I’ve spent the past nine years of my life working on my public speakings skills. Professional speakers do a lot of things right, none of which I knew at the beginning of my journey.
I once spoke at SHRM, and I totally blew it. I knew it from the moment I opened my mouth. And when my feedback came back, it was confirmed. Someone wrote, “Laurie Ruettimann thinks highly of herself. We know this because she spent ten minutes telling us.”
You don’t forget feedback like that.
Thankfully, I’ve spent the past few weeks (and, honestly, years) on the road with professional speakers, conference speakers, technology analysts, and HR professionals who have opinions that matter.
Here are the characteristics of good speakers.
1. They don’t talk too much. Honestly, the best speakers are good listeners. If they’re on stage giving a keynote, you can tell they’ve clearly listened to others and are answering questions that the audience is asking.
2. They let other people talk. It’s hard to turn the spotlight and make others look good. This skill takes practice and maturity. I loved watching talented speakers give the stage to someone else during panels and intimate discussions.
3. They get excited on behalf of the audience. Good speakers are energized by a grand thesis, not a stage.
4. They don’t make excuses. Not every performance is the best, but great speakers move on.
5. They get off the stage as soon as possible. Whether it’s a small group or a large auditorium, the most talented speakers prefer a verbal aerial strike to a prolonged and bombastic ground offensive.
Just a few weeks ago, I was the emcee of DisruptHR. I talked a little too much, and when I caught myself blathering, I made a note to tighten it up. At one point, I put a mint in my mouth before quickly stepping on stage to introduce a new speaker. I didn’t time it correctly and nearly choked on a single Tic Tac while speaking.
What could I do? Pull a Marco Rubio and get a glass of water? No way. I just asked the audience to bear with me as I swallowed the mint, apologized for being a nerd, and then told myself — you’re human.
Awkard? Maybe. Relatable? Totally. Let’s move on.
If you’re thinking about becoming a professional speaker, try those five tips above. And if you need some professional advice on how to up your speaking game, send me an email. I can recommend a few good coaches.