Despite her 26 point drop in approval ratings, Angela Merkel has been named as Time Magazine‘s person of the year for 2015. She may be the world’s most powerful woman, but… let’s just say that ‘traditional charisma’ isn’t really her thing. She’s SO cautious she has the exact same jacket in at least sixty different shades and wears the same outfit (one of jackets with dark slacks) every day. Her rise to power as a woman, a chemist and a Lutheran in a party dominated by Catholics was extremely improbable and makes her story fascinating, even if most think her public speaking isn’t.
A summer afternoon at the Reichstag. Soft Berlin light filters down through the great glass dome, past tourists ascending the spiral ramp, and into the main hall of parliament. Half the members’ seats are empty. At the lectern, a short, slightly hunched figure in a fuchsia jacket, black slacks, and a helmet of no-color hair is reading a speech from a binder. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and the world’s most powerful woman, is making every effort not to be interesting.
Her delivery is toneless, as if she were trying to induce her audience into shifting its attention elsewhere. For years, public speaking was visibly painful to Merkel, her hands a particular source of trouble; eventually, she learned to bring her fingertips together in a diamond shape over her stomach.
Excerpt from The New Yorker “The Quiet German -The astonishing rise of Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world.” Some would say her public speaking style is as inspiring as watching paint dry. It seem the less star quality this 61-year-old exhibits, it seems, the more popular she becomes. And about that diamond shape over her stomach… that’s Merkel’s trademark gesture, one so well known that it has inspired Internet memes and emoticons, has its own name (“Merkel-Raute“) and has even been depicted on a giant billboard.
How does she do it? Usually these days (especially in the UK and US), no politician would get far, if they were private, dutiful and a mediocre speaker. These days we all want candidates to project some serious energy – we want the ‘WOW’ factor. We want slick talkers and a cirque de soleil style performance. Credible policies are desirable. But what we really want from someone in charge running is that they have “charisma”.
What public speakers can learn from Angela Merkel
Many have a perception of charisma equaling “Something I’m not”, but that’s usually because you have a fixed idea of what charisma is. Surely charisma looks super confident, powerful, slick and funny, with a dazzling smile. Right? Public speaking charisma doesn’t mean being ‘in your face’ if that’s not your style. Your brand of public speaking charisma might look enigmatic, intellectual, sophisticated, enthusiastic, weird, sensual or something entirely different. Find your flavour. The German Chancellor did. Even if it came with triangle-like finger pointing, she has developed her own brand of personal power as a speaker. Not flashy or wild, just the truth as she sees it. Some see it as a breath of fresh air, especially with the political climate being so super-charged with overzealous idiocy.
Authentic leaders are originals, not copies. They hold their values & views to be true not because they are socially or politically acceptable, but because they have gone through a process of self-reflection and have proven their convictions to themselves.
Inspiring Speakers are also not carbon copies of what’s worked for another speaker. In developing yourself as a speaker, ask yourself what you truly believe in and why. If what you believe in doesn’t fit in with what others believe, it doesn’t matter. Find your strength of conviction that would stand up to even the toughest of criticism, or the strongest amount of ridicule. Angela Merkel has shown that it’s not about anyone else’s “wow” factor, it’s about finding your own. She lets her words stand on their own without any drama. As Angela Merkel has shown us, authentic leadership is an essential mindset for any inspiring speaker. It’s a challenge to find your true convictions, but once you have dug deep, authentic leadership and authentic communication bring big rewards.
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