In more than 10 years, I have invited thousands of speakers on stage at my conference LeWeb. Here are a few thoughts on what makes a good speaker.
I have seen people who have something to say be terribly boring and others without anything to say but really entertaining. I would say the way the message is delivered is more important than the content itself. Public speaking is about entertaining an audience. If you’re entertaining and charismatic the room will love you already.
That one is way too often forgotten. Make the audience smile. Make fun of yourself. There is even a whole conference and business to add humor in your talks. David Nihill is behind it and really amazing.
Capable of improvising and getting out of a script
Reading your talk is boring. Best speakers memorize the talk or just memorize the outline and then improvise on it. As I was on stage at LeWeb a video would not start because of technical glitch. I improvised in front of 1,500 people and it lasted 10 very long minutes. The team was fixing the technical issue and I just kept talking about everything and nothing. I started giving the room my best recommendations for restaurants in Paris and everyone laughed and had a good time. It would have been a disaster if instead the stage would have stayed empty.
The speaker is a celebrity
Bring Richard Branson, Queen Rania of Jordan or Karl Lagerfeld on stage and the room will obviously love it. I have always been intrigued by how fascinated everyone is with famous people. It does not make them good speakers but it’s very rare that they disappoint, people just want to be with them and some get paid fortunes to appear in public. I have, however, seen also very boring public appearances by celebrities. They generally still win.
Doesn’t (only) sell himself or his product
Whether it’s a book, a product or himself, most speakers are also promoting something. A little bit is okay but it’s a fine line. If the speaker only delivers an ad about what he’s doing without saying anything interesting, it’s just a disaster. Many conferences do not resist having too many sponsored speakers on stage as they need the revenue. The result is generally very bad.
The speaker teaches you something you don’t know
I know, it’s obvious, but worth remembering when you prepare a talk. When I give a talk myself I always try to wonder what the audience will remember of what I said. I gave a few talks about meditation for example and they always went great because most people are curious and want to learn about it.
The speaker did something extraordinary
Adventure is always entertaining. Extreme sports. Making people dream always works. An astronaut telling his space story for example. I have fond memories of Sully Sullenberger explaining in Davos how he managed to land his plane in the Hudson River after a double engine failure and how everyone was rescued. It was captivating.
Shares something very intimate and personal
Dina Kaplan shared with everyone her deepest fears as an Entrepreneur and in life in general. Dina delivered an incredible talk and everyone in the room was talking about it. Sharing fears is not something you share generally. It reminds me also how Robert Scoble posted on Facebook he was sexually abused or how he stopped drinking entirely as alcohol was becoming an addiction.
Shares news or launches a new product
When Jack Dorsey gave the very first ever demo of Square on my stage at LeWeb the news went all around the World in a matter of minutes, covered by social media and also mainstream media. Not everyone is Jack Dorsey of course, but keeping major news or a launch for a public talk is always good. TED often asks that speakers do not disclose the content of their talk months before they go on stage.
The talk is short and focused
TED talks are always 15–20 minutes. It’s short enough to not become boring and long enough to deliver the key information. A lot can be shared in just even 5 minutes. Great speakers go to the point and deliver a powerful message in a very short time.
Makes the audience feel better or even happier
I have seen Gary Vaynerchuk do Q&A sessions with a thousand people in the room for more than an hour. The room always wanted more. Gary Vee is an incredible speaker in many ways but for me what makes him very special is how he motivates everyone. He makes the room feel good and inspires them. Everyone feels they can succeed and accomplish incredible things. This is why most motivational speakers such as Tony Robbins excel and have huge followings.
Uses metaphors and simple visuals to illustrate his point
Watch how Hans Rosling explains the World is better off than you think and the art of explaining complicated things in a way everyone can understand.
Uses drawings to support his talk
I have seen John Maeda draw on stage and instead of using slides he would only show drawings to illustrate his talk. The form mattered as much as the content.
Scares the audience
When Al Gore gave his talk on global warming all around the World, he scared everyone. Same with Philip Zimbardo and his Lucifer Effect talk. He was explaining how good people can turn evil. In both cases the audience was captivated.
There are many more ways a speaker can be incredible on stage, what did I forget?
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