“What is the secret to becoming a great public speaker?” is a question that I often hear. To paraphrase a book by Cal Newport be “So Good They Can`t Ignore You”. That is simple and accurate, but probably doesn't help you figure out what to do. It the same as saying “Follow Your Passion,” except that there a lot of people who do not even know what their passion is. For me, the question is what is good or what is great for you?
Once, you get past the basics, that can be a hard question to answer. It is like asking “what is good or great art?” Most people know it when they see it, but it can be hard to define. For example, if I were to ask you what makes a good speaker? You might say, the speaker can move people, the speaker can tell great stories, the speaker interacts well with the audience, etc. Then you come to the problem of how to do you move people, tell great stories, interact well, etc.
Based on my experience I could give you a list of speakers that would be good to mimic. A typical list would include Steve Jobs or Tony Robbins. But, instead I recommend that you find your own role models. The reason is we all have our own preferred styles. At first, that can be hard to figure that out. So, it is better to a) work on specific areas, b) use bits from other speakers to see what you are comfortable with.
So, what areas could you work on? (For example, rhetoric, gestures, structure, etc. )
One area that I think is important is use of language or rhetoric. When it comes to language, Is there a speaker that you like? This could be Churchill or Obama. Are there any particular pieces of rhetoric that you like? Maybe it is: “Ask not what your country can do for you but, but what you can do for your country,” by John F. Kennedy. Or, “in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground” by Abraham Lincoln.
It could be hard to use either of these famous phrases just as they are but you could use the framework. In other words, “Ask not what A can do for B, but what B can do for A. For example, “Ask not what art can do for us, but what we can do for art.” Or, “Ask not the farmers can do for us, but we can do for farmers.” Of course, you could even change the first verb. “Say not what art can do for us, but what we can do for art” Or change the word order a little. “Ask not what art can teach us, but what art we can teach.” There are so many ways you could use this form. Play around with it. You could be surprised what great words you could come up.
Since I already mentioned it, how would you use Lincoln`s phrase? “..in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground” This is essentially “ we cannot A, we cannot B, we cannot C, this D. Note not only the similarity of the words for A, B, and C, but that it is a group of threes. BTW, you do not have to be serious. For example, “I cannot wrap, I cannot package, I cannot bag, this stupid gift.”
But, why actually stop with speakers? At some point, you can only get so far by looking at great speakers. If you want to create something new and better, I suggest you cast your net further afield. Beyond the standard TED talks and look example of not just great speakers, but comedians, actors, writers, poets, admen copy writers, etc.
Infact, Inspiration for great words can be anywhere. You just have to to look. After speakers, you could look at authors. Is there any author`s prose or books that you like? You could go for the classics “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … (Dickens, Tale of Two Cities)
Or something a little more recent.
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”(Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker`s Guide to the Universe)
Again, you can play around with these quotes and incorporate them in your own way. Dickens shows a good way of using contrast. If you to do a political talk about healthcare, you could use Dickens this way, “We live in a world with the best health care has to offer, and we live in the world with the worst health care has to offer. We have the best doctors. We have the worst doctors.” Then you could take a cue from Adams. “But for too many people health insurance is an illusion, and reasonably priced health insurance doubly so.
However, there is no reason to stick just to authors and their prose. You could look to poets like Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson. Or perhaps some more recent like Sekou Andrews. Oh, If you insist on poets on TED, please check out something done by Rives or Sarah Kays.
But, again there`s no reason to stick with only writers and poets. If you need a good title or possible inspiration for key phrase, magazine, newspapers, ads etc. could also help. Like “Think Big. Think Small. Think Different.” This is from IMAX, Volkswagen, and of course Apple.
When you want to take your speech or presentation to the next level, it is good to seek out good roles models. But, I suggest do not just stick to the big names. First decide what area you work on, and then look at a lot different examples, play with them and then try them out in your speeches. We can learn so much by watching and reading, but we can learn so much more by doing. So, just do it.