by Steve Adubato, PhD
Talking about what makes someone a great communicator is one thing. Watching a masterful communicator perform his craft is quite another. Recently, I interviewed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the Annual Yogi Berra Celebrity Golf Classic. Giuliani also gave a dinner speech to a crowd of several hundred of Yogi's friends and admirers.
Giuliani is considered by many to be a top-notch platform speaker, particularly on the subject of leadership. Yet, watching him speak at the Yogi event crystallized why he connects with his audience on a variety of levels.
- Didn't read from any prepared text. He didn't even use notes. But he wasn't shooting from the hip.
He had a clear and compelling message, which was that great athletes and others who excel perform with "grace under pressure." He repeated this theme and broke it down with concrete examples utilizing several people in the audience including Yogi as well as former Yankee greats Goose Gossage and Craig Nettles.
Every time Giuliani mentioned these guys by name, the crowd responded with applause. He understood the importance of highlighting people who are familiar to your audience in order to make a personal connection. In Giuliani's book entitled, "Leadership," he states "the point is not to alter your message depending on the audience, but to present it so that it could be understood by whomever you are addressing."
Giuliani is an animated storyteller. He shared with the audience a story about the time he went to a Yankees playoff game in the 1980s. He gave just enough details to paint a vivid picture of him sitting "two rows from the top" (Rudy said, "I wasn't always Mayor, you know," referring to his less than desirable seats). He talked about what happened in the game and how the Yankees won dramatically by "performing with grace under pressure." Great storytellers don't get bogged down with the minor details, but use vivid language and have a memorable point to their story.
While Giuliani is funny on his feet, he is not a joke teller. Telling jokes is risky and should be left to professional comedians. However, Rudy's humor is quick and seizes moment. For example, at one point Giuliani referred to the value of "Yogi's philosophy of life." After a moment of confused silence, someone yelled out "what philosophy?" Without missing a beat, Giuliani laughed and responded, "Well, whatever it is." The crowd roared. Giuliani immediately understood the humor in referring to Yogi Berra as having a "philosophy." We're talking about the same guy who became famous for saying, "When you see the fork in the road, take it."
Physical presence and command of his body language. Giuliani immediately moved from behind the podium using a hand-held microphone. Even though he had only a few feet on either side of the podium, he used his space well. Further, when he referred to Goose Gossage, who was sitting in front of him, he placed his hand on Gossage's shoulder. The ability to know when and how to actually touch an audience member can be a powerful communication tools that few speakers understand.
Finally, Giuliani's dinner speech lasted no longer than seven minutes. He understood the importance of brevity and being concise. He also knew that even though it was a friendly crowd, the longer he talked, the greater the risk of losing them. Less IS usually more. Just one of the many communication tips and tools Rudy Giuliani knows and the rest of us should remember the next time we have to stand and deliver.
Who do you consider a great public speaker and why? Write to me.