“Michael, your presentations are awful. You fix this, or you’re finished.”
Those are the words my boss said that “inspired” me to improve my public speaking skills.
Up until then, I stood up and spoke to groups under duress.
With my job at risk, I searched for answers.
However, I was held back by the belief public speaking is a skill you’re born with. I’d met enough people who reinforced this belief because they were dynamic and charismatic “naturals.”
Then I met two men who changed my perspective. Each was a professional speaker who’d also won Toastmasters’ annual World Championship of Public Speaking.
One was voted in high school to be least likely to be funny. The other was humiliated so badly by the words of a friend’s father he practically didn’t speak to anyone for four years.
But, they each discovered the secret to influential public speaking:
Like riding a bike or driving a car, public speaking is a learnable skill
This was a revelation to me. With this new knowledge, I had hope.
I discovered how to craft a message, support it with relevant points and stories, open with a hook and close with an inspiring call to action.
I picked up insights into delivering authentically and to trust I had a valuable perspective to offer.
Most importantly, I learned how to manage the voice of doubt and fear.
Fear of public speaking is natural. It’s served our early ancestors well, but we don’t have to be afraid of it.
Here are three insights to help you on the road to becoming an influential public speaker:
1. It Isn’t About Perfection, It’s About Connection.
Have you ever listened to a speaker who came across as super successful, with no flaws?
What was your immediate reaction to this individual?
When I ask people in workshops and seminars the responses are always negative. The “perfect person” doesn’t connect with audiences and is not believable.
People want to hear how you overcame your struggles, strife, and setbacks to achieve success.
The best way to do this is to tap into their emotions. There are six all human beings experience:
How can you use one or more of these to connect with the emotions of your audience?
2. Be Clear
The best speakers have one clear message to convey to their audiences. Notice I didn’t write “several” messages.
If your objective is to inspire others to think, feel, or act differently, you must be clear about your end goal.
Lack of clarity is the number one reason speakers don’t make an impact.
A confused mind says ‘NO’, a clear mind says ‘GO.’
What is the one idea you want to leave with your audience?
3. Why So Serious?
One of the best early speaking lessons I learned was born out of my intensity and seriousness.
A friend saw how uptight I was right before a speech. He said, “Why so serious?”
I said, “I’ve worked so hard on this talk and I want to make sure I get everything right.”
He smiled and said, “Ahh, don’t sweat it. We’re going to forget most of what you say anyway.”
How dare he? I sweated over every word and every nuance of delivery.
But, he was right.
Here’s the hard truth about public speaking:
No matter how good and how enthusiastic and passionate you are about your topic, people will remember very few of the words you say.
What they will remember is the impact your words have on them. If you tap into the previously mentioned six emotions, you’re going to help them think, feel, or act differently.
The other hard truth about speaking is you have to put the right words together. They’ll help you deliver your talks with energy, enthusiasm, and authenticity, which in turn will generate those new thoughts, feelings, or actions in your audience.
The key is to write, practice, get feedback, make adjustments, and repeat the process until you internalize your talk.
If you’re willing to stop trying to be perfect, to put in the work to be clear about your message, and to not take public speaking too seriously, you will have taken huge steps forward to become an influential speaker.
Public speaking can be a game-changer for your career and your life. It happened to me. It’s not a magical skill you’re born with. With focused work and a good team of people around you, you can become a speaker who leaves a lasting impact and has influence over others.
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