If you have participated in high-quality business seminars you have probably noticed their most unique feature: astoundingly skillful presenters. The Nordic Business Forum is no exception, every year gathering the most dazzling business speakers in the world. If you have been privileged to witness some of them in action, you are aware of the extraordinary impact they have on the audience.
If you were as good a presenter as they are, it would certainly substantially advance your enterprises. Reaching that high a level is not easy, but it still lies within the realm of the achievable. In any case, the endeavor is worth the effort since ultimately you will make progress.
Authenticity creates a connection
Isn’t it admirable how naturally top-notch speakers act? It seems as if the words they utter and the gestures they make come straight from their heart without any planning. When they emerge before us, they seem unprotected and vulnerable. That is what makes them so interesting to us.
However, what looks so natural to us is deliberate from the professional speaker. Even the Greeks of old, the inventors of Western rhetoric, knew that you have to look genuine when speaking in public. It doesn’t even matter if you are slightly uncertain and fumbling. On the contrary! It may even make the audience less reserved and more open to your message.
The Greeks even suggested that if you know how to speak persuasively, you should conceal your craft! Self-consciously showing your mastery of rhetoric makes the audience suspicious.
Genuineness and craft – two sides of the coin
Does this mean that the naturalness these speakers show is fake? No, it doesn’t. This is who they really are, but there is a secret: they know the balance between authentic presence, which arises from one’s personality, and the craft, that is, the rules and guidelines of public speaking. If you want to become a master orator, you will need to master both.
Budding presenters usually tend to faithfully follow the tips and hints they learn from public speaking manuals. There is the danger that technique obfuscates their real personality. Thus, the audience may consider their presentation superficial and even spurious. Should this happen, the speaker’s ethos will certainly be damaged; people will be hesitant to adopt his or her message.
To become a master of business speaking, one is not required to leave his or her personality behind, on the contrary. The right way to proceed is to get to know yourself better. When you know your strengths and insecurities you can be at peace with yourself – even at those turbulent moments when you step on a stage before hundreds or even thousands of people. You do not have to pretend to be something that you are not. From calm self-assurance arises the impression of charisma.
You do not have to pretend to be something that you are not.
Liberate yourself to serve the audience
Showing your authentic personality doesn’t mean that you will behave as casually as if you were at home. There are rules and restrictions of how to act in different settings, e.g., at work, with friends, with relatives. Nevertheless, even when contexts change you stay the same; you may conduct yourself in varying ways, but you are still you.
There are many ways to be authentic. You can show your genuine personality when addressing a large audience and, at the same time, self-regulate your behavior according to demands of the setting. Moreover, you can apply all of the best rhetorical techniques you are aware of without compromising being the real you!
I hope this lesson will liberate you to put the emphasis on the right direction: the audience. Knowing that you are certainly allowed to show your genuine personality, you do not have to worry about how you will act that much. Instead, make a considerable effort in finding out how you can help your audience. Show that you care. Prepare for your speech as diligently as you can and make your audience experience that listening to you is not wasted time but worth every minute. This is the time-honored way to become a master orator.
Five steps to develop into a superb business speaker
1) You have to get to know yourself. Who are you? What are your ambitions? What are you afraid of? Do you approve of yourself? By learning this about yourself, you will find the inner peace required to be at ease before hundreds of people.
2) When you feel that the audience is no threat to you, you are encouraged to let your authentic personality shine. This is what makes you and your speech interesting. Remember that genuineness involves a potential to fail. Therefore, do not play it too safe!
3) Study public speaking. Read rhetoric manuals, both ancient and modern. Put your findings into action. Practice a lot.
4) Eventually, you will realize that being authentic and in control of your actions do not contradict each other but together they lead to most memorable performances.
5) Finally, adopt the attitude of a servant. Everything you do before and during your speech should benefit your audience.
Antti Mustakallio is a speech coach and the principal of The Summer School of Rhetoric, a yearly Finnish event on persuasion and influential communication. Antti’s blog: Sanahaltuun.fi, on Twitter: @AMustakallio.