Remember the years right after high school — when you were going to college, or working your first full-time job, or both?
Chances are, life felt pretty dramatic back then! Romance, friends, bosses, colleagues, deadlines, homework, extracurriculars. And maybe, in the words of blues singer Mose Allison, you were also
Drinking and a-gambling, stayin’ out all night…. just livin’ in a Fool’s Paradise.
Ah, the good old days!
That sense of high drama often accompanies young adulthood — and then something funny happens.
Want to Ruin Your Public Speaking? Grow Up and Get Serious!
As people begin to climb the career ladder, the first thing they notice is that — unless you work for a tech start-up — drama and flagrant individuality are not encouraged at work.
Well, no problem, right? All you have to do is start dressing more like everyone else… acting more like everyone else… talking more like everyone else… and you’ll be fine.
How is this bad for your public speaking? Oh, let me count the ways!
Your VOCABULARY deteriorates —You speak in work jargon. If you’re in the corporate world, you start saying thing like customer-centric, the bottom line, utilize, share of voice, challenge instead of “problem,” etc. (For more on corporate-speak, see The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit, or Bullshit Bingo, a fun, in-meeting game.)
- Your UNIQUE SPEAKING STYLE deteriorates — When you talk to people you’re close to, you speak in a distinctive way. Maybe you use a lot of Star Wars references, or curse in Italian, or act out all the parts of a story. Climbing the business or professional ladder can bleed those colorful habits out of you.
If you take this far enough,
- Your SENSE OF DRAMA deteriorates — If you spend enough time using colorless language and covering your butt with statements in the passive-voice, your public speaking will become as flat and gray as… well, most business speech.
And here’s the cruel irony:
Just when you’ve mastered this boring mode of speech, you hit the middle years of your career, and all of a sudden the people that you work for want you to sound “leaderly,” which means unique… powerful… even dramatic.
Talk about a bait and switch!
For Great Public Speaking, Reclaim Your Own Voice — and Season It with Drama
How do you get the drama back into your public speaking?
First, notice how you speak when you’re at home, or with friends. What do you do to hold people’s attention when you’re telling a story? Do you use:
These are just a few of the ways people spice up their stories and comments when they’re comfortable. What do you do to “hold the floor”? And can you bring some of those same techniques into your stories and discussions in public, including at work?
Second, study the masters. Are there people in your field — even in your office — who always sound interesting, even when they’re talking about a traffic ticket or what they ate for dinner last night?
What are they doing that holds your attention? Do they:
- Look you right in the eye?
- Speak with energy and animation?
- Use colorful words or phrases?
- Pause to build suspense?
The goal here is to reclaim your voice, so don’t blindly imitate what you hear. Instead, use the speakers you admire for inspiration, for ideas about how to be more dramatic, and to show you how far the boundaries can be pushed in your particular workplace or field.
You can also learn a lot from people who are professionally dramatic.
In this story, master sales motivator Zig Ziglar uses humor and his passionate, focused delivery style to heighten the impact of every detail:
And for more dramatic inspiration, look at these performances by diva Joyce DiDonata (her program is called “Drama Queens”) and opera superstar Dimitri Hvorostovsky.
But you don’t have to stop at watching them. Try copying their extravagant gestures, their intense facial expressions, the swoops and turns of their voices. Throw yourself into mimicking their performance — it’s just an exercise.
Fun, isn’t it!
For Great Public Speaking, Enjoy Being a Drama Queen or King
Just because you’re businesslike, adult, and professional doesn’t mean you have to do away with drama.
In fact, reclaiming your dramatic sense will enrich your public speaking, and make it unforgettable.
So start adding little touches of drama to your speech today. You don’t have to go over the top, and you don’t have to push far past your comfort zone. Just get a tiny bit dramatic and see how it’s received.
Chances are that people will perk up and listen more to what you’re saying.
And if you’d like some help, just contact me.