3 Lessons to Becoming a Better Speaker

Authenticity. You’ve seen it preached here countless times as a vital component to a home-run presentation. But what if the material you’re delivering isn’t your own?

A colleague recently auditioned to become a certified trainer for a well-known sales guru, delivering customized versions of his popular seminars under a licensing arrangement. Definitely a high-stakes scenario, as a successful audition would catapult Ernie’s career to the next level.

After three coaching sessions, I asked Ernie to share his thoughts on key takeaways before he headed off to the big audition:

Lesson # 1: Emulate, Don’t Imitate

Initially, Ernie thought that reproducing the delivery of his world-famous mentor would increase his chances of success. Instead, the lack of authenticity revealed itself in his discomfort with both the content and his delivery.

With that self-revelation, Ernie knew what he needed to do.  He went home, reviewed all the material, and reorganized it in a way that was uniquely his own. In that one session, he experienced the difference between imitation and the real deal.

“I was exhausted trying to be someone I was not,” explains Ernie. “This speaker has been himself for 60 years — and I was trying to become him in 10 days.”

In business, you may find yourself delivering a message that isn’t your own — filling in for another speaker at the last minute, or presenting the findings from someone else’s research. Don’t fall victim to the “imposter factor” and try to imitate someone else. As Ernie quickly discovered, the secret to success is recalibrating your perspective. No excuses (“Hey, it’s not my material”), no imitation — simply embrace the opportunity to make the information your own.

Lesson # 2: Stay Internally Focused

With 15 people auditioning, Ernie was tempted to focus on his fellow speakers rather than his own performance. What content would they choose? How would they deliver it? Dwelling on the competition guarantees that you’ll become either intimidated or arrogant — not exactly the paths to success.

Besides, Ernie already knew he was a contender or he would not have been invited to the audition. His goal was to demonstrate the skills that had gotten him there in the first place.

Rather than fixating on the abilities of others, instead concentrate on your own unique strengths — and use them to knock that presentation out of the park.

 

Lesson # 3: Spontaneity is Essential.

By the third coaching session, Ernie had his presentation down pat. The last element we addressed was the art of spontaneity — making last-minute changes as needed. Rather than feeling “married” to the precise words on the page, Ernie instead needed to look for opportunities to make minor edits that would better reflect the needs and interests of his audience.

Don’t get so tied to your script that you miss the chance to interject a spontaneous comment or to reflect on the discussion that is unfolding. That’s one of the skills that distinguishes a brilliant speaker — the ability to be flexible and incorporate relevant stories and quotes in “real time.”

When it comes to great presentation skills, imitation is rarely flattering. Instead, let your authenticity shine through. For Ernie, his ability to make the material his own earned him a stellar 9.5 rating  — and a chance to live his dream to work side-by-side with his mentor.

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