Two years ago, I sat captivated in an audience listening to one of the best speakers on the circuit. He almost hypnotized us with his cadence of style and charisma. Leaning toward the stage, I began to study his methods in order to learn and apply some of his techniques. He seemed to possess every tool of a top presenter.
Halfway through his message, however, uneasiness began to bleed over me. A couple of his illustrations were familiar. He told them in first person, but I knew the individuals to whom these accounts actually occurred. Changing few of the details, he plagiarized a story in front of over 2,000 attendees.
Leaning back in my seat, I listened to the rest of the speech. I was not nearly as impressed as before. In fact, more skeptical, because no one likes to be taken for a ride on a Ferris wheel when they thought they were boarding a roller coaster. I did learn a lot that night, but not in presentation skills. I learned that no matter how great the speaker, no amount of talent can save you from ignoring the two unbreakable laws of speaking.
Unbreakable law #1: The law of character
Mom always taught us as kids, “Actions speak louder than words” (No, this is not an article about gestures). How we live always speaks louder than what comes from our lips.
You want to trust the person speaking to you, and you want to be trustworthy when presenting. Character lends strength to your message before the first word is spoken. Before the first note is taken. Before the first laugh comes from the audience.
Think about it. When someone approaches the microphone you want the person to be good. Skilled. Interesting. Exciting. Magnetizing. You want to be those things as well. You want to be the best speaker or presenter that you can be. That is why you participate in Toastmasters. You know the feedback, experience and credibility delivered from the association will catapult your communication. But…
Even more critical than the ability of the presenter, you want to know if the person is credible. If a co-worker steps to the podium to present a talk on office ethics, and you know she is slipping supplies in her purse for personal use -- what will your response be? When you see a flyer on the bulletin board: Bill Whatshisname, speaking today on “Team Work,” but you know that he runs his company like a dictator, what happens inside of you?
W. Somerset Maugham says, “Don’t be short-changed by choosing personality over character.” Somerset is right. Isn’t “short-changed” exactly how we feel after we discover that the speaker is not all he claimed? On the other hand, when a person of character speaks, we feel rich even if the presentation was not the best.
A simple test of character is revealed in the old adage, “Character is who you are when no one else is looking.” That effortless phrase contains true power. The goal is for us is to be the same person when everyone is looking as when no one is looking. Who you are cannot be separated from your message. Your spirit, character and genuine heart will come through your words and actions.
After exiting the civic center two years ago, I began thinking about the speaker’s message. I remembered the stories (even the ones out of context), but I did not remember his point. The more I reviewed, the more I realized that although over an hour was spent talking, little valuable information was shared. Only after reflecting did I notice that he broke the second law.
Unbreakable law #2: The law of content
Charisma might deliver style points to listeners, but content delivers mind points. Of course, you want to become the best communicator you can be, but remember this: A bad day on the platform with poor content will leave an unrecoverable impression. But a bad day on the platform with strong content can still leave a favorable impression.
Consider it the rule of the walk-away. The speaker I heard, though entertaining, provided no walk-away information. As you prepare, look over your presentation and ask, “What is the walk-away value of this material?” Another way to think about this is, “What will the audience remember when they get home?”
One sure way to accomplish this is to have your content so securely tied to your theme that it cannot be forgotten. Every point should reemphasize the premise of your presentation. They should support it to the point of being inseparable. If possible, the content should be so strong that the audience would feel foolish for ignoring it and leaving it at the meeting. When you see people taking notes, you know you have content, because it is impossible to take notes on nothing.
These two rules are simple, yet will help you grow your business by separating you from those attempting who break them.