Tact and Public Speaking: How it can all go horribly wrong

Great public speaking requires the intersection of the message, the speaker, and the audience.  Even an Obama or a Reagan misfires sometimes when those three requirements, like the stars, are not aligned. 

Understanding how to put the three elements of a successful speech together requires something not often talked about in public speaking circles:  tact.  A speaker needs to have the tact to understand what is right for a particular audience at a particular time.   But what is tact, and how do you exercise it?

Here’s a way to think more precisely about what tact means.  As I talk about in more depth in Trust Me, there are 4 steps to a successful, tactful relationship with an audience.  Speaker and audience need to be first open and then connected with each other before the audience will be ready to hear the speaker’s passion.  The final step is for the speaker to listen to the audience as hard as the audience listens to the speaker.  Put all 4 steps together, and you have tact – and a successful speech. 

Now, watch what happens when someone has plenty of passion, but isn’t open or connected with his audience. The resulting fatal lack of tact is hilarious: http://bit.ly/bF7hue

3 Comments on “Tact and Public Speaking: How it can all go horribly wrong

  1. Phil Davison is the gift that keeps on giving. he is such a wonderful example of almost everything a speaker could do wrong–we will be studying him for years.

  2. Nick, I immediately thought of you and your books when I saw the Phil Davison mishap, so I’m glad you posted this. This speech strikes me as the perfect example passion gone awry.

  3. And I thought Steve Ballmer was passionate enough, and then came Phil Davinson. On the other hand, the passion is there, but his level of control won’t be enough to make his speech understandable, or possibly, even believable. Anyway, more power to PublicWords!

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