I dare say this -- 80% of speaking well is thinking about and caring about the members of the audience.
The most common failure mode in speaking is thinking too much about yourself, and not enough about the audience.
When people are worried about being perceived as good, they give bad talks. See, speaking is much less about the particular words and phrasings, and far more about actually getting inside the head of audience members.
UNDERSTANDING GOOD SPEAKING BY LOOKING AT GOOD Q&A
The Q&A at the end of a talk is a good way to gauge how good of a speaker someone is.
In a way, it's the best test -- Q&A is like a mini-speech where your talk is directly on whatever is most relevant to the person who asked the question.
By far, the best speakers do two things during Q&A --
1. Ground their answer in something useful to whoever is asking the question. That means it's less about technique or jargon, and often includes empathy, matching the person where they're at, and so on.
2. Watch the person who asked and make sure they understand what you're saying.
The worst people during Q&A are those who either want to just tell their own stories and self-aggrandize without caring what the questioner asked, or who don't watch to make sure whoever asked a question is 'getting it.'
Too often, a bad speaker will just ramble, and whoever asked a question will be confused. If you actually look at the person, you can see the confusion.
REMEMBER THAT "THE AUDIENCE" ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS
If you notice confusion when you're asking a question to someone, ideally you slow down, ask, "Does this make sense or does it seem off?" and so on.
Well, the best speakers do the same thing. They pay attention to whoever is listening to their talk as individuals, scanning individual members of the audience to see if the talk is resonating. If people are bored, confused, or disinterested, maybe they change up their energy level or ask people to stand up and stretch, or otherwise do a short improvised exercise on the fly.
Likewise, you want to speak to every member of the audience as an individual. You say "you"; not "all of you" -- everyone that's relating to you as speaker, ideally, is relating as a single person.
A good speaker thinks logically through what an audience member will think after he or she says something. So if you say, "You can go make a cold call right now and get a great job" -- you have to realize that most people think, "No way, I couldn't cold call anyone."
So maybe you say, "You can go make a cold call right now and get a great job... (pause)... and if you think you can't cold call, I'll bet you twenty dollars you can learn how to do it in about 30 minutes and with minimum pain. I used to be terrified of it, and it's now not so difficult for me with a bit of practice."
Much better. Care about the individuals in the audience.
AND OF COURSE, USELESS SELF-AGGRANDIZEMENT IS USELESS
The final failure mode for speakers is getting too caught up in their own stories in a way that doesn't help the people in the audience.
Sometimes, people like to tell their own stories and ramble on about them -- and the people there get bored or annoyed.
We've had a great run of speakers on the GGW Tour, and it largely hasn't been an issue for us -- but we've seen it a couple times, where people ramble on too long about themselves in a way that's not actionable, not inspiring, and not interesting for people listening. Our group has been pretty good about this, and still has had a bit of it among guest speakers coming in... but I think it's even far more common generally.
Just, don't do it. Don't talk about things about you unless they're directly interesting, informative, and useful to the people there. If you can avoid that, pay attention to how individuals are responding to you, think about how they'd react while you're putting your talk together, and genuinely care -- well, you're 80% of the way to being a good speaker.
80% OF BEING A GOOD SPEAKER IS JUST THINKING ABOUT AND CARING ABOUT THE AUDIENCE?
I think so. The next 15% is speaking loudly enough, being casual (EX: have short bullet points instead of elaborate written points), don't over-summarize at the end of your talk (common error), and having a couple interesting emotional high points.
The last 5% is where speakers really get professional and shine, but if you get the fundamentals down, you're going to be exceptional and liked by almost any group. Thinking about the individuals and the audience and caring gets you almost all the way there.
OH, AND COME SEE US
We're still speaking in Austin, Washington D.C., Florida, NYC, Boston, Cambridge, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Lansing, and Chicago --
"I just wanted to thank you again for an amazing evening. Meeting and talking to you, the Gotta Be Good tour team as well as everyone who came around was really fantastic. It really helped me clarify my goals and where I want to be. I think what you're doing is awesome and will definitely recommend your event to my friends who are in the cities you're going to." -- Viet Vu, President of the UBC Economics Students Association which hosted the Gotta Be Good Vancouver Event
"Hi Sebastian, thank you again for the amazing talks last night. Your team of entrepreneurs are doing some really great things. I love how disruptive you guys are in your way of thinking, combined with your passion for changing social norms. By the way I was so inspired by Josef's mention about how he takes ice showers everyday that I decided to try it. Literally it was the best thing I have done in a very long time. It took some psyching myself up but i kept telling myself that it is all in my head. And like anything that we fear or feel resistance doing it became a lot easier as time went on. After i caught my breath i began to think about all the things that i have failed to accomplish in my life up until now because of my ideas about taking a certain action versus just doing it. After getting out of the shower i felt so invigorated, I felt as if I could accomplish anything at that point. That right there was worth the the cost of the admission to your tour, oh wait it was free! Wow, you guys are truly on to something. Keep up the amazing work that you do! What i will commit to doing. I will commit to doing something that makes me feel uncomfortable everyday. Whether it be talking to a stranger, signing up for a course in public speaking, taking an ice shower, asking a random girl out on a date etc. As long as it does not interfere with someone else's happiness, i will give myself permission to do it. I will also keep a journey of these happenings so after one year i can look back and see all that i have accomplished. I have no doubt that by being diligent and consistent in this one promise to myself my life will never be the same! Thank you, Mark Rojas” — Mark Rojas, San Francisco Gotta Be Good at Broadway Studios
"Thanks again for hosting Gotta be Good Monday, I really enjoyed the event and got a lot from it. Speakers were fantastic--engaging, funny, and each had a refreshing perspective. I really appreciated your moderating style -- asking people for questions from personal experience was an awesome way to ground questions in reality/specificity.” — Michael Freeman, Los Angeles Talk at General Assembly
Also, we'll likely have a free day on March 13th to speak somewhere between Washington D.C. and New York City -- if you're at a university or other interesting organization in Virginia, Philadelphia, or New Jersey, drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and CC email@example.com
Looking forward to seeing you on the Tour again, check the site for more details.