Ubud, 29 March 2017 — What is your impact when you speak in front of a room full of people? On a scale from 1 to 10, how do you rate your skill as a speaker?
Last week, a company executive told me how much he dreaded public speaking, and asked if I could help him to build confidence to overcome his fear.
He is not alone. The fear of public speaking is a common anxiety. Three out of four people are said to suffer from it. The Greek term for this anxiety is glossophobia (tongue fear), and in English we say that we are tongue-tied when we find ourselves challenged to speak in front of others.
Did you have a fear of speaking when you were a child? For most of us, the answer will be no. The fear of public speaking tends to arise in us during puberty. It is a social anxiety that we are meant to overcome as we grow into adulthood. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome it for those who still struggle with it (many) years later.
On a scale of 1 to 10, if you gave yourself a 6, congratulations! That shows that you are speaking. You have overcome, or stayed clear of the more serious forms of public speaking anxiety. You are now ready for the next challenge, which to engage people into action through your words.
The response you get
For those of us who want to make a difference in our world, effective speaking skills are essential. Leadership is all about influencing other people, so you need to work on your skills to become an effective speaker.
In my experience, you will not ‘cut it’ to become an influential leader if you rated yourself below 8. That means that for almost all of us, there is serious work to do. The question is what happens when you speak. What is the response you get? Is your impact positive or negative?
Let’s unpack that.
When you speak, do people seem bored with what you say, and play with their phones because they would rather be somewhere else? Then you are not successful in engaging them. Their response is generating a negative impact. Remember that there is an opportunity cost for everyone to come and listen to you. This scenario is playing out in millions of meetings, all the time. In many organizations, it does not get better than this.
Yet it could be worse. Are people getting defensive and do they voice opposition to what you say? Then the response is that you are driving them away from you, that you are dividing them, instead of rallying them for a common cause. They might fight you in the meeting, or outside the meeting behind your back. Even if you were well intentioned, that response can generate a toxic negative impact. I have seen this happen many times in meetings. It is harder to reverse such a situation after this negative response because the negative impact is already being felt.
Or, you rate your speaking performance as better than these two examples. Your audience actually listens to you when you speak, with minimal distractions, and they smile and shake your hand when they leave the meeting. They might come and listen again next time. Yet you did not get them to commit to the actions you wanted them to take. There is no progress, just a pleasant time together. The impact from this response is still negative. In our world today, no progress means to regress, to fall behind.
So what response do you want to see, and what does it take to get out of the trap of creating negative impact when you speak? The key is to learn how to engage people, so that they will take action, and better results will be created together. The response you are looking for is to connect, to convince, to influence, and then to multiply when you master your speaking. How to get there? What problems do you need to overcome?
For many of us, it is difficult to effectively engage people when we speak to them. Just speaking up is already a challenge. “How will I survive this meeting?” may be your immediate concern. “What will they say” when you make your speech, when "I put myself out there with the little confidence I can muster?"
Under the surface of these immediate concerns, there are usually deeper fears at play that we rather not mention at all.
A voice in your head might be asking “what will happen to your career if you fail?” Or “do you have what it takes to advance in your career?” Or an even more disturbing voice asking “are you good enough?” Sounds familiar? These are voices that most of us have heard in our head at some point, and they hold us back from becoming an effective speaker.
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these voices, and to develop your skills to become an effective communicator who gets a great response and who generates positive impact from speaking, until you are able to do it every time and everywhere you speak to people.
Connecting in their language
Let’s take a look at Figure 1. The Communication Response Model shows that you can learn to generate a positive impact of up to 30 times when you know how to connect better to the people you speak to. When you learn how to engage them.
The secret is to learn to speak the language of the person or persons you are talking with. Whether you are in a one-to-one conversation, speaking up in a meeting, or speaking in front of a room full of people, you will generate a truly positive impact when you know how to engage people in their language.
And with ‘their language,’ I don’t mean English, Chinese, or Hindi. What I mean is the language that makes your words go to their heart. So how do you learn ‘their language?’
President Nelson Mandela, who practiced this method for many years as he lifted his country out of apartheid, said that when you speak to people in their language, what you say goes to their heart and mobilizes them for action. When, on the other hand, you speak to them in a language that they only understand, it goes to their head only, with little chance of engagement and action.
This is exciting stuff. Because the positive response you get when you speak in their language is felt immediately. And it gets better the more you train and practice.
Work In All Colors
The emerging leaders from around the world who have worked with me to learn to speak to audiences in their language have been surprised at the results. They discovered quickly how to use the method, and getting results came much sooner than they expected. Some even received a promotion in a few months after they demonstrated better business results.
That is why I have grown more and more passionate about sharing this method with more leaders. I call it Work In All Colors.
As shown in Figure 2, there are seven languages to learn, each described by a color. Each of us responds in a different way to these languages when they are spoken to us, depending on our life conditions.
Step 1 is for you to learn which of the seven languages you accept and reject, how strongly, and what the reasons are for that. With this self-awareness, you are ready to start learning how to use the languages to engage others when you speak, in Step 2.
Step 2 is for you to train and practice using each of the languages with the audiences you meet, so that you can Work In All Colors and select the most appropriate language according to what is needed for each audience and in each situation. Besides applying this individually, there are also fascinating training opportunities to use the method in teams and departments, to improve collaboration in your business.
When you learn how to Work In All Colors, most of your conversations will no longer miss the mark. Your speeches and conversations will become effective and even transformational, as you engage with your audience at a deeper level, speaking to their heart.
Then you will experience what it feels like to get a positive response when you speak, and you set yourself up to generate a huge positive impact in your business and your world.