Speaking of Speaking – What Makes a Great Speaker?

As a humor in the workplace speaker,  and also as someone who has coached and trained speakers for years, I often get asked: what makes a great speaker? I think it comes down to four attributes:

1. Being REAL.   Which means being the same person you are off the stage as you are on the stage.   But more than that, it also means being congruent with your message, and it means just being comfortable in your own skin as a human being.   We’ve all met phony people who wear fake professional masks all the time,  and in my humble opinion, those folks will never make truly great speakers because they just don’t come across as sincere or trustworthy.

It also being being real with your messages, which sometimes means speaking some uncomfortable truths to audiences.  Being real means toning down the hyperbole and being comfortable with ambiguity.

And being real, incidentally, doesn’t mean tearing up at just the right moment,  cursing, wearing your favorite Saturday morning blue jeans or using the stage for your own personal therapy!

2.  Be RESPECTFUL.  Respect your audience’s time and investment in your talk,so make it about them and the ideas, not about you.  End on time. Watch your language. Use clean humor.  And be respectful of the diversity present within your audience.

3. Be RELEVANT.   Always keep asking yourself: what does THIS particular audience really need to hear now to solve this issue or change their attitude or behavior?  What’s in it for them?   Why should they care? No matter how funny  or captivating a story it is (or slide, or joke, or quote…) if it isn’t relevant to your core message, remove it!  The best speakers I’ve seen keep current, and stay relevant.

4.  Be REVOLUTIONARY.  Being revolutionary means two things. First, keep your end goal in mind – what change do you want to bring about because of your talk?  And  secondly, it’s not good enough to just be good, you need to be different.  Break the mold! Take a risk to try something different. Put down the PowerPoint and try connecting at a different level.  Use humor,  outrageous props or costumes to get your point across.   Stand out from the herd to be heard!

Michael Kerr, Humor at Work

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