“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else.”
– Judy Garland

I think I speak for most adults when I say that I wish for Bill Clinton’s charisma, Barack Obama’s oratory skills, and Oprah Winfrey’s ability to connect with others. Who wouldn’t want to have those qualities? It’s fine to have an aspirational figure in mind as you assess your own communication skills, but it is unwise to copy the traits of your role model.

The biggest mistake we can make as public speakers is to step to the stage wearing another’s persona.

I remember being on the speaking circuit several years ago with a colleague who had the knack of telling a particular joke and always getting a great response from the audience. I saw with my own eyes how the audience settled in and was eager to hear more from him. So one day I tried telling the joke. The result? Crickets. Deafening silence. To my credit, I rebounded in the moment by saying, “Note to self: delete the ‘dog-eat-dog’ joke,” and everyone laughed. It was a valuable lesson. I had no business telling that joke. It didn’t fit my style, I wasn’t being authentic, therefore, I wasn’t funny.

Instead of saying to yourself, “I want to be more like [insert name here],” try to re-phrase it to be more helpful to your preparation. For example, you might consider the particular aspects of your role model’s strengths that can be adapted to your own unique way of relating to others. That way you stand a chance of building your skill set rather than ruining your next presentation.

Be yourself – with the added umph of solid speaking skills – and you will knock ‘em dead.

– Barbara