When you’re in front of a group speaking about your business—or your passion—what do you call that?

Is it a speech? A presentation? A performance?

There’s no right or wrong answer. When I ask this question, I hear all these responses and many more.

The point is this. The way you think about what you do when you tell people about your work or your cause or your expertise…will dictate how you show up. It will also shape how those people perceive you.

In the corporate world, people deliver—and expect—presentations. Which often involve bullet points, elaborate charts, and data projected on a screen. Good presenters (and there are plenty of bad ones!) know their stuff. Their information is sound, their conclusions make sense. That’s their gift.

I know some speakers who are expert at performing for their audience. Every minute they’re at the front of the room, they’re putting on a carefully scripted show. They know their lines and deliver them well. They’re polished. That’s their gift.

I admire them. And, that’s not me.

When I’m speaking to a group, I call it a conversation. Even if, for the moment, I’m the only one talking, I think of it as an exchange of information and, maybe more importantly, an exchange of energy. That give-and-take is my gift. (I am still, at heart, a talk show host…)

Do those examples get you thinking about your gift? What style of speaking best showcases your gift?

If you’re known for your deep subject matter expertise, you may be a pure presenter.

If you’ve always dreamed of putting on a show, embrace your inner performer.

If dialogue is your thing, and you’re ready to dance with whatever comes up, conversation may be where you’ll shine.

I’ve been thinking about these different styles of speaking and the skills they require. Here’s a parallel that might be useful.

Bette Midler’s touring in Hello, Dolly; she got a terrific review in the Chicago Tribune last week.

Theater Critic Chris Jones acknowledged that the role of Dolly Levi is most closely associated with Carol Channing:

“Channing was, of course, fabulous in her greatest part. But she was an actress with a cooler temperament than Midler, who can out-diva any diva but whose fundamental forte is intimacy.

Channing had one big grin for the whole theater, all the way to the back of the house. Midler…makes separate eye contact with almost every row.”

My clients would tell you I make a huge deal out of eye contact; if it’s not the most important delivery skill a speaker can develop, it’s surely in the top three. So I was happy to save this article as an illustration of what a difference it can make.

Bette Midler’s forte is intimacy and she creates that intimacy by making eye contact with every row.

Beyond that, this is such a great illustration of playing to one’s strength. Carol Channing is a superb actress who smiles powerfully all the way to the back row. Bette Midler is a superb actress who creates a connection with everyone in the house.

They’re both great, each in her own way. And each one is clear about how to make the most of her particular talent.

So what kind of speaker are you? And how can you make the most of your particular talent?

I hear someone who’s already a pretty accomplished speaker saying “Yes, but …” I need flexibility. A whole range of styles. I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.

My reply is “Yes, and.”

Yes, our delivery changes from one talk to another. Because of the audience, because of the venue, maybe because of what we’re speaking about. We do need to adapt. The more flexible we are, the more successful we’ll be.

And. You’ll be most effective at the front of any room if you build on what you’re already good at.

If you command the room with your powerful presence, start with that. If you excel at creating intimacy, make that your foundation. If people are always telling how funny you are, use your sense of humor.

With your natural gift as a strong base, you can begin to add other skills, develop other talents, experiment with new styles.

Remember that the main thing your audience wants is you. Give them you.

You know what’s next, right? Post a comment below to share your natural gift with us. How do you use that when you talk to a group?