Have you ever wondered where your speaking style came from? Did you imitate another speaker or a combination of other speakers? Do you have a perception of the ideal speaker that you’re working your way towards? Speaking styles are not like fingerprints — they’re relatively easy to imitate, and more often than not, it’s done inadvertently. So how can you ensure that you speaking style is yours rather than of your mentor or a speaker that you admire? To find out, let’s take a closer look at some of the elements that make up your speaking style.
Many new speakers have a difficult time creating their own content so they summarize a talk from another speaker (usually a well known expert). This is especially common in Toastmasters as people are just trying to practice speaking. In the early part of your speaking career, it’s perfectly acceptable to do this — it provides you with an interesting topic, the original creator of the content gets to reach more people without any extra work (assuming you give him or her credit) and you gain confidence.
If you plan to make a career out of speaking (or at least make money), then you need your own unique content. It’s fine to share stories and tips from others provided you give them credit, but you need to do more than just presenting other people’s material (unless you work for them).
You can develop your own content by your own research, personal experiences and observations. So as you grow as a speaker (and as a person), you’ll have more of your own unique content to work into your talks.
Although most people aren’t blatant about this to the point where they sound like they’re impersonating another speaker, it’s common for speakers to mimic the various vocal elements of other speakers. Perhaps you try to capture the excitement of Tony Robbins, the friendly tone of Ronald Reagan or the humorous pace of Zig Ziglar.
It’s not uncommon for new speakers to unintentionally imitate the vocal variation of speakers they admire. Again, Toastmasters is a place where this is very common as people try to imitate speakers that they admire. I’ve even seen a few cases where a new member would give a speech using the same vocal elements as the experienced member that mentored them.
The way around this is to start out with what comes natural. For most people, this will be enough. If it doesn’t seem to work, then start making small subtle changes based on the feedback you receive.
It used to be that stand-up comedians would have signature lines — Rodney Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect” is a classic example of this. But now speakers, coaches and the like all have their own famous lines that they repeat over and over. I once listened to a podcast from a relatively unknown motivational speaker who kept using the line “remember, the past does not equal the future” which is a signature line from Tony Robbins (he even has merchandise with the phrase on it).
But language isn’t limited to mere catch phrases. Many speakers use particular words or groups of words to help define their style. A speaker may use large words to appear more intellectual or use profanity to appear more youthful. If the big name in your field creates a word or acronym, then you may look like a copycat if you use it. So just try to be aware of this when choosing your words.
Occasionally, a speaker with have a trademark gesture that they do (perhaps an exaggerated bow after they say something that pleases the crowd). Other speakers may look a bit silly if they try to use this gesture in their own talks as it may not fit the rest of their style (and, not to mention, they’ll look like a copy cat if the audience has seen the other speaker). So if someone does a certain gesture that you’d like to add to your speech, then try to come up with your own. Consider the actual movement, the timing of the gesture and any sound effects that you could add to the gesture to make it your own.
Is it even possible to be unique?
There are thousands of speakers out there so it would be impossible for there to be no overlap in speaking styles. What you’re trying to avoid is looking like an obvious copy of another speaker. You can be similar in many of these areas to another speaker and not look like a copy cat. Conversely, you can copy one aspect of someone else’s speaking style and get labeled an impersonator.
The key here is to, again, be yourself. Then, simply avoid taking any of the more obvious speech elements from other speakers. It’s okay to be similar, just make sure your not an imitator.