Public speaking: anyone has the ability to do it. But speaking well is not so easy. Great speakers will have an aura about them which screams, “Hey! Look at me! I am about to astound you with some knowledge!” The speaker’s lively spirit will spark the fire of the audience’s energy and in turn fuel the speaker, turning into an awesome, energetic cycle. I have observed many speakers and seen different speaking styles and some of the best ones I have witnessed share two important qualities: energy and passion.

This summer, I had the privilege of going to the Kansas City Developers Conference, #KCDC, while interning at Blue Rivet. While at the conference, I was able to listen to many different speakers, both good and bad. My favorite sessions were Steve and Melissa Green’s pre-compiler on Creating Innovative Teams and Cory House’s sessions on public speaking and building within React. I will reference these talks as I explain the good, the bad, and the ugly of public speaking. Steve, Melissa, and Cory are prime example of energetic and passionate speakers who love sharing their craft with others.

“Hey! Look at me! I am about to astound you with some knowledge!”

Great Speakers Personify Energy

One of the many “gadgets” within a good speaker’s tool belt is energy. Their vitality can be displayed in multiple ways such as: facial expressions and movement, eye contact, and voice.

Steve Green, Chief Digital Officer of Blue Rivet, energizes a packed room at KCDC.

Great Speakers Use Facial Expressions and Movement

Facial expressions and movement are key to keeping the audience involved. When a person is facially expressive, they look alert, alive, and their eyes are bright and attentive; this displays positivity and engagement with the subject. Additionally, if there is no visual with the presentation, facial expressions along with motion give the audience something to focus on. Movement while presenting can range anywhere from walking back and forth to subtle hand movements behind a stand. Being animated while speaking will engage the audience and leave them talking about the presentation for days. However, too much or too little motion will kill the audience’s attention. Too many gestures or too much motion will distract those listening from the actual presentation itself, therefore taking away from the experience. Too little movement will bore the crowd and cause them to drift off. This can be countered by good use of voice, yet, a lack of movement will make you appear nervous before the crowd.

A little expression goes a long way in public speaking

I have a lot of personal experience with this field. I enjoy acting in plays during the school year and have learned facial expressions and a little movement will go a long way for the audience, especially since it is one of the few ways for audience members to learn the emotion during the scene. A couple years ago, I did not understand that I made no facial expressions while on stage until I saw it on camera. I looked like a huge dork straight-facing on stage while many other people were expressive and smiling. So for the next performance I made sure to use some facial expressions while adding little arm movements for emphasis. It made all the difference in the world for the audience, people’s comments changed from “you look like a dork” to “I enjoyed observing your expressions.”

Melissa Green, CEO/President of Blue Rivet, demonstrating expert use of facial expressions to captivate her audience. Photo credit – Jason Hanna Photography

Great Speakers Make Eye Contact

A nice little touch to add to a presentation is eye contact. Eye contact is important since it relays confidence in the material being presented and engagement with the audience. Depending on the size of the crowd, the amount of people you make eye contact with will differ. For example, if you are giving a presentation to a small group of 10-15 people, you could make eye contact with each individual, but if a presentation is given to group of 30+ people, section off the crowd into “quadrants”, then shift your gaze and body towards the people within the quadrant. A good rule of thumb is to not make eye contact for too long, as it might make audience members uncomfortable.

Eye Contact is not used often as a part of speaking from what I have observed. However, it is very helpful in engaging the audience. At KCDC, there was a graduate student who assisted the speaker in giving a talk on JavaScript canvas. She was not very good at making eye contact with the crowd and was constantly looking at the projector or the computer, but not usually the audience. It made her seem very unqualified and unprepared to give the talk. This turned many of the other people within the session off, and they left. In contrast, Steve and Melissa Green’s talk on how to make an innovative team was full of good eye contact. Both of the speakers made good eye contact with the audience and engaged each person within the crowd. It created a much more “personal” experience due to the fact that they interacted with each audience member through eye contact, and made it feel as if they were personally engaging with each group. Through eye contact, a speaker can create a much more personable experience for the audience members.

Voice is the driving force behind a speaker.

Great Speakers Use Great Voice

And finally, but most importantly: voice. Voice is the driving force behind a speaker. A good speaker with a strong voice usually utilizes all four of the aforementioned items and successfully lures in the audience while keeping their attention for long spans of time. A person with a strong voice has the never monotonous and engages the audience despite the content being presented. always dynamically exciting. Monotonous is the opposite of dynamic. When someone is monotonous, they sound like a boring and repetitive professor with no emotion behind their words. A monotonous voice will literally put a crowd to sleep and should be avoided at all costs. A good way to counter a monotone sound is to add vocal variety and energy to your voice. Vocal variety puts enthusiasm into your speech and gives the audience a desire to hear more through diversity of sound and pace.

