You can speak. Can you communicate?

When I was 2 years old, I uttered my first word – apparently ‘ma’. I learnt more complex words quickly – food, chocolates, biryani,etc. Soon, I spoke fairly well and could express what I wanted. While the choice of words might be different, this is the case for most of us. That’s both fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunate because most of us can speak. Unfortunate, because we confuse speaking with communicating.

Speaking is about expressing an idea. It is a one way relationship – much like my high school romance. Communicating goes beyond. It is about forming the bridge with the other party. It is about a two way dialogue.

So how can we be a “Public Speaker” and yet communicate?

We think of speeches as a fully prepared script. We rehearse every motion and deliver them. However, a trully powerful communicator can use static scripts only if he trully knows his audience (refer point 1). Instead I propose that you think of your speech as a slightly fluid piece of work and alter it based on what the audience is telling you. There are loads of techniques and loads of things to learn. But let’s get started with three.

Knowing your audience:

This step is to let us predict your audience in advance and plan for it. Start by building the persona of your audience.. Below are some questions that can be used to build the persona.

  • What is the knowledge level of the audience (and their views)
  • What is their physical and mental state (tired because of journey, just had lunch,etc)
  • Why are they here & what do they want from my speech

Now imagine how they would react to the currrent draft of your speech. Better still, deliver the draft to a few people who can represent your target audience. Based on these reactions, modify and fine-tune the speech. In this approach, though the audience is not giving you immediate feedback – you’ve already gotten feedback in advance & fine-tuned the speech to build the bridge quicker.

Gauging the audience:

You are on stage to give the audience the best experience you can. By continuously gauging the audience’s non-verbal cues, you can adjust your speech.

  • They look bored: Maybe thisparticular  segment is not new to them (assuming you are a great entertainer). Skip over this part of the talk and go to the more juicy parts.
  • They look lost: maybe you were not supposed to speak now? Open the floor up to questions and you’ll understand why they feel confused. Then get the confusion sorted.
  • It looks like they disagree: If it is a lot of people disagreeing, you need to do something about it. A question like – “you look concerned, how can I help” may help. But do this early, not at the end of your presentation.
  • They are shivering or reaching for jackets : Simple way to win the audience – ask for the air con to be reduced. They will listen to you after that.

We can go on… ask the editor to make me write more J

Influencing your Audience:

While material on this subject is worthy of a few books, let me illustrate with an (over simplified) example. Imagine a teacher at a boarding school trying to get her students to go shower.

  • Format 1: Go shower now.
  • Format 2: Can you go shower?
  • Format 3: Would you like to shower now or in 30 mins?

Format 1 works if the teacher has the power, but might lose respect. Ask my parents about the success rate of Format 2. However, Format 3 works wonders as it allows the children to decide that they will shower.

With such subtle changes(when not used for sly things), a communicator can gain acceptance from the audience and by the end of the speech – build a very strong bridge.

Delivering a message is step one, but when your audience accepts your message and feels like they connected with you – then you’ve graduated from speaking to communicating.

The true difference betweena speaker and communicator is exposed when they are put in front of an opinionated audience. A good speaker will express his or her views very articulately, but not many opposers will change their initial views. A good communicator can build a bridge with the audience and convince the audience of his or her views. Which one are you?

Published a part of Toastmasters District 98 newsletter –

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