I frequently get asked, “Who is a great speaker who embodies what you coach and teach?” I dislike providing any definitive experts, because a large part of speaking well is making a connection with the audience, and that is intensely personal. A speaker that one audience member thinks is great will drive others crazy. Sometimes the content is so good listeners will endure a horrible delivery just to get it. One of my favorite storytellers embodies almost none of the delivery skills I teach, but I could listen for hours.
Rather than just try and imitate/clone one particular speaker, I prefer to watch a wide variety of speakers and emulate the things in each that make audiences listen and that work for my style and purpose. But the fact remains, one of the best ways to get good at something is to study those who are already good. Become a “student of the game” to improve your own skills.
We have a tremendous opportunity in the public eye to watch some very high-stakes presentations in the form of the American presidential debates. But to use these forums as a tool to become a better speaker, you must watch with an eye that ignores the issues at least for content. This morning there is a lot of talk about who “won” and who “lost” the latest debate. But I’ve not seen much if any discussion about the metrics or rubric they use for determining such a winner or loser (and both have been declared the winner from some camps). It appears to be quite subjective, and frequently the person making the assertion has a title that clearly makes them far from a neutral party.
Instead, I prefer to focus on specific observations of behaviors that could change for the better. For instance, last night Romney repeatedly took half steps backwards when making points directly to the audience questions. That raises serious doubt to the content and pulls against credibility. Obama continued his bad habits of opening comments with non-words (“Well…”) and chaining together thoughts. Both candidates did a nice job of lists in answers and moving about the stage. Both failed at looking considerate of the debate rules (time, letting the last point go, arguing with moderator, and staying on topic).
I swapped channels a couple of times and was surprised to note that they did not all show the same feed – some showed dual panes with both speakers and others focused on a single head shot. The background (especially the timer as it changed color to yellow and then red) was distracting to a listener. I found myself watching the listening debater more than the one talking when given that option. Takeaway: controlling what the audience sees is CRITICAL to a clear message.
Don’t forget YouTube as a source for watching speakers. The last debate is Monday, October 22nd at 9pm EDT.
Tune in. Watch for what works, and what does not. Make changes to your own speaking based on what you learn.