Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Connecting Requires Clarity


In this fourth chapter of his book, John Maxwell discusses five ways that connecting with others can be improved by applying energy before, during and even after a networking event or presentation.

In this post I discuss the second of these five ways : Connecting Requires Clarity.

In order to create clarity of thought that transmits your message faithfully to your audience, you need to know yourself, your audience, and your material.

1.  Know Yourself–Personal Preparation

In order to get the energy into your presentation which passion provides, you have to know yourself well enough to know what you are passionate about.

Being comfortable in your own identity means knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are.    One of the ways to uncover both strengths and weaknesses you may not be aware of is to watch a videotape of your own presentation.    There may be many idiosyncratic gestures, turns of phrase, etc., that you may be using without realizing it.    Once you watch yourself, you can list these and see what distracting things you do or say so that you can work on eliminating them.

When I started at Toastmasters, I came to realize that I was using a little of hand gestures that were essentially meaningless, but conveyed a sense of nervousness to the audience.    This was because, in a sense, they were nervous, or at least they were an embodiment of nervous energy which took the form of moving my hands about.   I asked evaluators to specifically watch out for this, and I made a conscious effort to stop moving my hands.    In one speech, the evaluator says, “your speech was okay, but you looked so stiff with your hands held motionless at your side.”   At first, I thought, “oh, for God’s sake, make up your mind!    First I’m moving them too much and now I’m moving them too little!”   But then I recovered my annoyance, and realized, hey, the only reason why I’m moving my hands too little is because my efforts at becoming conscious aware of my habit and then controlling it were successful.    Maybe a little bit too successful, but at least going in the other direction is going to be easier.    And it was!    In future speeches, I would listen to my speech and then think of gestures that would naturally punctuate several points I made during the speech.   I would write them in the speech script like stage directions in parentheses and italics (like this) and then I would perform my speech a couple of times until they became natural.    Each gesture corresponded with a specific point I was making, and now I was getting comments about how natural my hand gestures were.    But I knew better:   I prepared to the point of having it look natural.

2.  Know your Audience–People Preparation

If you are in a Toastmasters club, the speeches the other people give will serve as clues to what interests they hold.   So you know if you are doing a speech, that mentioning their interest in the course of your speech will automatically draw them to what you are saying.

If you are facing an audience of people you do not know, then the purpose of the meeting, or the association which is hosting your talk, will give you the clues you need to be able to tailor your remarks towards the interests that your audience will most likely have.

John Maxwell uses the following checklist to think about what the audience will want and expect out of your speech:

  • Who are your audience members?
  • What do they care about?
  • Where do they come from?
  • When did they decide to attend?
  • Why are they here?
  • What do I have that I can offer them?
  • How do they want to feel when we conclude?

One thing to remember is that, for ANY audience, there are four communication styles that people fall into, namely

  • Ideas (connecting the speech to what they think)
  • Action (connecting the speech to what they do)
  • People (connecting the speech to what they feel)
  • Process (connecting the speech to itself through structure)

These are preferences, and I know that “ideas” and “process” are my strong points, and “people” and “action” are my relative weak points.    Although I would prefer to communicate with just the first two styles, I always try to incorporate the other two styles into my speech, so that everyone in the audience gets something out of it.

3.  Know Your Subject Matter–Professional Preparation

Yes, you must know your subject matter, and that seems like a given.   But you must present it to the audience at the level at which they are prepared for.    When I started giving speeches out of the “Speaking to Inform” manual, my goal was to try to give speeches on complex topics, like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Integral Theory, or a number of other abstract topics.    A Distinguished Toastmaster in our club watched my presentation, and people thought I was intelligent, but they didn’t have a lot of takeaways from my speeches.    I was disappointed that they weren’t getting something out of my efforts.

And then, in a humorous way, the DTM said, “people are thirsty for the knowledge you are bringing, but they want a refreshing drink from a garden hose.   You, on the other hand, have decided to turn on … the FIRE HOSE!   And here they are, sputtering with all of this highly pressurized information coming at them in full force, and they are trying to hold on to their seats before they get loose their grip and they get blasted against the back wall of the room!”

He had seen me do speeches from the other manual I was working on, “Entertaining Speeches”.   In the speeches from that manual, if I said a funny line, people would laugh, and I would instinctively WAIT until the laughter had died down, and then I would make my next point.    Why not use the same attentiveness to the audience in my informational speeches?    Make pauses there, too, to allow the audience some time to digest what it is you are saying.  And always make sure you tell people by the end of the speech 2 or 3 key points they can take away from the presentation.    Give them a souvenir of your speech!

These three methods of preparation are very important, and are key to getting clarity to your message, meaning that what you meant to say is exactly what they end up hearing.

The next post is about the third way of connecting with energy:   Connecting Requires Patience … so Slow Down!

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