It’s usual in the world of psychology to refer to five personality traits as determining most of the differences among our fellow human beings: Openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism
If you imagine each of these as a continuum and place yourself on it, you’ll quickly get an idea of how you shape up as a human – and as a speaker too. The list is useful for the insights it gives us into what makes for a successful public speaker.
1. A speaker should be highly open to experience. If you’re open to experience, you’re flexible in the face of change, and ready to cope with people and circumstances you weren’t expecting. That happens at least once a speech. I showed up to a speech once expecting 100 people; there were 600 hundred in the room, and another 200 very cranky individuals in the overflow room where I was on speakerphone.
It was a test of my openness to experience, and I admit to being rattled. I got through it, but not gloriously.
2. A speaker should be highly conscientious. Back in the 90s, I gave my first overseas speech. This was the era of VHS tape, and I had video clips all cued up and ready to go. Imagine my surprise when I found that my VHS tapes didn’t play outside of North America! No videos. I had to give the speech cold and without the examples and comic relief I had prepared.
And the audience, a roomful of engineers, had a hard time believing that I didn’t know the difference between PAL and NTSC. I learned from that to focus relentlessly on the details in speaking.
3. A speaker should be highly extroverted. Of course introverts can be great speakers, and many are. But it costs them much more than an extrovert, because they are depleted by human interaction instead of energized. If you only give the occasional speech, you’ll do fine. But if you’re a professional speaking once a week or more, you’re going to be very, very tired if you’re introverted.
At the close of a speech, an introvert only wants to get to the hotel room – or the bar – and relax. An extrovert can handle – even enjoy – the stream of people that come up to the speaker and want to relate their impressions, ideas, pet concerns, and peeves. It’s often extremely valuable information. So you should still be on your best game while it’s happening.
4. A speaker should be highly agreeable. Too many successful speakers become prima donnas requiring certain kinds – and temperatures – of bottled water, hotel suites of a certain size, and other amenities. Otherwise, they’ll throw a hissy fit and make everyone miserable – and greatly reduce the chance that they’ll be rehired. Dick Cheney purportedly had to have a minimum of three TVs, all tuned to Fox News, the room set a certain (chilly) temperature, and Cold War bottled water. I’m making the last one up.
I once worked with a well-known speaker whose expertise was in interpersonal dynamics. Yet he left a trail of angry support staff in his wake wherever he went. The hypocrisy was not lost on anyone, and his bookings suffered accordingly.
5. A speaker should be minimally neurotic. Speakers need to be resilient and thick-skinned. They need to be able to take criticism easily and hear it dispassionately. They need to be clear about their own faults and tolerant of others’. They need to be patient and quick to forgive. And they need to be highly resistant to road rage, air rage, and TSA rage – indeed, of rage of any kind.
That’s what it takes. Where do you rate yourself?
About the Author:
Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and presentation skill coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication and the good and bad speakers of the day. For more information on his company, visit www.publicwords.com