoles out of shoes. He chewed the upholstery on our nice living room sofa. When he would vomit on the kitchen floor, it was truly disturbing. And I won’t bother describing the foul and prodigious “gifts” he occasionally left for us in our living room if we forgot to let him out the night before.

But we always forgave Balou’s mistakes because we loved him. When I would work at the kitchen table, he would sit at my feet. When my kids came home from school, he would run to the window and bark for joy.  And he did this hilarious thing with this ratty stuffed panda where . . .  Well you get the idea.

Like Balou, great public speakers understand that you can overcome mistakes with connection. They’re not worried about forgetting a point, using an awkward phrase, or having their hair out of place. They don’t worry if the projector breaks.  They know that if they connect with the audience with energy, eye contact and stories, all will be forgiven.

Balou Showed Lots of Passion

If Balou had been a public speaker, his best trait would have been his passion. Balou had no trouble expressing his excitement. Whenever I was about to take him for a walk and he saw me grab his leash, he would go berserk. Especially in his younger days, he would leap, twirl, and sneeze repeatedly (Sneezing was how Balou showed excitement). That excitement was contagious and endearing.

Great speakers also show passion. I worked with an attorney that gave a presentation on how women attorneys can balance work and family.  As she spoke, her face lit up, her voice became intense, and her arms moved wildly.  Her passion was obvious and I was riveted.

Balou Made Great Eye Contact

Balou knew that to connect with people, you need great eye contact. If I said, “Hey Balou”, he would look up at me. If he wanted to go outside, he would look at me or my wife and bark. When I would come home from work, he would show he’s happy to see me by looking right at me and wagging his tail.

Similarly, great speakers understand that eye contact is critical. I worked with a project manager once who had great energy but looked at his feet when he spoke.  We helped him by making him hold the eye contact for three to five seconds with individual listeners.

Balou Just Loved You

Finally, Balou understood that you win affection by showing affection. We loved Balou because he loved us and showed us in dozens of ways.

The same is true with great speakers. They show their affection for their audience by addressing their key concerns rather than giving a generic speech. They leave plenty of time for questions. They then answer those questions with a helpful, sincere tone.  Audiences return the love that you give.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, or on the web at

Joey Asher

Joey is the President of Speechworks, a communication and selling skills coaching firm. He has worked with thousands of professionals, helping them learn to communicate in a way that connects with clients and audiences. He is also the author of four books on communication skills: “15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations,” “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition,” “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers,” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.” He can be reached at 404-266-0888 or


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