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The Peloton Playbook for Public Speaking

Josh Cobden

Welcome to a new year, and the month when many of us embark on resolutions to try to improve ourselves. Common among these commitments are the two W’s – work and wellness. 

On the work front, we think about ways to get ahead and advance our careers, and that often involves skills development. Public speaking has always been an important skill for personal brand and advancement, but it’s also something upwards of 70% of the population absolutely dread.

On the wellness front, we often promise to get physically fit, and that can involve blowing the dust off a piece of exercise equipment that’s been neglected over the last year, or using the one we just received as a holiday gift.

What if one activity could achieve both aims, I wondered while pedaling away on my Peloton stationary bike. In fact, many of the approaches taken by Peloton that keep millions of people coming back day after day are completely transferable to public speaking.  No, I won’t be delivering my next speech on a stationary bike with a dance track. But I will take some cues from the Peloton playbook, and suggest you give these eight tips a spin in planning your next speech:

Length: The most popular Peloton rides are 20 minutes, comprising a few minutes for set-up, 15 minutes in the middle, and a few minutes to wind things down. This is a near perfect guide for a speech. Much less and the audience may feel shortchanged. Any longer and people start glancing at their phones.

Predictability: In a Peloton ride, you always know what you’re getting, and it always delivers. Classes can be picked by instructor, music, length, type and workout intensity. If you want to put bums in the saddle for your speech, market it the same way: who you are, the context, the theme and most importantly, what audiences will take away.

Audience signaling: Peloton instructors begin each ride with an overview of what’s to come. Then they explain each section as it’s about to begin, and when it’s over, they recap the accomplishment. There’s folksy advice that says: “tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, then tell ‘em, then summarize what you told ‘em.” Try this in your next speech.

Talk to the many: A Peloton class can attract 20,000 riders live, and some have been replayed over 500,000 times. Big audiences bring a diversity of ages, abilities, personalities and needs. The key for the Peloton instructor — and the public speaker — is to speak to shared goals with actionable approaches that resonate with the whole audience.  Keep these goals front and centre to appeal to the many.

Talk to the one: Peloton instructors pepper their patter with shout-outs and namechecks to participants hitting milestones or achievements. Hearing a fellow rider (or, thrillingly, yourself) cheered on by name creates intimacy. Great speakers do the same thing, from acknowledging friendlies in the room to holding eye contact with individual audience members for a few beats before moving to the next point. Use these techniques to create connection.

Engage, inspire, entertain: Peloton’s secret sauce is that it makes you feel like you’re physically inside an actual spin gym with a live instructor and fellow participants. The recipe includes a leaderboard for tracking and even virtually high-fiving your virtual neighbour. But the main ingredient is instructors that have mastered engagement, inspiration, and entertainment – even through a screen. A great speaker plans moments to do the same, and skillfully reads the audience throughout the speech whether in-person or remote.

Preparation: Peloton instructors may sound spontaneous, but their commentary is meticulously planned, written, and rehearsed. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, instructor Jess King says she scripts some rides “down to every second of what I want to say” — rehearsing it and often memorizing it. Most great speakers take the same approach. Pro tip: once you’ve memorized your speech, deliberately insert pauses and “ums” so you don’t sound robotic. 

A call to action: Every Peloton ride ends with a suggestion for what you should do next (usually, it’s more Peloton). On-screen, you’re nudged to a cool-down, a stretch or a strength class at the push of a button. Similarly, before leaving the podium and an engaged audience, experienced speakers always deliver a call to action. So, here’s mine: think about what you want your audiences to do right away, and then articulate it with passion before you leave the stage.

A Peloton ride demands commitment, endurance and hard work, and so should public speaking. But by taking these tips from the Peloton playbook, your next spot at the podium in 2022 will be a gold medal.

Peloton riders can follow Josh at @TruthNotSpin