Fear is a mild word to describe how I used to feel about public speaking. While I don’t believe I actually would have chosen death over talking to a crowd, there was a time when I may have preferred a tax audit. So, I understand the fear. It’s palpable and it can be paralyzing. You’ll notice I did not title this “10 Tips to Better Power Points” or “The Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Speakers.” You can find those yourself with any Google search.

When I think of unforgettable speakers, I think about those that have made me want to follow them anywhere. The client I did the presentation skills workshop for said that something during our conversations really resonated. What I told him was that, in my view, few things demonstrate executive presence as much as the ability to articulate a message with confidence, passion, and conviction. And, more importantly, the ability to connect with the audience, whether it’s the Parent Teacher Organization or a company’s entire staff of 1500, is what characterizes that speaker as a leader.

Here is what I observe in people I consider to be truly great speakers regardless of subject matter.

1. Wise speakers respect the audience’s own history.

They find out as much as they can about where the audience has been, what past experiences have taught them. Are they bonded (or separated) in some way? What are their relevant memories? Most importantly, what do they already know? Skilled presenters do not enter the room assuming they know more about the subject matter than their audience.

2. Fearless speakers tap into the “here and now”.

The presenter who watches and listens at the same time he or she is being seen and heard keeps the audience right there in the room. Everything that happens in the moment is relevant. Talented presenters know that every nod, chuckle, drooping eyelid or surreptitious texting is a cue, sending them information. Meeting the audience where they are validates their presence in the room. At the same time, it validates the speaker’s presence with them.

3. Inspirational speakers connect audiences with their dreams.

Being curious about the audience’s collective wants, needs and wishes allows a very powerful individual connection at the same time. What people value is highly personal and unique. Whether it’s a check-in upfront about expectations of the presentation itself or asking them to envision themselves in some future state related to the topic, the speaker connects with what the audience cares about.

I can testify that the fear of public speaking does go away when I remember that although my name may be featured on the program, it’s not about me at all.

Death and taxes? I’m afraid those are here to stay.

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