Can you 'paint word-pictures' for your listeners? From conversations to formal speeches, it's the secret strategy that will make what you say powerful.
Do you think formal speeches are the occasions when you'll have maximum impact? And do you consider the data you're sharing to be the ultimate persuader?
If you answered yes both times, there's a technique you need to know about concerning public speaking skills for leadership. It's a simple technique, yet one that can transform your ability to engage and move listeners. It's not only custom-made for the age we live in—it's also a central component to powerful public speaking. And it's just as dynamic for interpersonal communication as it is for effective business presentations.
What about the actual things you say? Do you use language that can help you, while avoiding words that will weaken your influence? Learn more by downloading my free cheat sheet, "25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations."
I'm talking about speaking visually—whatever your topic. In particular, I mean the ability to create 'word-pictures' in your audience's mind. Do so, and you'll allow each person to respond individually, have a reaction that's unique to them, and experience a strong emotional response. Any tool that does all that is one you need to become a powerful public speaker.
Here's how it works, and the ways you can tap into and use this communication strategy to succeed at public speaking.
You Need to Paint Word-Pictures in the Visual Age
The greatest persuaders in the world today are television and the digital world of the net, smartphones, video games, etc. Over the past 70 years, these two technological advances have fundamentally transformed how we receive and process information. Our lives have become a constant here-and-now at an entirely new level. But it's the imagery—in television broadcasts and online videos especially—that gives the information we receive maximum visceral impact.
The implication for effective public speaking, as well as interpersonal skills, is clear: To achieve effective communications the 21st century, you have to incorporate a strong visual component to accompany your words. Audiences now think in the microsecond rhythms of digital delivery. Watch a 1960's television drama and you'll wonder how anyone could have endured such a slow unwinding of the plot. So for improved public speaking, whether it's in a conversation or formal speech, you'd better be brisk.
Equally important, you need to employ visuals—for these days, that's how people learn. You do so by creating 'word-pictures.' That means investing an event, feeling, emotional response, hope or plan or vision—whatever it may be—with a rich enough description so that it comes to life in emotional terms. For instance: "What we saw in the outdoor market in the capital city," can't compare with, "We saw row after row of handmade clothing in vibrant local patterns, tables with brightly painted ceramics, and the luscious colors of the tropical fruits." Getting the picture?
Tapping Into the Power of Visual Learning
The visual aids you've been using up to now—PowerPoint, flip-charts and whiteboards, handouts, graphs and charts, and the rest—are still primary and useful. But there are two other powerful visuals you need to consciously use. Together, they should be part of your speaking strategy to make what you say have maximum impact.
The first is so close you may not be seeing it. It's you. That is, it's the visual you. You may employ the visual aids in the last paragraph at different points in your speech or presentation. But you are the walking-talking visual, the one that is always "on." Not only is your body an essential tool for amplifying and strengthening the points you're making. Equally important, what you show audiences in terms of body language, facial expressions, movement, and your willingness to get close to them, strongly affects others' ideas on how you feel about yourself and them. And that, of course, colors how they feel about you.
Your second, secret visual tool is storytelling. Stories offer rich possibilities to use the visual elements today's audiences crave. They present the perfect opportunity to speak in visual terms, since they unfold as a series of pictures in listeners' minds. Good speakers, in other words, know how to mimic a movie or TV show's visual unfolding of a story. Winston Churchill might have stated flatly, "We will oppose the German invaders wherever they appear." Instead, he said this:
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
How People Respond to Visual Input
You don't need to be Churchill to tap into the power and immediacy of speaking visually. Research has consistently shown that people learn better, and retain information for longer periods, when it is presented visually.
A piece in Psychology Today, for instance, reminds us that a much larger area of the brain is dedicated to processing visual information over verbal input. Words, after all, are abstract, whereas visuals are concrete. (Once, following one of my class lectures at Tufts University on all of this, an engineering student gave his informative speech on concrete, which I thought was clever.) We might even say that our brain is more "image processor" than word processor.
But it's the other phenomenon at work when listeners process visual information that's vital for you as a speaker: it creates an emotional response. When you say, "The look on the little girl's face brought tears to my eyes," each individual sees something different, based on their experiences and what they've seen in the past. So that visual is highly individual and wrapped up in an emotional response in the hearer.
When it comes to public speaking skills for executives, then, you have a choice. If you speak visually, you'll elicit a reaction from listeners that is private, intensely personal, and with the power to create a strong emotional response. Or you can ignore all of this and simply read out your data. Can you see the difference?
1 Haig Kouyoumdjian, "Learning through Visuals," Psychology Today, July 20, 2012. Accessed March 23, 2018 at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/get-psyched/201207/learning-through-visuals
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