Individuality: The Secret to Speaking Success

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