Are you playing it safe when you speak in public? Here's advice from one of my favorite authors on why your job is to burn the house down . . . today!
Sometimes it pays to go outside your field to learn more about what you're already doing.
In fact, that's virtually always the case.
Are you an architect? Well, you read philosophy, don't you? A financial analyst? I assume you've discovered poetry. And I know that as a dancer, you're into astronomy.
To bring that into the world of public speaking: If you're busy talking on behalf of yourself or your organization, one realm you should be constantly exploring is fiction.
Which brings us to Ray Bradbury.
The spoken word is as important to presenters as the written word is to authors. Your content is only as rich and evocative as the words you use to express it. Is your language adding to your success with audiences or weakening your influence? Learn the words and phrases that may be getting in the way of your success! Download my cheat sheet for successful speakers, "25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations."
If you don't know Bradbury (1920-2012), I suggest you remedy that situation, post-haste. In this American author's novels—but much more so in the short stories—you'll find an ongoing paen to childhood summers, spooky October nights, and ongoing wondrous exploration. But most of all, you'll find the work of someone who loved ordinary people, and shared the small-town values that informed how he thought about and depicted them.
Are You Speaking with Zest, Gusto, and Fun?
Among the works of this author (Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles), is an almost unknown small treasure of nonfiction titled Zen in the Art of Writing. In it, you'll find vintage Bradbury, filled with small-town/big-hearted advice about the joy of writing.
Even better is his view of writing as excitement: akin to "thunder, lightning, and wind," that the great authors created with "animal vigor and intellectual vitality."
Zest. Gusto. Love. Fun. These are the guiding stars Bradbury is telling us to keep our eyes on if we want the creative process to benefit us as well as audiences. And more than that, really. Pour all of your loves and hates, he tells us, into what you write about (and let's add: in public address, what you speak about). And give yourself over to the passions that result. Those three expressions in the title of this article are his words. Be cool tomorrow; but today, burn down the house. (In terms of your speaking, here's how to achieve emotional power in your speeches and presentations.)
Reveal the Passion at the Heart of Your Business
Can any of this make a difference in how you speak to customers, clients, prospects? Of course it can. After all, if you're not passionate about what you do, why should anyone else care?
Recently, a company hired me because they knew they weren't speaking with zest and gusto. In other words, they weren't flying apart, exploding—and they were concerned. Each year, this company invites current and prospective customers to an off-site retreat where they introduce the exciting new products they've developed over the past year, based on the input of these people who use those products. That part of the retreat—the new products showcase—was going fine.
But the company also works hard on their relationship with these customers, and the feeling that they're welcoming them into the company "family." In other words, to them, the emotional connection with their customers is as vital as the innovative products they've been developing. And they felt like their speakers just weren't tapping into the emotional side of the equation.
It was my job as the speech coach and trainer to help make that happen. Did I feel that Ray Bradbury's ghost was looking over my shoulder, as I worked on getting these speakers to burn the house down? No—I'm an actor, but I'm not that melodramatic.
Yet, we certainly worked on getting the excitement these employees felt, to be expressed in how they looked, moved, and sounded (and how they connected with audiences). Actors are expert at that externalization; and public speakers always benefit from learning how it's done.
But first, you have to be willing to explode.
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