To get people to see your point of view, you shouldn't look in the mirror. Here's how to understand your audience for an impressive persuasive speech.
Do you see both sides of important questions—or is your point of view the only one that could ever really matter? Even aside from today's toxic political climate which tends toward the latter, there are clear advantages to being able to imagine how others feel.
That's so even though a character in one of America's greatest plays considered that ability a curse. The play is Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, and the character is Larry Slade. "I was born condemned to be one of those who has to see all sides of a question," says Larry. If you ever catch the amazing 1973 film of the play, you'll understand what end-of-the-world bitterness the great Robert Ryan brings to that line.
But O'Neill has stacked the deck here (he has a habit of doing that). Larry may be in pain because of his particular talent, but it's what allows him to understand everything around him with absolute clarity.
As it happens, I got to consider the matter myself. When I was an undergraduate, majoring in Speech and Theater, the department chair shocked me one day by asking: "Did you ever consider being a mediator? You always see both sides of a question." Convinced that I was born for the theater, I didn't give it any thought. The fact that I now use theater-based techniques for public speaking training, though, says something about this connection.
To be effective when you speak to others, you need to get on their wavelength! Discover how in my free Insights article, "Six Rules of Effective Public Speaking."
Many of us make the same mistake—and not only in our undergraduate years. Focused on the ideas and values we are passionate about, we don't consider enough what's activating others. That's a Marley-sized ball-and-chain to be dragging along when you communicate with people.
The Secret of Successful Communication
Whether you're in a negotiation, delivering a persuasive speech (or other form of persuasion), or just trying to get your ideas heard, know that the secret of successful communication is not expressing yourself, it's being understood.
Isn't that the same thing? No, it's not. When communicating to important audiences, it's natural to marshal every tool at your disposal to say exactly what you intend. But that places you in the same spot most speakers find themselves: focused on themselves, leaving the audience out of the picture. When you consider that the whole reason you're up there talking is to reach and move people, you can see how too much self-concern will actually undermine your success.
The solution is simple (if not always easy to practice): understand how to motivate an audience. That means turning your focus on them. When you see things from their point of view, you'll begin to experience your talk on their terms. And that's a vantage point you need to occupy.
Persuading People Means Living in Their World
I call it living in the audience's world. And the concept works just as well if you change that next-to-last word to 'listener,' 'partner,' 'family member,' 'colleague,' or 'boss'. If your job is to show others how you experience the topic so you can get through to them, doesn't it make sense to ask yourself how they might be perceiving you?
When you 'give' a speech or share a thought, it's exactly that: a gift. It's a selfless act: you giving of yourself to help others in some way. And you can't really help them unless you make the effort to understand their needs along with the best way to get through to them.
Ask yourself what really interests them, and how you can tap into that. Are their values the same as yours? If not, how do you bridge the gap? (You might be amazed at how productive it can be to acknowledge your differences up front. In effect, to say: "I know we disagree. But I've come here to give you my side's point of view. Will you at least listen and judge for yourself?") If you're going to be an effective communicator, you should always be thinking of how your ideas will be received—from the planning phase of your speech right through your performance.
Yes, you should be concerned about that performance. After all, that's why you do your research, prepare carefully, practice, and even get a little nervous. Those are all signs you care about your listeners' responses. But by all means, let the balance tip away from "How can I best express myself?," and toward "How can I help them with this?"
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