Whether you are an experienced public speaker or just flirting with the idea of sharing your message with the world, you probably know that giving a great presentation involves much more than just reading from cue cards.
The good news? Learning about the essential qualities of other great presenters is an easy way to become one yourself. The following four essential qualities of all public speakers, in particular, will ensure you are delivering presentations that will influence, inspire, and make a meaningful impact on your audience.
1. Introspection & Self-Awareness
To be an effective speaker, you must first understand who you are as a speaker—and as a person. What are your strongest interpersonal qualities? How do you best connect with others? What qualities do you need to work on? The most effective speakers are constantly working to capitalize on their strengths—whether that’s great storytelling or a talent for getting the audience to participate—and also to improve upon their weaknesses. Tapping into your most powerful interpersonal qualities is an excellent way to make yourself accessible, engaging, and unique.
To start, make a list of your best traits and the areas in which you excel. Then, think about how each of these traits is expressed when speaking or presenting in front of others. For example, if you’re great at explaining complex concepts in simple terms or if you have a dynamic, engaging personality, make sure you’re incorporating and highlighting these qualities throughout your presentation. (Need help identifying your interpersonal strengths? StrengthsFinder 2.0 is an excellent resource.)
2. The Ability to Tell a Story
Audiences show up for information, but they stay for the stories. Told well, stories can be the key to a compelling presentation that excites, energizes, and truly engages the people sitting in front of you. As my friends and mentors at Story Leaders™ have told me: “Others may not think what we think, but through a shared story, they can feel what we feel.”
So, consider sharing a story of struggle or triumph or your personal path—ideally at the start of your speech. Don’t be afraid to reveal information about yourself and demonstrate your vulnerabilities—this will capture people in a way that fact and information-sharing alone never will.
Simon Sinek changed the lives of many thousands of people when he shared his brilliant TED talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” What stands out about this presentation above all is the generosity with which Sinek shares information. He holds nothing back and instead, gives everything to his audience, including his secret to success in business and in life: “Start with why,” he says. "Tell people why you do what you do before you tell them what you do or how you do it." Simple. Brilliant. And in return for sharing this insight, he has built an undying, committed tribe.
The best communicators understand the value in sharing information openly, honestly, and generously. The more you give, the more an audience can connect with you and the more they will take away. To do this effectively, you will have to truly understand your audience: Who are they? How do they learn? Would they respond better to a high-energy motivational speech, for example, or one that is more subtle? The better you know your audience, the more likely you will deliver the information in a way that is meaningful to them. And then show a true commitment to your audience by revealing everything and holding nothing back.
Finally, when you’re speaking and presenting in front of others, confidence is key. An unsure or timid presentation will not capture or engage an audience, and it certainly won’t motivate a tribe. But, of course, for many of us, public speaking and anxiety tend to go hand in hand.
If you find yourself feeling intimidated before a presentation, consider this: Your nerves do not show. What you’re feeling is primarily internal, and others can’t sense your fear if you don’t let on. Also, your audience is rooting for you—they want a great presentation, so they want you to succeed. Finally, and most importantly, you are in control of your nerves. If you have practiced your speech again and again, as any great speaker must, the confidence will flow naturally. In addition, mental visualization exercises, such as envisioning applause as you near the end of your speech, and physical exercises such as deep breathing and stretching, can also relieve stress so that you can deliver a powerful, engaging presentation uninhibited.
Brilliant public speaking is not an easy task. But with some practice, and with these key principles in mind, you can master it, without question.