I first saw legendary comedic actor Don Knotts present this hilarious “hero” speech in the above movie clip when “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” debuted in 1966. I was only 6 years old but even then I could clearly understand how scary it would be to have to go onstage to speak with the entire town looking at you. This movie continues to be one of my all-time favorites and the “hero” speech continues to resonate with me all these many years later.
There are so many mistakes Knott’s character, Luther Heggs, makes in this speech: his poor attempt at humor, his loose leaf script blows away, he has a heckler, the microphone has feedback issues, and he doesn’t know how to stand or how to control his nervous energy. But one thing saves this speech from being an unmitigated disaster: authenticity. Luther Heggs is who he is. His transparency and sincerity shine through in this speech and throughout the movie. He’s genuine and therefore credible. Audiences are very forgiving of mistakes made by sincere speakers. (Spoiler Alert: He beats out a slick rival and gets the girl in the end because of his authenticity.)
Authenticity always has been important in speech-making (and in fact in all communications) but it is even more important in the Digital Age. We’ve grown tired and beyond skepticism of overproduced, slick presentations as evidenced by the success of reality TV, SnapChat, and YouTube. The message that resonated with movie audiences in 1966 that still resonates today is this: be yourself. Atta boy Luther!
I visited a call center once that was operated by the airline I was working for at the time. I noticed that each of the workstations had a mirror mounted near the telephone. As each call center representative prepared to answer an incoming call, they would look briefly into the mirror and smile.
Why do you suppose they did that? That’s right — because it influenced how they felt as they answered the phone and that translated into a more friendly tone for the customer listening on the other end. Their body language was able to trick their own brains. As a result, they were able to offer a better experience for their customers.
We all know that our feelings can influence our body language, but we don’t always recognize that the opposite is equally true – our body language can influences how we feel.
Implications for Public Speaking
So why is this important for a presenter or speaker to know? This is why: If you stand confidently when making a presentation or speech, you will begin to feel more confident. And as your confidence rises, so will your credibility in the eyes of your audience. They audience will react positively to your confidence and that will cause you to become even more energized and even more confident. The effect will begin to snowball.
Make Body Language a Habit
This is the strategy behind social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s “fake it until you make it until you become it.” Or, yet another way we can look at this idea is as the famous Greek philosopher and teacher Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” I’m sure Aristotle would agree that confident speaking also can become a habit.
By standing straight, planting our feet shoulders width apart, making appropriate eye contact, smiling, and getting our hands free and our shoulders relaxed so that we can gesture naturally, we can project an air of confidence on the outside and begin to feel more confident on the inside.
Think of it as a Jedi mind trick — on yourself! So, take a look in the mirror and smile — you got this! And may the Force be with you!
“The most precious things in speech are the pauses.” – Sir Ralph Richardson
Sometimes, saying nothing at all can speak volumes. A well-timed pause can be one of the most important rhetorical devices in a speaker’s arsenal. So, when should you pause?
Here are two great times to use the power of the pause:
(1) After asking a question. Give the audience times to ponder your questions in their own minds. This will help draw them into what you’re talking about. Imagine hearing a speaker ask: “What are you doing to ensure your family has a safe and secure future?” If the speaker pauses, members of the audiences will likely think about the question and then be curious to hear what the speaker has to say next.
(2) When the audience is reacting. If the audience is applauding, laughing or otherwise reacting to your words, pause for a moment. Don’t walk on your adulation. Savor the moment! Don’t start talking until the audience has finished reacting. If they are reacting, they are engaged. Don’t cut their engagement short. If you do start speaking, the audience won’t be able to clearly hear what you’re going to say next and you’ll lose the opportunity to fully engage them. If you pause, it allows those who are applauding or laughing to fully engage in the moment. A pause also will allow members of the audience who may not be applauding or laughing to hear those who are reacting and that just might help draw them into the speech.
When it’s done correctly, a pause can move an audience in a unique way. Give it a try and see how the sounds of silence can work for you.
How do you deliver a well-organized and powerful presentation without reading from a bunch of notes? Answer: Memorize your speech outline, not a script. Memorizing your outline will help you stay on point and allow you to deliver your presentation hands-free.
Every presentation should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. There are many sub-components you could add to each of those sections. Following is a sample speech outline that works for many types of presentations.
Sample Speech Outline
Hook (attention grabber)
Verbal Roadmap: “Today we are going to talk about three key points …”
Summary: “Here’s what we covered today …”
Call to Action: “I challenge and encourage you to …”
Outcome: “And when we do this together, we will all live in a better world.”
By learning to speak unscripted, you will look more natural, be more compelling, have more credibility, and exude more confidence. And when you do, you will deliver more persuasive presentations.