If you’re an online coach, you are no stranger to the spotlight. You understand the elements of public speaking, and perhaps even do a pretty good of executing them and getting your message across.
But are you aware of the elements of authoritative speaking?
Can you confidently say that you own the room every time you speak?
Do you command the power to turn passive listeners into active participants?
Well, you should!
For online coaches whose bread and butter depends on speaking — be it delivering lectures, speaking at public/virtual events, or in meetings — everything that comes out of your mouth ought to be influential from the get-go.
And you gotta be suave and authoritative about it.
From weaving stories and improvising on the spot, to tapping into your vocal subtleties and physical gestures, It’s imperative that you exude the attributes of leadership in your talks that make students stop and think.
Because let’s face it, if they aren’t putting down their phones and bending their ears to listen to you, your speech is toast.
And in a “speaking” business (like coaching), it could mean serious trouble for you.
Luckily, we are here to help you raise the bar on your performance. Here are six masterful techniques to leave your soon-to-be listeners awestruck. Let’s show ’em how it’s done! Let’s own the room!
A good place to start is by dissecting the 7 key elements of authoritative speaking.
1. First impressions
“The three things I could leave you with, just these three — I could do ten, I could do a whole life class — but just these three things will carry you forward if you let them,” says Oprah Winfrey, in her commencement address at Spelman College.
Neuroscientist and Physical Therapist Dr Lara Boyd begins her Ted Talk with two simple questions, “Why do we learn? And why do some of us learn things more easily than others?”
Wowed much? You betcha!
Like in every aspect of life, first impressions matter. And the rule for presentations is: Wow in the first 60 seconds or leave.
2. Your body language
Authoritative speakers connect with people through an extensive repertoire of gestures.
Whether it is by a show of hands, movement across stage, physical stance or their posture in general — their goal is to leverage body language to amplify their message.
Tony Robbins does this exceptionally well. From moving across the stage to confident eye contact and interactive hand gestures, he truly is the master of “owning the room”. Watch this incredible speech by him at a SalesForce event:
3. Your vocabulary
By vocabulary, we don’t mean high-sounding words or pretentious jargon that has listeners pulling up the dictionary on their phones.
Part of being perceived as a credible speaker by your audience is convincing them of your sincerity. And elevating your language to sound intellectual won’t get you there.
What will? Being precise and concrete in your communication.
This may sound contradictory, but an apt example here is Shashi Tharoor.
Sure he is infamous for his verbosity but is that him trying to impress listeners with his thesaurus? No! The man is self-admittedly bent on communicating with precision — which is what separates him from ostentatious speakers.
Watch him define authoritative speaking in one of his best speeches till date:
The best of speakers also emphasize words that deserve attention, whether it’s through hand gestures or impactful pauses.
For example, “India’s economic share when the British arrived on its shores was 23%. By the time they left, it was.. 4%.
Emphasis on 4%.
That’s Mr Tharoor drawing attention to the damage British Raj inflicted on the Indian economy.
4. Your tone
Focus on this sentence: “I never said he stole my money.”
Now, stress on one word from the above sentence every time you speak the sentence out loud, and see its meaning change – entirely.
To give you an example, if you emphasize on “never”, the sentence becomes: I NEVER said he stole my money. On the other hand, if you emphasize on “my”, the sentence becomes: I never said he stole MY money.
Mind = blown.
In ways, big or small, your tone has the power to change how people perceive you and your convictions.
People are more willing to follow leaders whose voice and tonality is characteristic of leadership — where there is emphasis in the right places (stressing on subjects that matter), variations in pitch (conveying the emotions behind your promises), and well-timed pauses (giving listeners a chance to absorb information).
It’s amazing how miserably you can fail at communication if you use a rigid tone and speak in a dull, shallow manner. You simply relinquish authority you could otherwise yield by leveraging your vocal style to showcase the full color palette of emotions.
Pro tip: Aim for a conversational yet informative tone when speaking to your audience.
