Today marks the close of the Olympic Games in Vancouver. I love the Winter Olympics and have particularly enjoyed these games for a number of reasons: Canada has done a tremendous job in terms of organizing the games and hosting the world; the Canadian team has had its best Winter Olympics ever; and my sister-in-law, Marlise McCormick, is one of the key choreographers of the opening, closing and medal ceremonies.
The motto of the Olympics is Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, Higher, Stronger. The motto was proposed by Pierre de Coubertin on the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894. De Coubertin borrowed it from his friend Henri Didon, a Dominican priest who was headmaster at Arceuil College in Paris and a sports enthusiast.
Should public speakers adhere to the same standards? Yes and no:
Faster: No. Speaking too fast is a common mistake among inexperienced speakers. Perhaps it is nervousness; perhaps it is excitement; perhaps it is the desire to convey the material. No matter. The result is typically an unpleasant experience for the audience as it tries to keep up. How to avoid this pitfall? First, be thoroughly familiar and comfortable with your material. Second, do not try to fit more information into your presentation than can be comfortably absorbed in the time allotted for you to speak. Hit the highlights and have handouts available with additional information so that you do not feel obliged to race through the presentation. Finally, remember to pause.
Higher: Yes. As speakers, we should strive to take our performances to a higher level – and there is always a higher level. Practice is key, but there are other ways to push yourself. For example, you could enter a speech contest. As I noted in a recent post, David Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, has said that speech contests are your fastest route to your greatest improvement. Or, you could give a presentation on a subject that is not something you usually speak about. Another idea: speak to a new audience. If, for example, you regularly give speeches to corporate audiences, try speaking to a high school assembly or at a social club meeting.
Stronger: Yes. Speakers should aim to develop a strong on-stage presence. One that captivates the audience and leaves them looking forward to your next performance. Speakers with a strong presence project their voices well and use vocal variety to enhance their presentations. They use gestures that are well-timed to emphasize important points. Most importantly, they develop a rapport with their audiences that is tangible; see, for example, these outstanding speeches by Sir Ken Robinson and Benjamin Zander.
So there you have it. A new Olympian motto for public speakers: Tardius, Altius, Fortius – Slower, Higher, Stronger!