Who Are Your Favorite Speakers, and Why Does It Matter? (QUIET Revolution, Week Three)


woman on stage gown Who Are Your Favorite Speakers, and Why Does It Matter? (QUIET Revolution, Week Three)Last week, I attended a special meeting of my Toastmasters Club. We watched videos of the top seven contestants in the World Toastmasters Championship, then discussed their speeches.

Every one of the speakers had terrific presence, vocal variety, and control of their movements and gestures. I learned a lot from watching them.

Yet with a couple of exceptions, I wouldn’t choose them as role models. They were too stagy, too canned. I much prefer speakers who seem to be talking to me – regular people, up on stage, with something interesting to say — rather than putting on a show. The best speakers do perform, of course. Their talks are usually memorized and endlessly rehearsed, and their delivery is an amplified version of their normal speaking style.

But they manage to preserve a core of authenticity. The two speeches I shared in yesterday’s post (Alain de Botton on status, and J.K. Rowling on failure) are good examples of this.

It’s useful to identify your own role models, because when we witness someone do something soaringly great, it makes us want to do the same. As a child, I longed to be a writer after I fell in love with reading. Books were magical, therefore I wanted to be a magician.

Same thing for listening to great talks – it makes you want to do what the speaker’s doing.

Questions for you (please feel free to answer one or both):

1. Who are your favorite speakers? Even if they have a different style from yours, can you channel some small piece of them when you give your own talks? What is it that you like so much about these speakers? The answer to this question will tell you more about what kind of speaker — and person — you’d like to be.

(If no favorite speaker comes to mind, it’s worth going here or here to browse through a selection of world-class talks.)

2. How is your Year of Speaking Dangerously going? Please share stories of your progress thusfar, even if only to say that you’ve procrastinated and haven’t done a darn thing.



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  1. Danielle on 25.07.2011 at 12:15 (Reply)

    I don’t have a particular favorite speaker, but I would definitely pay good money to listen to Primatologist Robert Sapolsky give a talk about his studies of baboons in the wilds of Kenya and especially about Benjamin, his favorite baboon.

    Mr. Sapolsky definitely has the gift for gab. Wish I could see him give a talk in person at some point in time.

    1. Susan Cain on 26.07.2011 at 19:45 (Reply)

      I agree, Danielle! Have you seen him on TED?

      1. Danielle on 27.07.2011 at 07:19 (Reply)

        Didn’t know he was on TED. I will look him up. I have read some of his interviews and he just grabs my attention every time. Thanks for letting me know of his talk on TED. I’ll let you know what I think of it.

      2. Danielle on 27.07.2011 at 08:31 (Reply)

        I just listened to Primatologist Robert Sapolsky’s TED talk and was awestruck. He knew his subject by heart, never once did he trip over his words, there were no ummms or ahhhhs. It flowed perfectly. His timing was absolutely perfect. He came prepared with a presentation. He was both funny and extremely informative, used terms that the layman could understand. He was totally relaxed, there wasn’t even a hint of nervousness in his voice or in his demeanour, he spoke to the crowd as if he was talking to each person individually. He is the best speaker I have ever heard and I wish I would have had him as a teacher when I was a teenager. I’m sure my grades would have been a lot better than they were. I give him a 200% grade. I bet the people at Toastmasters would agree. I know Dale Carnegie would agree also.

        To use the same expression he did, he is the most UNIQUIER speaker I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to and he definitely gives new meaning to the word excellence.

        Bravo to Mr. Robert Sapolsky. I’m an even bigger fan of his than before.

  2. Brittany on 25.07.2011 at 22:41 (Reply)

    When I saw this speech when I was doing research before giving my icebreaker, I felt like it had changed my life. So I’d say this guy is a pretty great speaker, not because of gestures or stage presence or anything like that really, but because his message was so meaningful and inspiring. You probably have heard of his speech, it’s called “The Last Lecture” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncoSRKoU6GQ. I have so much respect and admiration for him. He certainly made an impact on others with his final speech and truly made the most of the limited time he had to live. I’ve watched it several times now, and have started my day with it several times to remind myself to live to the fullest and live in the now, and to appreciate what I have going for me.

    As for updates, I’m working on Speech #2 now. I’m thinking about doing it on choosing a career and how it’s ok to not know what you want to do yet. I want to talk about how it’s good to explore and take the time to find something you’re truly going to enjoy doing, and will bring you fulfillment. I’ve got ideas but I have to figure out how I’m going to clearly organize them, since that is the goal. Do you have any videos from Toastmasters of you giving any of your speeches? That would be cool to see if so. I will check out the links you provided of the two speakers you admire.

    1. Susan Cain on 26.07.2011 at 19:49 (Reply)

      I agree, Brittany, that is an inspiring lecture. Somehow I always think of him doing that bit where he drops to the ground to show how he’s in better shape than the rest of the people in the audience.

      I don’t have any of my TM stuff on video — our local club doesn’t do that, though I hope they’ll start soon.

      Hear hear to taking a while to start your career. I don’t regret having been a lawyer, because I learned so much from it — things I never would have learned if I’d followed a “truer” path — but still if I had it to do over again I’d have made a different choice.

  3. Brittany on 25.07.2011 at 23:32 (Reply)

    And wow, I’m watching J.K. Rowling’s speech now, and I am intrigued. I love it! I admire her even more now that I know even more about her beyond her amazing books. She’s quite an incredible woman.

  4. ghada on 26.07.2011 at 13:53 (Reply)

    my favorite speaker is sarah kay. true, she does spoken word poetry instead of actually giving speeches, but her presentation, the language, and the imagery she chooses to convey her ideas are deeply touching.

    1. Susan Cain on 26.07.2011 at 19:49 (Reply)

      Oh yes, she is a gorgeous presenter. I love her combination of strength and vulnerability.

  5. Charity on 27.07.2011 at 10:08 (Reply)

    Several years ago I attended a talk given by John Lewis, congressman from Georgia and active participant in the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. He spoke eloquently about the fear he experienced as a young person standing up to the police and the very real physical danger he and the rest of his group were in as they nonviolently stood up for their rights. He also spoke about how he loves to talk so much that when he was a boy, he used to give sermons to the chickens out in the yard. I enjoyed his candor, his casual style, the way he combined humor, tragedy, and hope, and his ability to make it feel as though he was speaking directly to me, even though I was just one person in a large auditorium. His message was deep and inspiring and has stuck with me for the past 10+ years.

    As for the progress of my Year of Speaking Dangerously, I think I’m ready to try out a different Toastmasters group. I went back for my second meeting with the same group, and it didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I blogged about it here, if anyone’s interested in the gory details: http://imperfecthappiness.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/hello-is-this-thing-on/

    I’m taking a week off and then trying out two other groups in my area.

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