One of the secrets of being a good speaker is the ability to allow your individuality to shine through. That’s true whether you’re giving a keynote address, a sales presentation, a wedding toast, or a eulogy. What do I mean by individuality? It’s being the best of yourself — how you talk, walk, gesture, and use your emotions when you are with the people you know and like best. You’re not trying to impress anyone. You’re the natural, relaxed, authentic person who is unlike anyone else on the planet.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, famed author and astrophysicist, explains the power of individuality in his video “Be Yourself: Big Think.” He states, “The greatest individuals in society were not versions of someone else, but instead made their own path to greatness.”
Unfortunately, many speakers are so worried about looking good, not making a “mistake,” or impressing others that they leave the best of themselves offstage. Audience members never see their uniqueness. Instead, they are treated to a pale replica of the real person, someone who is being overly careful, hiding behind PowerPoint slides, or burying their head in a script that sounds nothing like themselves.
The Ultimate F Word
The reason that so many speakers don’t share themselves with audiences is fear – the ultimate F-word. Speaking in public is right up there with death, snakes, and identity theft among the greatest fears of the American people. This fear knows no boundaries and can strike anyone. How often have you seen someone you know well – a person with a natural smile, great eye contact, and relaxed body language – turn into a stranger the minute he gets in front of an audience?
Suddenly his entire being is transformed. His eyes focus on the floor or ceiling. Her voice loses its natural tone and seems lifeless. Natural body language disappears – arms and legs become rigid. Your friend looks like a zombie because he has abandoned his true self. I know you’ve seen this negative transformation happen to others. Has it ever happened to you?
Sharing your individuality allows you to be your authentic self whenever and wherever you speak.In “10 tips for Improving Your Presentations Today,” speech coach Garr Reynolds said, “What made Robin Williams such a remarkable and beloved entertainer was his humanity and his authenticity. This is not something you can fake. Faking authenticity is like faking good health. Sooner or later it’s all going to come crashing down. Authenticity is built on honesty and a willingness to be vulnerable. It is risky, which is why authenticity is relatively rare, but so appreciated when it is found.”
If we made a list of great speakers, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Kennedy, and Winston Churchill would likely be among them. Each had different backgrounds, accents, and points of view. Their education and religious background varied greatly. The one thing they shared was their individuality. They could not be mistaken for anyone else. They didn’t try to blend in. They allowed their distinct personalities to come through. Their words and the way they delivered them didn’t sound like anyone else. They were one of a kind. Today’s most acclaimed motivational speakers share that same diversity and uniqueness.
People often wonder what makes a star – in entertainment, business, or politics. It’s not difficult to decipher: a star is someone so talented, confident, and unlike anyone else that she is instantly recognized and remembered. There is not another Lady Gaga on earth. She can sing jazz and show tunes with Tony Bennett or rock in “A Star is Born” with Bradley Cooper. She defies definition.
In the business world, there’s Elon Musk. He never plays it safe or by the rules – even when he’s being arrogant or maddening. He refuses to act the part of the typical CEO. And yet Tesla is now the considered the highest valued carmaker in the world. These two stars didn’t allow anyone to categorize them or box them in: they created categories all their own.
Today’s Top Speakers Are Diverse
At the end of the day, everyone in your audiences will leave with a feeling about you. It will be good, bad, or blah. If they leave with a positive feeling about you – and your company, cause, or organization – you have hit a home run. If they leave with a positive feeling and remember one of your key points, that’s a home run with two men on base. If they like you and remember two points, that’s a grand slam! It doesn’t get any better than that.
When I give a talk on presentation skills, I’d be thrilled if the typical audience member left saying “I kind of like that guy from Austin. He made me laugh and had a lot of energy. He’s right about most speakers. Half of them read their slides and show no personality. I’m not going to do that. I’m going give my next talk to my buddies first, get their feedback and make some adjustments.” I would consider that a five-star review as he remembered two things I said, and it led to a positive shift in behavior.
The next time you speak in front of any group anywhere, bring your real personality to the podium. Let them know you as well as your message. Don’t hide yourself, share yourself.
Jim Comer works with clients through one-on-one coaching on speechwriting and speech coaching – in person or on Zoom. He also offers presentation workshops to help organizations train groups become more confident and persuasive speakers. For more information on how we can work with you, contact me at www.comercommunications.com.
What to do if there’s a “so-called” disaster onstage…
I’ve had them all. I’ve had fire engines going right by and staying right in front of the building. I’ve had people… I’ve had a woman go into labor – swear to God – we had to stop the presentation, get the EMR, get… I’ve had it all.
But the one that comes back to me the most: I’m speaking in California, I’m outside. There’s a group of about 200 and bleachers and the sound system fails, and, the backup sound system fails and I tell them, “No problem. I’m an actor. I can speak big.”
And I was doing just great until the El Toro marine base airshow dress rehearsal happened overhead. The jets were going – I mean you couldn’t ignore them, so what did I do – did I pretend they weren’t there? No, I used them. I had fun with them. I pointed up, I spoke in between jets and I had the audience laughing because they knew what was happening.
They knew it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t a disaster. It was just life. Life is going to happen. If you’re a speaker, use whatever’s happening – even if you think of it is a disaster – but use it. The audience will love you for it. And they’re going to probably go away remembering, “gosh, I can’t believe how well he did when those jets were overhead.”
Most people are concerned about being boring on stage.
And the fact is, most of the time – if you’re talking about something that you care about and you do it with some passion – you’re not going to be boring. But, maybe you’ve been given something at the last minute to throw in or you’re talking about something technical and you notice that the audience is not with you. I mean, they’re looking at their cell phones, they’re gazing out the window, some of them are asleep.
