lady speaking standing next to a flip chart

Eloquence seems to me to be one of those words you don’t hear very often these days, especially in the workplace. Accompanied by words like charisma, presence and gravitas these terms sometimes feel difficult to define.

When we do identify eloquence to the point that we comment on it I believe it’s a word we reserve for great wedding speeches, senior politicians in their electoral campaigns or legendary speeches like Martin Luther King’s ‘ I have a dream’.

For me eloquence isn’t something to be reserved exclusively for a grandiose event designed to rally a nation or entertain a wedding party. It is simply being able to say the right things in the right way with ease, confidence and simplicity.

Outside of the workplace when we are speaking to our friends and family eloquence is something that comes very naturally to most of us, yet as soon as we stand to speak in the ‘monthly update’ everything changes. At Mindful Presenter we hear professionals tell us that when it comes to presenting themselves at work they suddenly feel awkward and unable to express themselves freely and easily. The result of which is that many stumble and suddenly become anxious and uncertain about exactly what to say and how to say it well.

In other words, they feel anything but eloquent.

The route to speaking and presenting with eloquence in the workplace is straightforward, although as professionals many of us are conditioned to believe that anything of value has to be complex. Our first challenge is to reframe that idea and respect the reality that it is far easier than we have been led to believe.

It does, however, take a level of awareness, discipline and practice to achieve our end goal of speaking with ease, confidence and simplicity; in other words, eloquently.

If you would like to present your ideas more eloquently the following suggestions will go a long way towards helping you.

1. Make listening easy

Have you noticed that the speakers you may have considered as eloquent have made it very easy for you to listen attentively to them? It didn’t happen by accident; they made certain long before you arrived that:

  • You would be able to hear them easily
  • You would be able to see them easily
  • They could move around freely and easily
  • You would be comfortable
  • Everything works
  • There are no external distractions

2. Take them on a journey

Imagine you arrive at work tomorrow and even before you take your coat off and sit down your boss shouts: ‘don’t take your coat off we are all going out for the day!’

It’s likely that three of the very first questions you may ask are:

Where are we going?

Why are we going there?

How are we going to get there?

Most of us like the idea of going on a journey but not until we know the answer to those three all important questions first.

The eloquent speaker makes it their priority to answer those questions before they begin the journey.

3. Say the most important thing you have to say first

In his book, ‘The gift of the gab’ David Crystal says ‘ Don’t say anything important at the very beginning; wait a couple of minutes, and fill those minute by saying something trivial’.

My professional and personal experience suggests that is really poor advice.

You have moments to capture your audience’s attention and the last thing they want from you is trivia as the first words you speak. If you take David’s advice not only will they not thank you for it you will lose them and once you do it’s really hard to get them back.

There is nothing eloquent about trivia, especially when it’s the first thing you say. The great speakers do the complete opposite. They approach the platform with confidence, grace and poise, they stand in silence for a few moments until their audience are completely settled, they smile and then they say their most important point first.

I’ve often expressed the view that far too many professionals act more like comedians when presenting in business; in other words, they save the punchline to the end. That works for the comedian but it’s the last thing the extremely busy, discerning audience wants in the workplace.

4. Make it personal

My many years in the ‘corporate world’ before becoming a professional speaker and coach taught me a great number of lessons, however, one of the most painful by far is that most business presentations are far too long.

Speaking eloquently doesn’t include rambling, waffling and padding out your presentation with superfluous information designed purely to make you look good and demonstrate to your audience how hard you have worked.

Eloquence involves ensuring that everything you say is completely personal and relevant to your audience.

If it adds no value to your audience and won’t make any difference if you don’t say it then leave it out.

5. Get philosophical

Countless articles on the art of public speaking have included reference to the great Greek philosopher Aristotle. Over 2000 years ago the extraordinary thinker gave us the greatest gift to enable us to structure an entire speech in way that we could deliver with the mindful eloquence we need to connect with any audience.

Logos – Appeal to your audience’s logic

Pathos – Appeal to your audience’s sense of emotion

Ethos – Appeal to your audience’s sense of ethics

It’s still extremely sound advice today and contributes a great deal to a speakers eloquence.

6. Have a conversation

I’ve yet to meet a professional who looks forward to the prospect of attending any form of presentation, unless of course their job is so tedious that they would rather be anywhere else than doing it.

Most of us find it very difficult to get excited about the idea of having someone stand in front of us simply talking at us; many people call this presenting. Conversely, most of us look forward to and enjoy having a great conversation which is interesting, stimulating and of course two-way.

Eloquence lies in the conversation not in the presentation.

  • Speak slowly and in short sentences
  • Use simple, plain language and avoid the jargon and flamboyance
  • Ask rhetorical questions
  • Ask questions you want your audience to think about and answer
  • Be open, share your opinion, ask for theirs, tell them stories.

7. Don’t be the same as everyone else

Imagine attending a presentation at work tomorrow where the speaker presents an important message in the same manner, with the same approach to content, visuals and delivery that you experience every single day at work.

Can they present their message eloquently?

Of course they can. If they follow all of the suggestions I’ve shared so far and have a powerful message which has been carefully crafted they could deliver it with confidence and ease.

Is it enough?

The answer is no, simply because my personal view is that a key part of eloquence involves challenging the status quo, daring to be different and certainly not being the same as everyone else.

If you want your message to stand out and stick with your audience it would be unwise to follow the crowd.

At a presentation training workshop recently, I suggested to the group that far too many business professionals open their presentation by telling their audience their name, position, the company they work for and a little more detail about themselves and their organizations.

I explained that was a traditional but extremely tedious way of beginning any important presentation. I also boldly stated my belief that starting is such a way was quite inappropriate because most people really don’t care who you are or who you work for until you have assured them that they are in the right room and you have something of value to share.

One of the delegates expressed a significant discomfort by not introducing herself immediately and suggested it was impolite not to do so.

If you want to be polite and be the same as everyone else in the process that’s fine but don’t expect to capture your audience’s interest in that way.

There are many other ways of being polite and respecting your audience but making them feel far more excited about the idea of listening to you speak for the next 15 minutes.