I enjoy few things more than bad ’80s music. And by bad, I mean awesome.
So, I wanted to marry my guilty pleasure with my professional blog by offering public speakers 12 things they can learn from 1980s music.
Here we go—in descending order:
10. “You’re Only Human,” 1985.
Billy Joel’s top 10 hit reminded listeners, “You’re only human, you’re supposed
to make mistakes.” It’s good advice, so remember that the audience won’t judge you based on a scale of perfection. It doesn’t matter if you flub a line, forget a word, or make a minor gaffe—if you’re passionate and care about the topic, the audience will probably like you. And if you do make a big mistake? Stay in the moment. Beat yourself up afterward if you must, but never do it onstage.
9. “Hello,” 1984.
Lionel Richie’s No. 1 song said the word “hello” three times—and many speakers follow suit by beginning their talk with some combination of “hello,” “thank you,” and “nice to be here.” Kill that introduction; it offers no value to the audience. Instead begin with something that captures their attention immediately, such as a startling statistic, a surprising fact, or an audience survey.
8. “I’m So Excited,” 1984.
The Pointer Sisters’ top 10 smash offered the catchy hook, “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it.” Great speakers take that notion seriously, hooking their audiences with contagious energy. That doesn’t mean speakers have to act flamboyantly to capture the audience’s attention, but it does mean they have to exude genuine excitement to be there.
7. “Don’t Rush Me,” 1989.
Taylor Dayne’s No. 2 hit offered a plea: “Don’t rush me; I’ve made that mistake before.” If you’ve been told you’re a fast talker, force yourself to take a breath after every sentence and offer a brief pause between important points. Those silences—something I call “verbal white space
”—give you a chance to catch your breath and control your pace, and they give your audience an opportunity to absorb your information.
6. “Physical,” 1981.
In Olivia Newton-John’s massive smash (and dreadful video), she cooed, “Let’s get physical, let me hear your body talk.” One seminal study found that more than half of your communications occurs through your “body language,” so bring the full measure of your enthusiasm and natural, open gestures to help ensure that your body “talks.”
5. “Stand,” 1989.
REM’s top 10 hit instructed listeners to, “Stand in the place where you work.” OK, most speakers already stand when they deliver a speech, but too many stand in the wrong
place. Except for the most formal speeches, don’t stand behind a lectern. Stand in the front of the stage instead. You can rest your notes on a small table just off to the side.
4. “Roam,” 1989.
This No. 3 hit from the B-52s urged listeners, “Roam if you want to; roam around the world.” Because you now know better than to stand behind a lectern, don’t just stand placidly on the stage. It’s OK to roam around the stage—just make your movements are purposeful. For example, when you finish making an important point, walk to the opposite side of the stage to make your next point.
3. “When I See You Smile,” 1989.
This No. 1 hit from Bad English said, “When I see you smile, I see a ray of light.” No wonder. The emerging science of mirror neurons (more here
) suggests that the audience subconsciously returns the speaker’s smile, likely due to some type of innate modeling behavior. Social science also shows the audience is more receptive to your ideas when you smile. So smile, and they’ll be wrapped around your finger.
2. “Danger Zone,” 1986.
Kenny Loggins scored a No. 2 hit with his testosterone-filled Top Gun
song that bragged about riding the “highway to the danger zone.” For speakers, the danger zone is when the audience starts to lose interest. Shake it up. You can regain interest during those moments by engaging directly with the audience. Ask a question, ask for a show of hands, or solicit comments—anything that breaks the monotony of your delivery and gets the audience back in your corner.
1. “Don’t You Forget About Me,” 1985. This Breakfast Club
classic was a No. 1 smash for the band Simple Minds. Too often, speakers end their presentations by meekly saying something like, “That’s all I have to say; thank you very much.” Instead, end your speeches with a call to action. (You might not want to do that by shouting, “Hey, hey, hey, hey!”) Invite attendees to visit your website, sample a product, sign a petition, or read a book to learn more. That closing call to action helps ensure your audience doesn’t forget about you the moment you end your talk.
For two more ’80s songs and how they related to public speaking, visit Brad Phillips’ blog, Mr. Media Training
Brad Phillips’ firm, Phillips Media Relations, specializes in media and presentation training.