Billionaire Warren Buffett once told a class of Columbia University students, “Right now, I would pay $100,000 for 10% of the future earnings of any you, so if you’re interested, see me after class.” After the laughter quieted down, he said, “Now, you can improve your value by 50% just by learning ONE thing – communication skills, specifically Public Speaking. If that is the case, see me after class and I’ll pay you $150,000.”
We have all been told about the importance of public speaking and how it can impact our business, career, success, and our income. Make no mistake: this is one of the most important skills you can develop. But, where do we start? How do we learn the critical skills to deliver a great speech?
I’ve always made a practice of accelerating my learning by seeking out the best in their fields and either partnering or convincing them to coach and train me. When I want to accelerate my ability in presenting and speaking, I turn to one person, Thom Singer. Thom is one of America’s top speakers and MCs. He is a CSP that has delivered over 800 speeches in his career, written 12 books on the subjects of speaking, entrepreneurship, and success, and has interviewed over 350 CEOs and business leaders on his podcast, “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do.” When I decided to write an article on how to crush your next speaking appearance, I reached out to Thom and asked him, “What are the critical elements of a great speech? Is there a secret formula?”
Here is what he said…
There are five things that make a great speech: relevance to the audience, a highly prepared speaker, the connection the speaker makes to the participants, the stories told, and actionable content.
What Makes a Speaker Relevant?
Not every speaker is the right fit for every audience. Too often, meetings are looking to “fill slots”, but great events have presentations that are tailored to the needs of each audience. This means that the speaker not only needs to have content, but they must make that content matter. For too long, we have been told that “Content is King”, but just because someone is smart does not make them a great speaker. Instead, it is about context. How the speaker takes their content and creates a bridge to the needs of the people listening is what matters. If you hear a speaker at a convention of plumbers and then at a conference of lawyers and they do not change any part of their talk, they are not really being relevant. The content alone can be the same, but the context must be customized for every audience.
Can a Subject Matter Expert Wing It? Or Do Speakers Prepare for Each Talk?
Anyone who says they can “wing it” is going to come up short. No great speaker ever wings their presentations. Great presentations have a lot of preparation. People mistakenly think that TED and TEDx talks are great because they are short. The reality is the best TED and TEDx talks were written, re-written, and rehearsed. I put in 40 hours when I did a TEDx Talk, and each time I speak for an association or company I easily put in 4-8 hours of customized planning. Preparation is the foundation of a memorable speech.
What Is It That Makes Some Speakers Connect More With Audiences?
The personality of the speaker matters. Not just on stage, but before and after the talk when they are mingling with the audience, how they engage with people does matter. When I say personality, I am not referring to them being “bubbly” or “outgoing”; many more reserved people make great speakers. It is hard to describe the X Factor, but the speakers who have that little extra spark will connect. A lot of it has to do with their motivation. Being a speaker involves some level of ego, but the ones that deeply connect with a whole audience keep their ego in check and are there to serve others.
Why Do Stories Matter?
Humans are wired to remember stories. If you go back thousands of years, we learned via elders telling stories. Studies have shown we remember a story longer than we remember a fact or figure. But in our world of big data, too many people love to pepper their speech with graphs and charts. But data without a story will be quickly forgotten. I recently was getting on an airplane, and another passenger asked me if I was the speaker who presented at an insurance industry event several years earlier. When I said “yes,” he told me he always remembers the story I told about my daughter, Kate. Even after many years, he even remembered her name. Finding the right stories for a speech is not hard, but it must be intentional, and the story must have a purpose in supporting the overall message. But the right story can forever anchor that speaker in the minds of the audience.
What Separates a Powerful Speaker From Just Entertainment?
Getting people to take action is the difference between a powerful talk and an entertaining speech. While some people roll their eyes at the idea of “Motivational Speakers” (remember, Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live painted motivational speakers as frauds who lived in vans down by the river), the truth is all speakers should approach their talks as motivational. What is the opposite of motivation? De-motivating. Too many speakers do just that. They bore people with their brilliance and do nothing to get them to want to act. If a speaker is going to do more than fill a slot in the agenda, they must know their purpose in getting people to take action. When people are moved to do something new or different, you are impacting their future.
So, there you have it, 5 powerful secrets to crush your next speaking appearance from Thom Singer. Now, it’s your turn to “take action” and use them to make a difference.