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  • Holly Blum, The Word Whisperer

What Does It Take To Be A Great Speaker?

I recently attended a lecture given by a Kaballah coach who spoke about how to get “outside the box” of our existence. While the topic itself was extremely thought-provoking, what made the speech so impactful was the way she delivered it.

Something about her was magical as she approached the podium, immediately commanding the attention of the 30+ women in the room. And then she began speaking. Her voice was simply captivating. In fact, one of the listeners remarked how her soothing, yet dynamic voice actually enhanced the overall talk.

As I sat listening to what she called “her tune,” I couldn’t help but think about what it takes to be a great speaker. Undoubtedly the material needs to be strong, but I would bet that if two different people read the same exact speech, one would make more of an impact than the other. Why? There are so many nuances involved in public speaking, some tangible and some less so. In my experience, I have found great speakers to have the following commonalities:

Poise and confidence. Speakers who are the most impactful in front of a crowd, small or large, pay attention to their posture. Standing up straight with their shoulders back and away from their ears helps send the message that they are strong and confident. In this way, they tell the audience that they are in full command of themselves and their material. Great speakers typically think about their body language and the signals that it sends to people. Interestingly, social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that standing in a posture of confidence (aka “power posing”)-- even when people don't feel confident-- can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain.

Rhythm and timing. Public speaking is a lot like making music. There is a melody to your words and a rhythm to how they flow. Monotone speakers typically don’t connect well to their audience. But the speakers who select the right time to pause, to annunciate and to emphasize create a richer, more musical monologue.

Appeal and relatability. I remember learning about Q scores, a measurement of how familiar and appealing celebrities are. The same can be said about those speaking to a crowd. Speakers must be relatable and appealing to their audience to engage them. Good speakers pay attention to their physical presentation (i.e., how they are dressed, how they put themselves together) as well as the actual information they are sharing. They think about how their topic will resonate with the audience to maximize the chances of making a meaningful connection.

Storytelling. The best speakers I’ve heard have been excellent storytellers. On a very basic level, they have mastered having a compelling beginning, middle and end. And on a higher level, it’s the transitions, the balance of facts and personal stories and the pictures they are able to draw with words that pull people in and leave them wanting to hear more.

While some great speakers have an innate talent, most work hard at perfecting their craft. They spend time thinking about how they can best connect with their audience, selecting the right words and weaving the story together. The final product may appear effortless to the audience, however this is rarely the case. Great speakers can make their audience experience a wide range of emotions (everything from joy to sorrow and in between). And just like the Kaballah coach did so eloquently, great speakers can make music out of words.

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