5 skills to emulate from top orators

Bill Clinton, Tony Hsieh, Chris Rock and others demonstrate how to keep your cool under pressure and deliver a powerful speech.


Speaking to a group of people is a challenge that terrifies most people. The idea that hundreds (or thousands) of people are watching your every move is nerve-wracking.

But the ability to control and perfect one’s delivery in presentations is a rare and powerful skill only a handful of people possess.

Before you take the stage at your next public speaking engagement, take a deep breath and learn from the best. I compiled some of the strongest examples of public speaking the everyday presenter can easily emulate.

Here are five all-star orators you can look to for guidance, as well as attributes you can include in your next speech.

1. Steve Jobs: relevance

The late Steve Jobs is a prime candidate for presentation case studies because when on stage, he is articulate, nimble and steadfast. Yet one of his most overlooked qualities was his ability to make even the most high-brow, technical jargon sound simplistic, and even fun.

For example, when he introduced the iPhone in 2007, Jobs showcased and reviewed products that came before it. He primed the audience for the complexity of the iPhone by showing its relevance to the previous products.

Keep relevance in mind in your next presentation. It creates cohesiveness and resonance.

2. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: inspiration

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not only a fantastic orator. He was also a phenomenal leader in a controversial movement, which gives him the attribute of inspiration.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King was bold and declarative, but more importantly, he issued a call to action within his words. By setting an agenda with purpose behind it, he gave the crowd a clear direction and path to results. He provided a solution to their hardships, and they followed him passionately.

While you may not be rallying troops for a revolution, it is important to remember that every presentation needs a call to action. Without a sense of purpose and direction, you are just saying words.

3. Tony Hsieh: conversation

As the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh is an entrepreneur who brings a youthful glow to the business world. Many circles have written about and discussed his company culture models and revered his views on leadership.

What Tony brings to the table is conversation in presentations. He talks to the audience members as if they were in his living room. This makes them feel more comfortable and, therefore, more receptive to his message.

Remember to not talk down to your audience. Put yourself on the same level as the crowd and have a conversation. Audience engagement yields interactivity, which empowers the audience members and increases your rapport with them.

4. Chris Rock: entertainment

Chris Rock is a legend on the comedy scene. He’s internationally known for his stand-up comedy, as well as his big screen endeavors.

Humor is a particularly powerful form of entertainment that can mold an audience’s perception, and Rock uses it to keep his audience intrigued and excited to receive his message. He is dominant but playful in his performances.

Always remember the power of humor in presentations. It warms the audience to your message and keeps them excited.

5. Bill Clinton: storytelling

Our 42nd president is regarded as a highly talented speaker and leader. One of Clinton’s strongest attributes is his ability to tell stories that enable the audience to be a part of them.

By immersing audience members in a narrative—as shown in his 2007 Harvard commencement speech—they can truly experience the topic at hand, which gives them a sense of empowerment. Empowered audience members listen well and receive messages with more gusto because they feel as if they are more directly involved.

Everyone has a distinct way they like and are able to present, so use these cases as models for your presentation style. It is up to you to determine which attributes are favorable to your style, and to what degree you should apply them. If you embody at least some of these attributes, your next presentation will be solid, fresh and unique.

At 21 years old, Kenny Nguyen is the CEO/Founder of Big Fish Presentations, a presentation company that does presentation design, presentation consulting and commercial video production. The company has recently been featured in Inc. Magazine as one of 2012′s Coolest College Startups, and hosts the blog Hook-Line-N-Sinker for presenters. The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), where a version of this article originally appeared, is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

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