Occasionally, we meet members of the 1% club.
These are the best public speakers that give us something truly different.
They go over and above conventional wisdom to leave an impact when they present.
Here are nine common traits of the best public speakers, to help you join the club.
“With an intense face”.
That’s how one of our clients started a speech recently.
It grabbed the attention of the room instantly.
Another simply clicked his fingers three times…slowly, meticulously.
“Every time I click my fingers, somebody in Glasgow buys an Irn Bru”.
We can all write a great start to a presentation.
The more difficult thing is to stick with the plan.
Avoiding filling your first few seconds with
“right, I’ve got something I want to share with you”.
“hi, my name’s Andrew and I run a business in Glasgow…”
Get rid of the formality or the clumsy introduction.
The best public speakers will focus on that first word, and allow the audience to savour it.
The best public speakers leave 95% of what they know behind.
It’s tempting to squash everything you know into your presentation.
Unfortunately, what happens is you generalise.
Talk of “products, opportunities, pipeline” rears its ugly head.
We once attended a speech, in which the Chief Executive scored just 12% in delegate feedback.
He had attempted to summarise the entire year’s trading in one hour.
PowerPoints full of data, a presentation full of jargon.
Instead, he’d have been far better cherry-picking highlights and individual stories, then using figures to connect them to the overall narrative.
The best speech I ever saw was from a banker of 40 years, whose speech lasted 43 seconds.
Brevity creates extraordinary impact.
The golden thread is the most important keyword/phrase in your speech.
“Yes, we can”.
Once you’ve worked out the audience and the message, figure out your golden thread.
Now weave it through the fabric of your presentation, so the audience can see it a mile away.
It’s what Theresa May has been attempting to do crudely by shoe-horning “strong and stable” into every speech and interview.
Yours should be more sophisticated, but just as memorable.
As trainers, we agreed they were among the best public speakers we had seen.
By the end of the day, we felt obliged to go out and buy a bottle.
At the least, we vowed we’d savour a Macallan-based cocktail next time we were in Edinburgh.
Both ambassadors made the whisky personal to us.
They asked us questions about what we liked – and wove that into their conversations with us over lunch.
When it came to their presentations, they began with us.
“Thank you for joining us on this exceptional evening.”
“We believe in using sherry casks from the south of Spain that give us all the colour and flavour we need, in tribute to our unique taste”
“Let’s raise a toast to exceptional evenings with exceptional whiskies”.
The golden thread (exceptional) was linked directly to us.
I was attending an event in Glasgow when a speaker, whose topic was health and safety, was interrupted by a fire alarm.
As people began to look away and pick up their things around them, he spoke with the event organiser to his right, raised his voice and concluded:
“Ladies and gentlemen – I’m told that the fire alarm is planned, please remain where you are. And remember this: safety is always our number one priority”.
Unfazed by events, he simply carried on and connected the unforeseen events to his golden thread.
We often talk about the “parrot on your shoulder”, which shouts abuse at you during your speech.
When something happens unexpectedly, it unhelpfully shouts
“you’re losing control!”
When you stumble, it confirms your deepest fears:
Ignoring it is hard, but comes with practice and determination.
Accept that people will check their phones, look at their watches, even yawn.
It’s because of them, rather than you.
Stay in the moment – until your speech is over.
That’s how much silence there was when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPad in a speech that lasted a total of 109 seconds.
That’s more than 40%.
Steve Jobs, like other great communicators, knew the value of keeping quiet.
It allows your speech to breathe.
It also allows you to breathe, which helps reduce nerves and anxiety.
My colleague Alan Clark famously introduced a 17-second pause into one of his speeches – and stuck to it.
Half a second after every clause or phrase.
One second after every sentence.
Two seconds after the end of each paragraph.
That’s how you build in silence – and allow your audience to follow every single word.
This is the one that’s hardest to learn.
Some have it naturally.
Others need to work on it really, really hard.
I’m one of those people.
I decided to work on it, privately at first.
I recorded my voice on my phone, and noticed it needed work.
I did it again, going completely over-the-top.
I felt like a fake, a phoney.
When I listened to it back, I hardly noticed the difference.
So I went completely over-the-top, and I noticed a difference of about 10-20%.
If you’re one of these people, over-egg the pudding.
Keep adding eggs, until you notice a huge difference.
We all see the value in enthusiasm – and we can all learn how to inject it.
“Why didn’t you tell me I was chewing gum?”
That came from one of our presenters recently, as she watched herself back on our screens.
“We assumed you noticed”, came the reply.
It reminded us that many of us are blissfully unaware of the body language signals we give off.
The best speakers use their hands for effect.
Positive body language is vital.
If it’s bad, your audience will be consumed by it.
If it’s good, they’ll concentrate on your voice.
If that’s good, they’ll concentrate on your message.
Good body language is much like good driving.
You need to use your eyes, your hands and your feet in coordination.
Your eyes should make as much contact with the audience as possible.
Your feet should either stay in position or allow you to walk with purpose around a stage.
Your hands should be in front of you, in an open position, where we can see them.
You’re saying to your audience:
“I’m here, I’m open, I’m approachable”.
The best public speakers and interviewees will be able to tell you what they did well straight away.
Because confidence is a product of ability and self-worth.
Others will begin with the negatives and ignore your positive feedback.
Being honest with yourself is crucial to improving.
Part of that honesty is accepting there are things you do well, and things you must work on.
I believe I speak slowly, and I keep things simple, but I constantly need to work on my enthusiasm.
That means the audience sees a slow, confident, enthusiastic speaker each time.
In my line of work that’s vital.
Imagine how yours could improve by implementing each of the above.
Written by Andrew McFarlan, the Managing Director of Glasgow-based media training and presentation skills firm Pink Elephant Communications.
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