Vocal Variety Explained

A diverse sound is full of different levels of volume, rate, pitch, and tone.

  • Variations in volume add a dynamic contrast to your sound and can be utilized to project and/or prove a point.
  • The rate in which you speak is helpful in changing the audience’s perspective on a topic and is useful in conveying states such as urgency or relaxation.
  • Pitch is the range of sound a person speaks in, and a lack of change in pitch makes the speaker sound monotonous and dull.
  • And finally, tone; a person’s tone conveys emotion through how words are said. A good speaker utilizes tone to maximize the impact of his/her words on the audience. It displays energy, enjoyment of the topic being spoken on, and the speaker’s personal stances on the subject in some situations, or lack thereof. A presentation with well-grounded tone will arouse interest in the audience and aid in better proving the point of the presentation.

One of the most important characteristics of being an energetic speaker is Vocal Variety. It is what helps bring emotion into the presentation through how we speak, but not everyone is the best at adding variety. I am going to go back and pick on the JavaScript canvas presentation again due to the fact it just was not very good, and it sounded very bland and boring. Instead of the graduate student presenting, it was her professor, and he sadly was not a hit with the audience. For the most part, he spoke in a monotone voice with almost no change in pitch. Additionally, he did not, for the most part, make variations volume and rate of speech, adding no excitement to his words. Many of those listening lost interest before the session had gone 20 minutes, and left. In contrast, Cory House’s session on building within React was full of vocal variety, very energized, and packed out of the door. Cory filled every word he spoke with energy during this session. He got the crowd fired up and wanting to hear more and more. His volume, tone, and pitch changed with every point he made, giving him the full attention of the audience. His tone was upbeat yet informative, but serious at times as well. His vocal variety enchanted the audience and fueled their desire to listen.

Steve Green, Daniel Schmidt, Lily Sha, and Melissa Green representing digital marketing partner Blue Rivet at KCDC in 2016 – via Instagram.

Great Speakers Share Their Passion

I would explain another great “gadget” for being an energetic speaker, except passion is not a “tool”, but the person wearing the gadget belt. A speaker’s passion is the heart of the presentation; if a presentation has no heart, it has no passion. It is simply words coming out of someone’s mouth. But once you put passion back into the equation, you can see the fire in the speaker’s eye as they come alive and begin sharing with the audience what they love. If a person is sharing their passion, it is most likely that energy will come right along with it.

A speaker’s passion is the heart of the presentation; if a presentation has no heart, it has no passion.

The benefits of bringing passion into speaking are many and very rewarding. It will convey to the audience enthusiasm, devotion to craft, engagement with the audience, and energy – lots of energy. As I had said before hand, a good speaker will fire up the audience while feeding off of the energy the crowd produces. A passionate speaker will energize the audience, fill them with a desire to hear more, and leave them talking about that presentation for days. In business, this concept applies as well; if you put a passionate speaker or spokesperson in front of potential clients, the spokesperson will sell their passion for the product to the clients and very possibly influence the client’s perspective of the company as a whole. Passion is not an easy thing to find, but once found, it can have a profound impact on one’s speaking style, and their life as a whole.

People who speak with passion are few in number, yet a treat to listen to. I was fortunate enough to listen to Cory House’s session on public speaking. He explained how he used to have paralyzing social anxiety and the troubles he had with public speaking. Upon realizing the only way to break the anxiety was to force himself to go out and speak, he found he really enjoyed it. He described how he loved to speak on coding since it was what he liked, and soon speaking about code became his passion. He came alive while speaking, during the session on speaking and the session on React. He would laugh and make jokes with the audience and really create a great experience with those listening. During his session on public speaking he exemplified all the characteristics of a great speaker! He was very facially active, constantly moving and engaging the audience, making eye contact with every person he could, and was very good at vocal expression. You could see he was truly excited to be there and loved sharing his craft with others. He successfully “sold” his public image to those listening because after both the React and speaking session, people were going around telling each other about Cory House and his great talk. That, is an energetic and passionate speaker.

In Conclusion

Speaking as a whole is not the most difficult task. Yet, energetic and passion-filled speaking is hard to accomplish and rare to find. The few tips and tricks I have shared are relatively simple: move a bit, make eye contact, put expression in your voice, and put some heart into your words. However, it is not easy to implement these tips into speech. I encourage you to make an effort to add these skills to your “toolbelt” and speak with passion about what you love. In the end, a speaker who leaves it all on the stage before the audience will be the speaker who find the most fulfillment and enjoyment.

Daniel participated in Blue Rivet’s 2016 Class of Kansas City Digital Youth

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