I’ve worked for many years with speakers on developing their unique personas.  What’s the exact right mix of charisma, authenticity, perspicacity, authority, expertise, approachability, charm, humor, strength, and credibility that works for each individual?  Of course, a few basic traits keep coming up – expertise and approachability are among the most often repeated desirable characteristics.  You need to be both expert and yet not too expert in this world so that your audience accepts that you know what you’re talking about – but still wants to hear you speak.

And over the years I’ve seen speakers with traits that they didn’t know they had, and didn’t think to develop, because they took them for granted.  Or they didn’t realize that the traits were particularly useful.  Or perhaps they even thought they would be counterproductive.  It’s these hidden traits, so to speak, I want to talk about now.  In my experience, they’ve been underrated and so paying attention to enhancing them will bring you dividends in the sense of higher speaker ratings and greater success.

Brilliance.  You’re probably surprised to see this trait at the head of the list.  First of all, there’s a strong streak of anti-intellectualism in the U.S., and in many places around the world.  If we want to be taken as one of the gang, we don’t want to be too smart, the thinking goes.

But I think that’s a mistake.  I think people respect intelligence and only make fun of it when they’re made to feel inferior.

OK, you say, let’s postulate that intelligence is a good trait.  How can I increase it?  Isn’t it a fixed quantity?  Not at all.  That’s a bum rap foisted on us by the IQ testers.  You can improve your intelligence by reading, by working at your craft, and by pushing yourself to learn new things.

And you can demonstrate your intelligence without being obnoxious about it by showing your passion for your field and being generous with your time when people do ask you questions about your expertise, whether during a speech or during the normal work day.  Mentoring is an important way to both develop and demonstrate your intelligence.

Kindness.  Speaking of mentoring, working hard to help others is a way of developing and demonstrating kindness and it will repay you many times over.  Demonstrating kindness during a speech is all about showing that you care about and want to help the audience.  Never turn away a question because it’s stupid or primitive.  Always offer to help those who want to grow in your field.

And give a set number of pro bono speeches each year, whatever you can afford, to groups that might not be able to pay you normally.

Un-fussiness.  One of the secret satisfactions that awaits super-successful speakers is that they can become prima donnas.  Imagine the five-star hotels, the limos, the private jets, the unreasonable demands in the contracts that await you once you achieve rock-star status.  Imagine them, spend five minutes daydreaming about them, then put those dreams away and promise yourself you’ll never become a prima donna.  That doesn’t mean you won’t get to travel first class at times and stay in nice hotels.  You will, and you should.  But keep it real and don’t throw a hissy fit if you occasionally have to travel coach and stay in a Marriott.  It’s about the audience.  And it’s about your attitude.

Comeliness.  If you’re already a handsome or beautiful speaker, then enjoy.  If you don’t think of yourself as particularly attractive, then now’s the time to put the work in. Attractiveness is mostly about inner conviction.  If you feel beautiful, you’ll look more beautiful.  Also spend the money and get your hair done, buy a great outfit, and get in shape.  Taking care of yourself is its own reward anyway.

But you know what’s the single most important thing you can do to increase your attractiveness?

Smile more.  Yep, research shows that we rate people who smile more as more attractive.  So, it’s not all about your cheekbones.  It is about your inner energy, enthusiasm, and charm.

We like brilliant, kind, easygoing and comely speakers.  We rate them more highly, offer them more gigs, and pay them more.  Each one of these characteristics is under your control.  Get to work.




  1. Excellent post. I especially appreciate the reminder to be brilliant. I always appreciate, and return to, speakers who come prepared with research that illuminates their topic. I also am glad you reminded us to smile. I read once that most people think they smile much more than they actually do! Making video recordings of rehearsals helps with immediate feedback on the brilliance of both the content and the smile.

  2. Mmm this was a great read. Great point, everyone will have a certain set of qualities in common, but everyone has their own style.

    I also agree about feeling beautiful and looking beautiful. If you’re uncomfortable with your present state, you’ll do things to bring yourself out of it – male or female.

    I love your posts, thank you!

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