I’m sure you remember when I quoted Warren Buffett on the value of learning to speak well. He said that most people can double their value simply by learning to give speeches with skill. I agree, so I want to return to this topic here, as I will from time to time to keep this need constantly in your mind.

Let me also remind you of some things I said in those earlier Leading Thoughts. I said everyone can become a better speaker. I said that if your career depends upon speaking well, then get some coaching. I also said that practice, feedback, and more practice with informed input is the key.

Now, I want to tell you the most important thing I know about public speaking. It is that when we make speeches, our style is determined by a “voice” that plays in our minds. This voice is a combination of all the narrative voices that have been decisive for us in our lives. It likely began to first take form when our parents began reading to us. Added to this may have been a teacher’s voice or the voice of a favorite narrator of nursery rhymes. Over the years, this voice is what we heard when we read silently. We expanded this voice when we listened to a favorite speaker or admired a style of poetry or let a certain order of words stick in our minds.

I can remember my mother’s voice reading to me. I can also remember that I listened by the hour to recorded stories of William Tell and Davy Crockett when I was a boy. Walt Disney’s narrative voice became part of me, as did the voice of a British teacher I once had, the speeches of Winston Churchill, and the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Today, I’m keenly aware of the influence of David McCullough.

Now, whether you know it or not, whether you are deliberate about it or not, your public speaking is conditioned by this voice in your mind. Part of the art of public speaking is to shape this voice intentionally and not accidentally.

The problem for many speakers is that they are largely exposed to only one style of speaking. Businessmen tend to only hear other businessmen speak and in business-like terms. Pastors of a particular denomination tend to hear preachers largely from that denomination. And so it goes. We tend, then, to reflect what we see and hear, to be like those of our tribe.

The art of good speaking, though, is to fashion a rich, varied narrative voice in our minds. We should listen broadly and allow a wide variety of powerful styles to embed themselves in us.

So here are some steps for you:

  • First, take stock of your speaking diet. What are you hearing and what is its style?
  • Second, break out of this style in your listening. Do you have a whole bunch of newscaster type of speaking in your mind? Well listen to some T. D. Jakes preaching or Ronald Reagan or YouTube videos of Dr. King or an actor doing the Agincourt Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. You get the point. Digest new!
  • Also read words that are beyond your daily intake. Poetry and great literature. Get new cadences and rhythms in your mind.
  • Finally, keep speaking, getting feedback, and speaking some more. The new voice will begin to shape you without you even having to consciously pay attention to it.

This is only the beginning. We’ll talk more, but start here. Doubling your value is not far away!