You may not be a royal wedding enthusiast. Not everybody got up at the crack of dawn to see Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walk down the aisle.
But you’ve surely heard the considerable reaction to the sermon. The Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church caused quite a stir with his dissertation on love.
There was definitely some side-eye in the congregation as the Most Reverend Michael Curry spoke; did you see Camilla and Kate smirk at each other? They weren’t alone. And the prince’s cousins Eugenie and Beatrice looked like they were about to laugh out loud.
We could have predicted there’d be toxic Tweets:
“Michael Curry should never be allowed back in this country. He shamelessly exploited the public platform he was given, to push his own agenda. He was embarrassing, inappropriate & utterly disrespectful.”
“Meghan Markle has used the Royal Wedding as a platform 4 the African American agenda, truly shocking & disrespectful to the royal institution”
So it seems Rev. Curry’s powerful preaching missed the mark with some of his listeners, in the chapel and beyond. The rest of us? We were rapt.
And one of us was keeping track of what Rev. Curry did that the rest of us can do too, when it’s our turn to speak.
Notes, yes. But don’t read the whole thing.
The bishop opened, reading scripture from his tablet. Makes sense—quoting a sacred text, you want to get every word right. But for most of the sermon he kept his eyes on his audience, not on his notes. He sounded much more natural than he would have reading a script.
Resist the impulse to write out your talk so you can get every word right. Getting it real is more important.
There’s power in the pause.
It can happen that a person races through a presentation out of nervousness, or defaults to fillers like “um” and “er” and “like.” Learn to leave a little space, especially when you shift topics—or tone.
That breathing room gives your words more weight and makes you seem confident and in command of the room. (Or at least in command of yourself.)
Variety in tone is magnetic.
You’ve probably heard a speaker who strikes one note over and over and over. Monotone is likely to lull your listeners into a stupor.
The Rev. Curry was stentorian proclaiming, “There is power in love.” He sounded personal, conversational, even intimate as he went on, “If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love…”
That kind of variation draws in the audience, keeps them engaged, and drives home your message.
Gestures contribute to charisma.
You didn’t see the bishop clutching the sides of the lectern, interweaving his fingers, or hanging onto his arms. He used his hands to emphasize what he was saying, to convey energy, to amplify the impact of his words.
How much does that matter? In a study of Ted Talks, Science of People found the number of gestures a speaker used correlated strongly with the number of views on YouTube. In fact, the connection between “going viral” and using gestures was stronger than any other aspect of speaking.
Even at a solemn occasion, a light touch is welcome. Rev. Curry elicited laughs when he promised to stop soon and said to the happy couple, “We gotta get you all married.”
There were knowing chuckles, too, when he said, “We can text and Tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other.”
It’s possible to go too far, of course. We’re not all on the same page when it comes to what’s funny and what’s offensive. The wrong witticism or the one that’s badly expressed can backfire.
But in general, laughter lightens the energy for speaker and audience. It makes people feel good. And when you’re in front of the room, they associate that good feeling with you.
Know when to say when.
It’s axiomatic that attention spans are getting shorter. That puts the pressure on speakers to say what they have to say without wasting a word.
I thought the bishop was ready to wrap it before he brought up Teilhard de Chardin and the significance of fire. Truthfully, that would have been okay with me. (I remember the Jesuit philosopher from college theology classes.)
As it turned out, though, it was a pretty powerful notion that capturing the energy of love would be the second time in history we’ve discovered fire. And the whole sermon was still shorter than a Ted Talk at just over 13 minutes long.
And know how to say when.
Even if a good chunk of your presentation went in one ear and out the other, your ending will stick with people. So make it count.
Most of us aren’t closing our talks with, “May God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.” But you will want to find a strong final statement, in keeping with your content. Something that sends them off feeling good about you.
Your talks—and mine—aren’t likely to be analyzed by the whole world. Thank goodness, right? But people do evaluate us when we’re speaking. And their conclusions can have an impact on our professional success. Post a comment below to share your experience…or your opinion!