Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: 5 Ways of Connecting to a Live Audience

John Maxwell’s fifth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect is devoted to the principle that “Connecting is More Skill than Natural Talent.”    One of the surprises in the chapter is that he has friends of his describe his ability to connect to a live audience.    In this piece by Charlie Wetzel, called “The Art of Connecting,” he shares 5 ways in which John Maxwell has learned how to connect well to a live audience.

1.   Possess Great Confidence

You know the saying, “lead, follow, or get out of the way”?    One of the people you should get out of the way of is yourself, or that is, the negative voice in yourself which says “I can’t”.   If you listen to this voice and give in to it, it is not a triumph of the will, but a triumph of the won’t.   Your ego likes to have boundaries, and it likes to create categories such as “things I am capable of” and “things I am not capable of.”   You need to stop drawing those boundaries, go into the presentation with a positive attitude, and then, suddenly, when it is over, you may have found that you enlarged the boundary without even trying.

If you have personal issues related to past failures, then make sure you use them as a springboard or a launching pad, and not as a prison cell.    You do this by listing lessons learned, and, with a sense of humor, being able to laugh at your mistakes.   I now have a humorous speech I am preparing in Toastmasters where I in essence make fun of what I used to do in my first speeches.    Why?   Well, I sure am not going to make fun of somebody else who is just starting, because I don’t want to hurt their confidence.    But with a little bit of time and distance from the event, you can develop enough perspective to laugh about it.   Another way of getting confidence is to prepare well, and even have checklist of all the preparations needed to be done so that you don’t have part of your mind thinking, “did I forget to do such-and-such?”

And if something unexpected DOES happen, deal with it the best you can, because if you have the audience in the first minute of your speech, most of them will be on your side and will forgive you for a mistake you make or if something happens that you didn’t plan for.

2.  Exhibit Authenticity

Groucho Marx once said, “Hollywood is all about sincerity–if you can fake that, then you’ve got it made there.”   That may be fine for Hollywood, but in the world of presentations, you cannot fake sincerity, or at least not consistently or for very long.   Admitting weaknesses as well as strengths gives you enough perspective that, if someone says something flattering, you won’t let it go to your head.

One of the reasons why we practice evaluations in Toastmasters is that, no matter how good the person is who spoke, you need to give them something concrete that they can improve on.   Just telling them “oh, that was just WONDERFUL!” may massage their ego, but it doesn’t help them improve their message.

3.  Prepare Thoroughly

When you start writing speeches, you may write a script, but then you go from a script to an outline, where each point of the outline represents a certain communication unit:   an idea, a quote, a story, a statistic.    One way to give good output in a speech is to always have good input from various sources like books, magazines, and articles from the Internet.    One tip that John Maxwell uses is that he does his outline with a four-color pen to differentiate the body of the story from the illustrations or examples of it.

Besides working on the presentation at hand, a person should start carrying around a notebook to jot down ideas that come while the mind is wandering in what is commonly called a “daydream”.    These can be the seeds of future presentations, or they may, on the spot, give you the idea for a presentation right then and there.   Always be incubating your next speech!

4.  Utilize Humor

You need to find your style, which for me always involves leavening whatever message I have to give with a little humor, even if it is supposedly a serious topic.    Serious people, according to John Cleese of Monty Python fame, are able to look at a problem seriously but yet have enough perspective with relationship to the problem that they can always see it from a humorous light.   This often gives them additional insights with which they can solve the problem.   Solemn people, who do not have a sense of humor, on the other hand, are incapable of taking a serious subject and laughing at it.   This gives them a sense of righteous indignation towards those that do, but it doesn’t help them gain any more perspective, or indeed give them any additional insight into the problem that they purport to want to solve.

5.  Focus on Others

You are not there to say the message in order to get the audience to focus on the MESSENGER, you are there to say the message in order to get the audience to pay attention to the MESSAGE.    I have a saying that goes, “there are three stages to being a Toastmaster:   the first is when you find it difficult to get on stage, the second is when you find difficult to get off stage, and the third is when you know when it is time to get on and to get off stage.”

The first stage is when you have fear of public speaking, and this diminishes, but never truly goes away.    When people notice how well you are starting to speak, there is a tendency to let it get to your head and think it is all about you, when it isn’t.    That is the second stage when you like being up there on stage because of all the attention you are getting.   But it is still feeding the ego, and so you need to get to the point where you realize that you are unique, and you have been sent here on a mission to give your message about what you care about to the world, starting with the audience sitting right in front of you.   You get on stage to give the message, but once you have given it, you can relinquish the stage because you have done what you came to do.    You can rest assured that you did your best, and you can leave the stage–and your performance, to rest.

Now there are other ways of connecting rather than to a live audience, namely, to people on a one-on-one basis and through the written word.   The next post gives some advice on that subject from John Maxwell.



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