5. First person
Anytime anyone goes, “While I was on a lecture circuit across Europe in 2015, we came across a…” or “Back when I was a research student at the University of XYZ…” — People stop and listen. Intently.
Why? Because it helps them relate with you. It shows that you’re human, not an Android. And that’s the surest way to connect with someone — revealing personal details about yourself that cause listeners to reflect and relate.
The most effective of coaches have a ton of personal experiences and stories to share. Since they are well-read, they also have their own opinions on different topics of interest and support their viewpoints with facts.
When they elucidate on a subject, it usually involves phrases like “I know for a fact…”, “I believe…”, “In my experience…”
THAT compels listeners to listen and take action.
6. Powerful pauses
There is a saying by Arthur Schnabel, a classical pianist from Austria: “The notes I handle are no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes? Ah, that is where the art resides!”
Yes, pauses are powerful. From the short, imperceptible pauses you insert between sentences, to the long, dramatic pause you take before you say something huge (getting listeners to unwittingly lean forward with elevated heart beats) — rightly-timed pauses can be damn effective in a public-speaking situation.
Pausing every so often shows that you aren’t merely delivering a rehearsed speech. It emphasizes that you think before you speak and that your words carry weight.
It shows your audience that you are in control.
Speaking of commanding control and authority through pauses, we have Barack Obama. Pick any of his speeches and pay attention to how masterfully he uses pauses to pace his audience and set the rhythm for his delivery.
7. Eye contact
When you establish eye contact with your listeners, you automatically become more believable, relatable, authoritative. It gives you a chance to have a dialog with your audience and connect with them on a personal level.
Oprah Winfrey comes to mind again. Notice how she never breaks eye contact? She could be having a one-on-one conversation or addressing a room full of people — but when her eyes lock on to yours, it’s as if she’s staring into your soul.
Eye contact is a yardstick of confidence.
It’s the difference between persuasively (albeit emphatically) putting your message across and merely delivering a speech.
So, how do you ensure your talks/lectures carry all these elements of authoritative speaking? How do you convey your ideas forcefully and convincingly in a public/virtual event, or meeting?
Here are the six brilliant pearls of wisdom we promised!
Master the Art of Authoritative Speaking
a) What’s your opener?
Like all the memorable songs stuck in our memories for life, your talks should have an outstanding hook.
The best presentations begin like an episode of a crime show — they pack a powerful dramatic punch. Ever noticed how it’s always a dead body in the parking lot?
Not a bad tactic at all!
If you start with “Hello, I’m XYZ from… It’s a pleasure to be here” or “My talk here today will be about… ,” there’s no reason for your audience to give you their undivided attention. It’s the same run-of-the-mill introduction that they’ve heard countless times before. And just like that, their mind begins to wander.
Did you know that the average listener’s heart rate starts falling the moment the speaker gets on stage?
Yup, studies have shown it to be true.
So consider this: you start with a scene, perhaps you put forward a question, or tell a personal story, highlight a pertinent problem to discuss a solution, or even present a solution — it inevitably sets the bar for the talk that will follow.
British philosopher and author, Alaine de Botton gets up on stage at a Google event to tell you “why you will marry the wrong person.”
“It’s education that’s meant to take us into the future that we can’t grasp,” says Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson within the first 60 seconds of his talk in one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time: Do Schools Kill Creativity?
As an online coach or presenter on the public stage, your priority should be to grab the spotlight. Once you’ve done that, you can draw attention to whatever subject or issue you wish to highlight. The power’s in your hands!
In his book Confessions Of A Public Speaker, Scott Berkun writes: “Something is wrong if 60 seconds goes by and you aren’t already into your first point.”
Other surefire tactics to be memorable from the get-go is to present a startling fact or quote an influential personality. We’ll leave that up to you to decide which ones go best with your talk.
b) Watch your tone
People respond to passionate speakers who drip emotion.
Like music inspires anger, sadness, or warmth, you can leverage intonation to express underlying emotions or to emphasize the words that matter.
