What makes a truly great public speaker?

As a frequent speaker and workshop presenter I was recently asked by a colleague whether I thought he should ask for any sort of speaking fee for keynoting an industry conference and what I thought were the key elements of a really dynamite presentation. I thought my answer might be of greater interest.
First off, speaking-fee wise, I can’t see how it would hurt to ask “is there an honorarium available”? I have received honorariums from organizations by just asking.
Seriously, if you’re a world-class speaker, don’t hesitate to ask for money and don’t hesitate to be straight with them: “I’d love to keynote your event, but if you’re expecting 1000 attendees and charging them $495/head, then I am sure that you’ll agree that a $2500 honorarium is more than reasonable?” (or, don’t share the calculations, but do ’em anyway before you talk with them).
Or say “I’m very interested, but as I’ll lose a day of consulting time, and I charge $1000/day, I’d like to receive equivalent compensation if you can work it into your budget”.

I know of some conferences where the gross revenue is well north of $500k, so yeah, they can afford a few thousand to feature and promote you as their keynote speaker!
What Makes a Great Talk?
You also asked me about what suggestions I have for a dynamite presentation, one that leaves people wanting to hear you speak again.
First, I think that lots of examples are always a winner. People love that stuff and always perk up when they can compare what they’re doing with success stories. Very empowering!
Always remember to take a deep breath and laugh about some of the examples too: if you’re having fun, they’ll have fun too, in my experience. Indeed, I like to share personal experiences, even if sometimes they’re failures, not successes. That’s okay too: it’s darn informative and engaging to have someone be honest on stage, not just selling something.
I’ve studied professional speakers for years and have focused on two that I think are SUPERB speakers: Tom Peters and Anthony Robbins.
What do they have in common?
They are both extraordinarily PASSIONATE and they give far more energy to the audience than they receive. They’re completely exhausted when they’re done, I’m sure, but there’s nothing more compelling and engaging to an audience than someone who really CARES about the subject and shares that passion.
Vary your tone, your volume, laugh, cry, use an occasional obscenity, whatever it takes. Just ENGAGE and be super-enthused and excited about what you’re sharing.
Another superb speaker who has been writing some great blog entries about how he approaches presentations is Guy Kawasaki. If I could get videos of his presentations to study, he’d be on my list too, but as it is, I’ll just enjoy his brilliance vicariously.
I’d like to think that in my own little way, that’s exactly also what I do with my workshops, speeches, talks, etc… I know that I have the “exhausted when they’re done speaking” part down, at least! (I’m not just whistling dixie here, for what it’s worth. Please, read some comments from people who have attended my events too).
There are other speakers who do a great job too. Who have you seen give a presentation and just said “wow!” afterwards?

4 comments on “What makes a truly great public speaker?

  1. Good points, Dave
    One thing I’d add would be to make some effort to customize your talk to suit each audience. Every group is different, and the context of current events is fast-changing.
    It disappoints me to go to the effort and expense to attend a keynote address event, only to hear a completely canned, generic speech. I figure, why didn’t they just distribute CDs?
    Also, if possible within the format of the event, build in time to take at least a few questions. Participation is both more engaging and more memorable.
    – Amy Gahran

  2. Dave,
    I like the way you’ve approached this topic, and I have to say that I think you easily fit in the same category as the other speakers you mentioned. You’ve spoken at DaVinci Institute events several times and you’re very good.
    You’re probably a little low on the speaking fees though. Most speaking engagements require considerable prep time, emails, and phone calls, along with travel time, etc. Most of the professional speakers I know do several free talks a year, and so its reasonable to build in some additional amount into the paid gigs to cover the “marketing” costs associated with doing the free ones.
    But the easiest way to broach this topic is to ask them what their budget is for the event. Some will tell you and some won’t, but it’s a great way to begin the money discussion.
    Thomas Frey
    DaVinci Institute

  3. Excellent points, Dave. I heard you speak at the Affiliate Summit 2006 in Las Vegas and was impressed with your focus as well as your intriguing stories. It looks as though we share a common interest too, Anthony Robbins. What a passionate, motivating speaker. There’s just something magnetic about people like Anthony who are passionate about what they do and willing to share what they know.
    Susan Milligan

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