Well, that’s a real signal! And you can do something about it. You can raise your voice. You can move around on stage. You can go into the audience. You can stand by someone who’s using their cell phone. You can do whatever you want to do to try to break that lethargy and get them back. Maybe you’ll ask a question, maybe you’ll give them a break.
Maybe you’ll… whatever you need to do to bring them back – if they’re bored – do it. Don’t let that continue. And maybe you’ll just have to have a lot more energy in the rest of your presentation or maybe you’ll have to have more interactive moments – but you are in charge.
You are in charge, and you can stop that boring moment and turn it into a moment that brings the class and back to you.
Most people feel like they have to make too many points…
… and I often tell people that audiences, if you’re really good, they’re going to have a feeling about you – hopefully a positive feeling – and they are probably going to remember one point, two weeks later.
So the key thing is, to make that one most important point really well. If you have five minutes, focus on connecting to the audience and making your most important point as deeply and as powerfully as you can.
And I would do it by telling a story if I could, or at least a little anecdote because people tend to remember stories and anecdotes and if you tie your point to a story, they’re going to be more likely to remember it. Remember, Gettysburg address three minutes. It’s considered maybe the best speech ever given in America. Three minutes he made his point.
The biggest question I hear is: how do I get over stage fright?
Well, I’ve got two parts to that answer. Let me give you the first one: the most important part is being prepared. If you have really got your content of what you want to say in good shape – you’ve written it, you’ve outlined it (however you do it). You’ve practiced it, you’ve practiced it out loud like Winston Churchill did – he would do 12 hours of out loud preparation for those famous speeches. If you’ve done your homework – you know the subject, it’s well written, you practice it out loud, you know the audience and what they want – then you should have no trouble giving them that.
You’re the expert. You’ve done the work. They’re there to learn from you, to be inspired by you or motivated by you, so if you focus on giving to them and not worrying about being judged by them, just focus on what you can bring to the audience and that will do half the job of getting over stage fright.
And now for part two…
We were talking about stage fright and why it’s such a negative emotion for many speakers. One of the most important things you can remember is that the audience wants to hear what you have to say. That’s why they’re there! They have something to learn from you or or be inspired by you or motivated.
They want you to succeed. And yet, because of our nerves, we forget that and we think we’ve got to be perfect and not make a mistake.
Well, let me tell you, I have been imperfect and made many a mistake – and it has not hurt my presentation. Not at all!
Recently I was speaking to a group and I got a nosebleed 30 seconds before I was introduced! And I went ahead, went out and gave the presentation, told them I was having a little problem. They were on my side. I was more human to them. It was not a problem. I didn’t have to be perfect. I just had to be real and authentic.
So, if you remember that you can go out and be your full, authentic self and give them the gift of your presentation. If you focus on what you have to give, not what they’re gonna think about you, then you’re going to be so successful. I guarantee it.
Most people are terrified…
… at the idea of having to speak off-the-cuff – extemporaneously – to answer a question from the boss, maybe.
And yet, the truth is, if you’re being asked to speak off-the-cuff, it’s because you know something about the subject. You’re almost never going to be asked to talk about something you don’t know anything about.
So, I’m saying that you just need to concentrate on one thing. If you’re asked to speak, think of the most important thing you know about what they’re asking you. Focus on that. Give it to your full effort and then stop. You probably covered it, if you’ve done one thing well.
If they want more, they’re going to ask you for more and then you’ll hit the next point that you know. Almost always we have the answer in us. We just get terrified by, “oh my gosh, how am I going to be perfect?”
Listen, it’s in you. You know the subject. You’re not going to be talking about something you don’t know. Just trust yourself. Be real, and answer the question with the knowledge you already have.
Content or Delivery?
People are always asking which is the most important and my answer is: both!
You can have the best content in the world, but if it’s badly delivered, no one will realize how good it is. And, you can be brilliant at delivering, but if you don’t have coherent thoughts and express them in a way that’s powerful, the best delivery is going to not be as effective.
You must have, first, good content that sounds like you – the way you really talk and gets across your key points. Then, you must deliberate in a way that again, expresses your natural, real, likable, individual personality.
When you put the content and the delivery together, that is a marriage of equals – and it works perfectly.
It is not only a good thing to step away from the podium, but it is a great thing!
Because when you have a podium in between you and your audience, there’s a block – they’re not seeing the full you, they’re just seeing a part of you. But if you step away, and you know the subject and you don’t need notes, well that’s a great thing.
Because the audience realizes you’re just talking to them on-on-one and they connect to you better without the podium.
Now, you can still use a podium on certain occasions, but if you can do without one, it’s a terrific way of connecting with that audience and letting them know it’s the real you.
Talking with your hands.
Well, this is perfect for me because I talk with my hands a lot. It’s never planned. It’s just the way I am. Now, doing what I do right now is normal for me, so it’s OK. I know I’m doing it.
Now, if all of a sudden I was doing these kinds of things (random arm movements) or these things (scratching ear or fiddling with clothing), or doing, you know, all sorts of things that are nervous habits or not normal. That would not be good. That would be a distraction for the audience – whether on a camera or in a group.
But if it’s normal – using your hands the way you really do in life – it’s OK. So, only if you’re doing something unusual and you catch yourself… then, bring it down. And use your hands the way you normally would in life.
Only when you’re doing something you don’t know you’re doing, – whether it’s movement, hand gestures, whatever – only then is it a problem.