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People who do what I do for a living often have shorthand expressions when people stand up and speak. Just like a baseball coach might say a batter is “too aggressive” because they swing at lots of bad pitches, there is a way of slotting people into a speaker category. If I do this, I’m careful not to jump to quick conclusions or have my shorthand term get in the way of our work together. At the same time, a quick slogan can help someone understand how they come across to their audience.

So, let’s say I pronounce someone to be “too stiff.” Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But it also gets right to the point – most anyone will understand immediately the challenge they are facing. The overly formal speaker doesn’t build any rapport with the audience, seldom smiles and can often speak over their heads in a presentation.

What if I say someone is “too folksy?” While it’s not quite as clear, I think people still get the picture pretty quickly. Someone who gets that message is probably so informal they are hurting their credibility. A “folksy” speaker assumes too familiar a tone with the audience – maybe uses humor a bit too freely or often goes on about personal topics. Get the picture?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just meld these two examples in some magical way? You’d find the perfect balance! Here are some tips on how to work with each type of speaker and how to even use their styles to mix up what the audience sees over an entire program.

Too stiff? The quickest way to get a stiff speaker to understand their personal style is to use a camera. We think in our heads we are one way, then realize the audience sees something else when we see the playback. Also, try to have them break up all the facts and stats they love with a story. Finally, get them to use less formal language. It’s rare a speaker is given permission to use slang or casual language, but the stiff speaker can benefit from it.

Too folksy? Structure often rapidly helps the folksy speaker. They wander around because they aren’t following a roadmap. An outline, some clear slides and a time limit will bring this speaker into line while still letting some of their personality shine through. Practice also gets them to focus on their key messages, which will reign in their tendency to get lost in their own world.

Put them back-to-back! Can’t break some of your speaker’s bad habits or don’t have the luxury of time to make some progress? How about putting them right after one another? If you can influence the schedule at the program or event where they are speaking, offer some variety to the audience by putting them back-to-back and know you’ve done your best to play to the speaker’s styles.

What category do you fit in? Neither? Let me know what future styles I should address, and I look forward to offering my best quick take on how to make anyone better.

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: