Growing up I often marveled at great speakers, politicians, coaches, or preachers. Speaking never came naturally to me so I figured these people were just born with it. I’ve never had formal training in communication or wanted to be a public speaker. That became irrelevant when I took a job as a youth pastor back in grad school. I spoke Sunday mornings, but most of my prep was spent trying to figure out WHAT to say rather than HOW to say it. I quickly found out that good content without good delivery is dead.
Today I speak in a variety of settings, all of which require different skills. Teaching students in a classroom is different from conducting a seminar. Facilitating a roundtable is different from preaching a sermon, and preaching is very different in a small church vs. a large one. The good thing is that communication is a skill, and skills can be learned and developed. I’m not saying anyone can be Churchill, Pericles, or T.D. Jakes, but we can all be better. Here are a few things I’ve picked up:
1. Be yourself. A lot of the stress comes from fear: that you’re not as good as someone else or that you have to be someone else to be effective. I grew up around a lot of fiery people—preachers, my basketball coaches, my father. I love motivational talks, but my personality is laid back. Since my easygoing demeanor will always show naturally, I’ve had to learn to communicate passion, confidence, and energy so I don’t come across as too easygoing or lackadaisical. This leads to #2:
2. Get a leg up. The most “honest” part of the body is waist down. It is the least conscientious part of the body and the first to respond to stress. On the flip side, being balanced communicates control. Power is conveyed by taking up space, so I try to take a step forward when I can. I also try to keep my feet 6 to 8 inches apart. Anything wider looks like I want to tackle you (I’m 6’2″), anything less makes me look like a flimsy tree (I’m 6’2″). Case in point: just prior to the first ever televised presidential debates, Richard Nixon severely bumped his knee. As a result, he favored his leg behind the podium and looked oddly crooked. TV viewers said Nixon lost by a landslide. In the poll for those who only heard the debate on radio, Nixon won by a landslide.
3. Make ’em talk to the hand. Interrogators watch the hands of people they are questioning because hands are vital in nonverbal communication. When your hands are all the way down, your energy decreases and you’ll have a stoic face. Don’t believe me? See how awkward it feels to smile big or laugh hysterically with your hands in your pockets. Bring your hands to waist level and you’ll be calm. Bring your hands to the chest or above, and you’ll become energetic and animated. I practice changing the location of my hands depending on what emotion I want to convey.
I’ve had to develop these skills to make myself a better communicator. Some habits (usually the bad ones) are die-hard, but the payoff of someone understanding your message or pitch is worth it.
Question: What do you do to make yourself a better communicator?
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