Last week I had the opportunity to speak with a group of high school students about public speaking and communication. We had a great deal of fun together as we worked through a question and answer period. That’s when a young lady with a bright future, asked me what I thought the most important skill a person needs to develop to become a great speaker. It’s a great question, but I knew my answer without hesitation: Curiosity.
This may come as a surprise since I write so much about confidence, but in my mind, to be a great speaker, a person has to develop extraordinary curiosity. I have written and still believe that confidence is king, but one of the skills to develop that will build great confidence is being curious. Curiosity about yourself, curiosity about your audience, curiosity about the subject upon which you will speak. Curiosity is a skill that will drive confidence.
Becoming curious about yourself means asking, how can I be better today? What skills do I need to sharpen? Who do I need to become to deliver this message in the best way that I’m capable? It’s curiosity that leads to finding those daily disciplines that make us successful and confident.
Being curious about our audience makes us ask the questions who will be listening? What do they need from me to better understand my message? What’s the most effective way to reach them? This is a big part of preparation that a lot of speakers miss. Being curious about our audience inspires the empathy that we need to forge the connections between them and us. We have to understand who we’re talking to before we can help them understand the ideas we’re going to present.
It’s curiosity that leads a person to read and to study to become an expert on the subject matter. There’s little doubt in my mind that my best presentations come after I’ve just learned something that I find interesting. It leads to an excitement and enthusiasm that can’t be faked. Learning something well enough to teach it requires that first I become curious about it and therefore, it’s curiosity that drives subject mastery, a building block of confidence.
Tony Robbins famously said that the quality of our questions will determine the quality of our life. I would paraphrase this to be that the quality of our questions will determine the quality of our presentations. Bad presentations come from bad questions and the only bad questions are the ones we don’t ask.
If you’re interested in becoming a better speaker, you had better become curious enough to ask better questions. Some good examples are:
What do I know that my audience needs to know?
Who will be hearing what I have and say and what’s the most effective way to present to them?
When I’m done speaking, what do I want my audience to remember?
What’s the best story I can tell that will make them remember my point?
Who do I need to become to better connect with my audience?
These are only a few questions, but they’re a good starting point for a good presentation. The moat important skill a speaker can develop is curiosity. What questions will you ask before your next presentation?