Unless you are an NBA fan, you probably don’t know much about Tom Thibodeau. He was recently named NBA Coach of the Year for leading the Chicago Bulls to the best record in the NBA this season. What is unusual is that he is not a former professional basketball player like many coaches in the professional ranks.
What do you suppose gives him the ability to motivate his exceptional players who make millions and have been treated as prima donnas since they were in junior high school? The key is his experience and knowledge of the game. He has spent over two decades as a journeyman assistant with six NBA teams and several years as an assistant at the college level.
General Manager of the Chicago Bulls, Gar Forman, believes players listen to Thibodeau because they know this guy prepares and has a plan. One of his former bosses from Harvard said, “He just happens to be someone who understood the NBA, could relate to players, was willing to outwork everyone, and knew what he was talking about.”
Knowledge and experience go a long way in any career; that is why a teacher who has been in the classroom for ten years is going to be paid more than the person who is in the second year of teaching. These two traits are especially true with the public speaker.
If you want to earn the respect of your audience show that through your experience and knowledge on your topic. In fact some speakers whose delivery is poor and speech organization is nonexistent may still have great attention because the audience can tell he/she knows more about the topic than anyone else.
Eric Hoffer, American philosopher and author of The True Believer, was self-taught and a poor public speaker. Yet he mesmerized an audience of university faculty I was a part of at Appalachian State University in 1967 because of the fascinating information he shared. I was amazed at how well he controlled the speaking situation because of his knowledge.
Use one of the two traits to gain the other. If you don’t have experience, then learn all you can about the subject. Then use your knowledge to practice what you have learned and thus gain experience. The age of the speaker will certainly affect the amount of experience he or she may have, but you can gain knowledge at any stage in life and use that to earn respect.
You know you have enough knowledge when you have so much good material for your presentation that you struggle knowing what to leave out. On the other hand, if you don’t have enough material to fill your 20 minutes, you will find the speaking situation very challenging. I have found this to be true in my years of coaching executives as well as students.
Certainly delivery, organization, and word choice are important factors in a speech, but first build your knowledge and experience base.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Visit his site to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.