Sometimes public speakers can be incredibly embarrassing. Now and then they’re so bad we writhe in our seats and share their pain. The most mind-numbingly inadequate force us to count their clichés, like ‘at this point in time’ and ‘at the end of the day’. Occasionally we smirk inwardly and assure ourselves we could do so much better given the opportunity. But who really wants that sort of opportunity? For most, it would be the equivalent of a poisoned chalice.
We know a good speaker when we hear one. It’s just unfortunate that it doesn’t happen very often. Businessman and past president David Smorgon of the Australian football club Western Bulldogs knows all about it. When he took on the role of club president, his first realisation was that he was going to have to front the media. ‘How am I going to handle them? How am I going to handle the speaking?’ His anguish resonates with anyone who has been thrust ill-prepared into the limelight. ‘I even thought about not doing it,’ he says, ‘because frankly, speaking was not something I enjoyed.’
He learned the hard way. The saving grace was because of his love of the club, he shared his emotions and passion, and that was what won over the players, supporters and sponsors. Gradually, his presentations became an important part of the rebuilding of the club. ‘It led me to an interest in public speaking,’ he says. ‘I became very self-critical. I took the view that you’re only as good as your last speech and public speaking is the same as anything else: the more you prepare, the better you will be.’
Was that all it took? Preparation? Not really. You can be the most boring speaker in the world and all your preparation will do is to make you the most boring prepared speaker in the whole world. David Smorgon shared his passion for his job and the game, and it showed. That’s the secret.
In my experience, it’s the same with some politicians and executives, they place too much emphasis on presentation techniques and not enough on just being their authentic selves. It looks and sounds artificial, and isn’t how others usually see them. Instead of impressing it becomes depressing.
Think of the genuinely funny people you know. They all share some common characteristics. They’re enthusiastic, they look you in the eye and they laugh along with you. They don’t mind you laughing because they’re laughing too. You’re all in it together.
CEOs take note. Don’t complicate the message at the expense of clarity. Don’t ‘address the issue’ and ask for some ‘blue sky thinking’. ‘Ball park figures’ and ‘bottom lines’ will sink into your self-made morass and your listeners’ eyelids will start on a downward trajectory, never to rise again. Be real, and remember those funny people who keep you listening long after you should have gone home. They’re the ones who know how to charm their audience. Much like David Smorgon.
Good speakers are interesting, challenging and motivating. They inspire and reinvigorate. When it’s your turn, remember – you’re all in it together.
The least you can do is to enjoy it.
Who else do you think provides an authentic message in their presentations?
Jon Michail is Group CEO of Image Group International, an award winning author and recognised Australasia’s No 1 image coach. Image Group International supports executives, entrepreneurs and their organisations to become iconic and monetised leadership brands.
He has been a regular commentator in international media including ABC, CNN, NBC, Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Success, The Financial Review and Vogue.