For example, if it is a pressing matter you want to draw attention to — “did you know that a chunk of rainforest as big as a football field is cut down every second?” — a lower pitch would go a long way engaging your audience.
A higher pitch would express indignation suitably — “we are talking 31 million football fields worth of rainforest every year!” Emphasis on “31 million.”
Lets take another example, say it is to inspire curiosity and interest — “Imagine being able to speak fearlessly on stage, how would that affect your coaching business?” — best to go with a neutral tone.
An authoritative speaker should know when to play with their tone and pitch while speaking.
If you’ve watched famous presidents’ speeches, you’ll have noticed that most of them are delivered in intonation; a higher pitch exhibits excitement and optimism, while a neutral/lower intonation is used to, perhaps, touch on general subjects or recounts facts.
Mind you, there is thoughtful execution involved here. Such attributes, variation in tone, artful pauses, etc are usually rehearsed beforehand to maximize the impact of the message one is conveying.
Napoleon Bonaparte for instance, didn’t rely on a patriotic war cry to rally his troops. He would stand before them, pin-drop silently, for up to a minute, locking eyes with them, before addressing them. Whew!
Pro tip: Humor is also an exceptionally effective tool for inspiring engagement. If there is an opportunity for you to crack a joke, go for it! For inspiration, watch Jim Carrey on stage!
Also, people are attracted to energy. So, focus on keeping your talks upbeat and positive.
c) Weave stories
Stories inspire relatability in a way that graphs, diagrams, or statistics simply can’t. They immediately grab attention and masterfully carry the conversation forward.
The best part? People remember stories; they are exciting, vivid, and stir up emotions that remain in our hearts and minds long after we’ve listened to them.
Those fairy tales and horror stories you heard as a child, you probably remember them all, don’t you?
Carl W. Buechner (writer and theologian) puts it beautifully, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Which is why, authoritative speakers engage their listeners with stories. The idea is to surprise them and connect with them on a personal level, and motivate them to act.
He goes on to reflect on Apple’s successes and expresses gratitude at how fortunate they’ve been to have introduced not ONE but SEVERAL revolutionary technologies to the world.
While planning your presentation, ask yourself: “how can I put this point across through a story?”
- Have there been failures and fumbles in your journey that can set the premise for a relatable story?
- Were you plagued by the same problem that you set out to resolve and eventually found a solution?
- Are there any events in your life that your listeners can gain value or take lessons from?
If so, use them to deliver your talk!
For example, “So it’s peak afternoon and we are sitting in the conference room. We’ve been racking our brains for ideas for over 2 months and still have nothing concrete as to how our coaching business should proceed. Suddenly, a possibility pops into my mind. I think, ‘What if we developed an online course?’…..I look at my partners and the rest is history.”
Now that’s a personal one. a pretty common one actually where you explain how you got where you are.
But the stories you tell needn’t even be true; you can simply concoct one to convey your message.
Perhaps about a girl who broke the ceiling despite a rocky start in life or a guy who transformed a barely-bones idea into a million-dollar business. Get it?
Don’t we all love it when stage personalities interact with us as they speak? It could be something as simple as a “how are you?” or “what is your name?” and yet, you feel as if your heart is warmed.
The true stage champions, however, are those that follow your answers with a clever remark or wise-crack.
For example, epic standup comics who interact with the audience and build jokes then and there.
Spontaneity/in-the-moment delivery is one of the most charming ways to own the room. That wit and humor you display in the moment does half the job for you.
Granted, it’s not everyone’s cuppa tea. It’s just easier to believe comedians are born with it.
But the art of improvisation can be learned AND perfected.
Mark Twain has an exceptional take on this: “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
The trick is to get up on stage as often as you can, be it for contests, musical bands, plays, or theatre — It would mean training your brain to perceive things a certain way. The goal is to get to the point where you can admit to feeling relaxed and having fun being in front of people. Then the wit and humor will flow.
Kinda like the “little secret” Ronald Reagan had shared on how to connect with people who came to listen to him. In his mind, he would regard them as “fellows in the local barbershop” instead of a “group of unknown listeners” — and would go on to recreate that banter with his audience.
