It’s important to understand that whether we like it or not, we are constantly communicating, it’s in the clothes we wear, the shoes we choose, the way we speak and the way we move, it’s in everything.
Whether we like it or not, we are constantly communicating, but what messages are we sending? Can there be a disconnect between our intention and our impact?
To begin with, it’s clear that we tend to make pretty quick judgments about people based on what we see, and that’s ok, Mark Bowden an international expert in human behaviour and body language says that 500 million years of evolutionary data has hardwired us to immediately judge people on whether they are a potential friend, potential enemy, potential mate and if they’re not strongly indicating any of those three, then we are indifferent to them, they are of no relevance or importance to us.
And all of this is happening unconsciously, so how can we possibly influence anything?
This is where Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy comes in. She says we must focus on building a balance between liking, trust, and respect before we can begin to influence and persuade.
In other words, she says, in caveman days it was more important to know if a person was going to steal your stuff and kill you than it was to know if they could build a fire.
“Trust came first; competence came second.”
This is still as true today as it was back then.
And knowing this is great news for us because if we can become more consciously aware of how we communicate and focus on building trust, then we can become more naturally persuasive.
I’ve got two examples that demonstrate how I’ve helped people achieve this.
Trust & Engage
The first is Eduard Liebenberger. He is the Director of Technology at Jade Software Corporation and their international conference speaker. After an initial session, I identified a few problems for us to work on.
The first one was a potential enemy.
When I met Eduard, he had a habit of frowning when he spoke. This gave him the appearance of a potential enemy. He also lacked congruence between what he said and his facial expressions.
The next problem was the delivery of a complex and technical subject.
Eduard was talking about artificial intelligence. Over half the audience were potential consumers and could easily get lost in the complexity of the subject and feel stupid. This all accumulated into a lack of engagement in the Q&A.
Eduard told me that at his last talk after he had finished speaking the MC jumped on stage and asked the audience if there were any questions and to his disappointment, there was silence.
So what did we do? I introduced a Basketball – I know it sounds weird, hear me out.
I saw a video of Eduard playing basketball and noticed he had a range of expressions while he was playing, so I added the basketball to all of our delivery sessions. Eduard would bounce the ball as we practiced which helped him relax, stopped him from thinking, and stopped him from frowning. We reduced indicators of the potential enemy through interaction with the ball. Eduard would smile more and frown less.
Next, we simplified the subject. We added a couple of short personal stories that helped simplify the content and we used the phrase “in other words” to force him to include a simpler example. We made it safe to engage.
At the end of his talk, I asked Eduard to give the audience 30 seconds to discuss any questions they might have with the people around them.
This gave the audience time to process the material and decide if they had any questions. They then knew what they wanted to ask and how they wanted to ask it, essentially removing the potential threat of public embarrassment—all of this built liking, trust, and respect from the audience.
So what was the outcome?
The delivery was engaging and entertaining and people loved it, Eduard became likeable and approachable.
And the Q&A was fantastic!!! Everyone was so comfortable and prepared to ask questions that the MC had to invite everyone to continue talking with Eduard in the break as they ran out of time to answer all the great questions. There was a line of people wanting to discuss business opportunities with Eduard, leading to future engagements that were profitable for Jade.
The larger impact though, is that through Eduard, Jade is recognised as an organisation that is understandable and approachable.
Short & Sweet
My second example is Stephen Pike, Executive Sales Manager for Williams Corporation. Stephen was asked to speak at a wealth creation seminar for five minutes about property development.
The first problem was that he was scheduled to speak for five minutes after an accountant had spoken for an hour and a half. This is a major issue for any speaker as the audience will be tired, restless, hungry, bored, in need of the bathroom, or all of the above.
The second problem is Stephen is a salesperson and that is his title. That title can make us see him as a potential enemy, some sneaky bugger who is just going to sell at us, or we can become indifferent, you know, here comes the sales spiel, time to switch off.
The other issue with being a salesperson is that by nature, there is a belief that the longer you speak, the more you can persuade.
