Recently, I coached a Marketing Director for a beverage company who said his job was “to convey facts and figures.“
After hearing that, I needed a stiff drink.
Actually, his viewpoint wasn’t surprising. And he quickly understood when I suggested that his real purpose was something quite different. His job as a speaker, I told him, was meeting the needs of his listeners and achieving lasting influence.
Whether the economic climate is tough or favorable, the distinction between conveying information and activating audiences is critical. Merely informing audiences becomes a serious error when they are depending upon your leadership to inspire them to succeed. For more on this, read our cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker."
Many people approach public speaking with this belief that their primary task is to deliver information. That is never the case. Information, like all speech content, is only one tool a speaker uses to achieve his or her purpose. Let’s look a little more closely at how this natural tension of purpose vs. information plays out, and why your task as a leader is naturally much more of the former, and much less of the latter.
It’s Your Emotional Impact That Lasts
Audiences will remember their emotional response to you long after the information you deliver has faded from memory. The retention skills of audiences are notoriously shaky, and within a week, listeners will remember as little as 10% of the “critical” data you presented to them.
Yet if you touched them emotionally, they may remember you for a lifetime. Consider these examples:
- Who was your favorite teacher in elementary school? Why do you remember her fondly today? Was it because of her visionary grasp of geography?
- Who among the many speakers you’ve heard in your life do you consider extraordinary? What were the main points or facts in the speech that you found so impressive?
- On April 19, 1951, Gen. Douglas MacArthur delivered his farewell address to a joint session of Congress. MacArthur said that “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” And no wonder this speech became one of the most famous in American history, given the General’s expert lesson on the medical needs of elderly combat veterans.
You see what I mean, don’t you?
Think carefully, then, of the purpose you’re trying to achieve in your presentation, and always consider carefully your audience’s demographics, experience, and needs. Then use any and every means at your disposal to achieve that purpose. Don’t just educate; move your audience. Don’t inform listeners; inspire them. To do so means creating an emotional connection. Even CFOs must put financial information into context for the C-suite, to help these executives process the information in terms of company goals and initiatives.
Delivery Skills Matter in Motivational Speaking
Studies have shown repeatedly that nonverbal communication equals or exceeds verbal content in achieving audience influence. Whatever your message, the skill of advocacy is critical in motivational speaking and leading listeners to action.
One reason PowerPoint presentations so often fail, for instance, is that the presenter depends solely upon a slide deck to convey information. But that is first and foremost the speaker’s task, although PowerPoint may be one tool he or she uses to do so. Above that, a speaker’s job is to move an audience through force of will and to lift listeners on a wave of emotional drama.
To motivate your listeners, then, use all of these nonverbal tools:
- Eye contact
- Facial expression
- Proximity to your listeners
- Open hand and arm movements
- Welcoming gestures (for questioners and skeptics)
- Vocal energy and variety
- Pauses and silence
- Emotion that audiences can hear in your voice
In general, spend less time gathering material and more time practicing on your feet. Employ a video camera or a mirror. Use different gestures each time you practice, however, so your physical expression won’t become stale and over-rehearsed.
You Are the Message, So Make the Message Strong
As we’ve seen above, public speaking is never about merely conveying information. Instead, it is an exercise in leadership. Speakers either lead or they bore. One of the marvelous facts about speaking in public is that no matter the pedigree of your listeners, you are the leader in the room during the time of your presentation.
No leader succeeds merely by possessing the best information. True leaders use that information to motivate and activate employees and followers.
A danger exists, in fact, that because we accumulate information, and spend so much time massaging that information as we prepare for our speech, we believe the information is all-important. Equally harmful is forgetting that the audience will be hearing our content for the first time. So we rattle off our data—secure in the knowledge that, once adequately informed, an audience will use that information exactly as we’d like them to.
It never happens that way. We must tell our listeners how they should use our information. We must, that is, lead them to do so.
There is only one tool that allows you as speaker to accomplish this task: It is you—physically, emotionally, and in the ways you demonstrate leadership when you speak. In tough times or good times, you are the message. It’s a formula for succeeding as a speaker that goes far beyond “conveying facts and figures.”
Give your audiences the emotional connection and leadership they crave, and you’ll be delivering a powerful message indeed.