Are you a professor, an inspirer, or both?
It’s an occupational hazard. As a teacher of public speaking skills, I am a distracted audience member. Whether the speaker is great and really holding the audience, or less-than and struggling (whether aware of it or not), I inevitably wonder, “why?” What are they doing, I ask myself in that moment, that’s working, and that is not? How do they move their body and hands, do they address the audience or talk into the void, do they use effective visual aids, are they making me experience their stories with my senses and emotions?
I have observed two common styles, neither of them automatically more effective or less effective, just different from one another. I think of them as “professorial” presentation style and “inspirational” presentation style. The trick, I think, is to be effective at both; to know the hallmarks of each; and to know when each works best and therefore when to use it.
This is not to say that a professor cannot inspire; nor that an inspirer cannot teach. We can all recall a teacher who motivated us to be more curious, dig deeper, and learn more. And the best inspiring speakers don’t just preach to the choir; they bring new followers into the fold by teaching, by painting a verbal picture of what can be and how we can make it so.
But not every professor inspires. And not every inspirer’s soaring rhetoric carries lessons and gravitas to enlighten and engage.
And yet there are settings for which the more professorial approach is right and others for which tilting more toward inspirational words is a better choice.
Think of presenting at a zoning board vs. a corporate sales meeting. The trick is to know which one should get priority, but to bring a mix of the two to every chance to educate and persuade.
Characteristics of the bad professor could include these: monotone, unemotional, too many facts and not enough stories, failing to engage by using hands and body to draw they eye, may not know he’s lost the audience or may not do anything different if she does notice. The speaker who over-emphasizes the inspirational approach is going to give himself away by torturing the language, seeking metaphor and poetry when straightforward language and prose will do; they’ll be “turned to 11” throughout their remarks, operating at a shout for most of it; they’ll implore vision without clearly saying what to do.
Where do you fit? Everyone has a bit of both.
Can you bring the best of each to all your speaking, and know when each approach should be the dominant one for your needs, and your audiences?
Try these two things:
- Part of preparation is thinking about your audience, your message, your call to action, and so much more. Add to your list thinking about the tone you should take and defining the right balance between Professor and Inspirer.
- Rehearse and have a trusted friend or colleague watch you. Make sure they know about the audience you need to reach, and see if they think you’re bringing both styles to your work, each in the right amount.