Think about individuals that you've enjoyed as communicators or
professional speakers. Talk show phenomenon Oprah Winfrey is not
known as a great orator, but she is certainly a highly regarded
speaker and communicator.
As a communicator, Oprah shares three
specific characteristics with a number of other well-known
personalities such as motivational speakers Tony Robbins and
Zig Ziglar, and American politicians Ronald Reagan and
Barack Obama: As popular speakers and communicators,
they are all perceived as sincere, knowledgeable and humorous.
An examination of these three characteristics not only reveals
why they are so important when attempting to reach a wide and
diverse audience, but also shows how anyone can practice and
acquire these important traits.
The first and foremost item on the list is sincerity. People
want and appreciate a speaker they feel is authentic. Nothing
turns people off more quickly than someone pretending to be
someone they aren't.
There are at least four elements that contribute to what we
perceive as sincerity.
First, people who are perceived as sincere speak in a
conversational tone. This means you must speak in a tone of
voice that people will feel is how you normally talk in your
everyday life, such as when you're with friends in your living
room or gathered around the kitchen table.
In such informal
situations you share your ideas naturally and without pretense.
This may be one of the reasons why Oprah is so successful;
when you listen to her, you get the feeling she is really the
person you hear and see on TV.
Roger Ailes, who served as a speech coach for Presidents Ronald
Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said: "The best communicators I've
ever known never changed their style of delivery from one
situation to another." Ailes said these individuals are the same
whether they are "delivering a speech, having an intimate
conversation, or being interviewed on a TV talk show."
quality of consistency in communication style contributes to the
perception of authenticity. In fact, it's even been said that
honest arrogance is preferred over false humility. Why? Because
we all want to know people are showing their true selves and
that what we see is what we get. This quality of consistency
significantly contributes to the characteristic of sincerity.
Second, to be perceived as sincere, speak only about things you
truly believe in and feel passionate about. An audience can
sense when a speaker is truly passionate about his or her
message. That passion makes others want to listen more closely.
The truth is that most audiences are eager to find something they
can get excited about and they are happy to follow you if you
inspire them with your own enthusiasm. Motivational speaker
Tony Robbins is a textbook example of this.
Finally, let people know something about how you are as a person.
This is where you let your humanity come through. Let them know
some of your "personal secrets" that are relevant to the topic.
For example, let them know where you've made mistakes along the
way before learning a valuable lesson that can also help them.
If you explain how you fell and skinned your knee before getting
up and achieving your eventual victory, they will want to know
how you did it and how they can do the same.
Sharing your human
side makes you more approachable and easier for an audience to
To be perceived as knowledgeable, it's important to deliver solid
content. Even a speaker who lacks charisma and polish will
always find an eager audience if he or she becomes known for
delivering information that people find valuable to their lives.
This is most readily accomplished by:
- Delivering information that is practical and easily applied.
- Laying out the steps to follow to implement your practical
- Hanging each of your major points on a "hook" that will
enable listeners to recall them quickly. Stories and
examples are the best and most memorable hooks.
- As a teacher or trainer, using a variety of teaching methods
so your content will have retention value. To connect with
those who are visual learners, use a prop or visual aid.
For those who are more auditory, use stories or specific
examples. For those who learn best by experiencing concepts
firsthand, create an exercise where they have to do
something. To reach the widest possible audience, mix all
of these techniques in your skill-building presentations.
The ability to laugh or find humor in a situation is one of the
characteristics that distinguish human beings from animals.
Humor, well done, opens hearts and makes audiences receptive.
The best and safest humor is always self-deprecating; when we
are not afraid to laugh at ourselves, we are perceived as mature,
emotionally well-balanced, and trustworthy.
If you want to be funny, tell stories, not jokes. Why? Because
jokes can backfire. For example, if you tell a joke and no one
else thinks it's funny, the audience is left thinking, "She
thought that was funny but it's not. I wonder if I can trust her
judgment on other issues..."
On the other hand, if you tell a
story with a relevant point that you happen to think is funny
but no one laughs, everyone will just think it was a story.
Because a story lacks the joke set-up, there's no built-in
expectation that it's supposed to be funny. If it is funny,
people will laugh. If it isn't, it will just seem like another
story and there's no harm done to your credibility.
And remember, when it comes to humor it's only funny if they
laugh. Choose your stories carefully and make note of which
ones are effective laugh getters and which ones aren't. After
a while you'll develop a kind of sixth sense about what works
for you and what doesn't.