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.
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.
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.
One of the key things that most people worry about is rambling when they talk, you know, getting off the subject.
Here is the secret to that: Know what you want to say.
Know ahead of time the one or two key points that you want to get across.
Whether you’ve got two minutes or 20 minutes. There’s still a couple of things you want the audience to remember and if you know those and if you have taken the time to practice those, then you’re much more likely to stay on the subject.
And, if you feel yourself wandering off, you can bring yourself back because audiences don’t remember much. So if you can get across to points and do it in a likable way, you have hit a home run.
Remember: Speaking is like real life (only more so). And, in real life – I hate to say this – but my mind sometimes goes blank.
Oh yes! I forget names of people I know and love. I forget dates… I forget a number of times… the world does not end.
Often, if I forget a name and I’m in front of a group, I’ll say, “who was it that did blankety-blank?” I’ll ask for the audience to help me. They like that. They like seeing that you’re human!
And if your mind goes blank and the middle of a speech… do not worry about it! Pause – if you give yourself a second or two – it may well come to you. If you still can’t remember, you might just ask the audience: “Now, I was trying to make an important point… what was the last thing I said?” I have done that many a time – and they’ll tell me, and I go, “Oh yeah!”, and I go on and give the next point.
Audiences are on your side. They’re not judging you. There’s not going to be a guillotine at the end and if you do something wrong – they want you to succeed! And if they can help you, and if you can show your humanity, they think, “Wow, that’s great. I mean, Jim forgot something and he just kept going,” and they love that.
So, don’t worry about forgetting things because for the most part you’re not going to. And when you do, there are plenty of ways to get back on track and you’ll be able to find them. If you just give yourself a short, quick pause – or, give yourself a break!