What Dolly Parton Can Teach You About Public Speaking


Some time back I was watching a re-run of Glastonbury 2014 on late night TV and I was struck by Dolly Parton’s amazing ability to engage a 180,000 strong crowd. The more I watched the more I realised that her techniques could be implemented in many public speaking situations. So here’s what Dolly Parton can teach you about public speaking:

Be Authentic

Dolly’s carefully crafted personal brand and image “modelled on the town tramp” is unique to her and she lives and breathes it. She is completely comfortable with it and she owns it, regardless of what other people think.

Lesson: Be true to yourself, be aware of your personal brand, be consistent and be yourself when speaking – don’t try to copy other speakers or be someone you’re not. As Dolly says, "Find out who you are and do it on purpose."

Be Brilliant At What You Do

There is no denying that Dolly knows how to sing and entertain a crowd. She has put in thousands of hours perfecting her craft and it shows when she is on a stage. She and her band were well rehearsed ensuring her performance was top quality.

Lesson: If you are going to speak in public you owe it to your audience to prepare and rehearse thoroughly and give the best presentation you can.

Wear An Appropriate Outfit

Rhinestones, rhinestones and more rhinestones adorn Dolly in concert and not only was her sparkly white outfit appropriate for the occasion, but the colour and style ensured her petit frame stood out against the background on the huge stage. It was also flattering, highlighting her best features and in line with her personal brand and audience expectations.

Lesson: Wear an appropriate outfit that fits and flatters you and is comfortable to present in. Find out as much as you can about the event, the dress code and the room you will be presenting in and choose your outfit accordingly.

Involve Your Audience

Dolly’s relaxed and natural interactions with her audience ensured they were hanging on her every word. She shared stories and kept people engaged with fun banter in between songs, as well as audience participation throughout by encouraging them to clap and sing along (not that they need much encouragement for this!)

Lesson: Today’s audiences want to be included in your presentation; keep your style conversational and stay connected with them by asking questions, speaking to them rather than at them and finding ways to involve them.

Tailor Your Material For The Audience

With a good understanding of the event and the festival goers that would be attending, Dolly ensured that most of the songs she played were upbeat. She played lots of her well-known crowd pleasers, interspersed with some of her newer material. In addition, she even wrote a song especially for the event about the mud – “we won’t let it ruin our high” – as the crowd chanted “mud, mud, mud” right back at her. She also acknowledged the setting and connected with them through tales of her own upbringing in the country.

Lesson: Presentations are never about you; they are always about the audience and that should be the starting point for any speech or presentation. Regardless of what you want to tell them, always do your research and look for ways to tailor your content to connect with the audience.

Appreciate Your Support Team

Dolly recognises that she couldn’t do what she does without her amazingly talented band and support crew. She took the opportunity to introduce every band member expressing her admiration and respect for them whilst allowing them their own moment to shine, and she encouraged the audience to show their appreciation by clapping and cheering for each individual.

Lesson: If you are speaking at any event, it is important to remember that the event doesn’t just happen by itself. Always recognise the organisers and show appreciation for the tech crew who will be working hard to ensure you can be heard and seen by the audience.

Adapt To The Size of the Audience

At five foot tall, Dolly could have easily been swamped by the massive stage and surroundings. One of the ways she was able to own the space and be more easily seen was to incorporate large gestures and use the entire stage area by moving to different parts of it which enabled her connect with different sections of the audience.

Lesson: Adapt your presenting style to the size and type of venue; in a larger space you will need to lift your energy and use larger gestures than in a smaller more intimate setting.

Be Likeable

Dolly doesn’t take herself too seriously and this makes her incredibly likeable. Add to this humility, respect for everyone around her, a great sense of humour, fun antics and a traffic stopping smile and people are easily drawn to her.

Lesson: Even if your audience may not like the message to have to share, you will receive a better response to your presentation if you are likeable. Being friendly, humble, respectful, open and remembering to smile will definitely help with this. As Dolly says, "Smile - it increases your face value."

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_