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A new year’s resolution for Public Speakers

by Daniel Kingsley
Rope bridge

Only connect…”

…………………………….– E.M. Forster, Howards End

 

I asked myself this New Year what resolution I would like to make in relation to my public speaking and would recommend to others, and E.M. Forster’s enigmatic quote came to mind. I want to suggest that if we do only one thing really well this year when we speak to others it should be to make the connection the most important thing.

If we think about the communicators we most like to listen to, whether they be singers, comedians or public speakers, I’m guessing the ones we most enjoy are the ones who we feel some connection to, who have let us into their world.

It’s all too easy when we are standing up in front to believe that we have to get our delivery of the content exactly right and to let ourselves get carried away with telling people what we think they want or need to hear, or even worse what we want to tell them. On a bad day, I’ve certainly done this myself. And I’m suggesting that this is to miss the point. People want a connection with you the speaker, and if they feel it then they will be interested to hear what you have to say.

I’m not suggesting that we should ignore creating great content, or that connection is the only thing, but time and again I’ve noticed I can be captivated by someone saying very little provided I can feel who they are and where they are coming from, and even better if it seems that they are interested in me. And then if the content is great too, I’m in heaven.

I’ve noticed for myself that things change radically for the better when I remember to make the connection the most important thing. I come alive and so does my connection with the audience. I find myself ad-libbing creative things I hadn’t planned, and saying things I didn’t know I knew. The whole experience becomes fresh, unknown and exciting.

 

OK, So what does this really mean?

So, if you’re with me so far, you may be wondering how I suggest we make the connection the most important thing. I’ve written previously about eye contact, and a certain sort of eye contact which puts people at their ease and makes them feel receptive – and that’s certainly a good start, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s about seeing and being seen.

When you are making eye contact with someone is there a real human to human connection? Are you letting in the reality that there is another person in front of you? Are you noticing how they are listening to you? In other words, is there a real channel of communication open so that they can “speak” to you nonverbally even as you are speaking to them?

Even more radically, when you are speaking to an audience, to what extent are you letting them see something of who you really are? Your feelings, your passion, your playfulness, and dare I say it – even your vulnerability. I’m not suggesting that you stand up in front of an audience and tell them that you’re distraught because you’ve just had an argument with your partner, but simply that you drop the mask of performance and let them see at least some of the real you. How much it’s appropriate to show will depend on who you’re speaking to and what feels appropriate on the day – but if you are really listening to the audience, I think you’ll know.

In this world of Facebook, email and spin, I’m making a pitch for real human connection. It’s what I want to receive when someone is speaking to me and it’s what I want to be offering when I’m the one up front.

So that’s my resolution in relation to all my communication this year. If you decide to take up the same challenge let me know what difference it makes. Wishing us all a connected year.

Daniel

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