6 Ways You Can Become More Likeable as a Speaker

Craig Valentine posing for photo

Having some after-speech fun with my audience in Bali

Can you become more likeable as a speaker? I believe so. When I first started speaking in 1998, I don’t believe I was very likeable. Why? It’s because my goal was to finish the speech rather than to create an experience for my audience.

In fact, I could give my speech the same exact way whether I was alone or in front of an audience. That’s terrible, because it means I wasn’t feeding off of my audience or letting them feed off of me. There was no true exchange of energy.

The Shift

Once I made the internal shift to focus more on my audience than on completing the speech, I immediately became more likeable and I connected on a deeper level.

Although the internal shift is critical, the following 6 ideas can also help you become more likeable so that your audience has a wonderful experience and they want you to come back time and time again.

Likeable Tool #1 – Don’t tell, ask

People don’t like to be told about themselves. So often I see speakers make statements like, “We all have made bad decisions in life…” That turns people off and some actually think, “You don’t know me. How can you tell me I’ve made bad decisions?” Even though we KNOW they have, we can’t tell them they have. It’s much better to ask.

For example, I’d ask, “Have you ever made a bad decision?” Or I’d say, “Be honest, raise your hand if you’ve ever made a bad decision?” Once their hand goes up, I’d say, “Me too.” Now I have permission to go down that road with them on board.

Likeable Tool #2 – Don’t come across as special

If all a speaker does is share his successes, what do you think the audience members will think? Eventually they’ll probably think, “This guy is arrogant.” However, they might also think, “This guy is special. Of course the tools he is sharing work for him…it’s because he’s special. But they won’t work for me.”

The key as a speaker is to take yourself off that pedestal and share your failures, flaws, and frustrations. When you do that, your audience will think, “Wow, he’s failed too? I have similar flaws.” In other words, they’ll realize you are similar rather than special. As a result, they’ll believe, “Hey, if HE can do it. I can do it too.” This leads to them following your advice or tools or recipe.

Oh, and remember, it’s completely okay to share your successes too. Just make sure to mix in some non-successful moments too. When you share your failures, your audience will end up rooting for you when you get to the successes.

Likeable Tool #3 – Listen to your listeners

Always remember that your audience wants to be heard too. People buy- into what they help create. Some speakers give their speech like I used to…the same way whether the audience is there or not. It’s important not to think, “Speech,” but think, “Experience.”  When you include them, they have an experience. Here’s an example of my audience and me feeding off of each other so that they are heard too.

Likeability Tool #4 – Use the environment

Every time I speak, I look for interesting things that are happening in my audience. Sometimes they’re pretty obvious. For example, I once spoke at a conference in New York inside of an old mansion. It was an awesome environment. About 60 seconds into my speech, I noticed one of the camera operators was following me very closely. When I went out into the audience, he followed me and was literally one step away with the camera pointing at my face. So I stopped in mid-sentence and turned my head to stare at him in a lighthearted way. The audience broke into a huge laugh and that was the break-through moment that connected me with that audience for the rest of the day.

Most audiences don’t want to hear canned speeches. If you can use the environment to your advantage, it’s almost the same as customizing your message because your audience believes, “Well, this certainly has only happened here.” That’s crucial. So much of what I do in customizing and tailoring and using the environment is to get the audience to think, “This is fresh and has only happened here.” That makes the event special for them and for me.

Likeability Tool # 5 – Have fun at your own expense

Be willing to poke fun at yourself. I often begin my speeches by poking fun at myself through a note she wrote me when she was 6 years old that said, “You’re the best daddy in my whole family.”

This lets my audience know that I’m not taking myself too seriously even if my message is serious. I’ve found that my audience members begin to laugh and speak up and connect with me because they know it’s all in fun. Poking fun at myself also allows me to poke good-natured fun at them too. This turns a speech into an experience that people can talk about long after I leave the stage.

Likeability Tool #6 – Be very approachable afterwards

I have a secret. I’m an introvert. That’s right, in my case I would rather be with a good book than with good people…much of the time.

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it’s important to remember that, even when your speech is over, it’s not really over. You are still on stage. It doesn’t matter what you say on stage if, when you come down from it, you don’t give people the time of day. That’s what they’ll remember.

I often run into audience members in the airport on my way home. Guess what? If they have questions or want to chat, I do it. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s the decent thing to do. Also, you never want to destroy a connection you established with them. Finally, I truly believe in going above and beyond what I promised in terms of providing value.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to have the right intention and be in the right mindset before you speak. That’s why the last thing I say to myself before I take the stage is this:

“May I forget myself, remember my speech, and touch my audience.”

Your Turn

What do you believe makes you more likeable when you speak?


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Craig Valentine

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