RuPaul’s (Not So) Secret Rules of Communication
When most executives hear the name RuPaul, they likely think of a flamboyant, gorgeous, successful drag queen who’s also a mogul and an inspiration. But behind his iconic status lies a breathtaking realization: RuPaul — full name RuPaul Charles — is an exceptional communicator.
In the 15 (and counting) seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its seemingly endless spinoffs and viral clips, Ru delivers a message about how to succeed in drag that’s actually a phenomenal framework for any communicator — regardless of what kind of executive or leader you are.
I call it The RuRules (see what I did there), and it’s an extremely powerful way for professionals to create and deliver presentations that consistently stand out from the crowd. Let’s take a closer look at how you can benefit from them in the business sphere:
Today, we think of charisma as the compelling charm that inspires followers, and most people believe you either have it or you don’t. But according to Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, it’s not just a quality you’re born with, but rather something you can nurture. As she notes, Marilyn Monroe could turn her own charisma on and off “like flipping a switch.”
Even if you view yourself as generally uncharismatic, you’ve been able to connect and persuade. Uncover your triggers for connection and embed those moments into your speeches and pitches to maximize your own innate charisma. It’s about self-prompting to get the best out of yourself, not projecting a false image.
Being truly unique among eight billion people may seem like a tall order. An approach to consider is laid out by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in their bestseller Blue Ocean Strategy: place yourself in the blue ocean of untapped market space rather than the red ocean of an already crowded industry.
The same can be said for personal expression and professional communication.
Present yourself not just as any personnel manager, but one who, for instance, grew up in a family of refugees and has always believed empathy comes first. Or don’t be just a startup founder with a great idea — there are plenty of those — but a startup founder on a mission deeply connected to your faith.
The goal is to stand out without being a completely unknown quantity. As tech investor Geoff Lewis describes it, you need to find “the thing you’re best at in the whole world (no modesty allowed), and the thing someone will pay you to do, and exploit that intersection.” I think this is good advice as you consider your personal brand and how to maximize your uniqueness. I promise, it’s in you.
Nerve in RuPaul’s context means taking risks and fearlessly approaching challenges. Of course, when choosing the best queen on Drag Race, this characteristic is obvious, since it’s all in how you perform. But public speaking is its own kind of performance.
Everyone’s risk tolerance is slightly different, but when considering what risks you’re willing to take in professional communications, really push yourself. If the topic you’re covering is inherently lacking in challenging ideas or provocations, create them. If it’s already controversial, ensure your perspective is fresh — and bring an element of personal vulnerability and risk to the conversation.
Either way, your nerve shows the audience that you’re worth backing, listening to, and believing in. If you aren’t willing to push the envelope when you have our undivided attention, you probably aren’t going to later, either.
You have to be good at the core talent elements of your career. But to be successful professionally, you must also master communication, regardless of your job. To be the best entrepreneur, executive or teacher possible, you should know your subject inside and out and be a great communicator.
The “talent portion” of public speaking, pitching or presenting is the ability to craft a unique narrative, whittle it down to its essence, and deliver it clearly, charismatically, and on time. Too often, people new to public speaking and pitching believe that this is either genetically expressed or it’s not. In reality, anyone can develop the talent and skill necessary to be a great speaker. Of course, you may (like me) begin with a natural propensity for verbosity. But even if not, you can develop the skills and techniques to excel.
One of the most interesting things about RuPaul’s philosophy on talent is that it’s not prescriptive. That is, unlike a 1950s approach to public speaking, there’s no one right way to do it. Instead, you learn to distill and elevate your natural, unique approach to the challenge of communication, intertwining your knowledge and talent in your “other” job with delivering an impactful message. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea.
Your charisma, uniqueness, and nerve, combined with your effort to hone your talent, make you an exceptional blank canvas on which to project your persuasive and compelling narrative. By embracing your inner Ru, you’re on your way to achieving communication excellence, and snatching whatever professional crown you seek — six-inch heels and lip synching optional.