Communication Matters
Dress Up
As a kid, I never got that excited about Halloween. I probably went Trick-or-Treating a few times, and probably attended a community event or two. I loved the candy, to be sure, but dressing up to fool people into giving me stuff never felt… genuine.
And then, I had kids. It was fun to dress them up. Lion. Football player. Fairy. Buzz Lightyear. Fireman. Take them out. Eat their candy when they weren’t looking. That may or may not have happened.  
A few years ago, the MBA class I was privileged to teach scheduled my class on Halloween. I decided to show up in full regalia. My go-to adult costume is that of a referee. It got wild reviews at Disney one year with the kids in tow. So I figured it would at least get a laugh in the college world. It did. Class went off splendidly. But it still didn’t feel right.  
One of the biggest battles we face as we coach speakers is the internal feelings of what we’re asking them to do. “That feels fake.” “I don’t think that’s the authentic me.” “I am not comfortable doing that.” “That just isn’t me.” The “that” could be a big gesture, a change of voice, or a particular posture. It doesn’t really matter. The battle is in the mind. When it doesn’t “feel” right, where do we go to decide what action is appropriate? Sadly, most people stop right there. If it doesn’t feel right, then why should I do it? After all, aren’t I the foremost authority on what the authentic me really is?
It sounds like a nice argument. And it would be, if it were true. But, like most questions around communication, the answer is found it Rule #1. It’s not what I think, feel, or believe. It’s what the audience thinks, feels, and believes. It’s hard to convince ourselves of this when we’re in the moment, which is why feedback and training/practice are so important. We must train ourselves to do what the audience needs, even when it doesn’t feel right.
The best argument against these complaints is bedtime stories for children. Parents have no trouble acting out the big, bad wolf or changing their voice when quoting the three little pigs. They do it because the child wants and needs their bedtime storyteller to give maximum expression. But ask them to be expressive in the work environment? “That’s just not who I am.” They aren’t little pigs, either, but they act like it because the audience needs them to.
Here are three tips to train yourself to act according to what your audience needs.
  1. Get a (professional) outside opinion. Not your spouse. Not your friend for the last three decades. Someone who represents your best professional interests and the interests of the audience you intend to reach. Preferably someone who hasn’t seen you speak a lot. Let them speak candidly about what they want to see.
  2. Record and watch yourself frequently. One of the reasons people don’t express much is they don’t really have a good idea of what they look like. Once you know what seems big to you really looks like, you can produce it on command much easier.
  3. Constantly push yourself.  When we ask if people typically err on the side of too much or too little expression, the answer is always “too little”. And that’s the correct answre. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to ask a client to tone it down for fear they might embarrass themself. Go big. As we say in our workshops, “It’s never as big/crazy/wild/stupid as it feels.
It’s really not that scary to act how your audience wants you to act. Dress up that presentation with the greatest costume of all – a speaker who appears passionate and can keep an audience’s attention.
Communication matters. What are you saying?
We’ve set dates for our two-day intensive public speaking workshops for 2023. We’ll be in Raleigh, NC on January 30-31, May 22-23, and September 11-12, 2023. Of course, we can come to your team on your schedule and customize programs for your specific needs. Call us to discuss.
We are increasing the rates for our public workshops in 2023. However, if you register before December 1st, you can still get the 2022 prices for any 2023 workshop. Use code price2022 when you check out from the signup page.
Why are excuses bad for a speaker? See our video on What Not To Say.  
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Communication matters. What are YOU saying?
Alan Hoffler, Philorator (Teacher & Lover of Speaking)
(919) 386-9238 

Alan Hoffler is the Executive Director and Principal Trainer at MillsWyck Communications. He is a Trainer, Speaker, Author, and Coach who passionately moves others to effective and engaging communication.