In last week’s blog, I introduced my list of Seven Practices of Highly Effective Speakers. Judging by the responses, the post was well-received. So much so, in fact, that I decided to expand it by going into more detail about each item on the list, one blog post at a time. Herewith, Practice #1:
1. They put the needs of their audiences before their own. They understand that the most important part of any presentation, to quote Darren LaCroix, is what is happening in the mind of the listener. Highly effective speakers know that it’s not about them or their information – it’s about what difference they are there to make to the audience.
I recently met a university student named Rodrigo. He told me that back home in Brazil, he often spoke in public about the challenges he had faced and overcome. While he believed his speeches were well-received, he struggled with overcoming nervousness every time he spoke. “I thought it would get easier as I kept doing it,” he said, “but still I get very nervous. Do you have any advice for me?”
Usually, my first advice for any nervous speaker is to practice, practice, practice – preferably in front of an audience such as a Toastmasters club. Rodrigo appeared to be doing that, but still his nerves were getting to him. So I moved to the next suggestion. I said, “Try looking at your speech from the audience’s point of view. Instead of thinking of it as a performance you have to put on, think about what the audience needs from you most. How will your message make a difference to them?”
You see, my impression of Rodrigo was that he was a young man concerned about making a good impression. By my estimation, he was putting his need to look good on the platform ahead of his listeners’ needs. I think he was also putting himself and his personal victories up on a pedestal, rather than making them relatable to his audience. That’s why I thought his next step should be to learn to focus on the audience.
How does one do that? Here are three specific techniques.
1. Focus on your specific purpose. Your specific purpose is the answer to the question, “What do I want my listeners to think, do, or feel differently when I am done?” Every time you prepare a speech, you should keep this question in mind. Once you know the answer, it becomes the yardstick by which you measure every sentence, every paragraph: does this advance my specific purpose? If you don’t know what difference you are there to make in your listeners’ lives, you are not yet ready to speak – no matter how polished you think you might be.
2. Give your audience steps they can follow. This will force you to make the speech about something more than your stories and successes. In the words of World Champion Speaker Craig Valentine, “Put the process, not the person, on the pedestal.” If you build yourself up too much, the audience won’t be able to relate to you. They are likely to think, “Sure, that worked for him – but that’s because he’s special.” You have to show that the results you have obtained can be theirs as well, if they follow the path you have laid out for them.
3. Strive for connection, not perfection. Of course you want to look good on the platform – who doesn’t? Highly effective speakers know, however, that doing good is more important than looking good. The good they do is to improve their audience’s condition, not to impress them with their polished delivery skills. Everything you do on the platform – your eye contact, voice, body language, use of the stage, even the stories you tell – should be aimed at removing barriers between you and the audience and inviting them into your stories so you make an emotional connection. That’s where you make a difference. Striving for perfection will keep you locked inside your own self-critical mind, and the chance for connection will be lost. So let yourself go a little bit; let them see that you are human, and not Speaker Man (or Woman).
I have a feeling that if Rodrigo were to work on these techniques, he would find himself warming up to his audiences more and becoming less nervous. And the same goes for you. Won’t you leave a comment about how you have used these techniques? When have you felt particularly well connected with an audience?
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