I’m going to write a series of articles on skills that every good speaker possesses: today’s article is an overview, and I’ll devote an article to each individual skill in the coming weeks.
I would be fairly certain that even if you think you’re not a good speaker, when you read the list below you’ll find that you already exhibit one or more of these essential qualities when you speak to groups.
The 7 skills make the acronym C.R.I.S.P.E.R:
Let’s very briefly look at each one in turn:
Clear – if you’re even slightly vague in your own mind about your core message, or you don’t deliver your message in a logical order, with clear transitions from one point to the next – your audience will be confused. It does take time to work all this through, but it’s really important. Content is usually the reason why you and your audience are in the same room, and thinking it through well enough beforehand makes all the difference to your reception as a speaker.
Relevant – you need to know your audience, in as much detail as possible. Audiences are sophisticated, and don’t appreciate generalities. Tailor what you’re going to say by doing as much research you need to beforehand.
Insightful – dictionary.reference.com defines the word ‘insightful’ as “the ability to perceive clearly or deeply; penetration”. And Scott Berkun in his great book Confessions of a Public Speaker (O’Reilly 2010) goes so far as to say this: “The problem with most bad presentations I see is not the speaking, the slides, the visuals, or any of the things people obsess about. Instead, it’s the lack of thinking.” (p.56) Harsh words, but I would agree.
Succinct – when you’re listening to a speaker, no matter how interesting, isn’t it true that when they say the magic words “to sum up” or “finally”, you perk up? It just seems to be human nature, and one of the best ways to respect your audience is to be as brief as possible!
Practice – this is absolutely crucial. And it must be done out loud, at least part of the time. Yes, this is tedious, and most people don’t do it, which is why it’s a characteristic of good speakers.
Energy – your audience follows your cue: every group who doesn’t know you will be cool to start with, we’re all metaphorically taking a step back and assessing, in the early moments of hearing a new speaker. But if you show some energy, some life-force, the audience will follow you. You need to set the tone. You can also gain energy from your audience (a topic for another day!).
Respect – every member of your audience wants to feel respected by you as the speaker (don’t you, when you’re in a group?) And this applies even more as a speaker if an audience member is rude or difficult. No matter how much you want to retaliate, remember that an audience will feel “as one” to some extent, and if you get tetchy with one person, they will potentially all be offended. So even if someone hits your hottest button, continue to be pleasant. That way, you’ll gain the respect of the group, and potentially avoid crashing in flames, too!
More on these skills in coming weeks.