If you want to succeed as a speaker, you need to be good at telling your audience stories.
But here’s the interesting thing: you mustn’t try to be a good storyteller. Instead, you should give your listeners something that will enrich their lives, from the richness of your own life or someone else's. It's as simple and profound as that. (Of course, you should be comfortable in your performance. Here are 5 acting techniques to help you speak with presence and charisma.)
What WIll Make You a Truly Exciting Speaker
Understand, please, that it's not necessarily bad to try and create excitement around your talks and presentations. Excitement can help make you and what you say memorable and influential. It can also be great fun for an audience. But excitement for its own sake in a speaker—that's divorced from an audience's needs and true and lasting influence—doesn’t have any inherent value.
That leaves us with two questions: (1) what constitutes genuine excitement (in terms of value to listeners); and (2) how can a speaker achieve it? As a comparison, consider fiction and stand-up comedy. In both those forms, the response of the audience has to be earned. Cheap emotional effects and easy laughs are empty calories however much they fill our bellies.
The simple and true, on the other hand, especially when combined with the personal, carries real emotional power.
And that’s the answer to the second question on how a speaker can achieve such power and influence: Tell a simple story. Make it emotional, and personal. And leave it at that. Consciously layer on excellence in delivery and you'll be gilding the lily, with predictible results.
Here’s a true story that beautifully illustrates all of this.
In the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Earlier this year, a reader of my blog was kind enough to tell me her public speaking story. I was delighted and moved by what she had to say, and I asked her if I could share her experience. She agreed, and here it is:
Nancy Boudreaux is an Investor Education Trainer for the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions. In 2012, she was slated to speak at a statewide conference of Louisiana's Emergency Preparedness Association. Nancy’s speech concerned scams and frauds that often follow natural disasters. The night before her speech, she realized that there would probably be many people in her audience who came to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to help with rescue efforts and clean-up.
I’ll let Nancy herself tell the rest of the story:
It was a large group of about 125 attendees, set up classroom style. The grand ballroom was full, and it was a little intimidating. I knew I needed to project authority from the start to be taken seriously. I decided to conduct a poll, so I asked: “How many people in this room came to New Orleans's aid after Katrina?” As I looked at all the hands that were raised, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for their help. I remembered how bad things had looked when I arrived a month after the storm, thinking, If it looks this bad a month later, thank God I didn't have to see it immediately after the storm! Now, here were the very people who had come to help my city.
My throat closed up, and my eyes swelled with tears. I managed to choke out, "Thank you" to each side of the audience. I wiped my eyes and continued, and even offered a funny story a few minutes later.
I was anxious to see my evaluations afterwards . . . and was stunned at the positive comments! The people in that audience knew I was genuine, and responded in kind. I couldn't help but wonder if anyone had ever thanked them for the sacrifices they had made to help New Orleans, and was glad that I’d been bold enough to do just that. It was a turning point in my career. I now seek to connect to the hearts of people in my audiences, and not just their minds.
And there it is—the secret of moving an audience: Tell a story. Find the emotional heart of it, and speak to that. Don’t try to be exciting—don’t even try to make your story interesting. Simply show us that you yourself have as much invested in terms of an emotional response as you want us to have.
You'll move us, we'll love you, and you will be memorable.
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