WHAT MAKES A TALK GREAT
Todd Dewett | September 22, 2014
I’m often asked about what makes a talk great. My response might surprise you, and I believe it applies to professional speakers, accountants, someone working in human resources, or any other type of professional. The simple answer is that giving a great talk is about connection. A connection is a feeling of togetherness between the speaker and audience resulting from a meaningful shared experience. So, how do create a connection?
You could suggest that the answer is great expertise. Expertise is required of course, but it is insufficient. There is no shortage of great experts who are incapable of commanding an audience’s attention. Expertise is a foundation for a presentation, nothing more.
You could suggest that the answer is proper structure. All of the great speeches follow a similar flow. They state some unfortunate thing, suggest that it does not have to be that way, and then proceed to offer some type of solution followed by a call to action. Structure does add a persuasive element to an argument, but it does not build connection.
It’s also been said that the answer is interaction. To engage an audience you must move past mere lecture and create interactions. This can be useful to help people feel partial ownership, but in practice it is often more distraction than value added interaction. In any case, while quality participation can get attention, it does not typically lead to connection.
The best two answers to this question are authenticity and emotion.
Authenticity is about being yourself. It’s about not working hard to manage impressions in order to project an allegedly more professional image. It’s about speaking a bit more as you would to a friend or neighbor. Authenticity builds connection because for most observers it creates a feeling of comfort and believability. When people sense that a speaker is being real, the put down their mental barriers and find it easier to listen and connect.
Emotion in a presentation refers to energy, excitement, and passion. This is conveyed through tone of voice, variance in both tone and pace, and through many forms of non-verbal communication. How much you actually show your interest in the material strongly influences your ability to touch the audience. In short, the use of genuine emotions makes people want to listen and care.
When you can deliver your message authentically and show real emotions, the audience will move past understanding your message and actually feel it. That’s a connection, and only when you connect can you move your audience to action.