A Speaker’s Art of Connection

As a speaker, is the art of connecting with an audience the same on every occasion?

Brené Brown, American research professor, author and the New York Times bestselling author, speaks to many large audiences. She wrote in Dare to Lead.

’People often ask me if I still get nervous when I speak in public. The answer is yes. I’m always nervous. Experience keeps me from being scared, but I’m still nervous. First, people are offering me their most precious gift – their time. Time is, hands down, our most coveted, most unrenewable resource. If being on the receiving end of one of life’s most valuable gifts fails to leave you with a lump in your throat or butterflies in your stomach, then you are not paying attention.

Second, speaking is vulnerable. I don’t memorise my lines or have a set shtick that I do verbatim. Effective speaking is about the unpredictable and uncontrollable art of connection.’

Brené Brown’s last sentence has words which are opportunistic and yet challenging.

One challenge can be dealing with nervousness and feelings of anxiety. Overcoming severe nervousness to make it manageable with your butterflies ‘flying in formation’ enhances your speaking experiences. A little adrenalin will assist your delivery. Knowledge is the antidote of fear. To control nervousness first acknowledge that it is OK to be nervous. Then, identify your symptoms and practise control techniques for those symptoms.

Preparation of what you want to say is the key to success. Practising speaking at every opportunity will bring confidence. Such knowledge and skills can be gathered at Speaking Made Easy meetings, including the opportunity to practise within a safe, friendly and supported environment. With practice, nervousness decreases and confidence grows.

Another challenge can be working out what to say and how to say it. Having a gimmick, comic routine or a repetitious performance for every speaking event will not suit every audience and not create personalised engagement with each audience. Your words, stories and content details must be relevant to your audience to create connection. Therefore, know your audience when planning a speech. With this information in mind, you can tailor your approach, tone and content to each audience. Learn how to structure a speech. Communication knowledge and skills will lead you to be an articulate and confident public speaker.

The audience will show you if you are engaging your listeners. They will be nodding, smiling, and have eye contact with you. If people are looking elsewhere, have their hands covering their faces or fiddling with something, there is no connection between the speaker and audience and a subdued atmosphere hangs within the room.

It is known, and therefore predictable and controllable, that speakers can control nervousness, obtain communication skills, and with practice can be an effective speaker to connect with people. The art of connection can be achieved.

Is the art of connection the same when speaking at meetings where there can be a diversity of thinking styles, education, cultures, life experiences as well as various roles and responsibilities?

Is it the same for a leader? What if the leader is trying to create change? The impact of change tends to be cumulative and some people may embrace change while others resist it.

The above situations require spontaneous speaking. That is an immediate response. This is in contrast to a well-prepared speech.

Brené states that ‘effective speaking is about the unpredictable and uncontrollable art of connection.’ She writes and speaks on leadership so this statement seems appropriate.

Is the ‘unpredictability and uncontrollable art of connection’ part of difficult conversations; perhaps hostile conversations? Is it in answering difficult questions after the speaker has delivered the presentation?

Often in these situations speakers are not as effective as they could be. Some speakers feel vulnerable. Vulnerability is the emotion experienced when there is risk, uncertainty or emotional exposure. When speaking to others we can feel vulnerable if we are in a one-to-one conversation, talking to a small group or in front of a large group of people.

Looking at spontaneous speaking, here a few tips to assist you:

  • Thinking gets in the way. Often we think that what we say must be perfect and correct. It must be right. This thinking feeds vulnerability.
  • Speaking spontaneously (impromptu speaking) is often seen as a challenge. Think of it in a different way. It is an opportunity to speak, to have a go at it, to learn the skill. Practice will improve your speaking.
  • Be calm, slow down and listen. Don’t rush your response.
  • Be present in the moment and use conversational language. Don’t worry about where the discussion is going or who will say what.
  • If possible, know the topic of discussion and have developed your thoughts with facts as evidence for your reasoning. Consider your approach to the matter.
  • Actively listen, don’t interrupt
  • Ask why if reasons are not provided
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Build courtesy and respect
  • Avoid using words such as ‘everyone’, ‘no-one’, ‘always’, ‘never’ because it rarely is ‘everyone’ and ‘never’.
  • If the words ‘we’ and ‘everyone’ are used by others, ask who is the ‘we’ or who is ‘everyone’? These words are used to build a case or strengthen a position yet can be easily discredited or confirmed, with facts and data.
  • Respond using a structure. Here are some suggestions:
    • Past, present, future
    • Problem, solution, benefits
    • What, why, next step
    • Who, why, next step
    • Refer to other Speaking Made Easy blogs on impromptu speaking

Hostile and difficult conversations – Listen, acknowledge, and then explain.

Don’t repeat or paraphrase the words of the hostile person. Instead use this example or similar:

  1. After listening, acknowledge:

‘I hear you have a lot of passion about this.’  Don’t mention the issue.

  1. Explain:

‘The main reasons why this is not possible / not recommended / not practical are because . . . “

Spontaneous speaking can be unpredictable and uncontrollable when others have a different point of view. Follow the above tips to assist you in such situations. Grab the opportunity to practise speaking in these circumstances.

When speaking, whether you are delivering a speech or are required to speak spontaneously, you need to be prepared as best you can, remain calm, have a go, and learn from the experience. This is the way to learn the art of connection with other people.

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