Think about the most engaging speakers you have ever seen. Chances are that those speakers were not just a talking head, but speakers who used their entire body and voice to amplify their impact.
I’m fascinated by what makes a speaker really engage me with their performance; and let’s face it, great public speakers do put on a performance for their audience.
Last year I was fortunate to attend four speaker conventions in four countries on four continents and I literally saw hundreds of speakers. So, I got in touch with the stand out speakers from each of those four events and I asked them how they prepare their body, voice and mind to deliver such outstanding performances. I have a background as a performer, so it’s natural for me to warmup prior to a performance of any kind. I strongly believe you should never ever warm up on your audience’s time. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised at what these speakers shared about their pre-talk practices. But if you’re someone who prepares your presentation content without much thought for how you can prime yourself for a dynamic delivery, read on.
At the Professional Speaking Association UK and Ireland annual convention, there was one speaker who stood head and shoulders above the rest. Essentially he just stood on the stage and told a couple of stories. Admittedly those stories communicated a mighty message but they wouldn’t have had such impact if this speaker had not done two things. The first was an amazing use of his voice which took us on a journey; it was full of highs and lows and had a great variety of pitch and pace and volume and emphasis. It was flexible, agile and expressive. The second thing he did really well was to use his body effectively. He moved about the entire stage with gusto; his mannerisms and gestures helped to bring the stories to life and he involved his whole body as he spoke. There was an energy that pulsated through him and into the audience.
The name of this speaker is Geoff Ramm. I was captivated from start to finish and judging by the feedback from other audience members, his talk stood out for them as well. This is a man at the top of his game, an international speaker with more repeat bookings and referrals than he can handle. So, of course, I wanted to know his off-stage secrets!
What does Geoff Ramm do to prepare before putting on a performance like that? When I asked him, he replied, “Well Mel, to be honest I don’t really do anything much to prepare.” To be honest, that was kind of disappointing for me to hear!
But after a bit more conversation he shared one very crucial detail about the way in which he prepares. He drinks three pints of room temperature water before he goes on stage. For me, three pints before I go on stage is maybe not such a good idea! But hydration is a good idea. Because what happens to you when you get dehydrated? Apart from getting dry mouth and vocal chords which is not ideal for a speaker, if we’re dehydrated our mind is not as sharp and we certainly don’t have the energy to use our body and voice to best effect.
Hydration is particularly crucial if you find yourself on a plane, which is where I found myself a few months later flying all the way to my home country of Australia for the Professional Speakers Australia convention on the Gold Coast. Whether you’re flying for work or for pleasure be aware of the effects of flying on your body, particularly if you’re speaking or training soon after touchdown.
At the Australian convention there were two speakers that really engaged me with their positive energy and connection to the audience and they actually work as a double act. Troy and Zara Swindells-Grose run a company called Humour Australia. When I got in touch with Zara, she told me that one of the most important parts of their preparation is that they always take a moment before they go on to really connect mind, body and spirit and concentrate on being 100% present. In that moment they focus on their intention for what they want the audience to come away with – that might be ‘What a brilliant experience’ or ‘I just loved that’ or ‘Wow, I learnt so much!’ And interestingly Troy and Zara often have audience members coming up to them afterwards using the exact same phrase that they had focused on for their intention.
So rather than running around and chatting with the audience and the organisers right up until your presentation, always give yourself a quiet moment to connect your mind, body and spirit so you can be 100 % present and focused on your intention.
The day after the conference finished, I spent another 18 hours in the air flying from Coolangatta to Sydney to Johannesburg and onto Cape Town. This time it was for the annual convention of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa where I was speaking a couple of days later (yes, I stayed hydrated during the flight!)
At the Cape Town convention I saw some great speakers including one speaker from the UK who stood out because she appeared completely relaxed, grounded, centred and focused. She was funny, entertaining and she had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. Like Geoff Ramm, she used her voice to add drama to the stories she was telling. And some of the parts of her speech that really stood out most for me were when she became the person she was talking about; she spoke in their voice which really brought the characters to life.
The name of this speaker is Julie Creffield and she has become a good friend of mine over the last few years. To ensure she is calm, centred, focused and able to use her voice so effectively to have the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, an important part of her preparation ritual is to do a vocal warm up. This is a woman after my own heart; like me she has a background as a performer and she knows the value of doing a good vocal warm up beforehand to ensure her voice is rich and expressive.
I can’t stress enough the importance of warming up your voice with some humming or singing and a few tongue twisters. This is important even if you have to make an important phone call to a client or attend a meeting – you want your voice to sound clear, confident and credible, and not to be clearing your throat just before you go on or even worse when you’re already in front of your audience.
United States of America
Three months after retuning from South Africa I was on a plane again. This time it was to Orlando to attend the National Speakers Association Influence convention. This is the biggest professional speakers convention in the world – I’ve never seen so many speakers in one place; it was a cacophony of speakers!
I saw some amazing performances at this convention and the final keynoter, Sekou Andrews, really captured my attention. What made him so engaging? He has created his own unique speaking category, Poetic Voice, where he transitions seamlessly from keynote to poetry to interactive discussion and back again. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch and a really interesting and powerful way to communicate his message. Not only did he communicate through words but he enhanced it by using body language that reinforced what he was talking about and ensured it was large enough to make an impact on a massive stage in a huge venue. His message to NSA delegates was all about developing a Rockstar mindset, essentially he believes you don’t deliver a speech, you perform a speech; you don’t give a talk you rock a talk. When I contacted him about what he does to prepare before a talk he shared some of his Rockstar Rituals with me. Like Geoff Ramm, he watches what he puts into his body and drinks lots of water. Like Troy and Zara from Humour Australia, he takes a moment to align mind, body and spirit with his message and intention so that he can be 100% present with audience. Like Julie Creffield he warms up his vocal apparatus to ensure that he can articulate clearly, express a range of characters and emotions and is able to deliver his powerful poetry with such precision.
Finally, another key part of his preparation ritual is limbering up his body. If you were to see him backstage before a keynote you won’t find him standing idle. You’ll see him doing squats and yoga stretches and lunges to ensure that he can use his body in his performance. As Sekou says, “On stage you want to be able to do whatever it is that comes to you in the moment that feels authentic and organic, whether that’s dropping to your knees or running into the audience, and you need to be able to trust your body to do that.” Even if your speaking style isn’t that dramatic, if you’ve limbered up and really connected with your body you will be much more dynamic and engaging. Sekou is a speaker who is charging up to $30,000 for an appearance so it’s worth listening to his advice!
Just as you prepare your content, you need to prepare your mind, body and voice to ensure you are a strong and dynamic communicator. Whether you’re pitching for funding, delivering a sales presentation or inspiring your team at an away day, if you apply the tips from these four professional speakers, your speech delivery will improve. And as a result, when people are asked to think of the most engaging speaker they’ve seen, they’re more likely to think of you.
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_