Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Enthusiasm counts: Do you want to, or have to, give that speech?

When I created my popular checklist for the whole speaker a few years ago, I started the list with questions about your intentions as a speaker, mainly to help you consider whether you're approaching the talk or presentation with your audience in mind. Since then, however, I've met some speakers for whom intent isn't always part of the picture.

I'm talking about speakers who don't want to give the speeches they're about to give, or feel compelled to do so--whether the compelling factor is pride, someone else's last-minute absence, or some other factor. In a few cases, I've had speakers tell me, "I didn't want to give this talk, and once it's over, I'm never going to give it again!" And in one of my recent workshops, a participant confessed she would rather "stick pins in my eyes" than speak in public.

To which I can only say, "Then why did you say 'yes' when they asked you?"

Or perhaps you "have to" do the talk for work. It's an assignment you don't relish. One of my coaching clients started a session recently by telling me, "I just have to get up and present this data. I don't have to be persuasive or anything." So I pushed back: "Don't you need this audience to do something once you've shared the data? Don't you need them to change their approach based on your findings? Doesn't your initiative need them?" And of course, the answer was yes in all three cases.

I'm a big believer in considering your intentions and motivations as a speaker.  When I ask, "Why did you say 'yes' to this invitation?" and you say, "Well, clearly, I had to say yes. It's an honor just to be asked," I usually push back and say, "No, really. Save that for the organizer. What's your motivation in coming here?" Many times the speaker doesn't know. Without that groundwork done ahead of time, the speech is often less than successful.

That's in part because audiences can almost smell a lack of enthusiasm in a speaker. Go ahead and try to dial it in or do a pro forma speech without attention to delivery or putting meaning and emphasis into the words. Or give a TED talk because you think you should give a TED talk, and for no other reason. You'll lose most audiences with that approach. If you're not convinced you should be there, and your intentions don't involve the audience, you won't be convincing. We need to understand not just why your topic is important, but why it is important to you. That "why"--your "why"--is often the missing ingredient in underwhelming talks. The speaker who gets excited, who thinks "I get to do this" versus "I have to do this" is the one who usually gets invited back.

The power of conveying enthusiasm and passion for your topic isn't just instinctive on my part. The one simple thing that can make you more impressive describes one professor's effort to measure his own lectures. He worked to make them identical in every way from one year to the next, varying only his gestures and vocalizing to indicate more enthusiasm in a particular year. Then he measured the results, using independent observers and comparing student ratings.

Guess what? In the year in which he made it clear that he was enthusiastic, via his presenting style, "He was seen as more knowledgeable, more tolerant, more accessible, more organized....Students said they learned more. They felt the grading was fairer. They even said the textbook was better." Trainers and teachers of the world, heads up!

Today, when I'm coaching a speaker, I ask about intent and motivation to help you make that connection--and to motivate you later, when the training gets tough. That's when I'll be reminding you what the speech can do for your business, your agenda, your policy or your image. It's also a good yardstick to use when you assess whether the speech did what you intended. What's your intention for your next speech? Can you get enthused about it?

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