Are You The Beach Boys Or The Beatles?

Each year, I work with a few hundred public speakers. Many of them are good, and a few of them are very good.

But only a dozen or so are absolutely fabulous.

Those dozen trainees almost always ask me how they can continue growing as a speaker. And almost always, I ask them whether they want to be The Beach Boys or The Beatles.

The Beach Boys and The Beatles were both legendary 1960s bands. The Beach Boys had 36 U.S. Top 40 hits; The Beatles had 51. Both were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Both have left an enduring influence on future generations of musicians.

But whereas you can almost always identify a Beach Boys song within a few notes, you can’t always tell which songs belong to The Beatles. The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” sounds a lot like “I Get Around,” which sounds a lot like “Good Vibrations” and “Kokomo.”

On the other hand, The Beatles were usually more difficult to pigeonhole. “She Loves You” sounded totally different from “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and “Norwegian Wood” sounded a whole lot different than “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

It may sound like I’m judging The Beatles as better than The Beach Boys, but that’s not necessarily the case. Many bands have made terrific careers out of doing just one thing, but doing it well (see ABBA, AC/DC, and Huey Lewis and the News). Similarly, many speakers have made successful careers out of doing just one thing, but doing it exceptionally well.

You can expand your public speaking skills by using more colors on your palette

You have to decide: Do you want to be The Beach Boys by excelling at just one thing, or do you want to be The Beatles by demonstrating a wider range? Both are acceptable choices, but I’d personally opt for expanding your range. Here are three ways you can do that:

1. Write A List of Adjectives: Jot down a dozen adjectives, such as “excited,” “melancholy,” “matter-of-fact,” “bold,” and “annoyed.” Practice delivering portions of your speech using the adjectives you’ve selected, one at a time. In my experience, most of the adjectives won’t be a natural fit for you – but a few will be, and you can expand your range by injecting them at strategic moments into your speeches.

2. Slow Down or Speed Up: Most presenters tend to speak at the same pace. By changing the tempo at critical moments in your talk, you can help your audiences separate your most important points from the less important ones.  

3. Mark Your Script: If you’ve written your speech in its entirety rather than speaking from notes, underline key words you’d like to emphasize during your talk (usually a couple of words or phrases per paragraph). Practice by speaking as a radio news anchor, really exaggerating – or “punching” – the words you’d like the audience to focus on. A little goes a long way here, but your increased vocal variety will help the audience remember your key points. 

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