by Steve Adubato, PhD
The most effective communicators make a human, personal connection with their audience. They use powerful personal stories, examples and anecdotes to support their message. They reach their audience on an emotional as well as an intellectual level. This is as true for one-on-one and small group conversations or negotiations, as it is for public speaking.
Sure the message is important. But the messenger is at least as important. If your audience doesn't buy you, they will never buy your product, service or message. So many of the people I have coached mistakenly think the job of a speaker is to GIVE an audience information. They believe in order to be credible they must inundate people with facts, figures and logic that is so compelling it is impossible to ignore.
Sure, substantive, detailed data has its place, but when given a choice, most people are engaged and moved more by their emotions, then by their intellect. Plus, most of us forget "the details" shortly after we hear them. This is an ongoing debate I've had with former governor and now US Senate candidate Jim Florio.
Florio, who knows the process of public policy better than most, says people are only interested in "the issues" and that I make too much out of how those issues are presented. Florio says substance wins out over style when it comes to communicating. He is proud that he doesn't engage in the "politics of personality."
I say if you're in any business that requires you to be persuasive, you better be a good "people person." It's not a question of style over substance. In order to effectively communicate, especially to a larger audience, you must have both. Some people think that if you focus on "how" you present (eye contact, examples, and personal stories) you lack real substance. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Style and substance are not mutually exclusive. It's why there is both a "technical" and "artistic" category in figure skating. Together, they equal an entire performance. It's the same with making a presentation or pitching an idea. You need both skills to succeed.
I say if Jim Florio had been a better communicator, he might have been able to "sell" the income tax increase that so many believe cost him his election in 1993. Even if people disagree with you, if they like or believe in you, they are often willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I say it was Florio's style of communicating that hurt him as much as the tax increase itself. Personality does count!
The greatest communicators reach people in the deepest part of their being. They speak from the heart as much as from the head. That's what Martin Luther King did. The substance of his message was undeniable. Yet it was his ability to touch and move his audience that made him probably the greatest speaker of our time. Dr. King talked to and with his audience. He spoke to their hopes, dreams and fears. He used parables and anecdotes. He often paused to create anticipation and used rhetorical questions to keep his audience engaged. That wasn't by accident. He understood their value. Dr. King also spoke with conviction and passion. If all Dr. King had was a logical argument, the history of the civil rights movement would have been very different.
Some of the brightest people just don't cut it as communicators. Consider Bill Bradley. There are many reasons his presidential campaign fell apart. But one of the biggest might have been that his style of communicating in public just didn't resonate with voters. While a future column will explore this issue in greater detail, Bradley never connected, even in places like New York, where he is well-known and well-liked. He and his message fell flat.
Tip for the week: Speaking from the heart as much as from the head is a powerful communication tool. People appreciate it.