If you haven't yet watched Ivanka's speech at the RNC last night do it, now! Set aside your politics for a few minutes and listen to what makes a speaker effective.
I've coached speakers for decades. From specialists on the neurology of the mind, to world-class professional athletes, to high powered CEOs. I've noticed one immutable truth about great speakers--the ones who move you, draw you in, are the ones who create a sense that what you are listening to is something that is being delivered from a person's heart and soul. In a word it's called your Voice, and finding it means that you have to accept some very basic and difficult things about yourself.
But before I get to that let me share with you an exercise I've been doing with graduate students for over a decade that helps them find the power of their voice.
You Can't Fake Authentic
The landscape of top tier B-schools has become so competitive that only the best and brightest make the cut. Yet, what most students lack is the confidence to get up in front of an audience. So, always do one class on finding your Voice in course. But I do not spend the time talking about technique. That's a very small part of it. I only have one class to teach them the most important lesson of public speaking, being authentic.
The exercise is all about delivering a message without getting lost in it, and goes like this. I give each student two minutes to review and very simple abstract slide, that I pull at random from a deck of hundreds of images, and then give each student five minutes to present anything they want to the class. I affectionately call the exercise "Powerpoint Bingo" since the slide you get is purely the luck of the draw.
You might think that this is an impossible task. Far from it. Without fail, in every single presentation I've seen over the last 10 years, students hit it out of the park. My only advice to them is: "Be yourself, put yourself out there, say what you say with deep passion and conviction, and do not attempt to be a persona you are not."
Why is this advice so important? Because as humans we have an uncanny ability to infer authenticity in communications, especially a presentation. The cues we rely on are so many and so diverse that trying to make presenting a science is simply impossible unless you're a professional actor or an accomplished professional speaker with thousands of hours of experience. So, for the rest of us mortals, the only thing we can rely on to get across our point is ourselves. And the biggest single mistake people make when they present is to leave themselves backstage and try to adopt the persona of a "speaker" when they come on stage.
Your Voice Comes From Your Heart
What Ivanka Trump did was incredibly simple. She found her Voice and she used it to speak with authenticity, from her heart, with passion, and conviction. You may or may not have head her words but you definitely felt her conviction. We could analyze the content endlessly. I'll leave that to the media pundits, because the content is secondary to my point here, which is that unless you engage an audience even the most magnificent content will go unnoticed. And the only way to engage is to be yourself. (By the way, I'm not for a minute saying that the words are irrelevant, but the gateway to the words is the way their are presented.
You may not have the benefit of a fan blowing your flowing blond locks, a six-foot stature, or a well veneered smile, but you have to accept that the best you have is who you are. I know believing that is hard. Our deepest insecurities surface when we go on stage. And nothing is better at masking our heart, soul, and passion. But from the Wall Street bankers I've worked with to the most uber-competitive CEOs, I've found only one solution for insecurities: Accept them. By doing so, you will not only find your Voice but you will soon celebrate it for the incredible power and impact your unique authentic style can have.