Top 7 Characteristics of Great Speakers
By Bill Lampton, Ph.D.
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Have you admired speakers who seem to captivate the audience instantly, hold attention throughout, change the tone from humorous to intensely serious with a seamless transition, overcome distractions, generate frequent applause, and by the end of the presentation have the listeners change their beliefs, even their actions? Have you wanted to become that speaker?
I have good news for you. You can progress to that stage. How? By recognizing the top seven characteristics of great speakers.
Top-caliber speakers strike you as authoritative. You consider them experts. Clearly, they have mastered their topic.Through long hours of preparation,possibly even years, they have earned the right to speak with credibility.
Mastery may or may not include academic degrees in that area. Primarily, mastery results from wide reading, research, interviewing experts, and learning through professional associations, not because you have to but because you have an overwhelming urge to learn all you can on this theme.
Keep this in mind: Great speakers don't settle for reading articles in popular magazines, watching TV specials, or coffee shop conversations. No amount of showmanship could compensate for lack of expertise.
Outstanding speakers avoid saying they are going to deliver a speech. That sounds too bland and routine, like delivering a package. Instead, they visualize having a dinner conversation with friends, when you'd share your ideas naturally, with no pretense.
In fact,the finest speech coaches suggest that a speech should become a lively conversation with your audience. Roger Ailes, who served as a speech coach for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said: "The best communicators I've ever known never changed their style of delivery from one situation to another." Ailes observed that they were the same whether they are "delivering a speech, having an intimate conversation, or being interviewed on a TV talk show."
The audience becomes the centerpiece of attention. If the speaker focuses too much on herself and the impression she is making, she will become unnerved by a simple mispronunciation, and will lose confidence and poise. If the speaker focuses too much on the message, the event turns into a lifeless recitation.
Note: Terrific speakers focus mostly on the audience.They find ways to involve audiences, creating interactive sessions, involving attendees in discussion, and directing meaningful small group activities.
Listeners don't want to wonder if the speaker has a pulse. So start by selecting a topic that mesmerizes you, demands your total commitment. Then you won't have to simulate enthusiasm.
Seek what actors call "the illusion of the first time." Although you have thought these thoughts hundreds of times, your listeners want spontaneity, as though you had just discovered these ideas and words.
Vary your voice in pitch, rate, and volume, just as you do in casual chit chat.
Gesture freely, naturally, without rehearsed motions.
Think back to your childhood days. When a parent or other relative sat by your bed at night and said, "Once upon a time," a magical world opened for you. As long as you can remember, stories grabbed you, and wouldn't let go until you had heard all of the fables.
As adults, we still respond to intriguing stories. People learn from and remember the anecdotes, not your statistics.
Paint word pictures. Create a "you are there" sensation.
Yes, "casual dress" has permeated the work place. The trend started with Casual Fridays, with more days added eventually. Even so, speakers need to look like professionals when they face audiences.
Your audience wants you to dress a level above their garb, just to indicate respect for them and the situation. Check with your club or convention host to determine the appropriate dress style. Fifteen years ago, a coat and tie were mandatory for male speakers. Now a mock turtle neck and classy blazer are likely to match expectations.
As casual as society has become, good grooming still matters.
You don't have to fit a mold that seems right for most other presenters.
Other presenters may cling tightly to a podium, while you choose to wander among the audience, even getting comments from those in the back of the auditorium.
Other speakers may never quote poetry, yet you can do that if you select a poem that illustrates your point compellingly.
Other speakers may avoid magic, acrobatics, singing, props, or impersonation. But if any of those work well for you, be atypical.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "To be great is to be a nonconformist."
Bill Lampton, Ph.D., speaks and directs seminars for a top-level client list, including the Ritz-Carlton Cancun, British Columbia Legal Management Association, Gillette, Duracell, and the Missouri Bar. Also, he provides executive speech coaching. Visit his Web site to sign up for his complimentary online newsletter: http://www.championshipcommunication.com Call him: 678-316-4300
Article Submitted On: February 26, 2009