That magic moment, when a speaker takes the stage, anything is possible. In the audience, you hope for the best. What do you expect? To be entertained, engaged and enriched. You want to like the speaker, relate to the speaker, see the world through a new perspective.
In three sentences, you will either think “Ah! This will be good” or “Oh…How long is this going to be?”
How do you know if you created the “Ah!” or the “Oh…”? After your speech, polite nods as people scurry away is not a good sign. Been there? Want to never be there again?
There’s one key ingredient. This year’s World Champion of Public Speaking, has it in spades. There was no doubt; Dananjaya Hettiarachchi was the winner. The moment he took the stage and opened his mouth, you knew you were in for a treat. His presence, his voice, his pace, his unassuming confidence put you at ease, made you settle back in your seat, breathe and absorb.
This kind of speaking doesn’t just happen. In fact, Dananjaya has been competing in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest since … oooh … 2007? The speech he gave at the World Championships is from a 20 minute speech he gave at a TedX Youth event, one he’s given over 90 times. The speech is personal, meaningful, motivational.
Besides having to hack and slash 20 minutes to a core 7 that truly mattered to the audience at the Toastmasters International Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Dananjaya did one thing, which many speakers fail to do:
Dananjaya was authentically Dananjaya.
“It took me 10 years to learn to be myself on stage” Dananjaya shared with an interviewer. In those ten years, Dananjaya worked, received feedback from numerous sources and incorporated that feedback, cut away the pretense, the ego, the fear of being judged or humiliated. This is the work of a professional speaker.
Great speaking doesn’t happen instantly. It doesn’t spring out of a person who has some kind of natural ability. Those speakers may be pretty good, or better than most, but they are not all they can be, and they certainly are not the best.
The secret ingredient that makes a great speech, or a great speaker truly great, is authenticity.
We want to see the real person, not the person you claim to be. We want to see you are human, just like us. We want to see ourselves in you, with all our fears, insecurities, self-doubt and struggles. If you are just like us and you triumphed over adversity, that means there is hope for us too.
Don’t tell me I need to change. Show me how you changed. Encourage me through your story. Show me, from the depths of your misery and struggle, that I can conquer my own struggles. Empathize with me. Help me connect with you, like you, believe that you would be there, right beside me, every step of my journey, if we were friends.
It sounds easy … but it’s not. Want to be a winning speaker?
“To be heard and remembered, be you – authentically you. That is your job, your journey as a professional speaker.” ~ authentic Carol Carterism #31
While many courses will teach you the mechanics of speaking, only you can decide to let down your walls, stop pretending to be what you are not, and just speak. Speak from the heart. Speak with passion. Speak with honesty. Speak to me.
Late addition: Here’s Dananjaya’s FULL winning speech. Can you see all the qualities of a great speaker you would pay to hear? It was a pleasure to see him live, and an even greater pleasure to connect with him as an authentic human being.