I always love it when I hear a really elegant speaker. Barack Obama is elegant. Sean Connery is elegant. My first grade teacher, Miss Banta was elegant. I was mesmerized in her class when she always told us “extra” things in her lessons. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I can still remember the things she said and the way she used to float like a butterfly.
Elegance means not only a pleasing voice, but interesting, compelling, memorable content in what you say. People who sprinkle their speech with interesting stories, anecdotes, and novel tidbits of information always make us perk up and pay attention. These people are elegant communicators. The good news is, this is not a talent. It is skill, and it can be learned. This skill can be applied to public speaking or every day communication.
Elegance in communication is like Dress for Success only it goes deeper than the clothes. Elegant communication involves every part of your being: your actions, your speech, your nonverbal communication, your choice of words, and your character. Elegant communication involves your mannerisms, your manner of speaking and basically, your manners – to yourself and others – at all times, especially in a crisis. Elegance involves having grace under pressure.
Both men and women can be elegant communicators. John F. Kennedy was an elegant communicator, so was Abraham Lincoln, especially in his debates with Douglass — when as an unknown, he won the nation’s heart. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu-Kyi of Burma was one of the most elegant communicators of all times. In a violent pro-democracy protest, she could silence a crowd using only her eyes and immense dignity. And Nelson Mandela’s elegance and grace under extreme pressure and hardship helped change the world in the 20th century.
Many of the most elegant communicators of all times were not born with their skills, but worked very hard to acquire them. Grace Kelly was so ashamed of her harsh Philadelphia accent that she asked her father at 18 for a tape recorder and worked hours listening to her voice and correcting inflections with great discipline. Later, as a successful actress and Princess in Monaco, this discipline and determination made a monumental difference in her communication to the people of the Monaco, Europe, the world and helped her serve as an elegant ambassador of the American culture and people.
The ancient Greek orator Demosthenes was the classic example of someone who worked very hard to become an elegant communicator. He was born with a serious speech impediment, and people jeered at his stammering in his first public assembly. To learn to speak distinctly, he talked with pebbles in his mouth and recited verses while running uphill. (Not only did it force him to improve his speaking abilities, but also it got him in great physical shape (another aspect of being elegant.) To strengthen his voice, he spoke on the seashore over the roar of the waves. His discipline and determination helped him become one of the greatest orators of Ancient Greece.
You can learn the skills you need to become an elegant communicator. I call them the 12 Steps to Being an Elegant Communicator — guidelines you can follow that can change your life.
The 12 Ingredients of Elegant Communication(TM)
1. Honesty: Practice rigorous honesty in everything you do, all your transactions, all relationships
2. Confidence: Develop confidence, and exude it, without arrogance, help others to be confident.
3. Flexibility: Adjust and adapt quickly to unexpected changes. Life is “Plan B” – be adaptable to changes.
4. Passion: Exude passion in everything you do. Feel passion. Do things you are passionate about, do them often!
5. Practice: Practice hard, for long periods of time until you are tired, and practice often.
6. Praise: Be enormously encouraging to yourself and to others. Give Praise showers.
7. Play: Yes, play. If you want to be elegant, learn how to play. Play creates balance in our lives and allows us to be more creative and productive when we work.
8. Posture: When you have good posture, your performance improves. Don’t let yourself be lazy. Posture yourself as a person with good character and UNRELENTINGLY stay there, matter what the circumstance!
9. Physical fitness: Strive to be fit, it gives you confidence and keeps you at your best.
10. Be Interesting: Learn, have a varied life, read, go to workshops, study, have hobbies, have adventures!
11. Be interested: Have and show interest in others, ask questions often. Ask questions always!
12. Discipline: Be highly disciplined, find ways to bring discipline into your life. Have focus and use discipline to keep your focus. Have Goals, every day, every month, every year!