I recently found myself in sitting in the back row of seats in a packed ballroom at a marketing conference. 400 people were crammed into a space that was likely only supposed to hold 250. The reason it was standing room only? Everyone was there to see the legendary keynote speaker take the stage.
As someone who sees a lot of speakers, I have to be honest, he isn't the best. He speaks quietly and quickly. He jams too much information on too many slides. He rarely looks at the audience and, if you didn't know any better, you might wonder if this was the very first time he'd ever been on a stage before.
However, despite all of these "faults," this speaker draws the biggest crowds of any event where he presents. People come from all over the country to hear what he has to say. Which begs the question, if he's so bad, why is he so popular?
There are many rules, official and unwritten, when it comes to public speaking. However, as is the case with the speaker at that conference, sometimes these rules are best broken.
1. You don't have to be a flawless communicator.
Many presenters think they have to speak perfectly and their speech should be flawless from start to finish. They work hard to avoid any ums, ahs, or uhs in their speech and never stumble over their words. But "ums" are a natural part of our speech pattern. Cutting them out can make you come across as inauthentic, a bit too polished and leave the audience wondering if you can be trusted.
Instead of focusing on perfection, simply be authentic. It's okay to smooth out your speech, but it's also okay to speak comfortably and naturally.
2. Stay cool, calm, and collected.
I once watched a speaker who paced constantly and sweated entirely through his clothing. He was the opposite of what a great speaker should look like. But he was still awesome. The content of his speech and the stories he shared were impactful and valuable to the audience.
Presenting is a lot of work. It's work to create the concept, it's work to work it into a logical presentation and then work to finally deliver it. A few days ago, at the end of a particularly grueling keynote, I sighed to the crowd, wiped the sweat from my brow and said, "Whew! That was a workout!" The crowd chuckled because they could tell I was totally into it and they appreciated.
Additionally, if you're passionate about what you're presenting, don't try to play it cool. The speaker I saw was pacing because he was excited. You might pace or sweat or use too many hand gestures, but if you're passionate about the content you're sharing, it's okay to let that show.
2. There's nothing to see here.
Sometimes things go wrong. The tech fails. A phone goes off in the middle of what you're saying. You lose your train of thought. We're not perfect and it's okay to acknowledge that.
If things don't go as planned and it's obvious to everyone in the room, pretending nothing is wrong only makes it more awkward. Suck it up, address the issue, perhaps make a joke and take it in stride. Your audience will be more at ease if you acknowledge the issue.
Most importantly, be yourself.
Above all else, if you follow no other rules heed this one: Be yourself.
If you have a dry sense of humor, tell your dry jokes. If you're geeky, be geeky. If you're a woman...be a woman. A woman once approached me after a presentation and commented that I turn my ankle in a bit when I speak. "It's a very feminine pose," she said. She was simultaneously taken aback and inspired, because all of her speaking mentors had told her not to be too feminine on stage. No matter who you are, always be yourself. Audiences respond to authenticity.
Authenticity is actually the super power for that marketing conference speaker I mentioned -- it's become an irresistible magnetism. People are drawn to his sessions for the content and the quality of his character. Myself included.