The Key to Successful Public Speaking

The Key to Successful Public Speaking

Last time I wrote about the speech I delivered at the end of my latest training at the Harvard University. It was about encouraging women to reach out for leadership positions so that we can bring new quality and mindfulness into leadership.

Other participants chose topics which ranged from their work projects to their hobbies and everything in between. Not surprisingly, the best speeches were not related to work, but to personal stories and passions these people had.

Let me give you two examples:

Chelsea, Izabela & Loraine

Chelsea, Izabela & Loraine

Loraine, a beautiful young woman in her 30s told us about her battle with obesity and how she won it.
When we looked at this smiling tall woman we could hardly believe that a decade ago she was almost twice her current size, unhappy and unhealthy. Today she is an athlete who regularly runs marathons and triathlons and she is healthy and much happier, but she still remembered how difficult it was to take the first steps. She told us about the first day when she decided to change her life and tried to do some exercise. She tried to walk a bit and this short distance was almost too much for her at the time.

As she showed us the pictures of herself from that time we were very impressed by the scale of her achievement.

She didn’t stop at her personal story though.
She shared inspiring tips on how we could live a healthier life. Her point was that no matter how daunting it might look on the first day, if you make a commitment to change something, you can do it with baby-steps, one day at a time.  And she was standing there, a living proof that she knew what she was talking about and that we could believe her and trust her advice.

 

Joy, a charming woman with warm voice and smile told us about her beloved hobby: baking.

She has a full-time job, but she has managed to open a small baking business to fulfil her dream of becoming “a cake lady”. She explained to us that a cake lady used to be a woman who would bake cakes for events and that there always used to be one in every village or town. Joy’s dream was to become such a cake lady, and to maintain a tradition which she valued and respected.  She told us with pride about her small business and about her commitment to providing the highest quality hand-made and individual products. She gave us a list of her specialty cakes and cookies and told us about her favourite recipes. If I lived in her area, she would be my cake lady! Not only because the list of her cakes was very impressive, but because it was obvious that Joy really loved her hobby and that she was very serious about making it a success.

 

These two speeches were among the most effective and memorable ones for a few reasons:

  1. The speakers connected with us emotionally: they used their personal stories to convey the message
  2. They didn’t try to be somebody else – they were comfortable with themselves
  3. They were authentic: they used examples from their life, their own pictures and other personalised materials
  4. They told us a personal story about their journey: where they started, how they arrived and what happened along the way
  5. They gave an honest account of their journey, including the difficulties and failures
  6. Their message was not only about themselves and what they achieved, but mostly about how we could benefit from their experience
  7. Because they were authentic, we felt we could trust them

Very often we are afraid of being authentic and we try to be somebody else, a better version of ourselves. Naturally, we should always put our best foot forward when we speak in public, but let’s not forget to be humans! A little bit of vulnerability goes a long way and helps to show the audience that we are people, too. This helps to connect with the audience better and allows us to build trust. If we want to influence people with our words, they have to feel that they can trust us, that we know what we are talking about because we have experienced it.

Over to you: do you think that being authentic and vulnerable helps or hinders public speakers? Should “being professional” mean “being impersonal”?

Please share your thoughts and experience, thank you!

2 Comments

  1. This blog shows very good ideas on how to influence an audience. I think to be professional, does not mean to be impersonal. But it depends on the situation. For a politician or someone who has to defend a controversial opinion with a hostile audience it could be disadvantageous to be vulnerable.
  2. Why not beeing vulnerable or authentic? Why not beeing yourself when you give a presentation or a speech? Because it makes you human? Does this mean you are less professional? Why? I don't think that beeing authentic or vulnerable makes you look less professional. My personal experience is exactly the other way around. The more I was authentic (and - yes - vulnerable, too) the better was the feedback from the audience . I think that beeing authentic shows the audience that you are not talking about some theoretical issues only; it connects the facts to your own life or history. And this means it makes you trustworthy. And don't we all want to listen to a speaker we can trust? We often use these words in a different context. Vulnerable or authentic are often understood as synonyms for weakness, softness or "Non-Machismo". They are understood negatively. But why? I am convinced that beeing authentic and vulnerable in your professional life does not make you look wimpy at all. It makes you just one thing - authentic! Isn't that a compliment: "you were very authentic"? Of course, you are right Izabela when you say: "we should always put our best foot forward when we speak in public, but let’s not forget to be humans". Beeing authentic does not mean to make a fool of yourself. Beeing authentic and beeing vulnerable means you are trustworthy!

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