Have you ever met someone who spoke so well that you wanted to hear whatever they had to say just because they were saying it? Great speakers can do that. Their voices, the rhythm of their words, their gestures and facial expressions, and even the settings in which they’re speaking all come together to make people want to listen.
Don’t get me wrong, saying something that is meaningful and beneficial to your audience is important. But it takes more than that to deliver a message that truly resonates. In past articles, I’ve written about several of these components that come together to create a masterful presentation.
Great speakers deliver their words with enthusiasm, empathy, honesty, power, lyricism, and warmth.
In this article, I’m inviting you to take a closer look with me at some great speakers --from the past and present-- as I identify the methods they have used to bring their speeches to life.
How Great Speakers Do What They Do
Seth Godin goes all in to give each audience his best.
In Treating your talk as a gift, the author, entrepreneur, and veteran TED talk presenter, Seth Godin, tells aspiring speakers to focus on serving their audience. He writes that “the best talks work when they open doors and turn on lights for the audience… it’s about them, not the speaker’s experience.” Godin conveys his passion for his subject and engages his audience by turning up the energy.
Winston Churchill led listeners to his conclusion.
Winston Churchill is said to have won over listeners by using a combination of complex parallelism and simple language. As the article, His Speeches: How Churchill Did It, explains, while the structure of his speeches were often formal, he carefully chose each word to convey the clearest of meanings. He spoke deliberately and with a power behind his words.
Maya Angelou made words form a melody.
The renowned poet and speaker, Maya Angelou was a master at crafting the written word. She used her skills to create visual images that stirred the hearts of her audience. In her article, Inspiration from Maya Angelou, Denise Graveline of The Eloquent Woman describes how Angelou’s use of “poetic rhythms, modulated tones and vocal emphasis” drew her audience in and inspired them.
Angelou’s words are honest and speak to the heart of her experience and the experiences of her listeners. She carried them with her on a spoken journey as if she were singing them a song.
Barack Obama keeps his voice under control.
Carmine Gallo, author of The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch on and Others Don’t, writes that like Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and other famous speakers, Barack Obama had the master touch. Gallo points out three of Obama’s most common devices for crafting memorable speech in Barack Obama: A Master Class in Public Speaking.
Gallo writes that, among other techniques, Obama uses voice modulation and pacing to maintain his audience’s attention. Sometimes it is not our words, but our silence that draws a listener to linger. Pausing for impact and allowing time for your words to be fully absorbed is a powerful rhetorical device that you can use too.
Catherine Storing invites her audience to join her.
I want to wrap up my summary of speakers and their methods by highlighting the work of my friend, Catherine Storing. Catherine is a wonderful storyteller who helps others bring their books to life as a writing coach. She recently gave a speech titled Gain the Confidence to Be the Real You at Inbound 17 that I promise you won’t regret watching.
Catherine engages her audience with warmth and openness, using her words, expressions, and gestures to invite her audience to share her enthusiasm for her topic.
A Little Speaking Student Homework
Now that you are aware of some of the ways great speakers manage to deliver their messages, take some time to review the work of some of your favorite speakers. See if you recognize them using common rhetorical devices. Do they respond to their audience’s reactions?
Watch several speeches by the same presenter. How does that person change his or her style and presentation to suit different audiences or contexts?
Then, decide how you’ll use what you’ve observed and learned to make your next speech your best one yet!