Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a pill that would instantly give you the qualities of an award-winning speaker? Within seconds, you could have the stage presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the quick wit of Gary Vaynerchuk, and the storytelling prowess of Simon Sinek. But, while we wait for that pill to be invented, we’ll have to rely on talent and skill instead. So, how do you start down the path to greatness?
That’s a great question and one that has been on our minds since we first conceptualized our Speaker Sourcing Contest. When we sat down out to answer it, we realized that we couldn’t pinpoint that one thing about Patrick Lencioni, or Jessica Jackley, or Rachel Botsman that makes them stand out from the crowd.
So, we asked them. Here’s what they said…
Habit 1. Be yourself
Jessica Jackley, co-founder of KIVA: “Every person has their own style; channel what is unique about you, don’t try to stamp it out to become some sanitized version of yourself. While it’s great to get feedback and adjust major things about your style that might detract from your message, don’t try too hard to fit into someone else’s ideal. Give audiences the best version of your authentic self.”
Habit 2. Read the room
Patrick Lencioni, author: “Go up on stage and just be yourself. Try and break down the barrier between you and the audience right away. Anticipate people’s objectives.”
Habit 3. Engage your audience
Rachel Botsman, author and university lecturer: “Stories, stories, stories are what people remember. They are also the key to making complex ideas meaningful and simple to the audience. But the key is knowing where you’re taking the audience with your story, and landing the key point really clearly. This takes time to get right, don’t be worried about a perfect story – and don’t be afraid to share a story that exposes your own vulnerability.”
This all sounds so simple when it comes from such accomplished speakers, but you would be surprised how many people forget to be themselves. There’s a reason why we learn to crawl before we walk or run.
Putting these foundational habits into words was an important step for us at NBForum HQ because we pride ourselves on a fantastic speaker lineup, and we have to be able to articulate why we trust the speakers that we choose to deliver valuable content. In fact, it got us thinking about a few more habits to add to the list…
Habit 4. Be practical
Miro Malmelin, Sales Director: “A great speaker is someone who both captures and moves the audience, and has valuable insights to share. Great speakers share practical knowledge about a significant current business- or leadership-related topic, and base it on research or experience, in a way that gives concrete lessons for the audience so that we don’t have to go through the same experiences. But still, the lessons will challenge the way you think and be practical enough for you to use the advice and remember the speaker and the conference long after you have heard it.”
Habit 5. Don’t get caught in the details
Anniina Turunen, Head of Marketing & Communications: “A truly great speaker is someone who speaks about something interesting, relatable, and engaging so that people can learn from them, and someone who has a personality on stage that makes people want to learn from them. Take the example of one of my favorites: Simon Sinek. His content is always excellent and he has a magical way to engage the audience that really makes them listen.”
Habit 6. Get out of your head
Hans-Peter Siefen, co-founder of Nordic Business Forum: “Many think of themselves when on stage. The more they think of themselves, the more nervous they become. The truly great speakers get out of thinking themselves and use all of their focus on thinking about how they can help the audience.”
Aslak de Silva, CEO: “Great speakers are like great salespeople – they make you feel like they are just for you, they make you realize new ideas and help you to see matters with fresh new eyes. But most of all, they energize you and make you believe in a better future.
Habit 7. Know your stuff
Juha Lehto, Partner and Technical Producer: “The best speakers know their stuff by heart and, if they use presentation software, it is to highlight their points and not merely act as a cheat sheet. If possible, compile your own presentation from scratch, make it a little unique based on your audience, and learn the basics of the tools that you are using. You will be more confident on stage when you can just focus on delivering your message and know that the audio/visuals will enhance your delivery.”
Habit 8. Teach, don’t lecture
Jenni Räihä, Head of Customer Service: “Great speakers have taught me lessons that make me a better leader, colleague, and person. I’ve learned that, before you can offer a good customer experience, you have to offer a good employee experience. If you want to be a good leader, you have to create trust between you and your employees and push them – don’t pull! If you want to lead people, people have to follow. I will always focus on the employee experience and how they feel, and involve them when we have big decisions to make. We make those decisions together, and that educate people to take ownership. Vineet Nayar, Patrick Lencioni, and Seth Godin are examples of speakers who made me think about being a better leader.”
Habit 9. Tap into emotion
Salla Seppä, Head of Customer Experience: “A great speaker has a meaningful message to share that either inspires or challenges my thinking. He or she makes you feel and learn something new so that you feel elevated, even changed, after the speech has ended! At best, you notice getting back to the points that moved or shook you, giving you food for thought far beyond the speech itself. I would also say that a great speaker is one that wins my trust from the moment he or she starts and makes me lean in for what’s to come. A great speaker captivates me with his/her speech, making me inspired, amused, entertained, moved, even shaken! In brief, you feel like a slightly different person after listening to a great speaker. Regarding presentation skills, I’ve always had the highest admiration for speakers who tackle unexpected moments, such as technical glitches with presentation visuals, with grace and sense of humor, turning a potential threat into an amazing opportunity to win the audience on their side.”
So there you have it: ten habits to be a successful, stand-out speaker from the professionals on stage and behind the logistics. We’ll leave you with perhaps the best habit of all – a bonus 10th habit – from our audience favorite, bestselling author Seth Godin: “Here’s the best advice, and I hope you will follow it: Don’t follow advice. Be the distinctive, original, unique person you are. We already have the normal folks, we need your weirdness.”
P.S. If you think you have these 10 habits down, why not try applying for our Speaker Sourcing Contest? Less than one week to go before it closes!