Do audiences love hearing you speak? Here are 9 powerful qualities you should display to show a positive outlook and personality.
In her book Presence, Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy mentions nine universal emotions: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise, contempt, shame, and pride.
I sincerely hope you haven’t experienced all of them lately while giving a presentation.
The mention of “universal” emotions, however, got me thinking about emotional and other interior states that express themselves outwardly when we speak. (See, especially, Paul Ekman’s research on culturally non-specific facial expressions.) Do we show through our face and body language how we feel when speaking to others? Of course. And do audiences make decisions about us and our ideas through the filter of who they think we are?
You know they do—and that’s what I want to talk about today.
Speaking of body language, do you use it effectively as a speaker? It's a key part of the package you display to audiences, and it strongly effects their perceptions of you and your material. Add essential nonverbal techniques to your arsenal of best speaking practices. Download my free cheat sheet, "6 Skills Building Exercises for Effective Body Language."
So universal emotions or not, I’d like to discuss nine positive character traits you should be showing audiences. They will not only help get listeners on your side (as will positive thinking generally). They are in fact essential traits for displaying a constructive outlook and personality.
9 Positive Qualities Effective Speakers Display
Cuddy is famous for one of the most popular TED Talks, "Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are." That's where she mentions her team's research on power poses. Cuddy claims that standing like Wonder Woman will elevate confidence-building testosterone and decrease harmful cortisol. Though this research is now in dispute, one fact remains clear: confidence pays a huge dividend in trust, credibility, and believability. Use a grounded stance, occupy the whole stage, and speak at a pace that's comfortable for both you and listeners.
If there's an activity more suited to creating trepidation and avoidance behavior than public speaking, I'd like to hear about it. In fact, there isn't. Surveys over decades have shown that speaking to groups is the most prevalent form of social anxiety. To show joy in speaking instead is to light up your topic and audience at the same time. Positive visualization can help you reach such an outcome. After all, don't you relish the idea of sharing ideas with people you know are as interesed in them as you are?
Sure—you think a lot is riding on this speech. (Here, incidentally, is a helpful fact: this speech, any speech, matters less than you think it does. Does your essential value change if you bomb now and then?) Audiences expect nervousness and at least a dollop of fear to show up because public speaking gives them jitters too. Display fearlessness, even if you don't entirely feel it, and they will relax. So, of course, will you.
Your winning equation is Love x 2: embracing the opportunity to touch others' lives, and loving the people you're speaking to. Joy is the outward expression of your commitment to benefitting others, while love is the reservoir it comes from. These people have carved out time in their busy lives to be influenced by what you have to say. What's not to love about that!
Ever wonder why actors can give the 1,000th performance of a Broadway play and make it seem as if it's all happening for the first time? Some of it is an actor's techniques. But there's a core of curiosity involved too: what will my fellow actors give me tonight? What will happen in this night's traffic on the stage? All of this is you too: you're just as dedicated to the subject you're passionate about. What will you, along with the audience, learn about it today?
Most presenters are speaker-centric, meaning that they conceive, experience, and evaluate a speech from the strictly personal. Do the opposite, at all three points, and you open yourself up to what the audience sees and hears. That's where your head (and heart) should have been anyway. I call it living in the audience's world. Prepare your content, and even deliver it, asking yourself, "How will this come across to these people?" If you conduct an audience analysis beforehand, you'll be that much more directed concerning what they want and need.
Four-time Academy Award nominee Rosalind Russell once said, "Acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly." Public speaking is that, too. Once of the spectacular aspects of giving speeches and presentations is that your audience sees who you are, right through the screen of content you think is protecting you. And don't you want to be open with them? When you model openness with an audience, you're saying, "I have nothing to hide from you." That's when the doors to influence open from their side of the footlights.
I've saved for last the two qualities you might otherwise scratch your head over. Some power-focused people hear this lesson with disbelief. "Show I'm vulnerable? I'll be torn apart!" But audiences aren't interested in being your stepping stones to glory. In fact, they want to like you and trust you (when was the last time you attended a presentation hoping that the speaker would be on an ego trip?). Believe me, part of that is seeing you're human, i.e., vulnerable, just like they are. They will trust you all the more.
Here's another naked truth you already know: Though you mustn't act like a jerk, sometimes audience members will. Remember two things: (1) Opposition means that the person is still listening to you, is still engaged. That's a world apart from the person who has mentally packed his bags and gone home where your argument is concerned. And (2) Apart from being good for the soul, forgiveness keeps you wedded to your audience in terms of trust, likability, believability, and those other attributes I discussed above. When a listener sees you take the high road, she goes there with you, but she won't join you in a mud bath.
And what about a sense of humor? Should you use humor in a speech? Clients sometime lament to me that they can't get an audience laughing. But I tell them I'll take passion for a topic anyday over the ability to yuk up the place. I think your listeners feel that way too.
 Amy Cuddy, Presence (Little, Brown and Company, 2015), 36.
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