How to Win Over Your Audience… for Life

From the Succeed Speaking newsletter:

As a speaker, you’ve undoubtedly seen lots of speakers speak. Some of them make you say “Wow!” Some of them don’t.

When you think about the “wow!” speakers, what is the one quality that comes to mind? In one word, what is it that makes you remember them? That is what engaged you.

If we were in a room together where everyone could call out their one word, we would probably hear words like:

  • charisma
  • content
  • voice
  • command
  • story


For me, when I think about all the speakers I’ve seen through the years, it’s the ones who come across as being authentic on stage that I’m attracted to. They’re the ones I’ll never forget.

What is authenticity? Merrian-Webster defines it as being “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

TED gets at it this way in the second of their 10 TED Commandments:

“Show us the real you. Share your passions, your dreams … and also your fears. Be vulnerable. Speak of failure as well as success.”

I once saw Keith Ferrazzi demonstrate this masterfully here in Nashville…

He had invited me to come see him speak at a corporate leadership event with 700-1,000 people. I sat down at the back of the room so I could take in the full scene — that’s where you can really see how the audience is engaging.

Keith Ferrazzi

So here comes Keith, after being introduced as one of Inc. magazine’s “most connected people in the world” and the youngest Chief Marketing Officer in the Fortune 500 and #1 New York Times best-selling author…

He takes the stage and starts speaking with authority — what you would expect from such an established, credentialed person. He’s telling us how important relationships are in business and how things need to improve…

All good material, but I have to say, I was a bit disappointed. This was my first time to see Keith speak in person, but I was a fan of his work and had known him for a couple of years at that point, and I was expecting something… better.

Well, then all of a sudden, a few minutes into his presentation, he lets the audience in on what he’s doing: he was just demonstrating — powerfully — what happens when we take relationships out of business. When we take authenticity out of business. (And out of speaking.)

Until this point, he was just a corporate suit in the spotlight with a microphone.

I remember he said, “When I was introduced with all of those credentials, you probably thought, ‘This guy sounds like a real jackass. Must be really full of himself.’”

Now, he gets real. He tells us about his personal struggles. About growing up in a blue collar mining town in a working class family. He talks about fears he had growing up and even now.

Whoa! No longer are we just listening to a guy who was the youngest CMO in the Fortune 500, best-selling author, etc… But we’re listening to a real guy. A guy who has fears just like me. Weaknesses just like me. He’s vulnerable. Now I’m listening! Now I’m engaged!

(Oh yeah, and now I’m rooting for him as he speaks because I care about him.)

You could feel the energy in the entire room change.

That is the power of authenticity.

So let’s turn to you…

Are you being true to your spirit when you’re on stage?

Are you sharing your dreams and passions… along with your fears and failures?

Are you being authentic?

If you are, well done, and keep it up… and please leave a comment below to encourage your fellow speakers who may be struggling with it.

Because if you’re not being true to yourself on stage, this isn’t a conviction.

It’s not easy to step out and be real. It’s easier to “play a role.” (And besides, as a speaker, aren’t you supposed to be all happy and victorious?!)

No, because if you’re all happy and victorious — all the time — then you’re not real… and I can’t connect with someone who’s not real. You can’t connect with someone who’s not real. (And it’s a sure path to burnout.)

As Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen and The Naked Presenter, wrote on his blog a couple of weeks ago, “We don’t seek your perfection, only your authenticity.”

Isn’t that refreshing to hear?

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