So what did we do?
First, I gave Stephen a five-minute sand timer. We reduced his talk to four minutes and 50 seconds. His only goal was to refine and practice so he could finish the talk before the sand ran out and make sure that everyone could see it.
Second, no selling from the stage. I asked him to remove any selling language and dominate his slide deck with beautiful big images and only talk about all the exciting things that are happing in the property development industry and the benefits to Christchurch as a city.
So what was the outcome?
Stephen builds liking and trust for not selling, and most importantly, he builds integrity for keeping his word and sticking to his time. People wanted to come and talk with him and that night he sold two houses valued at over $700,000 and generated solid leads that turned into future sales easily reaching over a million dollars.
A Winning Formula...
So what can you do to start building liking trust and respect so you can influence outcomes?
1. Simplify the subject
A lot of the work I do with speaker coaching and investment pitch coaching is pretending that I have no idea what people are talking about, and sometimes I don’t have to pretend, as I literally have no clue.
I can spend a fair amount of time getting a simple explanation of how the product solves a problem, who the people are, and why they are passionate about what they do. So remember, simplify the subject, you are the subject matter expert, not your audience.
2. Create some easy to remember stories and animate them
The reason storytelling works so well is that it naturally engages the seven universal facial expressions identified by Dr Desmond John Morris. Dr Morris is the author of many amazing and groundbreaking books. He spent eight years travelling to 60 countries to identify over 3000 unique facial expressions. Of those 3000, he discovered that there were seven that were universally identifiable across cultures and across the globe. They are fear, contempt, disgust, anger, sadness, happiness, and surprise. The sympathetic mirror neurons in people’s brains react to what they see expressed on other people’s faces and release brain chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. A well-delivered multi emotional talk will allow the audience to feel what you are saying and good stories make this an easy option for you to deliver.
3. Write a script
Do you think that Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech or President Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech just popped into their heads? No, they wrote scripts. And the reason it’s important to write a script is that when we are anxious or excited, we all have a fall-back position. It can be bad jokes, dad jokes, swearing, mumbling, even just dry boring monotone. Scripting out what we want to say helps us to refine our thoughts and find the most appropriate way to convey our message and become consciously aware of our words.
4. Passion, not demonic possession
I remember two presentations that made me cringe.
Example One: A speaker gave a pretty good presentation, during the Q&A, there were a couple of general questions, and then the room went quiet. Disturbed by this, the speaker said: “So everyone understands everything I’ve just said? Raise your hand if you understand everything I’ve just said”. Everyone looked around at each other and slowly all the hands in the room went up. I can guarantee everyone did not understand what had been said, but they felt very intimidated and just put their hands up anyway, who would want to continue to communicate with someone who was being openly passive-aggressive? To this day, I don’t understand what motivated that person to destroy all the good work they had done by ending it in such a negative way.
Example Two: A guest speaker was invited to speak to an audience of young students, but couldn’t keep them engaged. As students do, they started to look at their phones. In frustration, the speaker slammed their fists on the table as a way of shocking them into paying attention. The students’ bodies release adrenalin and cortisol, engaging the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response. They turned their bodies side on in a self-protective posture and buried themselves deeper into their phones.
In both of these cases, it appeared that the speakers had become temporarily possessed. Their intentions may have been one thing; however, their behaviour showed something very different. I only wish I could have videoed them both and been able to replay the reaction of the audience to their behaviour. I would have asked them what they wanted to achieve and how they could have got the outcome they wanted through a different approach.
5. Add value
If you have imposter syndrome, tall poppy syndrome, or you just hate pushing the sell, then try to add value where you can. You can yell as loud as you like when you’re helping others to succeed.
To finish off
Remember that when we can become consciously aware of how we communicate, we can be naturally persuasive and that applies to selling, pitching, speaking - pretty much everything; nationally and internationally.
I hope this gives you some insights into some small changes you can make that will have a huge impact on your performance when speaking and pitching.