by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
This week’s blogpost is sandwiched between the two live events that inspired it. Last week the SoolNua team assisted our buddy Kevin Kelly with his inaugural Speaker Summit at Croke Park – that’s the past event. Next Wednesday a new friend – Miha Pogačnik – will visit Ireland and tell his story to a small group of invited friends at my home. That’s the future event. The two events are massively different but share a common structure: a speaker, a story, an audience. Each in its own way helps us understand what makes a great speaker.
The Speaker Summit at Croke Park
Both events actually originated in Slovenia. I met Kevin Kelly at Conventa in Ljubljana last year where he was an invited speaker. Besides being two Irishmen abroad, we connected around the power of his speech on Exceptional Execution. His content, I thought, was excellent but his audience rapport was even better. He managed to truly engage a mainly central European audience of jaded, fatigued trade show attendees during the post-lunch graveyard slot with a snappy, high octane, passionate presentation. We kept in touch and Kevin spoke at a number of events that we were involved with throughout 2015.
Kevin then approach us with his idea for an Irish-based Speaker Academy that would become the go-to place for individuals for whom public speaking was the fulcrum of their careers – so professional speakers, trainers, business coaches, corporate leaders, sales directors etc. Last week’s Speaker Summit was Speaker Academy’s first gig and I was honoured to be asked by Kevin to moderate the day.
The brand new All-Star Suites at Croke Park Meetings & Events provided an iconic, motivational location for the Summit. The venue resonated strongly with the mainly Irish audience providing an uplifting “field of dreams” experience throughout the intense 8 hours of input. Kevin himself kicked off proceedings with some key lessons from his Exceptional Execution presentation, tailored specifically for an audience of speakers.
Dave Thomas, a proud Yorkshireman and former fire-fighter then brought the room to a startled hush with his extraordinary “misery memoir” (Dave’s own words!) of extreme childhood deprivation leading eventually to a slot on Oprah and 10 million viewers. His down-to-earth, disarming style belied his amazing achievements – Guinness Book of Records holder, world memory champion, best selling author. Most remarkably Dave only found his shtick in his late 20s when he purchased a book about memory having repeatedly failed his firefighter promotion exams.
Dave was followed, on Skype, by Dave Newman who delivered the most compelling virtual presentation I have ever witnessed. When asked about on-line presentations he mentioned the need to exaggerate voice inflections and hand gestures in order to compensate for the loss of a face to face context. I’ll be remembering that for my next webinar. Dave’s key takeaway was repeated by other speakers too: Go niche! Choose one topic and own that topic like no one else.
The was perfectly illustrated by Patrick McKeown who spoke next. Patrick is certainly not your typical “professional speaker” of high energy and pathological extroversion. Rather, he’s a gentle, quiet spoken introvert who’d look more at home in the audience than standing up in front of it. Yet he’s an acclaimed international speaker and best-selling author, his books have been translated into ten different languages and he has received a six figure advance for his latest book The Oxygen Advantage. When he speaks, you listen because his command of his subject allows him to command the room.
To great acclaim and a warm reception, my colleague Aoife McCrum delivered her maiden speech at The Speaker Summit and delighted an audience whose average age and gender was 45 and decidedly male with some precious millennial wisdom around Social Media and its advantages for sole trader professional speakers. She highlighted the win | win for speakers and events when each tweets or posts the other and recommended that speakers connect quickly with the conference or event at which they’re speaking.
At The Speaker Summit we encountered many different style of speaker and learned that success as a speaker is significantly more to do with substance than style. Great speakers are masters of their content, they “only do what only they can do” and they’re passionate about what they do.
Which brings me to next Wednesday’s event with Miha Pogačnik. @Supergreybeard and I met Miha at Conventa this year (there’s obviously a pattern there!) and were privileged to hear him speak/play on 2 occasions. Miha is a concert violinist, leadership expert and cultural ambassador for Slovenia and works with individuals and companies to inspire and help them transform their lives and leadership through music. Using an almost 300 year old Fugue by Bach, Miha illustrates how the dynamic of the Fugue replicates the vicissitudes of life and / or business.
In a truly emotional and deeply passionate presentation, Miha breaks the musical score into its component bits and links them to key moments in the journey of life – moving from surface relationships to deeper levels of rapport, getting beyond banal routine, overcoming resistance to change, facing and confronting crisis, conceiving and giving birth to new ideas, balancing power and self-knowledge and final integrating everything in a final transformational, redemptive action. Miha gives a raw, visceral performance in perfect, if accented English during which you feel he lives the journey he’s describing to you.
Having explained the inner dynamic of Bach’s Fugue from his unique perspective as a highly talented musician, Miha then plays the Fugue, uninterrupted, from start to finish. At that’s when you sit back, sometimes closing your eyes, to experience the most marvellously chaotic, and beautifully controlled roller-coaster ride of your life, all superbly delivered by a master musician and stunning storyteller.
So what, then, makes a great speaker? Great content, deep knowledge, profound passion, unusual perspective, niche topic, energetic delivery, empathy with audience and so on. It’s not just one thing but many things that coalesce , particularly in the live moment of the actual speech delivery when – sometimes – both speaker and audience are transported together to a third place and something new and different is born.
Photos by the amazing Roger Kenny (except photo of Miha Pogačnik which was taken in Ljubljana by yours truly)
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the Meetings & Events Industry. Check out our new website here