How should I phrase the main point I’m trying to get across?
What should I do with my hands?
How should I start my presentation?
What information should I cover?
Those are good questions for speakers to ask. But maybe not for the reasons you think. Look at the repetition of the words “I” and “my.” Questions like these serve as reminders that a presentation, a speech, a talk, is ultimately a matter of personal style. If we can begin to think of speaking as an art form, we can break through formulaic speeches with new creativity and passion.
Early Greek rhetoricians like Plato and Aristotle sought to convince their students and their contemporaries that public speaking was an art. Plato said, “Rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of men.” Aristotle developed a comprehensive and systematic approach to the field, giving structure to the art in his book The Art of Rhetoric. So the beginnings of oratory classified it as an art. Why then, do we treat it more like a science today in the way we train public speakers?
Think for just a moment about some popular musicians. Miles Davis. John Denver. The Beatles. Beyoncé. All of these artists are musicians, but they each have their own style. They have a musical identity, a thumbprint, that makes them instantly recognizable. The same is true for artists, and for writers, and for speakers.
Think about the varied speaking styles of the past four American presidents. Nearly all Americans over a certain age could mimic the speaking style of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton if asked. Because they are art forms, presentations should be as varied as the humans who design, develop, and deliver them.
Here’s the flip side. When you embrace your personal style, you have to realize that not everyone is going to prefer your choices. The people who enjoy John Denver’s music probably don’t also listen to Beyoncé. But just because someone might not make the same artistic choices you make doesn’t mean you should alter your speaking style.
You should definitely work to remove distractions and elevate your style, making it the best it can be. But don’t wipe out or dilute your idiosyncrasies. Those things you do as a speaker that no one else does quite the same way? Those are what can engage the attention of your audience and inspire them to follow you. President of Impact Communications, Inc., Judith Filek, says, “Strong communicators hone their skill. They determine what works for them and what doesn’t. Then, they practice- a lot! They also get coached on how to do it better, while still maintaining their own authenticity.”
One small note, though. There is a difference between an artist who is working only for herself and someone who is contracted out. If you are representing only yourself and your ideas in a presentation, you can be free to fully explore and embrace your own style. On the other hand, if you are representing a group of people or a company when you stand up to present, you are a contracted artist. You have to work to meld your own creative instincts with the persona and image of others. In that case, collaboration will affect your communication. It doesn’t mean you have to let go of who you are as an artist; it just means that you have to be aware that yours isn’t the only name or image being presented.
So if you are a speaker and public speaking truly is an art (and we fully believe it is), that makes you an artist. Learn to love and know your own style of speaking. And practice it. Over and over and over. The work will be worth it; because there are masterpieces to be created.
Want to learn more about your public speaking style? Take our Badge assessment now to find out your presentation persona.
Still need more help with your presentation?We've got the solutions. Talk to Us