In search of public-speaking excellence: The Religious Man

When I first moved to Singapore to do my MBA at INSEAD, I decided one thing I wanted to practice and improve at was public speaking. I watched as many talented speakers as possible to study how they deliver content and keep their audiences engaged. I have also been fortunate enough to take advantage of some great opportunities to speak in front of large audiences at various events and conferences. One such event is Pechakucha Singapore where I was able to give a presentation in 2012 (The next event is this Thursday - check it out!)

When I am in "public-speaking study mode", the content and language of delivery becomes largely irrelevant to me. The pictures and slides in the background are also of little interest. I am more interested in the style, mannerisms and voice techniques that speakers use. I am also obsessed with watching how the audience respond to the speaker and how captivated or bored they are. Are they watching closely on the edge of their seats? Or are they on their phones flirting on Facebook, perusing shopping sites or placing some bets?

A friend of mine mentioned this week that one of the most charismatic speakers she had seen for a while was at one of the mega-churches that have emerged in Singapore over the last few years. I asked if I could join her on her next visit to study an example of good presentation and communication. My goal was to study the delivery techniques of the speakers and the reactions of the audience. I did not want my observations to be influenced by the content of their message.

The auditorium was packed and we walked in to a lively hymm-singing session. The audience were on their feet and very engaged. Bags were discreetly passed around for donations and there were communications about various social-media means by which attendees could connect with one-another. A charismatic and well-dressed pastor came on stage to talk about day-to-day problems that people face and how they could be helped.

I tried to watch him without listening to the content. I watched his energetic delivery and watched the large audience react to his presence. He was full of charisma and enthusiasm. He came across natural but also incredibly well-rehearsed. He barely took a breath but made pauses at the right time. He spoke many words but did not say very much. It was a very good example of how to present a message in front of a crowd. While you can argue that this was a "friendly" crowd rather than a "hostile" crowd, it was very difficult to deny that he had a big influence over the audience by way of his communication techniques.

If you are interested in how people communicate effectively, I would encourage you to attend presentations on any subject and see how different people do it in different parts of the world. Check out some presentations in a language you do not understand. One of the best and most recent observations of good communication that I have seen was in Bahasa Indonesian at a conference in Jakarta. I speak no more than 20 words of Bahasa Indonesian.

It is always interesting to compare the methods used by those who give speeches to those who write prose or paint propaganda posters. The one thing they have in common is that they obsessed with  moulding the messages they want to give into a format that the audience/recepient will respond to.

So what do you think makes for an engaging and effective public speaker? Who is the best orator you have ever seen?

NB. Background on Singapore Mega-Churches: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-03/singapore-mega-church-faithful-invest-in-malls-southeast-asia.html