When Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress this month, he faced a daunting test. He was speaking in a second language to what could arguably be considered the most influential political body in the world.
It puts your public speaking challenges in perspective, doesn’t it?
Pope Francis occupies a unique place on the world stage. Nonetheless, his approach to this historic address offers lessons for all public speakers. He didn’t captivate his audience through theatrical delivery or multimedia elements. He did it by employing timeless public speaking principles you can emulate.
Here are five lessons you can learn from him:
- Focus on your audience. Contrary to what many speakers believe, your speech is not about you. It’s about your audience. This simple realization can help calm your nerves by taking the focus off you and onto your listeners. Who are they? What are their values and challenges? How can you serve them? Famous for his humility, Pope Francis had clearly considered these questions. He accomplished his objectives in a way that expressed respect and concern for his listeners.
- Ground your speech in the here and now. No matter what your topic, it’s wise to highlight something timely or physically observable in the opening third of your remarks. Why? Because your audience is made of up busy, distracted people whose minds wander. By bringing their attention to the present, you’ll help them focus so they can hear what you have to say. Pope Francis did this gently near the beginning of his remarks by mentioning the image of Moses that looked down from the chamber walls. The reference was brief, but it caused his listeners to consider their immediate surroundings and the moment at hand.
- Incorporate examples that resonate with your audience. Pope Francis organized his speech around the lives of four great Americans. All were symbolically and personally meaningful to his listeners. Some in the audience had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, while others were proud to belong to “the party of Lincoln.”
- Align your delivery to your message. Powerful, authentic communicators match their behavior to their message. Pope Francis was asking his audience to consider how the global community should respond to the most pressing issues of our day. His quiet, thoughtful tone suited his message. A high-octane delivery would only have interrupted the introspection he wanted to prompt in his listeners.
- Extend your impact: Remember that the remarks you give on stage are only part of your message, and actions speak louder than words. Pope Francis followed his remarks to Congress by visiting the homeless, which directly tied to the themes of his speech. Your message will likely be different, but are you visibly behaving in a way that aligns with your remarks? Your audience will be watching.
Those are five public speaking lessons you can learn from Pope Francis. What speakers do you admire, and what have you learned from them?