A disappointing deception is being perpetrated in the so-called public speaking arena. For years it’s been a ‘norm’ for companies to have a ‘motivational’ speaker at annual marketing, sales and other conferences. Being a veteran public speaker and founding member of the National Speakers’ Association of South Africa, I need to declare an interest. The purpose of this article is, first, to alert relevant parties to the ‘canned’ nature of what they may be getting for their speaker money and, second, save some young wanna-be speakers from going down a highly inappropriate road.

What triggered this article can only be described as a Damascene experience. Biblical-proportion scales fell from my eyes when I realised that the majority of the self-proclaimed ‘top’ speakers around the world have moved out of public speaking into public parroting and parody. And some South African speakers are now at risk of falling into the same trap. It’s the equivalent if you will of Madonna, Josh Groban or Placido Domingo lip-synching. Why the analogy? Well, because it appears that many of these speakers learn ‘off-pat’ every single word of what they say on stage. Worse, they rehearse, memorise and do the same with every vocal inflection, movement and gesture – including the ‘spontaneously’ arched eyebrow and the pregnant but utterly contrived pause. It seems that inappropriate competitiveness and a desperate need for acclaim by peers and public has shifted public speaking at the top end of the ‘art’, into this exercise in mimicry. I cottoned on to this when I saw one of these characters demonstrating so-called ‘stagecraft’ to some fledgling speakers. Each time, he replicated the same few lines, inflections and movements with terrifying and mathematical precision. It was like watching a rewind and slo-mo replay of a sequence on TV. He proudly proclaimed that this was how he managed ‘to get a predictable and consistent result from an audience, time after time.’

This is regretfully, high-school speaking competition or Eisteddfod-type ‘memorization’. At its worst, neurolinguistic manipulation. It’s not even decent amateur acting. Because although an actor will commit to heart, her or his lines, the nuances and variations in each performance will give it memorable impact and make it art. But the parrots of the speaking circuit don’t allow themselves even that leeway. They produce a clone of their performance at function after function and at venue after venue. All good communicating on a topic will always of course have to incorporate the ‘skeleton’ on certain aspects. So yes, there may often be a degree of repetition. But it will be differently phrased and delivered each and every time because of the unique audience energy, dynamic and interaction – or, lack of it!

So why am I so disturbed by this galloping trend in the public speaking arena? Simply because it’s an absolute waste and abuse of what can, with the right mindset and understanding, be a speaking gift. When you have a good sense of the issues you’d like to explore in a presentation, you’ve got a sequence or line of thought and you’ve got your support material together, then comes the time for the real art.

The first, more commercial approach will be to source, structure the material, have a very clear sense of where you’re going and know how long the presentation or talk will take. But you intentionally keep ‘open’ your receptivity to subtle audience interaction (not necessarily spoken, but a ‘vibe’) and feedback in the form of engagement, response and so on, driving an element of your presentation. This can happen even with a typical non-interactive ‘keynote’ address.

The second – and highest form of communicating – is doing all the required prep but then trusting to the universe, God, your higher consciousness, intuition, the Ancestors, your Muse or whatever you wish to call it, to use you as an instrument to bring something special and of value to your listeners. Yes, even though it may be a business presentation, it can have an ‘edge’ that is unique and different.

When you’re appropriately ego-free and understand that you’re only ever the instrument or co-player through which such a message will be delivered – but never the sole author – then amazing, sustainable transformation can and does take place. People are affected and infected by the integrity and congruence of your message. You’ll potentially have lower demand appeal, because the undiscerning masses are mainly looking for a quick fix. And there are innumerable frauds out there just waiting to serve up their version of a ‘just add water and stir’ formula. Don’t listen to cynics who say that such integrity-based speaking, presenting or communicating isn’t possible or even desirable. Rather, talk with people for whom it is a norm rather than the exception – and explore your real speaking and presenting potential.

The role of intuition shouldn’t be underestimated. For those who respect the gift, there will be the sub-conscious ‘reading’ of energies and needs emanating from an individual or the audience. You may recall afterwards, that you used examples or analogies that you hadn’t for years. Or that you went very high disclosure on personal-experience based and therefore ‘healing’ information – because you were functioning authentically. You had prepared, you might well have rehearsed to ensure you honour the precise time allocated. But you spoke from the core of your being, knowing that it was not you alone speaking, but you in synch and tandem with the ‘Wise Ones.’ There’s nothing ‘mystical’ about this. It’s about choosing to operate at another and much more powerful level. You’ll know and feel the difference and so will discerning audiences.

Clive Simpkins is a marketing and communications strategist who facilitates sustainable change with individuals and organizations. He honed his craft in the USA in the early 1980’s, in a consultancy to the US Department of State. His African continent clients include four Presidencies. He consults to and coaches a veritable Who’s–Who of clients, including CEO’s and executive teams of Blue chip companies. He’s founder of Communication Dynamics (Pty) Ltd. He’s a regular writer and media commentator on marketing and communication issues and is published author of two books: The Concise Communicator and Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, the latter with a foreword by psychiatrist Dr. Dora Wynchank.

Contact Clive at [email protected].

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