Last week I was at IBM Connect. I certainly didn’t get to see all the sessions that I wanted to attend (many times there were two session at once that I wanted to see), but I did watch some great talks. I saw some that weren’t so great, too, but this post isn’t about those.
Disclaimer: Yes, I personally know both of the people I am about to talk about. No, it doesn’t make me biased. Tweets and audience feedback mirrored my thoughts and feelings. Also, if you know I saw you speak and I am not mentioning you, it doesn’t mean you weren’t great. These were just two stand-out speakers.
I saw Russ Maher speak about managed beans in XPages and Chris Miller talk about an admin toolkit. Both speakers could have been presenting on the phone book and they would have been great. Russ broke down a topic that frankly, I was afraid of. He made it easy to understand. He made me feel like I could go home and whip up a managed bean no problem. He did it all while knowing a ton, but without being condescending. Chris made admin stuff interesting. ‘Nuff said.
I was talking with my friend (and track manager) Susan Bulloch (not name dropping to name drop, but to point out that she knows a thing or two about speaking and speakers) and I said to her that Chris’ presentation was really great. I said, “I got a bit depressed as I realized I will NEVER be that good”. She replied, “No, you won’t”. And not that she meant that I suck or anything, but that he is really good and most people won’t ever be that good.
Now I could have gotten depressed and decided to never speak again. Or I could just be happy that I got watch and learn from two really great speakers. The inclination for some might be to try and copy Chris or Russ in order to be a great speaker. The interesting thing to note is that their styles are completely different. I can’t really begin to describe them, but take my word for it if you’ve never seen them, they are very different. And here’s the secret. You (and I) won’t ever be a GREAT speaker by using someone else’s style. The only way to be a great speaker is to be yourself.
If you aren’t funny, trying to be funny will just be painful. For you and your attendees. If you are a slow-talker and you try to be zippy fast, you will frustrate yourself. If you’re off the cuff, then be off the cuff. If you’re style is more rehearsed, then for the love of all that is good, rehearse. What works for one speaker may not work for you, and that is okay.
It is an amazing learning experience to see great speakers (it is also a great learning experience to see terrible speakers, but that’s another topic). It’s great to watch great speakers and pick up a thing or two here and there. You can still be a good speaker (and hey maybe even a great one), the trick is finding and using what works for *you*.