Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Finding Your Authentic Style: Intentional Observation

How do you find your authentic style? Here is the four-part, one-time formula...

1. Seek out effective presenters in your discipline. If you are a teacher, sit in on the lectures of great teachers. If you are a professional speaker, attend conferences where your heroes or other highly successful speakers in your "market" are speaking. If you are an executive who gives presentations, ask the peers you admire for their presentation style if you can sit in on a few of their meetings/presentations.

2. Watch for what speaks to you. What resonates with you? What do you like about what they are doing? Take a ton of notes. Intentionally observe their content, their flow, their style, etc. Look for what you personally like. You aren't writing down their material. You are writing down why their material worked. If you can't naturally see it or if you can't put language to it, ask them personally to explain it to you. If they truly are a professional, they should be more than willing to share the psychology, the dynamics and/or the guiding principles they employ to effectively present.

3. What you are looking for and what you need to capture is their template. What is at the core of their "goodness?" What are the basic ingredients? What comes first, then second, then third, etc.? How did they create the response in you that you want to create in your audience?

4. Now comes the hard part - the creative part. Take their basic template and fill it with your stuff. Your story. Your material. Your experiences. Your expertise.

Legendary Nashville songwriter Harlan Howard suggested a similar guide for writing a hit country music song. His advice was to find a popular song, copy down the chord progression (i.e., G-D-C-D-C), the tempo and the rhythm. Then take that template and put your own melody and lyrics to it. If you do it right, you have the makings of a hit song.

If you do this right in the presenting world, you will have the makings of your authentic style. You have adapted a professional's flow that connects with you as an audience member (huge personal authenticity test) and then you fill it with your story. It takes a tremendous amount of purposeful work, but it is well worth it.

Hat tip to my mentor and master presenter, Bill Cordes, for inspiring this post.

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