by Steve Adubato, PhD
Some people are great public speakers because they know how to deliver a powerful message with passion and sincerity. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr. is one of them. He is New Jersey's Secretary of State and an ordained minister who serves as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens - one of the fastest growing congregations in the nation. He is also an internationally renowned speaker, author, and advocate for at-risk youth. These positions give him many opportunities to make public speeches and to listen to many speeches - some of them awful, some terrific. At a recent seminar with a group of young adults from the Newark area on the importance of communication skills, I asked Secretary Soaries to explain the key to being a great communicator. Without hesitation, he responded, "passion and honesty."
"You have to have a passion for the things you believe in before you can talk about them," he said. "Think about teachers, for example. There are plenty of smart teachers who are hard to learn from because they don't have passion - not just for their subject, but also for the person trying to listen and learn. And you have to be honest - you have to be who you are. It's this passion and honesty that help you connect with other people."
Keeping with the spirit of Baptist preachers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Reverend Soaries knows that passion and honesty come before the words of any speech or sermon. In fact, Soaries believes that you become a great communicator before you become a great speaker. "You don't begin a speech with your mouth," he says. "You begin with your eyes, your ears, and your heart. Great communicators learn observation and listening skills before they learn speaking skills. This is true in family relations, corporate relations, race relations, and business relations. We have to watch and listen to understand what the other person needs before we start to talk." Once again, it comes down to the ability and willingness to empathize.
Secretary Soaries' approach is all part of the preparation process that will help you become a better communicator when you open your mouth and attempt to connect with your audience. The key is to look inside yourself and get in touch with what you truly feel or believe. Bottom line? You can't be "wrong" when you speak from your heart.
Interestingly, what New Jersey Secretary of State Soaries says about passion and honesty are the same things United States Secretary of State Colin Powell told me last year when I asked him what it takes to communicate effectively and connect with an audience. What's disappointing is that Secretary Soaries and Secretary Powell remain the exception. The vast majority of government officials as well as corporate executives, educators and administrators really don't know how to connect with their audience and are, in fact, pretty uninspiring communicators. As Secretary of State Soaries argues, it's not that people aren't smart enough, it's that they lack real passion.
I'm curious. Why is it so difficult for so many professionals, regardless of the arena, to communicate with passion and honesty? Did we lose either or both along the way? Or, are we simply afraid to show either quality in the workplace? Write to me with your thoughts.