Why do some speakers have the power to spark us to action? What is that elusive quality that the French call, I don’t know what? One of the most profound questions we can ask is – what is the difference that makes the difference? “Success leaves clues.” Those are the words of Jim Rohn, one of the most successful communicators of our time. Whether you’re called to give the speech of your life, present your book, or stage a simple webinar, we can all benefit from examining the clues given to us by the greats.
The Art & Science of Extraordinary Speaking
I love to ask people their definition of leadership. One of my favorite answers came from a partner of a venture firm. Without pausing to blink he said, great leaders show us how to thrive. Great speakers are in essence great leaders. We follow them because they unite us and show us the way to a better life. Extraordinary speakers not only have the rare quality of vision, they harness our imagination and get the rest of us to see it too.
Defining the – I Don’t Know What – Factor
Another word for passion is conviction. Study the humble eloquence of Jim Rohn, or the showmanship of Zig Ziegler. Beyond style, it is obvious great speakers believe their message in their bones and they’re passionate about spreading the word. Their message is as core to who they are, just as surely as their DNA.
The root meaning of inspiration is literally to breath. Inspiration is a very real kinesthetic reaction that animates the lungs and heart. Extraordinary speakers touch us where we live and breathe. Tony Robbins, a masterful speaker by any definition, says that decision is always accompanied by action. To decide at its root means a kind of death, like homicide or suicide. There is finality to decision. Great speakers are transformative. They motivate us to leave the old ways behind.
The Science of Great Speaking
Carmine Gallo is a former broadcast journalist turned professional media trainer and now the author of several bestselling books including, 10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Communicators and The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Gallo distills some of the qualities shared by extraordinary speakers, traits that anyone can emulate. Some of Gallo’s observations:
Extraordinary Speakers are Story Masters
Great speakers use stories and personal narratives to evoke emotion. Emotion and memory are inextricably linked. Think back to your earliest memories of childhood. Chances are, they are made indelible by emotion. That is certainly the case with me. When I was a toddler, I got lost in the woods. I was so young the only word I knew to call out was Mama. My mother found me just before sunset. She carried me home and served me Kool-Aid out of a smiley pitcher. Grape Kool-Aid. The memory is as permanent as fossilized rock.
Great speakers are great learners with curious minds. As a result, they are constantly reinventing their material and introducing new ideas and discoveries.
Set the Stage
Brilliant speakers understand stagecraft. Gallo points out that Steve Jobs always opens his keynotes with a strong theme and carries it throughout his presentations. Gallo suggests speakers create an outline in the minds of the audience. Summarize your point before transitioning to your next point. Extraordinary speakers are foremost great teachers.
Eliminate jargon at all costs. Keep your language clear and concise. If you can say it in three words instead of four, use three. If you can say it in two sentences instead of three, use two.
Know the Power of Body Language
Use dynamic gestures to make a point. Keep your body language open. No steeple-ing, no hands-in-pockets, no podiums. Don’t put a barrier between you and your listeners. Maintain eye contact. Speak to your audience, not your PowerPoint slides. Dress your best in a way that’s appropriate for your audience. Stand up straight…Relax and have fun.
Pacing and Rhythm
Extraordinary speakers have a strong sense of rhythm and timing. Vary the inflection and pace of your delivery. Pause for dramatic suspense. Break up dense presentations with visuals, music, or activities. Most TED Talks are no longer than 18 minutes. The same is true for the CBS program, 60 minutes. Studies show we reach a saturation point after 18 minutes. If you stage a long workshop, chunk your presentation into segments.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
Use video to critique your presentation. When you talk on the phone, record your side of the conversation to cure yourself from using fillers. Know when to use silence. Sometimes the most powerful words are the ones not spoken.