In this fifth chapter of the book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell discusses the fifth principle of connecting, namely, that connecting is more a matter of skill than natural talent.
People who draw others to them are called charismatic, and people like to listen to them. Charisma is something that many people associate with a personality trait, or personal chemistry, or something that a person is born with. Well, John Maxwell has good news for the rest of us: it is not an innate talent, but a way of looking, talking, and acting which influences others and causes them to listen to you.
This post covers some of the factors that make people want to listen to you.
1. Relationships–Who You Know
One way to gain credibility with the audience is to associate your statements with a) somebody who already has credibility with the audience, or b) somebody whom the audience knows and likes.
In the first case, I am talking about using quotations from famous people, especially those people who are in the same field as your audience members. If I am talking to some Toastmasters in District 30, I can say “Pres Vasilev once said such-and-such” and I will have everybody’s attention, because he is the Toastmaster from the Chicagoland area who won the World Champion of Public Speaking, so everybody in District 30 recognizes his name. If I were going to some other group, I probably wouldn’t mention him because he may not be known outside those Toastmasters circles.
In the second case, I am talking about relating the subject matter to the audience’s own experience, because that will lend credibility to your statements–they can verify it against their own experience.
2. Insight–What You Know
Benjamin Franklin was an expert in so many areas: printing and publishing, politics, the natural sciences, and diplomacy. And yet when he was assigned as a diplomat to go to France as America’s ambassador in order to ask for financial assistance to wage the Revolutionary War against Britain, although he was in his 70s, he learned how to speak French so that he could make an impact to his audience. And yet rather than dressing as elegantly as the French, he affected very simple dress, so as to make himself approachable to all people. It was a studied effect, but it worked: he was the most accomplished American of his age, but he was also the most beloved American next to George Washington.
He always was learning new things: on his way by boat to France on the diplomatic mission, he leisurely wondered about the reason why the climate east of the Atlantic ocean was so much milder than the climate at the same latitude west of the Atlantic ocean. But being a scientist, this idle curiosity soon took the form of experimental measurements, as he lowered thermometers in jars to various depths of the water, and thus he discovered the deep-ocean current known as the Gulf Stream, whose northward flowing waters were warmer than the surrounding ocean.
So if you want to relate to others in various fields, be interested in what is happening in those fields. Even if you are not an expert in a given area, it will be a compliment to the audience in that field if you show in your presentation how fascinating the subject can be.
3. Success–What You Have Done
One of the reasons why I recommend Toastmasters to those who are looking for a new job is that it doesn’t seem at first that it is related to a new job. But being able to excel at impromptu speeches will make your interviews go more smoothly. And if you start having successes in your speeches, to the point that you have a Competent Communicator Award, or in your supporting roles in the meetings, to the point that you have a Competent Leadership Award, those are marks of success that you can take to ANY employer and have them be impressed.
And frankly, if they aren’t impressed, then … (he whispers) go find another employer, because if your employer doesn’t value public speaking and leaderships skills very highly, then it will not be a productive place to further YOUR career.
So elude to your successes, not in a bragging way that points to your own ego, but in a way that lends confidence to your audience. “I’ve been there, and I have experience in this area, so it is worth your while to listen to what I have to say.”
4. Ability–What You Can Do
If you get up in front of others and prepare well, it’s amazing how easy it will appear to the audience, although you know that it indeed took a lot of work. And when talented people do things that SEEM to come effortless, it is interesting to watch. This is where WHAT you say is not so important as your ability HOW to say it. I’ve been a MC at a celebration of a wedding anniversary where I had to speak both Japanese and English, and it was something I had never done before, so I practiced the HELL out of my presentation. When I got the applause from the audience, I had people come up and they didn’t say that I did well, they said they were very moved by what I had said (in both languages). At one point, there was a delay and I had to “stretch” the presentation out five minutes. But I had prepared extra material for just that occasion, and I came up with stories about how the couple met, and the woman who organized the event was so grateful to me afterwards. She said, “when we had to stall, I was hoping that you wouldn’t run out of material, but I was so glad you remembered those stories I told you.” I told her I had prepared them just in case everything DIDN’T go like clockwork.
The biggest compliment I got was from people who said, “how do you know the couple?” I had to confess I didn’t, but I told the stories as IF I did. It took preparation, and the confidence I got from my earlier Toastmasters experience, but later on this year when I apply for a Toastmasters club that trains people to be professional speakers, I can say that I had at least one professional experience so far. And how I was picked by the woman whose parents she was giving the party for was that I was in her Toastmasters club, and she knew I was a good speaker, AND the only one she knew who was fluent in Japanese (I lived there for five years), so my abilities up to that point GOT me that opportunity. One success will lead you to furthering your ability, which will lead to further success, and so on, and so on …
5. Sacrifice–How You Have Lived
For a half hour a day in the morning, I practice five languages with a language app called Duolingo. For another half hour I practice with a brain training app called Lumosity. For an hour every day in the evening, I write an article like the one you are reading in my blog. That makes 2 hours of every day I sacrifice to activities that increase my brain power, that help me communicate in foreign languages, and that further my professional development.
But the dividends these sacrifices give me are what keep me continuing to sacrifice my time to them. With Lumosity, I have gone from having a brain performance index of 950 or so to something a little more than 1300, which gives me a BPI at the 98.5% percentile for someone my age. My Duolingo app has me increasing my confidence in five foreign languages, and helps me prepare for certification testing in them. And this blog has reached 200,000 readers in the past two years! So they are all have tangible benefits that increase my ability to communicate with people all over the world (this blog has been read by people in over 180 countries). For that reason, I sacrifice my time willingly.
Let people know what it is you sacrifice your time for, because that will give them an idea of what it is you are passionate about. Either they will share that passion, or who knows, they make pick up that passion from you!
In the next section of the chapter, John Maxwell repeats a trick he did in an earlier chapter and he has someone else describe John Maxwell’s ability to communicate, which should encourage you that you can do the same thing. Because as John Maxwell will tell you (in many stories from his books) he wasn’t this way from the very beginning. And if he could learn how to do it, you can too!
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