What is the mindset of a successful, dynamic public speaker? For me, it all starts with the Four Hs.
Huh? No, that’s not one of them…and luckily for me, neither is “hair.” (See profile picture for evidence.)
To me, the Four Hs are Humility, Heart, Honesty and Humor. They are the pillars of what can, and I daresay should, guide you as you prepare your content, deliver your presentation and connect with your audience in a meaningful way.
Today, I’d like to focus on that first pillar—humility. It’s sometimes easy to say “be humble” or “show humility”, but what does that mean? Perhaps, this is one of those words that is easier to define by suggesting what it isn’t. Let me give that a try by having you picture the following scenario.
An actor or actress just wins the Academy Award and says they are humbled by receiving this great honor. Hmmm…did your Truth (commonly spelled B.S.) Detector just beep?
Now, I do not want to suggest that none of these recipients are truly humble, but the realist in me (I’m an irreverent humorist, but I’m not cynical) tells me they are just using a shopworn expression. Oh sure, some are overwhelmed by receiving an honor they have always dreamed of, and it can be (truly) humbling to also be in the company of people they have always looked up to and practically idolized. However, I tend to think that as many are mouthing those words, they are also thinking:
Humbled by this? Are you kidding me?! I’m about to party my butt off and milk this for all that it’s worth. For the rest of my life! Let’s see: What parties can I now get into and who can I, um, cavort with? Wow! This is awesome! How could they even think about giving this award to someone else? I know…
I will admit I have never received an award of this importance, and I would love to see how truly humble I would be in this situation. And by all means, one should always celebrate his own accomplishments—as well as the successes of others. But saying that you are humble and truly showing humility can be two different things.
So, what does truly showing humility mean? I contend that humility is all about finding that balance between self-confidence (a great quality to have) and excessive pride or arrogance. Call the latter hubris—an “h” that is not one of those four pillars to build a presentation from.
Showing humility also does not mean you need to humiliate yourself, or be subject to humiliation from others. Not at all. And, you also should not have to eat humble pie. I prefer pumpkin pie, and also realize if I don’t come off as, well, a cocky jerk, that I’ll never have to ingest a serving of humble pie, anyway. This is good, because in truth, I also love sweet potato pie…
In what ways can we keep humility in mind as we prepare content, deliver our speech and try to connect with our audience in a dynamic way?
1. Be Memorable, But Don’t Aim for Perfection
Since nobody in the audience should be demanding perfection from you, don’t try too hard to impress the audience with your credentials, achievements and, well, your perfect self. Replace some of your hubris and arrogance with some old-fashioned humility.
Let me be clear: Some of us are perfectionists, and that drive may serve us well. In baseball, one can pitch (though it’s exceedingly rare) a perfect game, and in bowling, one can roll the same. One can quibble if these are really perfect performances, but the scoreboards tell us that they are.
I have heard a lot of great speeches, but I don’t know if there is such a thing as a perfect speech. When it comes to movies, books, songs and anything art-related, such as speeches, there is no scoreboard, per se; how perfect something is cannot be measured. Instead of trying to attain the immeasurable, prepare to deliver something that will resonate with and move your audience. It all starts with compelling content.
2. Be Proud of Your Credentials, But Not Boastful
Don’t be afraid to provide whoever introduces you with your credentials; it’s nice for the audience to be reassured that they are in good hands. But as with almost all things, there is a line between reassuring the crowd and being (overly) boastful. Find that balance, but if you err, do it on the side of humility.
3. Give Credit to Others
When telling stories or anecdotes, you should be humble enough to let others be the heroes. We know you’re awesome; you don’t have to scream your awesomeness from the mountaintops, or lectern. 2001 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix advises speakers to check their (written) speeches for the I/You ratio. There should be more “You” than “I”. Think about it.
4. Be Secure Enough To Poke Fun at Yourself
One of my Four Hs is Humor, and we will explore that in a future article. Essentially, I encourage you to be gentle in your humor, and down-to-earth enough to be able to poke fun at yourself. Self-deprecation, in the right measure, can also help you connect with your audience.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Admit That You Don’t Have all the Answers
If somebody asks you a question, and you are stumped by it, that is okay. Don’t get angry at the person who asks you the question, and don’t give him or her a false answer to try to mollify them. (Or yourself, for that matter.) Admit that you don’t have the answer at that moment; you can always, if practical, follow up with them at more depth after the event. Just be honest, and genuine. By that time, you shouldn’t be wearing your cloak of perfectionism, anyway.
And by that time, you should have already connected with those in your audience, in part by displaying true humility and appreciation.
How to be a (Dynamic) Speaker: Remember the 4 Hs, with an emphasis on being humble—and doing so in the right measure. The right mindset will help you in all areas: preparing your content, delivering your speech and connecting with your audience.