Article Category: Speaker Habits

What can Mickey Mouse Teach You about Public Speaking?

You probably don’t think there’s much of a comparison between you and Mickey Mouse.

Yet this cultural icon has many lessons for you to improve your effectiveness as a speaker.

In this article, we examine eight key speaking insights that speakers can learn from Disneyland and the entire Disney entertainment empire.

1. Commit to Quality

At Disneyland, there is a total commitment to quality which oozes out everywhere you look. There is obviously quality in the rides and attractions. The costumes are flawless. The light shows in the evening were sublime. The music and sounds throughout the park are superb.

The Speaking Lesson…

Commit to quality in every speaking aspect, whether it be your preparation, your timing, your delivery, your slides, your handouts, or your message. Producing quality isn’t easy — it’s lots of work! But consistent quality, more than anything else, will guarantee applause from your audience and requests for you to speak to them again.

2. Don’t overlook small details

Disneyland doesn’t just do the big things well; they deliver on the small details too.

  • In five days of walking the park, I saw just three pieces of trash on the ground.
  • The benches, the walls, the ceilings, and the ride queue areas are all decorated.
  • There was no cracking paint or rusty metal (except where it was part of the design style).
  • 3-D glasses are custom-designed for each attraction which requires them.
  • There was not a single power cord to trip over (as in so many amusement parks).

The Speaking Lesson…

It isn’t enough to have a strong message and delivery. The little things are important too, such as:

  • Make sure you’ve prepared enough copies of your handouts for everyone in attendance.
  • Arrive early so that you can rearrange the room to improve sight lines.
  • Thoroughly spell check your slides.
  • Rehearse until you’ve got your timing down.
  • Check that you’ve got pens for the white board or flip chart.

Consistent quality will guarantee applause from your audience and requests for you to speak to them again.

3. You want a great new idea? Reinvent an old one.

Disney has done well in reinventing old ideas. Many of Disney’s fairy tales have their roots in European folk tales, for example.

Disneyland continues this pattern by continuing to reinvent its own stories. While some of the attractions are fairly literal interpretations of the stories or movies which inspired them, many are fresh reinventions. For example, one of the highlights of our trip was a wonderful stage performance of Alladin. The same basic story was present, but it was wrapped in a modern, musical production.

The Speaking Lesson…

One of the most common laments I hear from speakers is “What do I talk about? Every topic I think up has been done before.” While there are new ideas out there, there is also a rich minefield of old ideas waiting for you to add a fresh spin. You can take a timeless message such as “Never give up on your dreams,” and breathe new life into it by telling it from your unique perspective with your unique stories.

4. Take care of your audience

In several ways, Disneyland is not my kind of place. There are crowds everywhere, lengthy lines await you for every popular attraction, and the hot weather saps your energy.

But… Disneyland has a well-developed set of solutions to lessen the pain of these drawbacks. For example:

  • Most lineup areas are shaded, and many include things to watch and do while you wait;
  • After major shows, an army of staffers direct foot traffic away from congestion; and
  • Disney’s FastPass system offers you a way to avoid lengthy lines altogether.

The Speaking Lesson…

In several ways, listening to speakers is not an ideal environment either. Chairs are usually uncomfortable, rooms are often too hot or cold, lighting conditions are not ideal… the list goes on.

All of these factors drain the energy of your audience and draw their attention away from you and your message. You should do everything in your power to create the best environment possible for your audience, including:

  • Make sure your venue is an appropriate sized — too small is uncomfortable, too large derails your ability to connect
  • Do what you can to control distraction factors, like extreme noise, temperature, or bad lighting
  • Design your slides, sketches, props, or gestures so that everyone can easily get the meaning.

5. Everyone loves a story

There was no single demographic in the crowds of Disneyland. Sure, there’s a large number of families with kids between 5 and 10 years old, but every demographic was represented. Lots of (excited) teenagers. Lots of grandparents. Lots of all-female groups. Lots of all-male groups. Lots of couples with no children. Lots of people from all races. Lots of people speaking many languages.

Want to learn more?
Check out The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons for storytelling advice. (Six Minutes review)

Why? What is it about Disneyland that appeals to such a broad array of people? I think it’s the same thing which supports the success of the entire Disney empire: everyone loves a story.

The Speaking Lesson…

Successful speakers understand the engaging power of stories, and weave them throughout their presentations. Stories add emotion and realism to otherwise sterile facts and abstract concepts.

6. Stories need villains and heroes

Mickey Mouse, the princesses, and other heroes may draw the most attention at Disneyland and in Disney movies, but villains are featured right alongside them. Disney understands that stories needs villains as a source of conflict.

The Speaking Lesson…

In a similar way, your speech stories need villains too. Without villains, there is no conflict. Without conflict, stories lack suspense, intrigue, and interest.

Remember that story villains come in many forms, including:

  • Individual people (e.g. your nosy neighbour, the office backstabber)
  • Organizations or groups of people (e.g. a rival sports team, your industry competitor)
  • The villain within (e.g. apathy, fear, pride)
  • Our environment (e.g. a thunderstorm; aging; disease)

7. Signposts are everywhere

Disneyland is large, consisting of a complex maze of paths, attractions, sights, and sounds. Yet, despite this complexity, it’s very easy to get around. There are signs everywhere, directing you to major attractions and from land to land. Consistent designs (decorative elements, costumes, color schemes) also let you know which area you are in. Employees were everywhere, happy to provide you with copies of maps, or direct you on your way.

Your speech stories need villains too. Without villains, there is no conflict. Without conflict, stories lack suspense, intrigue, and interest.

The Speaking Lesson…

As a speaker, you must recognize that, to your audience, your speech can be a complex maze of facts, ideas, stories, and acronyms. Your job is to provide a simple, understandable structure, and guide them along.

There are many ways that you can create virtual signposts to help your audience navigate your speech, such as:

  • Be explicit and reveal your outline in your introduction.
  • Count off items which form a list (e.g. “First … “, “My second point is…”)
  • Use repetition to reinforce key statements.
  • Use transition words (e.g. because, however, unfortunately)

8. Frame of mind

Employees at Disneyland are referred to as “cast members”. This is true not only for those dressed up as characters, but also those working in stores, restaurants, and attractions, as well as greeters, janitors, and all other staff members.

It may seem like a little thing (or, it may seem like a stunt), but I think it’s a wonderful way to instill more pride in employees and remind them they are part of the entire entertainment experience.

The Speaking Lesson…

When you speak, are you just “a person standing at the front of the room”, or perhaps simply “a speaker”?

Or, are you a leader? A life-changer? A role model? An inspiration? A problem-solver? A trusted resource?

Your frame of mind will influence your performance and your audience’s view of you. Put on a positive frame of mind!

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Comments icon4 Comments

  1. Andrew, good to hear from you again – love the post, particularly after visiting Disney World last year. He was truly a great communicator, and spread his ideas in so many ways. Thanks for the reminder. And Welcome Back!

  2. Christian Parrinello says:

    Great points, there’s a lot that Disneyland does that just about any business could learn from.

  3. Asia Decker says:

    I love Mickey Mouse! I totally agree with this article. Mickey not only give his aduience entertainment, but pays close attention to other aspects of entertainment. Being organize, detailed, and making sure your audience is comfortable is very important. Everyone should take heed to Mickey Mouse concept, pertaining to public speaking.

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