Listening. It’s something we’re slow to do in a culture that’s eager to speak. But when we encounter an exceptional communicator, the act of listening is effortless. Time stops in its tracks as the speaker draws us into their desired state of reality.
Influential, spellbinding, persuasive: Aren’t these the effects we all dream of having on an audience? It’s no secret that we want a captive audience, especially as leaders. We have visions for changing the world, TED Talks we’re delivering, growth stages we desire for our company and those of our clients. But we have to start by asking ourselves why we want the spotlight.
Every skilled public speaker’s secret weapon
The secret weapon of the best public speakers is hard to guess at because it has little to do with speaking. It has everything to do with something considered far more passive—listening.
Helping others is what the best public speakers do through listening. They spend time with people and understand how to help them. Their secret weapon is humility and generosity. They aren’t on a stage to elevate themselves to a place of importance above others, but to share an insight that’s helped them in their journey, or simply to be human, relatable, even imperfect.
The new idea economy
It used to be that public speakers had elite social status or some other qualification that made them more important than everyone else, but increasingly, with the TED Talk format of information sharing, career prestige matters less and content matters more. It isn’t just who you are that gets you on stage necessarily: it’s the value of your ideas.
Here’s what I mean. When you listen to your audience, the messaging is more impactful. You’ll know the way they talk. Things that excite them. Things that bore them and everything in between. For that five minutes or hour you’re on stage; you’re channeling the audience’s mindset. You know what they’re thinking next. Because ultimately, you’re not up there to entertain or even reframe information, you’re there to connect, to inspire insights, to spark a conversation that they’ll leave the room with long after your talk has ended. Your job is to make the audience shift their focus from you, to your message and ultimately apply what they have learned in their own life.
Solve a problem for your listeners
Every public speaker needs to practice better listening skills, and they can do it in a number of ways. Many content creators share a free giveaway at the end of their talk that isn’t merely a marketing brochure for their brand, but a gift of value to an audience—something that helps them solve a problem they’re experiencing.
Others will give away something less material, but equally valuable, in the form of a personal story or anecdote that reveals a lot of authenticity and risk. Vulnerability, especially among leaders, counts for more than people realize.
Be the guide, not the hero
Author Donald Miller has a brilliant framework for building influence with your brand.Storybrand is a resource created for businesses desiring to clarify their messaging and amplify their voice to desired customers. “The hero’s journey” is a narrative outline he uses for storytelling
that’s employed in every plotline from Homer’s Odyssey to Star Wars. Miller suggests that leaders, and even businesses and brands,
should avoid taking center stage in the journey of helping people move toward their ideal selves. Instead of being the hero who swoops in with all
of the answers, leaders should strive to be the guide in the shadows, helping clients or businesses realize their inbuilt potential, instead of taking
credit for it.
In the same way, as leaders, we must examine the way in which we address any large gathering of people, and evaluate our effectiveness. Does what we’re saying having a true impact on people, or are we just another person who’s drinking their own kool aid?What is the response to our presentations? Are audience members nodding, enthusiastic, engaging, or is the crowd indifferent?
How the audience reacts may be a signal to do some research on your audience and engage on a deeper level. Spend some time getting to know the people in the room before you take the stage. While it’s tempting to over-prepare what you already know or keep yourself reserved to the podium, your accessibility and presence in the room counts for a lot, and just might give you the key to unlocking greater impact in your presentation.
To your excellence in speaking with maximum impact,