There are many elements that make a speech powerful, effective, memorable:
A message that has the power to change lives for the better, if only in a small way.
Images and stories, words and phrases that are both evocative and provocative.
A connection with the audience that communicates understanding, respect, and a desire to be of service.
A delivery that brings the message to life.
One of the most important elements of a speech is often missing: the person of the speaker.
Who you are as a person determines the audience’s interpretation of what you say, whether and to what extent they trust your message.
Who you are as a person shapes their response: their willingness to support, endorse, or implement your proposal.
Who you are as a person influences their engagement: their emotional and intellectual investment in your presentation.
Who you are as a person is perhaps the single most important element of a speech. And that element is too often missing.
Too many speakers do their best to erase themselves from their presentations.
They make their PowerPoint slides the focus of attention.
They stand off to the side of the stage in semi-darkness.
They never share a personally revealing opinion,story, or value judgment.
They use words and expressions they’d never utter in a personal conversation.
They present themselves as a brand, not a person — an image that’s devoid of sharp edges, defining characteristics, distinctive humor and wit.
Sometimes speakers make themselves invisible out of fear: “Don’t look at me. Look at my slides. Listen to my ideas.”
Sometimes speakers erase themselves from the presentation in order to seem objective: “Don’t pay me any attention. Consider the facts.”
Sometimes speakers downplay themselves out of a false sense of humility: “I’m not important. My ideas are. You are.”
Don’t get me wrong. Your speech is not about you. It’s about helping the audience. It’s about giving them an idea, insight, or inspiration that will somehow improve their lot.
But a speech isn’t a disembodied message. It isn’t words from on high, a message that anyone and everyone could deliver.
A speech is you at your best — your personality, character, values, history, wisdom, and (yes) humor — engaging the audience directly and personally in the hope of bringing something new to life.
You are as a person is the most important element of a speech. Don’t hide who you are under a bushel basket. Let your light shine for all to see.