My friend Michael Rogers (“The Practical Futurist”) gives a lot of speeches every year.
Recently, he went to speak “in the heartland,” and found that the guy who talked just before him was FOX “News” business journalist Stuart Varney. (I guess those quote marks give you my point of view!)
Varney had a lot to say about the “left-wing media,” and got a big laugh by commenting that, if Jesus were to come back today and walk on water, the New York Times‘s headline would read, “Jesus Can’t Swim!”
What fun for Michael to listen to his soon-to-be audience sneering at people like him! But what impressed me about the way he told this story was his absolute certainty that he would win the audience over. The quality that Michael knew was going to do that job for him was wit. He was (in other words) confident in his ability to deploy a “public speaking strength.”
Know Your Public Speaking Strengths
A “public speaking strength” is anything, from any area of your life, that helps you get your point across when you talk to other people.
Your strengths might include a fancy education, a Hollywood hairstyle, a big personality, or a Nobel Prize. It doesn’t matter what they are — anything is potentially useful. What matters is that you know what they are, and are able to use your strengths (and your skills) with confidence.
How Michael Used Wit to Win Friends in the Heartland
What Michael said when he got up to speak was, “I just want all of you to know that I’ve worked for the New York Times, and there was no left-wing litmus test for getting hired.” Then he paused, grinned, and said, “Of course, if you wanted a raise…”
The audience laughed; they were his; and he proceeded to give a version of his talk that pushed this audience’s boundaries without ignoring their beliefs.
Meet Your Audience Halfway (or At Least Some of the Way!)
A lot of ideological purists would not have made that small joke at the New York Times‘s expense; but if Michael had opened with a passionate defense of the Great Gray Lady (as the Times is sometimes called), he would have lost any chance of reaching this crowd.
Instead, he opened in a way that:
- Was witty (which showed him at his best),
- Acknowledged the audience’s attitude (which helped him to connect with them), and
- Worked (because they listened respectfully to his presentation).
What Does This Mean for You?
It means that if you develop your public speaking strengths, they will repay your effort.
It works for me the way wit works for Michael; I can use my voice to disarm, to charm, to crack a (metaphoric) whip, or to do a whole lot of things in between. I rely on that ability to pull me through a lot of public speaking situations. It’s not the only tool in my toolkit, but it’s one of the most reliable ones.
What’s Your Best Public Speaking Strength?
Whether you’re in the heartland or not, it’s great to have assets you can rely on — particularly when the going (or the audience) gets tough.
So what are your public speaking strength? Great clothes? Great knowledge? An encyclopedic memory? A warm personality?
Don’t be modest: Leave your answer here so that other people can compare notes