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All About You: 10 tips to increase your ‘speaker likability’

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

“What’s the most important skill a professional safety speaker needs to master?”

I’ve been asked this question dozens of times. Although several skills are needed to become a professional speaker, I’ve found that – no matter the subject and regardless of whether you’re presenting at a small safety meeting, technical session or large keynote address – the single most crucial skill is to be able to get your audience to like you.

Getting your audience to like you may seem quaint, but it takes thoughtful practice and awareness. It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about – if your audience doesn’t like you, you won’t have much of a positive impact.

You can be the most respected and learned person in your field, which may earn you attention and well-deserved appreciation. But if your audience finds your delivery to be that of a “know-it-all jerk,” what they’ll remember the most are their bad feelings about you.

So, how do you get an audience to like you? And I’m talking about any audience. It doesn’t matter if it’s a group of colleagues at a staff meeting, a pre-job safety review before five ironworkers or an annual manager meeting in which you’ve been selected to give a talk on your company’s safety performance. Here are the keys to “speaker likability.”

Show ‘unique’ appreciation

You don’t need to start your talk or training with expressions of gratitude. Depending on the situation, it can seem lame. I’ve watched impressive famous speakers begin with a “thank you,” while others startle their audience with a bold statement. But I’ve seen only a handful not show appreciation at some point while on stage.

It’s your general attitude that speaks of appreciation, including subtle statements. For example, I spoke a few years ago at a safety convention in Hawaii. I performed a safety parody song titled “Working Safely,” based on the melody to Hawaiian musical legend Don Ho’s song “Tiny Bubbles.” It was fun and, I believe, a hit. And performing the song showed I knew about my audience and had taken time for them, not just my agenda.

Too often, I’ve seen “safety speakers” spend most of their stage time warning their audience about how nasty it would be if they violate a safety procedure. That won’t endear you to your audience. When you let your audience know that you appreciate their efforts and your main motive is to help, they’ll like you.

A big “aha!” moment for me was when I realized that the skills I needed to succeed at one-on-one interactions were precisely the same as those I needed to use on stage. There are differences, of course. My gestures are a bit more expansive on stage, and I don’t use slides when I’m at a party or hanging out at my local club. (That would be hilarious! “Hello guys, before we play pool tonight, I’d like to display a few slides on the importance of hazard recognition.”)

What gets an audience to like you? Here are 10 tips:

  1. Express interest in their life and local culture, not just yours.
  2. Be humble. Show you’re human, just like everyone listening to you.
  3. Don’t be a “know-it-all.”
  4. Talk about how you learned what you’re sharing.
  5. Laugh at yourself. Audiences love it when a speaker humorously exposes weaknesses and past foibles.
  6. Describe why you’re passionate about your subject.
  7. Explain how you overcame an obstacle or severe life challenge.
  8. Show you relish interaction, because it shows you care about what your audience thinks and feels.
  9. Don’t be fake, unless you’re portraying a character. (One of my favorite compliments is when someone tells me I’m the same off the platform as I am when formally speaking.)

And No. 10: Don’t be stern and reserved, and act like an “authority.” Have fun! If you’re having a good time, most likely your audience is too.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at makesafetyfun.com.

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