Online coaches who hope to mimic artful improvisation in their talks can take improv classes to help sharpen their instincts and enhance that spur-of-the-moment thinking ability.
You don’t wanna go overboard with improvisation though. It should feel natural and convincing, not as if you are being interactive for the sake of being interactive. Don’t want that, do we?
e) Get rid of the young-speak
We are talking non-descriptive words and fillers like “you know”, “I was like”, “umms”, “uhhhs”, “well” — lingo that 20-somethings use.
We aren’t saying discard them completely; it’s perfectly okay to lean on fillers when you need a moment to collect your thoughts.
It’s when they become crutches that they start diminishing your credibility. You appear rattled, distracted, or at a loss of words, which in turn indicates that you are inexperienced.
Like it or not, age is generally regarded as a proxy for expertise and thought leadership. People tend to pay more attention to the experienced and older-slash-wiser people.
But it has more to do with how articulately they express their ideas, and less their age.
Think about it, how often do you come across a 50-something speaking like that? With the vague “verys”, “reallys” and non-specific “stuffs” or “things“?
Not that often.
Maybe you should try to speak like an older person and see how that goes, huh?
- Be more descriptive in your language. Use strong words to paint pictures. (For example, instead of saying “I read this very detailed report…” say “I read this meticulous report…),
- Instead of using fillers to gather your thoughts, pause for impact. “No word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
- Avoid clichéd phrases and non-specific words,
- Use slangs only if they’re supporting a joke, not as part of your original lingo.
The bottom line? Eliminate weak language.
Take extra time and effort to communicate specifically and creatively so your words will have more value and your ideas, more content.
In this manner, you’ll evoke the right emotions in the minds and hearts of your audience, thereby establish a connection and engage them in your presentation.
Speaking of specificity and creativity, raise your hand if you’re familiar with George Carlin! The indisputable king of words, who despite being unapologetically impolite and notoriously boorish and crude in his talks is dubbed as one of the most important and influential stand-up comics of all time.
One of his riotous bits from “Complaints and Grievances” has him referring to a “List of People That Ought to Be Killed” — practically expressing the ONE and SAME emotion throughout, but in laughingly detailed but strikingly creative ways:
From “the pack of low-grade morons who need to be locked in portable toilets and set on fire” to “‘smart’ people that need to be smashed across the face repeatedly with a piece of heavy mining equipment” — Talk about your ROFL! It doesn’t get better than this!
f) Be grammatically correct (duh!)
This one’s obvious, so we’ll keep it short.
The audience is full of grammar nazis, and a single error can bring your overall image down in seconds.
Yes, it’s true the majority of your students probably won’t even notice, in fact as much as two-thirds might not. But what about the other third that will be distracted from your message because you said “I literally died of laughter the other day”? Better avoid that if we can help it, right?
So, it doesn’t matter who you are addressing, whether they are proficient A-grade speakers or have an average command over the language, your job as a public personality is to be RIGHT.
Also, like it or not, people associate top-class grammar with authority. They automatically assume you are well-educated and qualified for a professional position.
Eloquence also suggests you are attentive and are serious about conveying your message. This draws massive respect and admiration.
On the contrary, poor grammar attracts lower opinion from people; people assume you are inattentive and unintelligent, and are less likely to invest in you.
To be honest, “While I was searching for something on the Google…” does sound off-putting.
So, try and be as accurate as possible. It will help with your reputation.
Over to you
There you have it – the secret to owning any room as soon as you walk into it. Now, some online coaches might think that as long as they’re behind a screen, they don’t have to worry as much about the way they present themselves.
But, they couldn’t be more wrong.
The habits and attributes we discussed above aren’t an act – they’re meant to be inculcated in your very being. And once they are, they’ll reflect in every aspect of your business. The way you talk, the way you conduct yourself, and the way you’re perceived in the market.
So, go ahead, start digging deeperimg, and hook your audience from the get go.