Recently I had the good fortune to introduce Pat Day to an audience of professional speakers. This was truly a great experience for me because horseracing fans know that Pat Day is one of the greatest jockeys of all time. He has won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness five times, and the Belmont three times. Until recently his $298 million in purse earnings was more than any jockey in the history of the sport.
I asked him what his topic was and he said that all of his talks center on Jesus Christ. After he retired in 2005, his main goal has been to convince people to become followers of Christ. Then he said, “I use my racing career as a platform for all of my speeches.”
That sentence in essence speaks to what every speaker wants: a platform from which to convince people of what you want them to do. How do we, the common everyday salesman, physician, clerk, lawyer, clergyperson, or teacher develop a platform from which we can command an audience’s attentiveness?
If you are a young speaker and just getting into your occupation, you have no work experience to draw from. If you have had a desk job for a long time, but nothing has happened that would really interest an audience, how do you have credibility that will demand attention?
One way is to use the platform of someone the audience respects. As a young professional, quote someone members of your audience admire. If you can quote from a personal interview you had with that person, that is even better. Refer to research that has impacted the audience in some way. In essence, if you have little credibility, borrow someone else’s!
Another way to gain a platform is simply the passage of time. As you grow older, grey hair and wrinkles give you credibility. Having taught in universities for several decades, I found that by the time I reached middle age, students seemed to gain more respect for me. I had many years of experience to draw from. When I first began to teach in my early twenties, I called each student by their last name, “Mr. Jones” and “Miss Smith.” This created a respectful atmosphere which enhanced my credibility. After teaching a few years, I found that approach was no longer necessary. My age was beginning to show.
Craft your words carefully. If you are able to speak an idea in an unforgettable manner, you win respect. You can tell by your audience response when you have used words well. They may take a note or nod their heads as if to say, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
For example, a line that came to me one day in talking about stage fright was, “The novice speaker is self-centered, and the experienced speaker is audience-centered.” That was a statement about how knowing your audience helps cope with anxiety in speaking.
You may never have been to the Kentucky Derby, let alone won the race, but all of you can develop a platform that will create the credibility you need to succeed as a speaker.