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‹ View all articles 28th May 2013

The Six Qualities of an Inspiring Speaker

How to Inspire

What is it that makes one public speaker inspiring and the other 'just ok'? A list of rules? Or something else? The Ginger approach to inspiring public speaking shows you that you already have everything you need to become an inspiring speaker... 

For most of my younger years I was terrified of public speaking. It was simply the worst thing I could imagine doing. Yet, at some point an opportunity came up for me that cornered me into facing my fear head on (read about it here). I got through it - just - but afterwards I became curious.

How could I become a public speaker who didn't just 'get through it', but could actually inspire others?

Learning the 'Rules'

In looking around to the established approach to public speaking, all I found was a series of rules:

  • Good public speakers do eye contact like this
  • Good public speakers don't fiddle as they're speaking
  • Good public speakers don't show that you're nervous
  • Good public speakers stand here
  • Good public speakers say this sort of thing...

Above all, those rules were shouting, "Don't be yourself, be someone else."

Hmm.

But something a little quieter and a little more internal was telling me,

"Don't all those rules make you more nervous rather than more natural?"

What really makes an inspiring speaker?

Then I compared those rules of supposedly 'good' public speaking to the public speakers who inspire me. People like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Brene Brown, even Jamie Oliver. People who's public speaking has actually influenced me to think or do differently.

Was it that they were doing all of the things on that list? Perhaps... but that wasn't what made them inspiring.

The more I looked at examples of inspiring speakers, the more I realised that inspiring public speakers share a set of qualities rather than a list of behaviour rules.

Inspiring public speakers like Gandhi to Brene Brown, to Churchill, each have very different behaviours as speakers. Truly inspiring public speaking comes from the inside, not from applying a bunch of rules to your speaking. In fact, those rules make us more stiff, more 'professional' and more awkward, rather than more fresh, more spontaneous and more connective.

The more we try to be someone else as a speaker - the more we lose what makes us appealing in our own way.

The six qualities of an inspiring speaker

What emerged after watching hundreds of inspiring speakers (and a few not-so-inspiring ones too) was six qualities that help a speaker to truly impact their audience. This is what my book "How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking" (Pearson) explains in detail.

The six qualities form the Public Speaking House:

1) Awareness

The quality that allows you choice over your actions as a speaker. Developing awareness allows you to pick up the behaviours that serve your audience - and drop the ones that distract the audience from your message.

2) Empathy

Most speakers start their speech preparation by asking themselves "what do I want to say?" but an inspiring speaker starts from the perspective of their audience, seeking primarily to serve their aims. In doing so, they become a speaker who is listened to and respected.

3) Freshness

The quality that gives a ZING to any talk. Freshness allows a speaker to be unique, spontaneous and memorable.

4) Balance

The ability to judge which information goes in and which stays out, in order to take your audience on an incredible journey thorough your public speaking

5) Fearlessness

Being able to go beyond your comfort zone in service of your audience. This is the quality that brings edginess and power to any public speaking as we can see just how important the topic is to you.

6) Authenticity

The final - and perhaps most important quality is the ability to be yourself, even if it is vulnerable and even if it feels in some way 'inappropriate'. Your authenticity connects to your audience's humanity and allows them to also be authentic. This is the quality that transforms public speaking from "technically very good" to "WOW".

Even if a speaker isn't 100% confident, or doesn't catch 100% of traditionally 'good' speaking technique, they can still inspire by developing these six qualities.

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