Don’t Be That Guy


What makes someone a good speaker? For anyone who presents for a living that question is THE question. It’s a huge topic with endless advice, answers and examples (of what to and not to do). There is, however, a good place to start.

I was day dreaming the other day about watching someone on trial and all that you can learn from seeing someone else in action. I was also, at the time, thinking about how I am convinced nobody in positions of great authority and power in this country are in those positions because they know more than anybody else. I don’t know how they got there, but there they are. For a rookie presenter, no matter what field they are in, they are encouraged to watch others and learn. Usually, that means watch and learn what TO do, but rarely are they also told to look out for what NOT to do. But does the rookie know this? So the daydream continued and in the dream I saw someone deliver a great summation. It was entertaining, moving, well thought out and simple. In the dream I thought wow how can I do that? How can I be THAT GUY? And that is when I woke up.

All too often rookie presenters mistake the persona of the person they are watching for the skill or technique. So they embark on becoming a certain persona instead of understanding the skill set and making it their own.

For me the first barrier that goes up when I am talking to someone, especially in a presentation scenario, is the feeling that the speakers are not being themselves. Like Holden Caufield says, “that guy is such a phony”. The presenter becomes the focus, not the idea. It is a pet peeve of mine when I am out and some one says, “I am so drunk” It annoys me to no end because instead of just enjoying how you feel at the moment, you call attention to it.  Presenters who are pretending to be someone are like bad actors that make the audience more aware of being in a theater watching, then creating the illusion of eaves dropping in on someone’s conversation or being in the living room itself.

It happens in writing as well. I happen to think my wife is a great writer, and she knows I would tell her if I did not like something. When I first read something she wrote, other than her telling me she wrote it, the women I know was nowhere to be found. She disappeared, but all her writing has a similar voice; HER voice.  As part of some classes she takes she needs to read and critique other peoples work so I hear them sometimes. Many of them are hard to get through because immediately they sound like someone trying to be a writer. It is a little embarrassing to listen to, like reading an old journal entry or poem you wrote when you were 13. Once the person becomes the focus then for me it’s over and that only happens when you try and be someone else.

My first piece of advice to a rookie would be, don’t be THAT GUY. You need to find your voice. I volunteer teach Practical Philosophy classes and I remember seeing another teacher who got more students and was quieter than me and moved slower and did everything softer. One term I tried to be him and my class numbers dropped to 1. I had 1 student. I don’t do that anymore. I talk loud, fast and get pretty energized.  You should watch others, seek advice and learn but all of that has to be made your own. I also think it takes the pressure off ofcomparing yourself to others. There is no comparison, you can both do the right thing and it should be totally different because you both are different.


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