To be the Best You Have to Watch the Best

As a speaker, presenter or facilitator, we are always honing our craft. Making subtle changes and improvements in our delivery, stage persona, or our body language is key to developing a professional presentation.  A member of the National Speakers Association (NSA) once told me, “If you want to be the best, go watch the best. Learn from them but don’t mimic them. Stay authentic to yourself and use what you learned to become one of the best.”  I took that piece of advice to heart and spent countless hours watching past U.S. Presidents, speakers at the NSA Annual Convention and at our local chapter meetings, and TED Talks.

Former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton that were known for their incredible speaking skills.  Both knew how to connect with an audience and capture their imagination.  Watch and listen to their cadence and tone of voice.  Listen for when they pause and the look on their face. Watch what they do with their hands.  Early in Bill Clinton’s political career, when he would speak, he had the tendency to point his finger at the audience.  He was given advice to stop pointing his finger because it makes the audience defensive.  Instead of pointing his finger, he would make a fist and place his thumb on top of his fist and make the pointing gesture without using his finger. I have heard this method to be called the “remote control.”

As a member of the National Speakers Association, you gain access to some of the best speakers, both domestically and internationally – Mike Rayburn, Patricia Fripp, and Derrick Kayongo.  When I see them on stage, I am constantly study their mannerisms, pace, voice, delivery – all the nuances that work together to create a powerful presenation.  This is a challenge because they all have a great message and are excellent in engaging the audience. It can be difficult to dissect pieces of the presentation when you are so focused on the full experience of their presention. The art of a great speaker.

If this happens to you, and I bet it does, right after their presentation start taking notes from what you witnessed. Try to capture their body language, movement on the stage, use of humor, design of their presentation slides, use of the microphone, fluctuation in their voice, eye contact with the audience.  Write it all down.

Another way to watch the best is to watch a TED Talk.  If you are unfamiliar with them, let me explain.  According to the website, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics, from science to business to global issues.”  Some of the speakers at a TED conference include Bill Gates, Al Gore and Tony Robbins, and to name just a few.

According to their website, the top five TED talks to date are:

  1. Sir Kenneth Robinson – Do schools kill creativity? (over 38 million views)
  2. Amy Cuddy – Your body language may shape who you are (over 32 million views)
  3. Simon Sinek – How great leaders inspire action (over 26 million views)
  4. Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability (over 24 million views)
  5. Mary Roach – 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm (over 18 million views)

When you study TED talks remember this: These speakers are taking very complex information and presenting it through stories and visual aids. No TED Talk is ever a data dump.  They are evoking an emotion in the audience, whether it is laughter, sadness, or shock.  If they can do this, I am sure you can, too. It does require a lot of work but in the end you have a presentation worthy of sharing.

Go watch The Best of Ronald Reagan ( and watch him deliver his humor with perfection. Watch Bill Clinton Bids Farewell at the 2000 White House Correspondents’ Dinner ( and watch his facial expressions, especially when he is discussing writing his resume.  Watch one TED Talk a week.

Become a member of the National Speakers Association.  You want to be the best, go watch the best!