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Change Work July 2007

You can't fake it

To make an impact in communication you need more than the information. Any communication intended to influence, especially a presentation, is much more effective if it engages the emotions as well as the intellect. So, which emotion are you aiming at?

And how exactly do you stimulate it in your audience?

Part of the answer is to be in the right state, i.e. to be actually experiencing that emotion yourself as you speak (or write). People will know if you're not and will think to themselves, "Why would I go there if you don't?"

And it has to be real. It's virtually impossible to give a convincing performance of an emotional state without actually feeling it at the time.

So what's involved in doing this effectively?

I worked with a lady whose job was looking after animals. Not in a zoo exactly but the animals were exotic rather than domestic.  And she'd collected a wonderful set of 35mm slides from her travels and was starting to get requests to give illustrated talks at meetings of various local groups.

Her problem was that she had no confidence in her ability to do this.

Now, anyone who believes that they can't do public speaking, but still has to do it, will probably develop strategies for minimising their discomfort. Things like:

These are all very effective ways of avoiding any kind of emotional engagement.  You have to keep the emotion you're feeling - fear - hidden at all costs so you try to act in a matter-of-fact way that soon has everyone snoozing.

If you feel like this, you'll probably put more effort into preparation.  This usually means preparing your material:  researching the content information and putting it into a Powerpoint presentation.  You'll probably end up with far too many words on your slides and little option in presentation other then to virtually read it out word for word.

What you need to do as well (or instead) is to prepare yourself:

You might think that's fine for a fund-raising meeting or a political speech, but what about an ordinary workplace meeting or something really technical? That shouldn't be "emotional", should it?

Well, actually it'll be much better if it is emotional - at least in appropriate places.  If you're trying to persuade them to take a particular path, then you want to leave the audience feeling completely confident in you and enthusiastic for getting started. These are emotional states.

If all you're doing is conveying information, I suggest you'd do it more effectively in a written report.

So, getting back to my animal lady, what did we do?

The essence of it was to bring out her very strong feelings about looking after animals. These feelings were based on her belief that "animals are important".  So we developed a script for her opening.  It was simply, "I want to talk to you about animals, because animals are important".

To begin with, she was too embarrassed to perform this in front of me so we had to work up to it, using the technique of anchoring a positive state that I've talked about in a past newsletter.  In this case, the positive state came out of the feeling of concern and enthusiasm that she experienced when talking about animals in other situations.

When she'd managed to stand up and say the words a few times we could start to crank up the passion.

The simple statement "animals are important" is pretty bland.  Easy to accept and to pass by, especially right at the start when people haven't really tuned in yet.  But say it like this:

[at a slow, deliberate pace]

"I want to talk to you about animals"

[pause for a slow count of 5 whilst engaging in as much eye-contact as possible]

"Because animals are important"

[emphasising "important" and pausing for another 5]

"So let me explain what I mean ... etc. "

[this in a much lighter tone and brisker pace]

This seems really hard to do the first time you try it.  Five seconds feels like an eternity and every part of you is desperate to fill the silence.  Then, miraculously at about the 3 or 4 point in your count, your embarrassment evaporates and you sense the tension building in the audience.  They are a little bit nervous now.  "What's happening?  Has she forgotten her script?  What's going to happen next?  How long is this going to last?"  You'll be able to hear a pin drop.

You are in total control!

When you release the tension after the second pause, the relief will be palpable, and probably audible as well!  Now they're listening because they've felt your passion.  They know you mean business.

So off went my client with everything she needed to know to develop and deliver some fantastic talks.

Give it a try yourself.  It feels great!