Contributed by Charles Lamb, Director of Marketing, Central Bancorp
Whether you are or Catholic or not, following the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy has been nothing short of mesmerizing ever since he became Pope Francis I on March 13.
“Seriously, it’s Jorge Bergoglio,” said the new pontiff to the owner of a newspaper kiosk in his home country of Argentina as he called to cancel an old newspaper subscription. “I’m calling you from Rome.” From personally paying his hotel bill, greeting some familiar priests before a Sunday audience, and foregoing the traditional papal red Prada shoes and throne, Pope Francis has so far—in just a few short weeks—put a new, more personable face on the Catholic Church. And, we could take from him many great public speaking cues that might help us better connect with our audiences.
If the Red Prada Shoes Don’t Fit, Don’t Wear Them: Pomp and circumstance are at the core of all things papal—and almost every second of a pope’s life is scripted right down to the color of his robes and, until now, the shoes he wore. However, Pope Francis has so far opted for a simple habit and his regular old pair of black shoes, instead of the more elaborate costuming and red Prada shoes popes traditionally wear.
The Lesson: Whether you are delivering a speech, responding publicly to an issue, or addressing a simple gathering, never put yourself in a situation that doesn’t suit you. If you are uncomfortable, your audience is going to be uncomfortable for you—and this is a huge barrier to overcome in being able to connect with your audience.
“Pray for Me:” Before the new Pope said anything substantive at all on the night of his election, he said a prayer, thanked his predecessor, and then broke with tradition and bowed to the 150,000 in Saint Peter’s Square and asked them to pray for him.
The Lesson: When Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony, he approached the audience with the mindset that these were his people. They weren’t strangers, but family and friends. And, in a simple act of humility, he made his speech about them, not about him. Every public speaker who makes their speech or public address all about them, without providing a connection to the audience, is doomed to fail. When writing your speech, “good afternoon” should immediately be followed with a sentence that begins with “you” and not “me or I.”
Forget the Throne: Pope Francis has quickly become famous for setting his papal throne aside and addressing cardinals, bishops, priests, and the faithful down at their level. This other act of humility has enabled him to say, “We are brothers and sisters, standing on the same ground” in a very illustrative way, while increasing his stance greatly as leader of over 1 billion Catholics.
The Lesson: Don’t get lost in the intrigue of your title. You’ve certainly heard the idiom “We all put on our pants the same way each morning,” meaning that our similarities outweigh our differences. In order to connect with your audience and build the power and credibility you want, you first have to meet them at their level. Step from behind the podium, go out to your audience, and say hello, we are in this together. Then, your speech—and getting through it painlessly—becomes everyone’s job, not just yours.
Any of us who have stepped in front of an audience to speak know how difficult that task can be, especially when you’re in a position of power and have to persuade an audience to follow your directive. Before you deliver your next big speech, think about how the staging looks (is the podium way too big and elaborate to suit your style?), where the audience will be situated (close to you versus a football field away), know if you’ll have an opportunity to meet the audience and gain any knowledge or stories that you can begin with, and—most importantly—don’t think of your delivery as “from me to them out there…” but, rather “we are all here together, and I am one of them.” Following these steps—as done so well by Pope Francis—will do you great service in tempering your fear and raising your credibility. Not to mention, you’ll be yourself and that will work wonders in making your delivery fun and not torturous.
If you’re interested in watching a few great speeches in American history, here are a few links to some of my favorites (always great to watch a few speeches before writing one to get you in the right mindset):