“Has anyone ever been in prison?”
These were the words that opened W Mitchell’s talk to NSA Houston Chapter in September 2010. Words spoken quietly in a voice vibrating from deep within his chest. Words not spoken immediately.
W Mitchell wheeled himself to the center of the staging area, sat deeply into his wheelchair and silently looked around the room to make connection with his audience. Then, only then, came those words. And for just under and hour, Mitchell enthralled us with a relaxed but deeply authentic style of speaking that came totally from his heart.
If you were in the room, you experienced a master speaker at work. If you were not, you missed an opportunity to see a speaker who does not fit the hyper-dynamic speaker mode. No, Mitchell is the epitome of an authentic speaker. He dazzles us, not with manufactured enthusiasm, but enthralls us with real, resounding presence. He fills the room with emotional and spiritual energy that comes from openness, authenticity and the ability to be with us rather than perform for us.
As a coach who specializes in helping speakers, performers and business communicators to develop an authentic style, I was thrilled to see a highly-paid national speaker who embodies the elements of presenting that I advocate. I’d like to identify some of the elements of authentic speaking that I coach for and that W Mitchell expresses. I call these “subtle speaking skills” because they are not overt or mechanical skills, but qualities that open us to be who we are in front of others. Every single one of these subtle speaking skills was modeled by W Mitchell. What a master he is!
- Be Present with the Audience First – Take time to become present with your listeners. Don’t rush to speak. Instead, let yourself relax into the center of attention. Do this by relaxing down into your own physical body as you step into the spotlight. Then take time to look around and see who is there. Open yourself to receive individuals in your audience by taking in their attention, love and support. This activates chemistry between you and them. Chemistry is a higher octave of connection that involves exchange of love and acceptance.
- Open with an Impact Statement – Start with a line that catches people by surprise. Say the most dramatic, surprising or shocking thing you can say about your topic. Do not waste time with niceties about being honored to be there because that is expected. Instead open with a statement or question that compels people to pay attention.
- Talk to One Person at a Time – Speak with one person at a time. Have a conversation with one person for awhile. Then talk with another person, always being with one person as you speak. Everyone on the room will feel that you are connecting with them because there is real connection happening in the space. Don’t talk over their heads, talk towards the group or try to talk to the group as a whole.
- Tell the Stories that Only You Can Tell – Tell your real stories of the emotional events with which you have struggled. Don’t hold back the most painful, fearful, dark or embarrassing moments of your life. Those are the stories that made you who you are. They are your unique gold to mine if you want to be an authentic star. I once coached a professional speaker who was pretty good at speaking, but she knew she was not shining fully. In coaching, I discovered she was holding back the story of her son’s death. She did not want to share it at first, but once she did, she began to receive standing ovations from that time on.
- Let Yourself Feel as You Tell Your Stories – If you feel emotion, your audience will feel that emotion. Like an actor, your job is to express genuine emotion so that the audience will be moved. Many speakers think they should not show their feelings, but emotion is how we connect with others. Fill the room with the vibration of authentic emotion and the audience will be moved by the presence of your spirit.