Getting your message across to an audience

I do a lot of media and advocacy trainings, helping people to improve how they speak and get their messages across. I’ve met some amazing and talented professionals in my time, but I have to say precious few of them are good at speaking compellingly on complex issues, whether to the media, in front of a panel or committee, or even to just one other person.

I am not going to attempt here to give every last point about how to be a better public speaker (although you can hire me to do that). But I heard an interview today on the radio that made me grin with joy at the terrific speaker. It perfectly illustrated a few basic practices that can make anybody an effective communicator.

The program is called “Living on Earth,” and it’s an environmental news magazine from Public Radio International in the US. Guest Karim Mokaddem spoke about Peugot’s new hybrid vehicle that runs on compressed air.

Mokaddem gave the best interview I’ve heard in a long time — and he’s not a media professional, he’s an engineer. The skills he displayed in his interview are applicable to any situation where you’re communicating a point, not just in media interviews.

A couple of points about how he got me to ignore the magazine I was reading and listen to what he had to say:

1. As they say in radio, he had a smile in his voice. He sounded professional but personable. I wanted to hear what he had to say because I both trusted him and liked him.

2. He knows he has a thick accent so he slowed down his speech and carefully enunciated. But he wasn’t so careful that he sounded like he was in a diction competition. His sentences flowed well and he emphasized the right words. In short, he sounded like he was talking normally, not speaking from a prepared paper. However, he also didn’t mess up a single pronunciation.

3. He spoke about a complex, technical topic in a very accessible way, using ordinary language. However, he didn’t dumb down his presentation of his company’s technology. He had obviously really thought about how to explain the car to regular people and struck the right balance between technical accuracy (which makes him trustworthy) and a reasonable explanation (that your average listener can make sense of).

4. He showed excitement about the topic. The host was quite flat, yet Mokaddem showed enthusiasm for the questions, responding with rejoinders like “that is a great question!” or laughing slightly to a question like “what does it sound like when the car runs?”. This livened up what could have been a really dull interview (and the host wasn’t helping, either).

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