Qualities of a Great Speaker
This is my site Written by Alora on April 14, 2009 – 3:31 pm

Speaker's Microphone on StageI admit it: I am “an oratorical snob.” I have very high standards when it comes to what I like to hear and see from a speaker at an event or show. Having grown up in a small business-centric environment, public speaking is in my blood and I cut my teeth on motivational and business speaking events of all types before I was even out of elementary school.

And then, like most mouthy, extroverted, overly-opinionated, “smart kids” I was always involved in speech and debate throughout school, because it was simply fun. (That, and the fact that I had always planned on law school and a career in politics.)

So, as an adult in the business world (a healthy distance from politics, as it turns out), I often find myself very disappointed in public speakers. Particularly in the new era of “social media celebrity,” where public speakers are often put on stage because they have developed a good brand because they have written a popular book or blog — despite the fact that, as a very solitary function, writing tends to attract introverts, whereas the best public speakers are typically extroverts.

There are aspects of this time-honored art that are being neglected by a great many speakers — with an increasingly frustrating frequency — these days. This was never clearer to me than at the several conferences I have attended over the past couple of months.

Watching the way different speakers handle themselves and an audience has made me sit back and ask, “What do I look for in a speaker?” Some of the answers are a bit wishy-washy (e.g. Depends on the subject/context/etc.), but some of them are actually not.

This clip from The West Wing is a great illustration of my point:

There are three things that every single speaker should be able to do if they are going to ask for your undivided attention. It is the price they should be prepared to pay for your time. They do not need to provide all three in equal parts, but all three need to be present to some degree. Without any one of them, the time spent listening to them speak could better be put elsewhere.

The 3 Critical Qualities of Public Speaking

  • Educational – A speaker should provide enough new information that members of the audience walk out of the room with a new insight, perspective or even simple fact that they did not have when the session began.
  • Authentic – A speaker’s authenticity is their currency with an audience. If, for even a moment, a speaker appears or sounds inauthentic, their content — no matter how good — can lose credibility.
  • Emotionally Connective – A speaker’s ability to emotionally connect with an audience — whether by being vulnerable, by making them laugh, or by motivating them into action — is what an audience will ultimately remember most. Human beings are emotionally-driven creatures, and a speaker who ignore that aspect of the human experience never be as compelling.

Over the rest of the week, I will follow-up with a post on each of these three qualities, and good and bad examples from all of the various speakers I have personally seen.

Do you disagree that these three are the key qualities? Have any examples of any that are particularly good or particularly bad?

Follow-up Posts: