great speaking role models

Part 1: What we can learn from the world’s best male speakers

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1. Introduction

This is one part of a two-part series on great public speaking role models. This part focuses on male speakers. If you’re looking for great female public speakers, head on over here.

Denzel Washington, the Oscar-winning actor, spoke about role models recently where he recalled a conversation about Steven Spielberg.

Washington was thinking about his new and uncomfortable role as a movie director, and was picking the brains of the best in the business.

The advice he received was interesting.

“Everybody steals, Denzel,” said Spielberg. “Just try to steal from the best.”

Great writers of dialogue writing always pay attention to how people speak.

Great sportsmen pay attention to their great rivals and the masters who went before them, and take inspiration to mould their own talents and gifts.

It’s exactly the same when it comes to speaking.

To be the best, you must study the world’s best speakers.

One of the best ways to improve your own speech writing and delivery is to listen to experienced speakers.

And not just listen to them, really study them.

The more you listen to experienced speakers, the more you will absorb their techniques into your own talks.

You can learn a lot by paying close attention to how they construct their talk and to the pace at which they deliver it.

Everywhere from YouTube to TED.com, the world’s best speakers are just a few clicks away.

Anyone who needs to speak publicly with any amount of regularity—or, indeed, if public speaking is something you would like to do more of—you should make a recurring calendar appointment with yourself to dip into a selection of TED talks.

Here’s a few of the greatest male speakers in the world, and what we can learn from them.

Actors are not just actors

2. Improve Your Public Speaking Skills With Lessons From Great Actors

Everyone needs a good role model, right?

Watching the best in their field, and learning from them, is a proven route to success. And the same is true when it comes to public speaking skills and becoming great public speakers.

Here we take a quick look at five of the best from the world of acting: Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, John Hurt & Benedict Cumberbatch.

Many actors can deliver a fine performance on screen or even on stage but when they have to stand up in front of an audience they don’t do so well.

So what are the public speaking strengths that Hopkins, Stewart, McKellen, Hurt and Cumberbatch all demonstrate when they get on stage?

1. Great commitment and clarity

 

We can almost guarantee that you could hand any of these guys a restaurant menu to read, and they would render you spellbound in seconds!

How?

Well, it’s all down to commitment to the message they’re delivering, combined with clear and articulate delivery of it.

They are connected and committed to every word they speak, giving each word appropriate time and appropriate weight.

As an audience you cannot help but listen and stay connected.

2. Natural flow

 

With each, you get the sense that they are exactly the same person on stage and off.

Whether that’s actually true or not, that’s what they deliver when they speak.

There is an honest, natural flow to their delivery.

3. They use pace to great effect

 

All of them know when to keep it slow and measured, bringing life and vibrancy through great use of pitch.

There is no rushing, no great urgency.

For an example, note how Benedict Cumberbatch reads here.

 

4. They are ultra-present

 

Did you ever listen to someone giving an interview or doing a speech and you sense that they are not really there, but that they are thinking ahead about what they are going to do or say next.

The Fab Five are always present, always in the moment, whether they are on stage, on camera or standing at a podium.

These guys make it seem so easy that you could be forgiven for thinking that it is all down to natural ability.

The truth is that most of it is down to hard graft – many hours spent preparing, planning & rehearsing.

A comforting thought as it means that there is hope for us all.

Listen to Anthony Hopkins’s speech here.

Why imperfection works

3. Elon Musk

There’s a lot to be learned from studying the presentations and public speaking techniques of some of the world’s great leaders.

Here we take a look at an Elon Musk presentation, and ask.

Despite a number of obvious flaws in his technique, what makes his presentations so popular?

A few things about Elon Musk straight off the bat.

  • Musk is rich (in 2021, he became the richest man in the world)
  • He’s extraordinarily passionate about his projects (which range from migrating to Mars to underground drilling to brain-machine engineering to next generation cars)
  • He’s a genius

And yet when Musk gets in front of an audience, he can sometimes turn into a public speaking car crash.

He gave a presentation earlier outlining his very ambitious plans for rocket company SpaceX.

That presentation garnered him a lot of social media attention, but for the wrong reasons: there was his stammering, and his style of delivery, which was clunky and awkward.

And yet that long speech had been watched over a million times online within a couple of days.

So the question is:

Why are we still interested in watching an Elon Musk presentation when so much of his delivery is soooooo bad?

Well, here are a few insights that might make sense of this bizarre dichotomy of brilliance and bumbling.

1. He gives us the why before the what

 

Elon Musk does big plans big style – humans on Mars in just a few years!

He tells you WHY his projects are important right off the bat.

When he outlined the SpaceX plan to go to Mars, he tells you “why” it’s important before he tells you the “what”.

In this case, that SpaceX will ensure the survival of humans as a species and to inspire the belief that the future will be better than the past.

He always gives his audience a reason to listen and engage with him.

Public speaking is not rocket science.

Next time you are preparing for a presentation, think about this.

Do not tell your audience WHAT you did, until you have told them WHY.

It’s a classic mistake we’ve seen time and time again here at Confident Speak in working with business leaders to improve their communication, speaking and presentation skills.

2. The art of imperfection

 

Musk is very good at making his audience feel like he’s just like them, that we’re all in it together, so his stammering and stumbling actually doesn’t bother us so much.

Many great speakers, like Steve Jobs, were great at public speaking.

They talked as if they’re on a higher plane and that they’ve got everything perfectly down pat and present you with a finished product. 

That’s great and we buy into it.

Elon Musk is the opposite of Steve Jobs.

He tells you that he and his employees have been figuring things out.

He shares with you how a product crashed and burned and landed in the ocean. Musk lets us know that he has failed more than he’s succeeded.

That shows us Elon Musk’s humanity, and we love people who are human. Perfection is overrated, this is authentic presenting.

Musk and other imperfect speakers may not have the best delivery on the planet but they can make up for it with vulnerability, honesty, and passion for their subject. 

You can teach techniques for great delivery, but it’s mighty hard to manufacture real, honest feeling.

When you’re presenting, be sincere and your audience will follow you anywhere, regardless of how much you stumble or stammer.

3. Elon Musk is the definition of authenticity

 

Many people describe Musk as “authentic”.

The word “authenticity” has been bandied about a lot in corporate circles of late so let’s just remind ourselves what it actually means.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines authenticity as:

True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. Not false or imitation.

Musk gets down to brass tacks, lets the audience know that he’s down-to-earth and vulnerable, and lets his feelings show about what inspires him.

The idea of living out amongst the stars excites him and he tells the audience exactly that.

He is telling us his dream — and audiences love people who follow their dreams.

Especially when it led them to become billionaire entrepreneurs.

There’s a lot to be said for credibility when presenting. Sometimes we gain credibility because of our position or from the amount of money we have or how many accolades we’ve collected.

All these factors do carry a certain weight and give the speaker gravitas, ensuring they have a better chance to get the audience on-side before they’ve even stepped on stage.

Yet when it comes down to it, two things will always sway an audience.

  1. Great delivery
  2. Great humanity

Next time you get up in front of an audience, give them a clear, confident, credible delivery and you’re on your way to a winner.

Give them humanity, vulnerability, and passion in addition to that and you’re on your way to home-run World Series victory.

Here’s the full Elon Musk presentation from SpaceX. Watch for yourself:

Notorious

4. Six ways Conor McGregor communicates effectively

What we can learn from Conor McGregor's speaking techniques

In 2017 Irish fighter Conor McGregor got into a Las Vegas ring to fight the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather.

Even making that fight was an incredible achievement in itself, given that the American was seen as an all-time great, unbeaten after 49 fights, and McGregor had never fought a professional boxing match before and was moving across from the world of Mixed Martial Arts for the occasion.

Three press conferences with 50,000 people in attendance – it’s impressive!

When was the last time three press conferences had an attendance of close to 50,000 people, with millions more tuning in online? 

Here it is. McGregor gets the microphone at around 16 minutes…

 

Is McGregor confident or arrogant?

Charismatic or vulgar?

Inspirational or a bit embarrassing?

Whatever your feelings about him, he is without doubt a top-class communicator.

But why?

Here are six things Conor McGregor does right when he gets in front of an audience.

You may not like him, but there might still be something to take from this into your own communications.

1. He shows up authentically

 

Conor McGregor is truly and unapologetically himself, unfiltered.

Whether or not you are a fan of him, the reality is that any audience will connect and engage with people who are truly themselves.

Yes, there is certainly showmanship, but there is no denying that what you see is what you get.

When you deliver a business presentation, how authentic are you with your audience? Or do you drop into “presenter mode”?

Because, from our experience, most people do.

2. He oozes vocal confidence

 

If you place your personal opinion of his “message to the world” aside for a moment, you cannot avoid the fact that he is incredibly focused on what he is saying.

Conor McGregor delivers his message with absolute confidence and conviction.

There is more often than not composure to his delivery.

And, with the exception a few questionable consonant misplacements, there is clarity in his delivery!

He has great use of pause, pace, vocal range.

Whatever the result of their actual bout in the ring a few weeks later, here on the stage he simply outshines his “co-performer” Mr Mayweather.

McGregor “owns his space” vocally. We’re not saying shouting and aggression makes a great communicator, but there are strong qualities to his delivery that are worth being aware of.

As people presenting in a business context know, vocal confidence is key.

How often do you sit through presentations listening to a presenter delivering a monotonous, lifeless presentation and wishing you were somewhere else?

Vocal confidence is not only key it is essential to succeed in business communication.

3. The McGregor speaking equation: energy + performance = excitement

 

McGregor simply has bucket loads of energy and excitement – both physically and vocally.

He understands that for public speaking engagements – he needs to raise his game in terms of energy. Yes, lots of shouting (which I’m not advocating), but he’s speaking to his audience, and the audience in his case are not complaining.

Energy is contagious.

He can lift his audience into a state of excitement, watch how he can equally enrage them seemingly so easily.

He understands that he has the ability (and responsibility) to instil emotion or energy in the audience.

An audience wants to be entertained, and part of the entertainment comes from a presenter’s ability to evoke emotional states within the audience.

There is no denying McGregor can achieve this.

All too often presenters give little consideration to emotion in their presentation, in other words how you want your audience to feel within business presentations is ignored.

4. He encourages audience participation

 

Watch how the audience follow his commands.

These commands are delivered very clearly, simply and with passion.

If an audience is following commands from a speaker, it means they are listening, it means they are following a presenter, it means the presenter has strong rapport with his audience.

McGregor is in control. He is leading his audience.

As he gives commands to his audience, he builds strong rapport.

5. He loves his audience (almost as much as he loves himself!)

 

Conor McGregor’s messaging is tailored precisely for his audience.

He speaks to his audience in their language. He wants them to be part of the show. He includes them. His audience is at the heart of his messaging all the time and they love it.

Let us ask you this.

How tailored is your message for your audience? Do you keep your audience at the heart of everything you say?

If you are appalled by Conor McGregor’s message and language and style, guess what?

You are not his chosen audience.

6. He is clearly massively prepared

 

McGregor clearly practices, rehearses and hones everything he does until he feels confident.

He focuses his mind on a successful outcome and eliminates any self-limiting beliefs.

I have no doubt he prepares for success when he’s communicating too. That is evidenced by everything about his performance above.

When you are preparing for an important sales pitch or upcoming presentation, what is your preparation strategy for success?

Do you have one?

In conclusion, we encourage you to look at Conor McGregor at little closer.

If you don’t like him, that’s ok. Lots of people don’t!

But you can still learn from him and study what he is doing, and how he’s doing it.

Speaking treasures

5. Four Powerful Words for Powerful Public Speaking from Julian Treasure’s TED Talk

Public Speaking

Julian Treasure’s TED talk put forward four cornerstones of powerful presentation and public speaking.

The four words form an acronym for the word HAIL.

The four cornerstones from Julian Treasure’s TED talk are:

  • H – Honesty. Being true in what you say, being straight and clear
  • A – Authenticity. Just being yourself, “standing in your own truth”
  • I  – Integrity. Being your word, doing what you say and being somebody people can trust
  • L – Love. If you’re really wishing somebody well, it’s very hard to judge them at the same time.

In his talk, Treasure says:

You have an amazing toolbox. This instrument is incredible, and yet this is a toolbox that very few people have ever opened, I’d like to have a little rummage in there with you now and just pull a few tools out that you might like to take away and play with, which will increase the power of your speaking.

Check out Julian Treasure’s TED talk for yourself here, and prepare to be inspired.

Overcoming nerves

6. Richard Branson’s top tips on handling public speaking nerves

Richard Branson on Public Speaking

You might not think one of the world’s most successful businessmen (not to mention best-known billionaires) might suffer from nerves when speaking in front of an audience.

But you’d be wrong.

Here are three tips from Richard Branson on public speaking.

Nerves and anxiety affect pretty much everyone at some point, whether you’re speaking to an audience of thousands or one-to-one in the board room.

Much of the time it is not a case of eradicating those feeling but managing them and mastering them.

Great presenters and speakers are not born, they are made, with hard work and preparation.

In an article featured on Fortune.com, Richard Branson mentions UK wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, author Gavin Maxwell, and writer Mark Twain as his own touchstones for successful public speaking.

Branson on Public Speaking: Lesson from Gavin Maxwell

 

When you need to speak in front of a crowd, close your mind to the fact that you’re on a stage with hundreds of people watching you and instead imagine yourself in a situation where you’d be comfortable speaking to a group.

For example, imagine that you’re in your dining room at home, telling a story to friends over dinner.

I know it sounds a little corny, but try it. This trick has certainly removed some of the anxiety for me.

Branson on Public Speaking: Lesson from Winston Churchill

 

Churchill once said:

“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”

Take this advice to heart. Even highly gifted speakers like Churchill would never ask an audience to listen for more than 25 minutes or so. Extending a presentation beyond half an hour will stretch any group’s attention span.”

Branson on Public Speaking: Lesson from Mark Twain

 

Twain was aware of the common misperception that in order to be a great speechmaker, one must be good at speaking off the cuff.

Twain addressed this in 1899 when, speaking at a dinner given in his honor at London’s Whitefriars Club, he said:

“Impromptu speaking — that is a difficult thing. I used to begin about a week ahead, and write out my impromptu speech and get it by heart.”

Good apple

7. Five things we can learn from the Steve Jobs presentation style

great presenter

I recently read an article from the eloquent Nancy Duarte of Duarte Design which discusses the Jobs movie which starred Ashton Kucher in the lead role.

During this article Ms Duarte observes that despite the movie’s mixed reviews, the one thing that it reminds us off is what a great presenter Steve was.

So what was it that made us hang on every word of every Steve Jobs presentation?

Here is a list of few of Steve Jobs’s key presentation skills which we should all keep in mind.

1. Every Steve Jobs presentation had a very clear message

 

Steve Jobs left his audience knowing exactly why a product was built, the problem it solved and how.

His prime focus throughout his talks was in getting his message across in a clear and easily digested way.

2. Careful timing

 

The average attention span of an audience is about 10 minutes.

Jobs generally split up his presentation in to ten minutes segments to make each section more palatable to his listeners

3. The rule of three

 

The “rule of three” writing principle suggests that things that are presented in three are more satisfying & more effective than those presented in numbers of more or less.

Every Steve Jobs presentation always had several lists of three message points.

Why?

Because he knew that a list of three things is far easier to remember than five or ten, and infinitely more intriguing than in two or one.

It’s an oratory technique that might just be as old as oratory itself.

(Former British Prime Minister David Cameron was also a great believer in the rule of three. See below…)

4. Preparation, preparation, preparation

 

Jobs prepared for every presentation meticulously.

Like all great presenters, he understood that presentations must be rehearsed over and over again to be truly great.

5. The power of silence

 

Sometimes overlooked and often underused, careful use of both pause & silence through out a presentation can have a powerful impact on your listeners.

Steve became a master of this.

At every launch he reeled in his audience with suspense whilst at the same time making them feel like they were witnessing not just the launch of a consumer product but an historical moment.

BBC gravitas

8. Alistair Cooke on how to be a great communicator

great communicator

At a communications seminar we delivered recently, we were discussing some of the best communicators.

The question was asked, “Who is a great communicator?”

So we got to talking about presenters who really connect with their audiences.

One name to pop up was Alistair Cooke, who has been described by Tony Blair as “one of the greatest broadcasters of all time”.

So what were Alistair’s secrets? What makes him so refreshing to listen to? What makes him so memorable as a great communicator?

We try to break it down.

Alistair Cooke’s secret, I believe, boils down to what I call my 3 P’s for becoming a great communicator.

1. Pace

 

Listen to Cooke anytime and you have to marvel at his great use of pace.

Pace is hugely important for engaging and connecting with audiences.

He keeps his pace slow and measured, but also brings life and vibrancy through his great use of pitch range is key for engaging any audience.

2. Presence

 

A great communicator always remains in the moment, is always present.

It can be hard to describe this, but think of it like this.

Did you ever listen to someone giving a presentation and you knew they were thinking about what they are going to say or do next?

It can be hugely frustrating for an audience when this happens.

Cooke, however, is always present, he is always “in the moment” when he’s speaking.

I believe you achieve this through preparation and planning. In other words a little work!

3. Personal

 

With Alistair Cooke, you just get the sense he is exactly the same person in-front of the mic as behind the mic.

There is no real sense of a “showman”.

There is an honest, natural flow in this delivery.

You just don’t get a sense of artifice. He seems so authentic. He is relaxed and composed.

As a result, his audience is also relaxed and composed.

His audience is able to listen and stay connected with him and not getting distracted.

The end result of everything Alistair Cooke brings to the table is that he has a definite commitment to the words he’s speaking, which gives him an honesty and integrity when he speaks.

  • He is connected and committed to every word he speaks.
  • He gives each word appropriate time and appropriate weight.
  • It feels like he has thought about every word he speaks.
  • He is emotionally connected to whatever he is saying.
  • There is no rush, an urgency but no haste.
  • These attributes draw an audience in.

Sit back, take a moment and have a little trip down memory lane with the Alistair Cooke YouTube clip below.

Is his speaking style timeless or does it feel dated to you?

Without question the slightly clipped BBC accent has certainly received a modification over time. We don’t hear it very often these days (and if we’re honest, we miss it!)

But leaving the accent aside, the basic delivery skills to being a great communicator will never be out of date.

(If you want even more after the clip below, here’s a link to some of his “Letters from America” broadcasts .)

Tips from Downing Street

9. David Cameron's political public speaking techniques

There’s a lot to be learned from studying political public speaking techniques.

Here we take a closer look at a speech by then British Conservative Party leader David Cameron at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2009.

David Cameron’s pitch at the Conservative Party Conference of 2009 was “high on rhetoric, scarce on policy”, or so the critics said.

And we understand that Cameron has later been vilified for the outcome of the Brexit situation.

But when it comes to political speakers, we’re not so interested here in the policy element as much as what we might learn from how they communicate.

And as a piece of communication, Cameron’s 2009 speech, or several elements of it at least, worked in several important ways.

There is a formula that Cameron and many other politicians use.

1. The three-point list

 

Like Steve Jobs above, Cameron makes use of the rule of three.

By structuring his messages into three-point lists he strengthens and amplifies his message.

A three-point list gives the audience time to recognise and react appropriately.

An audience can easily remember lists of three, hence there are many three-point statements throughout the speech.

Listen, for example, to his use of “family, community, country”.

2. His use of contrast

 

By using contrast in public speaking, it provides a puzzle and it arouses curiosity. As such it opens the way for a punch line.

For example:

We all know how bad things are, massive debt, social breakdown, political disenchantment. But what I want to talk about today is how good things could be.

Of course, Cameron was leader of the Opposition at this point, so talking in this manner was easier in Opposition than it would be in Government.

As he later found out.

3. Similarity and repetition

 

He uses similarity and repetition in the language he uses, in the length of his sentences and even in his grammar.

This helps an audience remember and adds weight and emphasis to his message.

For example:

None of this will be easy. We will be tested. I will be tested. I’m ready for that – and so I believe, are the British people. So yes, there is a steep climb ahead.

But I tell you this. The view from the summit will be worth it.

4. Use of metaphor and analogy

 

He uses metophor and analogy throughout his speech.

This is done to evoke people’s imagination.

The “steep climb ahead / view from the summit example” above also fits the bill here.

5. Rhetorical questions

 

He uses rhetorical questions to stimulates thinking, it evokes curiosity. It also qualifies the point he wishes to make.

For example:

Yes, we need to change the way we live. But is that such a bad thing? The insatiable consumption and materialism of the past decade, has it made us happier or more fulfilled?

6. Personal language

 

Cameron uses a conversational style, and people automatically connect with that.

They will feel they are being talked to as opposed to talked at.

He also uses “I”, “we” and “our” throughout this speech.

Involving the audience as if they were with him on the journey will engage listeners.

For example:

The problems we face are big and urgent.

Rebuilding our broken economy — because unless we do, our children will be saddled with debt for decades to come.

Mending our broken society — because unless we do, we will never solve those stubborn social problems that cause the size of government to rise.

Fixing our broken politics — because unless we do, we will never reform public services, never see the strong, powerful citizens who will build the responsible society that we all want to see.

7. He uses story to great effect

 

By embedding honest and personal stories into the speech brings a human touch which again connects with people immediately.

For example:

I know how lucky I’ve been to have the chances I had.
And I know there are children growing up in Britain today who will never know the love of a father. Who are born in homes that hold them back. Who go to schools that keep them back.

Children who will never start a business, never raise a family, never see the world. Children who will live the life they’re given, not the life they want.

That is what I want to change. I want every child to have the chances I had. That is why I’m standing here.

8. Commitment to every word

 

He was connected and committed to his message.

He gives each word appropriate time and appropriate weight.

It feels like he has thought about every word he spoke.

There is no rushing, no great urgency and this draws the audience in.

9. Strong vocal delivery

 

Pretty good use of pace and timing, and both emphasis and energy are well used at the appropriate times.

10. Overall presence

 

Standing there, composed and grounded with no movement adds weight to his presence.

It gives the audience confidence in the speaker.

Finally, an area where he could have been better

 

Research has uncovered that the average duration of an enthusiastic applause is 7-8 seconds.

However, instead of moving forward with a well-timed restart, Cameron waits for the audience to finish clapping and hence he loses the momentum of the message, and with it too an element of charisma.

Pausing and waiting for the audience to clap is a faux pas, and he did this a number of times.

This removes the sense of spontaneity. A great public speaker needs to be even more committed to his message than to accepting praise.

Here is a link to the speech in full.