Are you an overloaded public speaker?
We all know the great youth coach who understands what it takes to help our kids be their best. We’ve also all seen the coach who hollers endless, detailed directions at young superstars as they become more and more confused. Young players can reach cognitive overload. When they do, their performance stalls.
Every day, far from the field or rink, business leaders preparing for a speech or presentation fall prey to the same phenomenon. Adults can reach cognitive overload, too. We often do it to ourselves, the result of an unhealthy fixation on a list of speaking tips, tricks, and musts that we have cobbled together from the internet. We tell ourselves that everything on our list must be executed successfully for our speech to be a success.
We are wrong, of course. When speakers follow this game plan, it has the same effect as it does on youth athletes — their performance stalls. As a result, the audience’s perceptions of the speaker’s confidence, passion, and expertise can be damaged, directly affecting his or her persuasiveness.
There is a minimum threshold of skills that any speaker must cross to be effective. However, depending on your development as a speaker, memorizing and using verbal and nonverbal immediacy behaviors, for example, may only put distracting, performance-dulling details in your head. So, as you prepare for your next speech, relax, put down all the “20 tips” internet lists, and focus on what is most important.
Speeches at business events are often founded on the speaker’s expertise. (This is true even of a best man’s speech.) Credibility and expertise are two of the most important factors influencing a speaker’s persuasive ability. You can shape your persuasiveness by ensuring that your speech clearly reflects not just your command of the topic, but your passion for it. Passion also is important to persuasiveness.
As the big speech draws closer, concentrate on trying to master fewer and fewer new tactics. You will have conquered some during your preparation earlier. Limit your focus as the date nears on those tactics that will affect your persuasiveness the most.
For example, you will appear more confident if you keep your eyes up and engaged with your audience as much as possible. Ensuring that your gestures are natural and comfortable should increase the audience’s perception of your authenticity. Your familiarity with your speech and the ease with which you deliver it can reinforce audience perceptions of your authority.
Over the long term, you can create a robust verbal and nonverbal framework for delivering a speech that is comfortable for you. In the time you have before a specific speech, though, focus on the factors that enhance your persuasiveness. Clear your mind of all but those most important things, avoid overload, and allow yourself to be loose, genuine, and, most important, wildly persuasive.
Rod Hise is president of Rod Hise & Co. Ltd., a strategic communications consultancy.
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