Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What makes a Public Speaker great?

New Zealand speaker, author publisher and educator Maria Carlton asked in her Speakers and Writers Community forum “Idea to Authority” the other day some questions related to public speaking.

"Is it more important to be funny than it is to be interesting?

Is it more important to be knowledgeable than it is to be factual?
Is it more important to use notes than to use PowerPoint?
Do the humorous speakers have a real edge over those of us who struggle to get laughs on cue?"

Yesterday I was given a quote to read that somewhat takes this thinking to another level.

"Trying to win over and audience by just giving them the facts is like trying to win a woman by pulling down your pants. Tell a story, and you practice the art of seduction".
Justin Cohen.

Personally I’d like to say that interesting comes before funny and facts mean little to anyone unless you can speak on a subject with a voice of authority, and that takes knowledge.

Humour is such a subjective and risky thing when speaking to an unknown audience. It is dictated by the mood of a crowd, the originality of the material, the timing and wit of the deliverer and the direction of the wind. What works for one crowd can fall flat on its face with another. It’s a long way back to the hearts of a crowd with the sound of a bad joke ringing in their ears. I have seen too many people start a presentation with the almost cliché crowd relaxing technique of telling a joke. The problem is that you risk throwing your credibility out the door if you misread your audience or it’s that old one we’ve all heard before.

If you are confident in your subject then the humour becomes organic, a timely pause may be all that is needed to generate the salacious endorphin rush laughter facilitates. The real talent of the seasoned comedian is making something that seems very ordinary funny, they are practiced at warming the crowd and capitalising on the collective energy that is needed to make laughter reinforce a good story. All said and done you know when you have the power of humour, it can be learned by trial and error but like singing it works better if you have it as a natural born talent.

What links all the points raised in Maria’s leading questioning is they are only window dressing to your message. PowerPoint cannot work without supported notes (even if they are in your head), humour is nothing without an interesting dialogue, facts mean nothing if they are not presented in a way that sounds credible.

The best speakers are genuinely passionate about what they are talking about and are convincing enough to demonstrate that they own the subject. This makes them a story teller rather than the teller of stories and it is they who we remember and respect the most.