What do Usain Bolt, Gabby Douglas, and Michael Phelps have in common? They're all gold medal winners at the 2012 London Olympics, of course. But they also share some traits with world-class speakers. If you're looking to strike gold with your business speech or presentation, you can learn from these champions concerning your attitude toward disciplined training and practice.
To be a dynamic presenter who persuades and influences audiences, you need to focus on more than ways to become a more charismatic speaker. Charisma exists in the minds of your audience members; but excellent speakers understand that success starts with serving your listeners and your message first and last and above all things.
Of course, having a strong message and meeting the needs of your listeners doesn't mean that you won't face opposition at times from your audience. Think of it as a challenge similar to the competition that those great Olympians faced on their way to the gold. (To learn how to retain your credibility and succeed with your message when you're running into a headwind, download our cheat sheet, "7 Tips for Overcoming Audience Resistance").
When it comes to public speaking training to excel, there are 10 ways you or your team can emulate the gold medal winners from London. These tips aren't concerned with technique—instead, they're all about your mindset. That is, even before you step behind that podium, your attitude and viewpoint have to be on the selfless side of your ego. Here is a "decade" of how to train and speak for the gold:
- Training, training, training. Communication excellence is both a goal and a lifelong pursuit. No one ever outgrows the need for further training. At Public Speaking International, we have found consistently over the years that the most eager (and therefore most trainable) clients are the most senior leaders. They are always highly aware of their areas of weakness, and they're often in their 50s and 60s.
- Dedication and time invested. One of the hardest but most important lessons for the speaker seeking excellence is to grow into the right kind of dedication. It is never dedication to one's career or to glory; it is always dedication to ideas and people. Having arrived at that viewpoint, the time necessary to serve those twin masters through accomplished communication can be surprising and even daunting.
- Practice. Two of my current clients are a physician-administrator and a scientist. The doctor is a frequent speaker who receives more invitations than he can accommodate. He practices every speech at his office, and a few days before that appearance, comes to my office where he practices again and is videotaped and critiqued. The scientist comes to coaching sessions in the evening, after a long day at the bench in her lab. Both of these individuals are always nearly word perfect in their talks from one videotaped "take" to the next. At their level, do they really need to practice so much? Please see Item 2, above.
- Focus. Have you watched the men's and women's hurdles in the Olympics? Can you imagine what it's like to run 100 or 110 meters at breakneck speed, against the fiercest competitors in the world, while leaping full-stride over hurdles, clearing each by an inch or two? Watching these incredible athletes should give you a sense of the kind of focus you need to perform at your true best.
- Confidence. If there's an obvious lesson for you as a speaker from the Olympians, it has to do with the importance of your body as a tool to excel. Advice is plentiful for getting your mind in the right place to overcome self-consciousness and anxiety regarding public speaking. You can benefit equally, however, from realizing that you need to get out of your head and into your body.
- Aspiration. Are your business presentations good enough? If you feel that they are, you need to make this word part of your professional vocabulary. When you speak in the make-or-break situations of influencing stakeholders, you mustn't inform, but educate. It's not enough to motivate; you must inspire. And your presentations aren't in fact "good enough" if they are successful—they must be memorable.
- Commitment. Olympic athletes spend four years of their lives committing themselves to reaching for glory, sometimes in a single race that takes 10 seconds to complete. There are Olympians, in fact, who spend not four, but eight or twelve years pursuing these goals. How much do you love speaking, and how vital is it to you to reach the people your message is intended for? Your commitment should be in direct proportion to your answers to these questions.
- Rigor. The definition of "rigor" I'm concerned with here is meticulousness; and one dictionary definition of the word is "exactness in precision or accuracy; exactitude." Think of the physician and scientist whose presentations hardly vary by a word. Consider the high-jumper, the pole vaulter, and the gymnast. Speak with similar precision in the message you convey and you will be remembered, and your message will resonate.
- Coachable. Olympians—the world's greatest competitors—would not find themselves where they are without their coaches. Business and professional presenters, no less than athletes, fitness buffs, and surgeons, can benefit from coaches to help polish their skills and awareness. Equally important, they must be coachable. Are you?
- Passion. Every memorable or important speaker brings a high level of passion to his or her game. Speakers achieve influence by tying into the emotional needs of their listeners. Audiences not only become engaged by emotional connections, they need them to make decisions, trust the speaker, and open up to the change the presenter is trying to help them accomplish. Olympic athletes defy Iago's advice in Othello and wear their passion on their sleeve. When you speak, you should too.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- For a "golden" presentation, become disciplined toward training and practice.
- Becoming a winner is less about technique than your mindset.
- Communication excellence implies a lifelong need for training.
- Great speakers are dedicated to ideas and people, not themselves.
- Aspire, commit yourself, be passionate, and remain coachable!