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How Do You Rate as a Speaker?
by Chris King

This past week I was listening to a tape by Fred Gleeck, a highly acclaimed, dynamic speaker from New York. He mentioned that while he was traveling and giving a large number of presentations, he decided to run his own survey on what audience members feel are the three most important qualities of an excellent speaker. If you were asked to rate the top three qualities of a speaker and/or his or her presentations, what would they be? His overwhelming response was as follows: number one is Sincerity, number two is Content and number three is Humor. How do you rate? We will discuss these qualities in more depth in this article.

Are you sincere? You many answer, “Yes” immediately, “Of course, I am sincere.” But does your audience get that impression? Sometimes speakers are trying so hard to be dynamic or present in someone else’s style (because they don’t have that much confidence in their own) that their presentation sounds phony. If it isn’t natural for you to move around or exude a great deal of energy, don’t do it. Our audiences today will see right through any acting. I know I have suggested in previous articles that you take risks and try approaches outside your comfort zone, but that is different from pretending you are someone or something you aren’t. Being yourself and performing that way will gain rapport with others you meet and to whom you speak.

Another sign of sincerity is “walking your talk.” What do I mean by this. I am suggesting, for example, if you are advocating the importance of goal setting and how to go about it, you’d better be a goal setter yourself. I have also met speakers who act friendly and warm on the platform, pretending to care about everyone, and yet when you meet them after a program, they are in too much of a rush to take time even say, “Hello.” I think that one of the most caring and sincere speakers I have ever met is Zig Ziglar. Even though he is in such demand, he always has time for everyone – to answer questions, to give advice when wanted and just to care enough.

Even if you are sincere in your desire to help others, make sure that you don’t overestimate your abilities. It is fine to have confidence in what you know and how you present it. What I am referring to here is to be sincere about your experience. I hear CEOs complaining about twenty-year-olds just out of college trying to tell them how to run a company and/or be an outstanding leader. In other words, don’t present on a topic unless you sincerely have the background to be an expert. And this leads me to quality number two – content.

In this, our information era, audiences crave content. There was a time when speakers who gave presentations that made audience members feel good were in demand. Today, your audience wants useful, mind expanding and cutting edge content – and lots of it. I know speakers who in the past told many stories sprinkled with bits of content. Now, those same speakers are loading their presentations with loads of content sprinkled with a few stories. I realize that if I attend a meeting, workshop or seminar and don’t come away with a great deal of new information, I am disappointed. There was a time when we used to say, “Well, if I get one new idea, I’ll be satisfied.” Not any more. If I only learn one new fact or get only one new idea, I feel that I have wasted my time, and, therefore, am really unhappy with the presenter and his or her program.

Gleeck suggests speaking quickly so you can pack in content and also give the impression that you have so much content to share that you must speed ahead. I have mixed feelings about this approach, and yet, I know that we hear twice as fast as most people can speak or read. I work to have strong and meaningful content, but give my listeners a bit of time to digest it.

Having a sense of humor and using it is important. Even if we present a quantity of content, we must always remember the “light side.” People loosen up and listen better if they have had a chance to laugh. No, I am not advocating starting as so many of the speakers from the days of yore did – with a joke. That is completely passé. But a humorous story where you, the speaker, are making fun of yourself, or a funny aside about some part of your topic is always a way to bond with your listeners. Most companies and organizations have someone from the group who is a jokester or a good sport, and who will go along with some fun. It is always a great idea to call ahead and talk with some of the attendees, so that you can personalize your presentation and also find that special person who will be your humor ally. They will also appreciate the fact that you took the time to check.

So how to you rate? And would the top three qualities I mentioned be the ones you would have picked? Let me know.

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