A recently divorced friend of mine was petrified to re-join the “dating market.” She spent weeks talking herself in and out of the date, deciding what to wear and –completely against my advice -- cyber-stalking the guy in question. Imagine her surprise, and my delight, when she called and told me it may have been “her best date ever.”
I began to think about my friend and great dates. You may have had a few of your own, or are lucky enough to still have them regularly with a spouse.
And it occurred to me there are a lot of similarities and shared guidelines that help create both great dates and great speeches – rules that extend beyond ensuring one has nothing in their teeth.
Here are 11 things I’ve noticed:
Let’s be honest – everyone is probably somewhat guilty of “google stalking” – or at least, simply trying to find out a bit more about his/her date/audience and this isn’t a bad thing – as long as it’s in the realms of normalcy. Equally important – and sometimes forgotten if you already know your date or audience, is the need to know their mindset before you meet. Suffice it to say, you will get nowhere with “an audience” that is angry, bored or utterly distracted.
As a speaker, you luckily – and much less creepily – don’t need to cyber stalk your audience, but you should know something about them prior to your speech. Whether it is a new audience, or an audience you are already familiar with, you may have the distinct advantage of being able to talk to them before your speech, and get a sense of who they are, and importantly, what their mindset is. Take advantage of this opportunity or try to make it possible. Just like a great date, the success or failure of your speech greatly depends on “your audience” and their mindset.
2. KNOW THE POWER & PURPOSE
You may have experience going on many dates and/or giving many speeches. If neither were particularly memorable (and let’s hope few were memorable for the wrong reasons), they likely passed without much thought. But, fact is, both the right date and the right speech – no matter how small or insignificant it may seem at the time – really do have the power to change your life, as well as those around you. You need to understand that power, opportunity and know what you want next. What is your purpose going into it? And what do you hope your audience gets out of it?
3. FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER
As superficial as this may seem, human beings – according to a Princeton study – are hard-wired to decide very quickly (seconds) whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though a single word has not been exchanged with them. The study also notes that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in an unreflective way, before our rational thinking even has a chance to catch up and consider the logical.
You don’t need to be a candidate for People Magazine's "Sexiest Man or Woman Alive," but how you look matters, whether it’s a first date, 500th date, and especially when public speaking. By that I’m not talking about just your physical appearance – but physical and emotional presence, how you carry yourself, your confidence -- and importantly, your impact on other people. Do you know what kind of impact you have? How people respond to you? What people tend to think about you, especially if they don’t know you? Is it an accurate reflection of who you are? Are you reflecting what you want?
4. BE WHO YOU ARE
While we’re hard-wired to make snapshots on physical appearance, stature and presence, individuals’ more rational thinking starts as soon as one begins to speak. Perceptions are formed, not just about what you’re saying, but who you are; you want your audience to have a true picture. Be true to your mission, passion, yourself. I’m not saying you need to immediately bare your soul – in fact, better you not. But the most genuine you -- whether on a date or when public speaking, is certainly best.
5. DON’T BE "TOO" PHONY
I say “too” phony, because, if we’re being really honest, I think everyone is probably a little phony. And it’s certainly easy to do on a first date or when giving a speech. This is understandable given we live in an era that has become a kind of narcissistic playground, where everyone thinks he or she needs to have and share the perfect story. Companies attempt to translate “Likes” into brand values (not an accurate reflection). Likewise, individuals even seemingly derive their own value and worth from social media feedback. While it’s understandable that people sometimes feel the need to pretend and portray their lives, relationships, jobs and families as perfect, it’s also a lot of pressure, a little pointless, and, not really true.
Both a date and giving a speech can be high-stress situations – even more so when you’re trying to communicate someone you’re not. And the fact is, while we all have insecurities, misgivings, weaknesses (and you don’t have to come right out and share your mistakes), people sense and appreciate a genuine self-confidence and comfort in others, mistakes and all. Besides, most people also can easily spot, and will be immediately turned off by, a phony or someone who seems to be “following a script” (both metaphorically and literally).
