By Tim Hayes
A friend recently asked how I might go about training executives from India on making effective presentations to American audiences. My reply was simple, direct, and automatic – help them become as confident, comfortable, and in command of their material as possible, and most of all don’t try to turn them into something or someone they’re not.
History is replete with speakers making spectacular fools of themselves by putting on personas that fit like hot pants on a rhinoceros. As a professional speechwriter, I know that developing a great speech requires both science and art. The “science” entails developing a central theme, a compelling argument, and the documentation and supporting facts to give that argument validity. The “art,” on the other hand, means weaving all of those facts and arguments and statements into a conversational narrative using vocabulary and phrasing that naturally sounds like the way the speaker typically communicates.
Why are both elements important? Because if an audience can sense that the speaker is the least bit uncomfortable or awkward with the words being spoken, then it’s no longer a speech – it’s a research paper standing on its hind legs.
Occasionally the cosmic tumblers all click into place and a speaker can rise above himself to greater rhetorical heights, but only occasionally. As a famous recent example, President George W. Bush simply was not built to use soaring rhetoric for the sake of soaring rhetoric. Yet in his speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the U.S., his language was elevated, inspirational, infused with passion, righteous anger, and national pride – and it worked beautifully.
Why? Because he believed it, he held the required conviction in his bones and it came through in his delivery. It was the greatest speech of his presidency and he rarely, if ever, matched the rhetorical heights of that moment. If anything, to his detractors, he soon slipped too well and too comfortably into his own unique form of Texas patter and never quite captured the national soul in his words the same way again.
Like the articulate but homely Cyrano de Bergerac providing the simple-minded fraud Christian with lines of romance to the lovely Roxane, the charade of trying to be someone you’re not can’t last for long. In the story, Christian gets shot, Roxane enters a convent, and Cyrano takes a log to the noggin and dies. I’m proud to report that none of those things have ever happened to my clients – because I never coach them to be anything than what they are, other than a more confident version. (There’s got to be a direct correlation there somewhere.)
At its core, great speakers – and great speech coaching – must center on three things:
· Confidence, or the speaker’s belief that he’s ready to be in front of an audience.
· Comfort, or the speaker’s belief that he likes being there.
· Command, or the speaker’s belief that he’s helping everyone in the room be happy that he’s up there, too.
And rule number one is, don’t try to be something or someone you’re not. Nobody likes to play charades anyway.
Copyright 2009 Tim Hayes Consulting