History is full of people who have inspired audiences to move their feet or even brought a room full of people to tears. One of the best speeches I have ever seen was from Radio and Coach Jones , the real life inspiration behind the Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ed Harris film, Radio. I got to meet them both and they were charming and kind (even to a girl wearing a Go Greenwaves shirt), and when they got onto the stage together, it brought tears to my eyes. The message I took away from the speech was to never give up and it’s something I’ve carried with me to this day.
What else can you learn from speakers who have historically made a deep impact on the world? The right speech at the right time can turn a national crisis into an incident, or pour sand on the flames of injustice. What have some of the most memorable leaders taught us about public speaking?
Winston Churchill — Winston knew how to make an impression on a large audience, even in times of great turmoil. Churchill’s speeches inspired a country in the time of World War Two, eventually leading to a win by the Allies against Nazi Germany. Winston was known for his direct, straight-shooting manner on a variety of subjects. One of my favorite quotes from him is History will be kind to me for I intend to write it. And he did, through his success in the WW2 theater and his amazing skill at public speaking.
What should you take away? Winston commanded the respect of an audience even in tough times because he was confident and got right to the point. Different situations (like WW2) might call for you to dive right into the subject matter at hand, with no time to warm them up. Be confident in front of your crowd.
Abraham Lincoln — With the 147th anniversary of The Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest speeches of all time, it’s safe to say than when you think of “great communicators” Abe has to come to mind. In his speeches, Abe was known for saying the things we were all thinking. Take the Gettysburg Address as one example and it’s well known opening line, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” With that one statement, Abe grabbed attention and changed the course of a nation that was spinning wildly out of control.
What should you take away? Even when the situation calls for you to leave out the jokes and get right into things, you still have to deliver that powerful, opening statement. You have to make everyone in a room look up from their phones and laptops, and listen only to you.
Ronald Reagan – Considered “The Great Communicator” Reagan proved that keeping it simple in public speaking is the way to get your audience on board. While he often was given a hard time for his lack of detail, he was able to take things that a public might not understand otherwise and simplify it down to a way that everyone could understand, including solutions to the Cold War.
What should you take away? Like Reagan, you should speak in a language that your audience can understand. Sure, you may have some IT people scattered in the room, but you might also have PR, sales, customer service, and they aren’t all going to understand the same jargon. Bring your speech and vocabulary down to an “average” level for everyone, so that everyone can get something great out of your speech.
Bill Clinton — Clinton was able to connect with a crowd. He knew how to break down the walls of protocol and procedure in order to connect with his audience. Clinton’s speech writer, Josh Gottheimer, says that Clinton would make notes in the margins of the speeches and go mostly off those notes, rather than following the speech line by line.
What should you take away? Find a way to break down the barriers with your audience. Sure, you may not be big enough to need Secret Service to usher you in and out of the building, but you may be in a set up that will make your participants feel like you’re standing on the other side of the wall. Find a way to greet people before or after the speech, shake some hands, and always make eye contact with audience members throughout the room.
Researching and learning from histories most amazing speakers can help you to figure out different ways you can approach your next engagement. The most important thing to remember is that your own style will develop the more you speak in front of a group. You just have to be able to acknowledge where your strengths are and hone those skills. What are your skills when you speak?
If you’ve fine tuned your skills and want to make an impact with your next speech, try hosting a webinar or conference call. Sign up for an account with AccuConference and host your next speaking event today.