Last month, we inventoried our toolbox and laid out the our roadmap to transformation. Just as important is learning what the key traits of effective communicators are.
At every Excellence in Speaking Institute we offer, we ask attendees what traits they see again and again in effective presentations, whether it’s the President’s State of the Union address or their spouse’s ultimatum when the sixteen-year-old breaks curfew. Again.
Every time we ask the question, the answers are the same. There are never any surprises.
What that tells me is that we know exactly what effective communicators do. And once we bring that awareness forward, we can then take action to adopt those traits ourselves. Or polish them a little if they aren’t as strong as they could be. What we can name, we can develop.
Let’s look at the list.
Passion for their message. Energy. Good communicators care about what they’re saying. How much do you care? Are you mailing it in, or does your message light a fire within you? If not, how can you expect to ignite a fire in others? We’ll talk in future articles about how to fan that spark.
They are well-prepared and well-organized. Knowledgeable about their topic. Focused on the message. Notice how this one ties in to the previous trait. Hard to have real passion for a subject you don’t know much about. Touch, too, to gather enough knowledge to become an authority in some area without either having or developing a certain passion for it. If you aren’t as effective as you’d like to be, is it because you haven’t yet hit on the right message?
Also referred to as charisma. Our perception is that charisma is something inborn, something we either have or we don’t. But we’ve learned, in more than 40 years in the business of communicating, that charisma is something each of us can develop. The ability to connect with the audience, whether it’s your boss or your spouse, is something each of us can learn to do, simply by using the tools we already have more effectively than we’re using them today. We’ll start that process in next month’s article.
The storyteller has the opportunity to hit each of us where we live – through our emotions, our intellect, and our senses; all in the same story. Stories have universal appeal, which is the power of storytelling.
The can project. Their voices are colorful, filled with what I call vocal variety. Their dictation and enunciation are good. They’re making the most of their particular God-given talent.
Vulnerable. Hmm. Our psychologist friends may have to help us with this one. The actor in us can be so strong it isn’t always easy to allow ourselves to be genuinely vulnerable. The actor is always being somebody else, unlike the performer, who is simply using the actor’s tools to be a more effective communicator. The actor is still behind the mask; the performer is putting him- or herself on the line.
There’s certainly a place for the actor. But the thing that draws people to us is not our perfectness, not our plasticness, but our vulnerability.
Am I willing to let you see who I really am? Am I willing to let you see my frailties, my humanness? Am I willing to put myself on the line for something I believe in passionately? Powerful speakers who can be vulnerable on the platform, not perfect, not always the hero, not always totally in charge are the ones who are the most powerful. It has been described as “being private in public”.
Let’s look at some examples.
In the 2000 race for the Republican Presidential nomination, the American public embraced this man because he was willing to show them his emotional scars. When he talked about his harrowing experiences as a POW in Vietnam, we listened. We cared. We opened our hearts to him. Likewise, when he spoke with passion about reforming the way politics works in the U.S., many in this country were swept up in his enthusiasm. Especially when they learned that his passion had grown out of his own mistakes.
John McCain was willing to be vulnerable, to bare his soul to the American public. And the American public loved him for it. Many of us, especially the men among us, have been trained to believe that we give away our power when we allow our emotions or our imperfections to show through. “Never let ’em see you sweat” is the macho mantra. That may work on the football field or the battlefield. But it doesn’t work when our sincere goal is effective communication.
We never lose power when we use enthusiasm, emotion, or intensity.
Certainly when we become vulnerable there is always the possibility of being hurt or taken advantage of. That’s the nature of being vulnerable. But the rewards are so great that good communicators will risk it in order to achieve effective communication.
Who else makes vulnerability work for them?
How about Oprah Winfrey? This woman is never afraid to let us see how moved she is by the guests on her show. When they tell her why they think their adoptive mother is the greatest woman in the world, her eyes fill with tears. In fact, every topic she brings to the show is a refelection of what stirs her spirit, what matters deeply to her. Children battling illness, real people whose everyday actions are heroic, families struggling with trauma and betrayal and loss – Oprah Winfrey tells us what is in her heart every day she broadcasts a show.
The result? She is the most influential and powerful woman in broadcasting today, period.
And the most significant tool in her box is her willingness to open up and give us a glimpse into her heart. Her vulnerability is a cornerstone of her power.
Inner fire. Preparation. Connection. Storytelling. Voice. And vulnerability.
They’re in your toolbox today! And as we move through each month, we’ll train you on using each of them more effectively than you do today.
If you’re serious about advancing your skills and making an investment in yourself, we invite you to our Excellence in Speaking Institute. Classes are filling up quickly so don’t delay! Visit this page to read feedback from our graduates about their experience.