In public speaking – and in everything else in life – it is impossible to please everyone. To think that in order to be an excellent speaker you must receive universal adulation is an exercise in frustration. Different speaker quirks will enchant some audience members while repelling others. There is nothing wrong with this; it often just comes down to a matter of individual taste. Our peculiarities as individual speakers are what make us interesting and give us distinct styles.
The way I see it is that if there isn’t a single audience member who is riled up or annoyed by something you’ve said or something you’ve done, then you’ve probably delivered one heck of a bland, predictable speech. Provided that our quirks don’t muddle our message to the point of incomprehensibility, we should embrace those aspects of ourselves that give us our spark of originality.
This isn’t a permission slip to get lazy and stop improving areas where our speaking skills could be stronger. Telling yourself “I’m a naturally fast talker and Lauren said that’s just my style on her blog” won’t cut it. I’ll still nag the daylights out of you to slow the heck down when we’re working one on one. The same goes for aimless wandering, making aggravating smacking noises, or not organizing your thoughts. If one of your characteristics is overly distracting or confusing, then you must work on controlling it. But don’t be surprised if you hear one listener saying that they couldn’t stand one of your characteristics while others say they absolutely adore that same trait. When watching Gordon Ramsey speak, I love how he gets so excited that he bounces up and down on the balls of his feet. My friend (a fellow lover of cooking shows) hates it when he does that – to her, it makes him seem unhinged.
Wondering what some of your own stylistic traits may be? Listen for differences in feedback where the same trait is brought up repeatedly. Pay attention to the different reactions people have towards that same aspect. If more people find the trait distracting and confusing, than consider it something that you need to work on or change altogether. If the majority of the feedback is positive, than think of it as a strength and part of your individual style.
A personal trait that I’ve incorporated into my own speaking style is my use of language and vocabulary. I love long, polysyllabic words and use them often while speaking. I then provide a heavy contrast between these formal, florid terms with a bit of earthy slang and metaphor. This is very characteristic of how I speak both casually with my friends and in front of an audience. Most feedback I’ve received about this quirk has been very positive; listeners find the turn of phrases and the new words very interesting and entertaining. Occasionally, however, someone will tell me not to use “so many big words” (that’s usually how the criticism is phrased). Knowing that most of my audiences love my choice of words but some find it challenging helps me not only understand my strengths and style, but also tells me when I need to adapt my style to suit a different audience.
Paying close attention to when you receive negative feedback about your style will give you the insight needed to adapt your style to different audiences. When I know that I’ll be working with an individual or a group of people whose second language is English, I’ll consciously adapt my language to something plainer and less florid than I would normally use. If I’m talking about a specialty subject to people who are unfamiliar with the topic, I’ll shy away from using confusing jargon or acronyms. If you tend to be a very energetic speaker with a fast, clipped rate of speech, you should slow down if you are dealing with a group that tends to be hard of hearing (such as an elderly audience). Having this knowledge at your disposal makes you a flexible, adaptable speaker while still allowing you to maintain your own distinct style.
Just don’t expect everyone to be happy with you 100% of the time!