Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Public Speaking Is A Skill You Can Learn - If You Care To Make It A REAL Priority!

Throughout human history people who have had the "gift of gab" have succeed in society.

For thousands of years expertly delivered stories of Confucius, Socrates and Jesus have impacted how people live their lives.

In the last two centuries leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan (and others) are remembered for their command of the spoken word.

There is a pattern when you view the history of those who are remembered as truly great, and that is that most of them had a powerful way of connecting with their audience via the words they used.

In the business world we regularly attend seminars, conferences, happy hours, training classes, and other events where we are forced to listen to industry experts opine their brilliance. The problem is that most of these presentations are "blah" at best. Sometimes I sit in the audience and imagine if it would be less painful to stick needles in my ears than to have to listen to the speaker continue through his PowerPoint.

Some people are blessed with a natural ability so spin their oratory in a manner that captivates the masses. Others are so painfully shy that a public speech will always look more like they are having to perform an autopsy on their dog with a butter knife. However, the rest of us have the ability to fine tune our public speaking skills and discover the art of connecting with the audience.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that anyone who is amazing at what they do has most likely invested over 10,000 hours in the practice of their craft. Piano players, star athletes, top level attorneys, etc... all share that in common. They do not just show up and "wing" their performance. They have invested in the preparation of their talents.

Thus I do not understand why business leaders just assume that they can toss together a few slides and deliver a speech that will do anything beyond bore the crap out of the people in the audience.

To become a better public speaker means you have to honor the act of speaking as a real skill. When we see Olympic level athletes we admire the dedication they put into reaching the top - but often when we see a great speaker we assume they were born with the ability to connect with others.

The goal of a business speaker is to be remembered above the others in the pool of muck that is the combo of presenters who have come before. This is accomplished with more that the valuable information. It comes touching the audience in their soul.

WHAT? Touch them in their soul.... Dang, Thom, that sound hard! No. People want to know that you care about them, that you are like them (they want to relate to those on the stage) and that you want to see them succeed. Never forget that it is called "giving a speech". Every time you present you are giving a gift to your audience.

But think about birthday gifts. Are the best presents things that the giver likes, or things the receiver likes? Construct your talk around what matters to the audience and you will have a better chance of connecting than if you just sing your own resume.

The best speakers are authentic. If you make your presentation about yourself then you will not stand out from anyone else who gets up and sells themselves. If you make it about bringing value to the person listening to your words, you will find that the audience will enjoy your presentation much more.

Public speaking is a skill you can learn if you care enough to make it a real priority. Fake it and you will just be "blah".

Have A Great Day.



John Johansen said...

Great post Thom. Public speaking is definitely becoming more common, whether it's in a company meeting or for a large seminar. Being able to do it well will set you apart.

And, to do it well, you need to focus on more than just getting the PowerPoint deck finished.

RPB said...

Once again we are in violent agreement!

Early in my professional career I had the opportunity to attend a 3 day executive presentation course put on by some talented folks in New York. The two main takeaways for me were -
1) don't talk to your slides - talk to the audience
2) slides are a prop - people only become engaged when you involve more than just the eyes - you have get their ears involved.

Ok, back to the grind!

C said...

I hate public speaking but it is a must if you are to become truly successful in business. A good public speaker has the power to convince and most importantly engage potential customers. Thanks for the good business advice. I will try to implement it in the future.


Eugene Sepulveda said...

hear, hear

Tweed said...

Thank you Thom. I have learned some valuable information just now. I will always think about what you said in this post while I construct my future presentations. You DO make a difference. Again thank you. That was wise and valuable advice.

Beth Bridges said...


It boggles my mind to think that there are still millions of professional, accomplished business people who:

a) Can't give a well-prepared and interesting speech.

and who

b) Don't care about (a).

They seem to lurch from blah presentation to awkward speech, maybe 2 or 3 times a year, thinking it doesn't matter because they do it so infrequently.


Please, Thom, continue to encourage your readers to take this skill very seriously.


P.S. Toastmasters!