Change Management Innovation/Creativity Leadership Motivation Personal Development, Presentation Skills

The path from a good to a great speaker

“Becoming a good public speaker is hard work. There are a lot of elements that you have to keep in mind, a lot of skills to be learned and many … many hours in front of an audience to become a good speaker. And then the journey can start from a good to a great speaker.”

PS: The path from a bad to moderate speaker or a moderate to good speaker is still another story but I won’t focus on that one (okay maybe just two things: an excel-sheet is NOT a slide and letting your audience shout ‘Oh Yeah’ 20 times during a speech is NOT a good way of interaction).

The fundamentals of a good speaker.

+ know your stuff – deliver a simple message with a clear focus – don’t get trapped in the curse of knowledge by trying to share too many things. If your audience remembers 1 thing, what should they take away?

+ Be passionate – people should see sparkles in your eyes – even if you share that story for the 347th time – it should feel as the first time for your audience

+ Be authentic – a lot of speakers have a tendency to do some short of tricks with the audience. The audience will immediately feel it.

+ Deliver unique insights – what’s the unique, special things that you offer your audience?

+ A good sense of humor – it’s still one of the easiest ways to connect with an audience (please don’t tell jokes – unless you’re a stand up comedian)

+ Be a storyteller – boring stories, lots of fact & figures, aren’t the best way to communicate in these times. It’s all about the story – how do you communicate your message?

+ Work very hard – grab every opportunity to grow as a speaker

+ Connect with your audience – I will come back later to this element because it’s the main subject of `Fredriks’ blogpost

This list is certainly not exhaustive but are the fundamentals for me. And I’m mainly focusing on the non-famous speakers. I think most things also apply to famous speakers like the Richard Branson’s & Elon Musk’s of this world (and famous politicians & sport-people). These famous speakers have earned their reputation in a different domain and are chosen quite a lot of times because their name & the possibility to attract a larger audience instead of the added value of their content.

Going from good to great.

Now let’s assume that you’ve covered most of these areas quite well, how can you go from a good to an great speaker because if you want to play in a different league, you have to train a different skill-set next to the fundamentals. Eg you can be a very good football-player in your local team but that doesn’t mean that you can play in the national league or participate in the world cup. The same is true for public speakers. Combine this with the Pareto principle which is a remarkable valid method in most cases: Only 20 (or even better 10 or 5) % of the top-speakers perform on 80% of the global events/conferences. Their audiences are a lot of times bigger (250-2.500 participants); the audience has a lot of times a more senior level; budgets are way bigger for these kind of events … But if you start comparing these great speakers with the good speakers, it seems that you don’t see that many differences. But these differences are quite subtle but make a (big) difference. Here a few elements that I’ve discovered:

The right context

Have you created the right context in your mind to allow reality to manifest? If you’re still struggling with the fact that you’re presentation isn’t worth more than 5K then that’s probably the maximum what you will get (even if you try to get more); if you believe that you should have written at least one bestseller book before people are going to hire you then you’re right. If you think that you’re not ready yet for a large international conference then that’s probably true. You’re not ready yet and that’s fine. Ford’s quote is of course very valid if you talk about creating the right context:

‘Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you’re right.’ [Henry Ford]

But if you long to change the outside reality, it starts with re-creating your own context. My work in progress: ‘I am the global speaker who’s worth 15K for his added value that he delivers. I am speaking in front of large international conferences and will get at least 2 new assignments after my great speech. I am traveling around the world and inspire people to boost their creative & entrepreneurial mindset. I invest a large amount of time and money in developing myself and my content to make sure that I deliver top-quality.‘

Affinity & Rapport

It’s about making a connection with your audience or the other way around like Fredrik Haren framed it in his blogpost: ‘We often hear about the need for a speaker “to connect with the audience” – but I actually think it is the other way around: As a speaker you need to make sure that the audience connects with you.’ He adds the metaphor of it’s like hooking up with someone in a bar: ‘Walking up to someone can work well, but the more sophisticated technique is to give hints and send signals to the other person so that the other person walks up to you. The audience is a sensitive being – it doesn’t want to be picked up. It want’s to feel that it is in charge.’

I agree with Fredrik and think this is one aspect where a great speakers differ from the good ones. The ability to let the audience by giving opportunities to connect; to touch them; to make them feel that the whole story is especially written for that person. It’s more than adding a few examples of their industry.

Vulnerability & experimenting

It might look that these elements are totally different but they go hand in hand for me. Do you dare to be vulnerable on stage? My coach asked me: Am I prepared to risk in the areas of heart, vulnerability, authenticity and passion? Pfff, heavy question and I probably need to ponder on it in the next days (weeks? years?) to really grasp it but it has something to do with the vulnerability and daring to experiment. Do you dare to risk to speak without your slides? Do you dare to risk and let your story evolve in a different direction after a question from the audience? Do you dare to give priority to silence instead of words? Do you dare to discover what’s behind the words? Filmmaker & storyteller Nic Askew is brilliant in exploring the soul of human beings. I had a great opportunity to work with Nic and you can have a peek into my soul here.

Surround yourself with great people

This sounds of course such a simple one-liner that everybody is saying but it’s true and certainly helps to reach your big goals. If you want to become a great speaker, surround yourself with great speakers. Invest time and money to learn from the best (I see so many people who have big ambitions but they don’t want to invest time, money, energy to learn from the best. Say goodbye to friends & colleagues who drain your energy or who don’t believe in your capabilities. And surround yourself with people who stimulate you, confront you, love you … and allow you to grow as a professional & person.

It’s hard work

It’s doing the hard work day in and day out … It’s just that extra effort that will set you apart from 99 others who are not making that extra step. It’s the extra time that you spend with you client to make sure they feel confident. It’s the extra money that you invest to become better at certain elements of our business. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. It’s not a week-job, it’s not a job … it’s a passion. Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t mean that you can’t plan off-time or go on a holiday for a few weeks. I absolutely recommend this – the great speakers aren’t on stage 365 days a year because they know that charging their batteries is extremely important. We need rest, reflection time, free space, … to allow ourselves to grow.

Some grams of luck

And last element is that you need a few grams of luck. You can create a context where you attract the right people, look with different eyes to discover new opportunities and send out the right energy to allow the emerging reality. And still you need a few grams of luck.

Sources of inspiration:

+ Fredrik Härén – global conference speaker
+ Mark Fraser Grant – a brilliant life / business coach
+ Andrew Vine – Insight Bureau – author of ‘Honestly speaking’ 

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