6. DON’T MOVE TOO FAST
All the participants in both a date and a speech want it to go well, and end well. But just like a good date, a good speech has a story line, genuine chemistry, and leaves the other person(s) with a desire to know more. This is the set-up, the build-up, the forming (or non-forming) of some kind of relationship, and it can’t be rushed. When you rush this process – trying too hard to make a point with no story or chemistry behind it – you, and your audience, end up missing that point altogether. I’m not an advocate of long speeches, but you can’t rush the process. Don’t fumble over words – or worse, read through them – or simply go through the motions, hoping for a good result. Trust your mission, the story and yourself.
7. HAVE AN ELEMENT OF SURPRISE & INTEREST
One of my friends told me that during one of her dates the guy in question, ate with his hands, talked A LOT about his hot yoga routine, and collected some pretty strange memorabilia. She summed up the story by saying, “So he was a little weird, but at least he had some interesting things to say. I’m going out with him again.”
I am not advocating that you start either a speech or a date with a “Here’s my strangest quirk,” story or try to do something just to be different (too phony), but an element of surprise/interest – as long as it’s genuine and supports your story and speech – will be remembered and help engage your audience. And at least consider ditching the power point - or most of it. There is nothing more boring and ineffective, than a speaker, or presenter, who presents 30 slides packed with bullet after mind-numbing bullet and proceeds to read at their audience.
8. IT’S REALLY ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON – NOT YOU
You’ll hear people say, “Let your date talk about themselves.” In speaking, you may not always be able to let people talk about themselves (unless you integrate questions – often a good idea) a good speech, like a good date, should still focus on the other person. While you may have a captive audience, the fact is, your average listener is probably a lot more interested in himself or herself (his life, her worries, his kids, her texts, his concerns) than he or she is in you. Connect to that person rather than expecting that listener to connect to your platform. There is a great quote by Maya Angelou who said, “People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Your job is to make them feel something productive – positive, engaged, happy, inspired, committed.
9. READ THE SIGNS
In dating, as in speaking, you will know if it goes well, or not. Just like a date, during a speech, you will (or should!) get a feel for the chemistry in the room. Are people paying attention? Nodding? Smiling? Laughing? Watching you intently? When speaking, reading the signs – just like on a date – can be a tough one. Unfortunately, some people are so nervous and/or over-practiced that they just tend to get up and read, paying no attention to the audience’s response, which in turn doesn’t allow them to adapt accordingly or pause as necessary – and pauses can be one of the most important factors in speaking. This is ironic because the audience’s reaction – and what they think and take from your speech – is more important than what you have to say. As we covered above, it is really about the other person – your audience.
10. IF IT GOES BADLY, KEEP GOING
Now, depending on your definition of “badly,” you could think you may be better off up and walking out. Not true. In fact some of my best dates, and best speeches, have had a “bump” that needed to be overcome. Likewise, I’ve seen other speakers fall on the ground, walk into podiums and seemingly forget entire portions of their speech. One poor guy even lost a tooth during his speech. We all recovered. Most of us, recovered well. While you should try and take precautions so things like this don’t happen, there may be times when they do – and it seems like something you can’t recover from. You can. Besides, you may be able to walk out on a bad date, but during a speech, you don’t really have a choice. Keep going.
11. A GOODBYE KISS OR HUG?
If first impressions are important, so are the endings/conclusions of great dates and great speeches. It is important to close on a good note. And you need to think this through – how you’re going to end it and what your audience needs - long before the close, in order to make sure all ends well.
Wishing you the best of luck with all your future dates and speeches.
Later this week, we'll talk more about audiences.
Previous topics in our speaking series (click on links below to read):
- Want to Give a Great Speech? First, Become a Great Speaker
- Know Your Mission: Nine Questions You Need to Ask Yourself.
- Become a Great Speaker. Mission. Excuses & Jackson Browne
- Take it Easy, Chuckles. How To -- and Not To -- Use Humor in Speeches
Patty McDonough Kennedy is CEO of Kennedy Spencer (www.kennedyspencer.net) a marketing communication agency, and Human Works (www.humanworks.guru), a communication training company. She works with companies and individuals across the world to develop effective marketing, communication and speaking programs that measurably improve communication, raise awareness and increase sales. Follow her blog at www.humanworks.guru