The Most Important Factor in Determining Whether People Will Care About Your Public Talk

You can find a gazillion books, trainers and gurus all geared to make you a better public speaker.

Don’t read your slides.

Stop jingling those pesky coins in your pocket.

Use visuals, not bullets.

Practice in front of a mirror.

Etc.

For the right price point, there are even experts out there who can get you TED-ready (“Let me tell you why everything you think is wrong.”).

With that as the backdrop, it’s revealing to look at the 270-second talk from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in bringing the hammer down on Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

In spite of rehearsing his talk again and again (and again), Silver is visibly nervous at the podium.

He reads directly from his notes. In fact, to quell his nerves, he stays face down in his notes for the first 17 seconds before lifting his face to the audience.

He stumbles over certain phrases.

Yet, people are describing his talk as a historic moment not only in the NBA, but in American sports.

Why?

Take a look.

No matter how gifted one’s oration skills or how stunning the visual storytelling of a presentation – Look, Mom, no bullets! – one thing matters the most:

The actual words and the strength of conviction in delivering those words (maybe that’s two things).

If the speaker cares deeply about what he or she is saying, that more than any other factor will cause the audience to care.

Silver broke the most basic rule from the Public Speaking 101 handbook. By my estimate, he spent 63 percent of the time with his head at a 90-degree angle reading his notes and 37 percent looking at the audience.

It didn’t matter.

The emotional truth of his talk came across loud and clear.

Furthermore, he chose words that communicated his disgust – no, make that his utter disgust – for Mr. Sterling:

  • “The hateful opinions by THAT MAN are those of Mr. Sterling.”
  • “I am personally distraught …”
  • “… I will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens.”

Rather than allow his legal team to grind up his talk into a vanilla narrative, he opened up and allowed his feelings to underscore the communication.

You don’t need the speaking gifts of a Churchill or stunning visuals to grab the audience by the scruff the neck.

You do need to care.

 

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Gavin McMahon May 5th, 2014 3:17 pm

    Lou,

    I certainly agree. Passion, conviction and authenticity will fill in a lot of gaps in technique. In fact, if you’re working on your public speaking technique, it’s a good idea to build your technique off that platform.

    I think that in this case, there were two other things that played into the announcement.

    1. Surprise. The severity of the punishment was outside of most pundit’s prognostications. Shock and surprise are useful ingredients in a powerful speech.

    2. Sentiment. This is one where he played into public sentiment. Most major corporations don’t do this given the opportunity. They will play down the middle.

    What do you think?

    Gavin

  2. hoffman May 6th, 2014 6:52 am

    Gavin,

    Appreciate hearing your perspective and drill down.

    Your point on sentiment is a good one. Companies do tend to play it down the middle because they think that’s the safe ground when it’s actually the worse place to make an impression.

    It seems fair to say that showing care, feelings if you will, doesn’t come natural to most executives.

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