Why No One is a Natural Born Speaker

No one is born a great speaker. You have to work at it. Speaking is a skill that needs to be developed, like any other skill. The claim someone is a “natural” at speaking underestimates what it really takes to be great. Some people say LeBron James is a natural, too. Then, why does he work so hard at improving his shooting, defense and passing?

It’s true some people are more extroverted by nature and more comfortable in front of people. But comfort level can be altered and being relaxed is just one aspect of great speaking. The first step in great speaking is good research. You can find anything you need to become a great speaker, to regain your confidence and you learn so much more about yourself — finding out what the audience really wants to get out of the presentation and then designing a program to exceed those expectations. Great speaking is about editing, taking a large body of information and paring it down for the audience. Sharp editing and the use of concise language are learned skills and very few people do them really well. Listening is also needed in presentations, a skill that doesn’t come at birth either. How well does your two-year-old listen? How about your teenager?

A speaker once told me he didn’t need my coaching help because he was able to easily “wing it” in front of the audience. I replied, “Yes, it appeared like you were winging it.” He wasn’t connected with what his audience was thinking.

Speaking also requires us to get constant feedback from our audience — what they like and don’t like. It is the only way to get better. No truly great speaker is ever completely satisfied with his/her performance.

Great speaking, as much as any field I know, is open to everyone. It’s not what you were born with, it’s how you use what you have. With the right coaching, the sky is the limit.

The writer is a professional speaker with many speaking coaching clients. Don’t hesitate to contact him for help. His speaking book is available here.



PowerPoint is Like a Brick. It Can Build a Home or Smash a Window.

PowerPoint can be very useful or very boring depending on how it is used. Don’t you love it when a speaker uses a slide that looks like this?

ARTICLE I Adoption of Code [Adopted 6-1-1999 by L.L. No. 5-1999]§ 1-1. Legislative intent.
In accordance with Subdivision 3 of § 20 of the Municipal Home Rule Law, the local laws, ordinances and certain resolutions of the Town of Guilderland , as codified by General Code Publishers Corp., and consisting of Chapters 1 through 280, together with an Appendix, shall be known collectively as the “Code of the Town of Guilderland,” hereafter termed the “Code.”         

Ouch! Too often, presenters transfer information from a book or website and slap it on a slide. Your audience can read by themselves and no adult likes being read to. Detailed reproductions are the “kiss of death” for presentations and remain one of the fastest ways to put your audience to sleep. Some presenters don’t use slides because of the way they are often misused. That’s a shame because they can really add value to a presentation.

Common mistakes are:
– the talk doesn’t match the text
– no visuals are used
– too many slides are crammed into the presentation

I attended a presentation from a self-described “national sales expert” with an enormous slide count. There were far too many slides to absorb with too much information on them. I observed the attendees (a practice you should try sometime). He had lost many of them and was not even aware of it. The presenter’s job is to limit the information to what’s really important and the quantity (and quality) of the slides is central to that responsibility.

Some presenters use slides as a crutch to ignore the audience. To the nervous presenter, it’s a lot “safer” to focus on the slides and not worry about audience reaction. That’s understandable from a nervousness standpoint but, obviously, we want to build confidence so the presenter welcomes interaction with the audience.

How Do We Capitalize on Slides To Boost Your Game? 

Just as poor slides pull you down, good slides boost you up. Make sure your outline is reinforced by the slides you use. Be clear what your key points are and make those points with your slides.

Fonts matter so be consistent and use colors that are easy on the eyes (much more on this in my public speaking book). Keep the design simple. It’s not an art show. Many free templates can be downloaded from www.microsoft.com

Always remember slide content is not meant to cover every detail. Keep your charts simple. If an attendee has to think about what it says, it’s too complicated. Graphics should be high quality and relevant to the point at hand.

Use video to enhance your presentations. Build a catalog of video and audio clips that you might use in your speeches.

So, the next presentation is up to you. Make the brick work for you.