Thursday, 23 September 2021
"A successful talk is a little miracle – people see the world differently afterwards," says TED Talks Curator, Chris Anderson.
It might seem a stretch to view those PowerPoint slides you throw together for your departmental monthly as audience life-changers. But every time you speak to a team, know that you have the power to change opinions, pique curiosity and get buy-in for your ideas.
Find inspiration for powering up your communications in the delivery of some of the world’s most impressive speakers. You’ll soon see it’s not all about rousing oratory, whizzy decks or huge stage presence.
Coca-Cola executive Wendy Clarke was named one of the best communicators of 2014, and widely praised for her natural, conversational style. There’s no ‘corporate speak’ in the fizzy drink exec’s delivery (see example below); she uses normal, everyday occurrences to illustrate her points – when conveying the ubiquity of connectedness in today’s world, for example, she tells how her young daughter, when trying to convince her parents to give her a mobile phone, was outraged when told that her mum got her first phone aged 27.
As she continues to make her points to a large audience, you’re left with the impression that this is exactly how she’d talk if she were sat opposite the table from you with a coffee in her hand. And it’s this naturalness that makes her so relatable.
When you’re delivering your next presentation, think about how everyday analogies could illustrate your key messages more effectively than a slide of bullet points and statistics. Consider your audience. Will they respond better to a more conversational style?
Learning your speech parrot-fashion in order to make it sound more natural may seem counter-productive. But that’s exactly what world-class business leaders and speakers do to achieve such results. By going over and over their words until they have them memorised, they’re free to concentrate purely on their delivery and their connection with the audience.
everywomanClub member Mitzie Almquist uses this approach, rehearsing and eliciting feedback as often as possible in the build up to her moment in the spotlight: "Becoming a better speaker means you have to practise, practise and practise some more. I assemble groups to practise in, simulating where possible the environment that I’ll be doing the real thing in. Or I talk in the mirror. Over and over again until the person staring back really gets the message. It’s not about sounding like you know your script off by heart; it’s about finding a way to sound as if your story is natural and being shared for the first time."
Chris Anderson, curator for TED Talks has revealed that Teleprompters are banned from their auditoriums - speakers are expected to spend what can amount to many months memorising their scripts, syllable by syllable. "It’s the best way to go," he says, sharing the experience of Jill Bolte Taylor, whose talk (watch below) about her recovery from a stroke, has been viewed nearly 17 million times. "[She undertook] many hours of solo practice, she rehearsed the talk dozens of times in front of an audience to be sure she had it down."
Clearly not every presentation you’re invited to give is going to warrant such rehearsal. Anderson believes that even minimal practice can have an impact, however. "In a matter of hours, a speaker’s content and delivery can be transformed from muddled to mesmerising."
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to presenting. We can’t all be great orators like Hillary Clinton or powerful wordsmiths like Winston Churchill. The approach of the executives you admire might get their audiences eating out of the palms of their hands, but mimicking their styles might not be the most authentic approach for you.
Susan Cain, who’s written books on the subject of introversion, would appear on paper to be everything a wonderful public speaker isn’t – shy, uncomfortable in the spotlight, softly-spoken and bookish. But in her talk on the power of introverts she charmed and engaged her audience by discussing her nerves and completed her delivery in her typically quiet tones. The result, is proof that passion and charisma are the products of authenticity – not the voice that shouts the loudest.
The same could be said for Emma Watson’s famous #HeForShe campaign address at the United Nations. Her voice shook for the 11 minute duration, her tiny frame was almost swallowed up by the huge podium, and she even admitted that the run up to the moment had been fraught with nervous anxiety. But her passion was evident and gave her the executive presence to impart a powerful message.
When leadership experts Decker put Richard Branson – who admitted in his book The Virgin Way that he loathes public speaking - in their list of the year’s best communicators, which factors do you think came into play? His business acumen? His knowledge of the corporate world gleaned from years in its spotlight? His extensive media training? Ease in front of the cameras? None of the above. It was his “smile that immediately engages” that was mentioned first, followed by what has been termed his “lightness of touch”. These facts, claimed the judges, vastly overshadow his overuse of filler words (ums and ahs) and sometimes-clumsy body language.
Nerves, pressures, stress and a desire to be taken seriously can often result in us putting on an oh-so-serious face for our public speaking. But a down to earth perspective can really dial up your presentation’s engagement factor.
In Richard Branson’s Q&A with graduates from London Business School (watch below) he moves his stage position so that he can make direct eye contact with and smile at his questioner, and generally gives the impression that he has fun doing his job.