Scott Stiefvater

I had of pleasure of leading a mini-workshop for ATD Golden Gate on November 14, 2019. The title was “Speaking in Line with the Brain’s Design.” For those of you who were unable to attend, here is a recap of the main ideas:

There is not a neuron in the brain for public speaking. There is not a neuron in the brain for presenting or giving speeches. There ARE neurons in the brain for one-to-one conversations. In fact, there is a precise brain coordination system for talking to another human being, but almost no one is taught how that system is designed to work.

Instead, those of us that want to speak with more power get caught up in the public speaking paradigm. We are taught to talk to a room – an aggregate of the human beings in the audience. We talk to everybody and nobody at the same time. Our heads swivel like a lawn sprinkler, spraying our gaze around as if to tell the audience, “I haven’t forgotten you are there.”

The greatest speakers operate under a different paradigm. Have you ever witnessed a powerful speaker coming down off of the stage and talking to individuals in the audience? For such speakers this is not a technique or a trick or a tactic. It is the byproduct of a paradigm based on having conversations. And while the people in the chairs may not be responding with their voices, they are communicating with their faces and the speaker is “listening”.

Talk to minds, not ears or eyes.

Great speakers do not say to themselves, “I’m going to make eye-contact.” Aiming my pupils toward the face of a listener is an artificial technique based on mimicking – “Steve Jobs seemed to do it, and therefore so should I.” The clients we coach at Slomoff Consulting Group often come steeped in the public speaking paradigm. They may point their pupils in the right direction, but are they really moving the minds of their listeners?

Most tell us that they focus on their content and getting it right. The intention of the world’s best speakers is not in their own head trying to get a message out, but rather on the head of the listener and getting ideas in. They care deeply about affecting the listener’s mind, striving to get an idea into that mind and looking for signs in the face of their listener that the idea has made it.

Talk to individuals, not the room.

A room-based speaker often aligns their shoulders with the back of the room and turns their head to scan across the audience. Their head stops for a word or a fragment of a sentence and then moves on. Given a larger stage, a room-based speaker roams around in an effort to be dynamic or come across as authoritative. But, to a large extent, it’s acting.

At Slomoff, we teach our clients not to talk to a room; rather we coach them to speak to human beings within the room. Their movement is organized around connecting with individuals in the audience. Their shoulders align with one person as they express a complete thought. Then they move to target someone else. Our clients feel not as though they are talking to a group, but instead having brief conversations with individuals. And their listeners sense an intensity from them that is rich, natural and riveting.

Be in service to your listeners, not your ego.

The public speaking paradigm is largely ego-based. In it, we are preoccupied with making the impression that we are comfortable, confident and passionate about our topic, whether we really are or not. And in a professional setting, most public speakers default to demonstrating their competence by explaining what they know. Boring!

In a powerful, compelling conversation, the focus is on being in service to your listeners’ minds – giving them an idea that is meaningful and relevant to them. Many clients tell us they are uncomfortable speaking to a large group and that they are less effective when they feel that way. Great communicators train and practice to excel and can do so whether uncomfortable or comfortable. Excellence is the goal, not comfort. What matters is what the listeners leave with.

The public speaking paradigm is limiting. If you want to be a great speaker, explore what the world’s greatest speakers do! Why do anything else? The world’s greatest speakers operate under a paradigm based on conversations – that is the brain’s natural design. As a result, whether they are having a conversation one-to-one or one-to-many, they enjoy greater success in turning their ideas into reality.

Recap from the Presenter

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