“According to most studies, people’s number-one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means, to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
In one of Jerry Seinfeld’s most famous bits, he remarked on the strange, preternatural hold of fear that public speaking has on most people. Seinfeld himself, notably a prolific performer, is not one of those afflicted by the fear of speaking in public. But research shows that as much as 75% of the population may find themselves intimated when they’ve got more than one pair of ears listening to their message.
That might only seem like a problem if you speak or teach for a living. But some of the most valuable opportunities in everyone’s life are punctuated with public speaking: leading a key meeting or delivering a presentation, sharing testimonies and takeaways in churches and home small groups, collaborating on group projects, and toasting loved ones at weddings and other special occasions.
The more we get caught up in our own public communication confusion, the more muddled our message gets – and the more we rob others of the value we could add to them.
How to Connect when Communicating with a Group
When we take center stage to share, we may be the only one speaking, but we are not the only one participating. Communication can only happen if the speaker and the listener are actively engaged in the process.
Whether you’re speaking to a room of five or five thousand, the buy-in of your audience is your best friend. Here are four things to keep in mind that will help you get your message across.
1. FORGET ABOUT YOURSELF.
Maxwell Leadership founder John C. Maxwell has spent the last 40 years communicating and connecting. He has spoken to crowds of thousands, in dozens of countries, and in rooms where world-shaping decisions were being made.
As an expert in public communicating, he says, “You can’t be all about you and all about them.”
Very naturally, we become hyper-aware of ourselves when we stand in front of a group. We feel all the eyes on us and with them, the weight of expectation – we’re wondering how we look and hoping what we say will land.
But we are there for them – to teach, to share, to instruct, to develop, to add, to bless.
We are there to help our listeners leave changed and empowered. Only their engagement can determine if we’ve communicated effectively. Focusing less on ourselves helps us “lean in” to the listeners, and they respond to that.
2. FIND COMMON GROUND TO WALK UPON.
When we stand at the head of a group and speak, we create a difference in dynamic between ourselves and the audience. We distinguish ourselves and those listening see us as separate from the group.
This may be more true for a speaker introducing themselves to an organization for the first time than the teammate we’ve known for years leading their first meeting, but it remains true regardless. We can quickly reconnect ourselves with the audience by finding common ground with them.
Think about the last time you found out you had an experience in common with someone else. Maybe you’ve both been to the same semi-obscure vacation destination or you’ve both mastered a skill largely unappreciated by society.
No matter how well you knew them – or didn’t know them – before, that understanding instantly connected you. It immediately brought you together in a way that built a bridge for future communication.
Your listeners know in their minds that you’re a person, but finding common ground to walk upon convinces their hearts.
3. BE AUTHENTIC.
For years, Coca-Cola connoisseurs have been praising the taste of Mexican Coke. They think of it as a genuine treat above the caliber of the common Coke, because unlike American Coke, which is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, Mexican Coke is made with cane sugar.
People would rather have the real thing than something manufactured.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t prepare when we’re addressing a group. You honor your listeners’ time when you polish up your delivery. This anonymous quote sums it up well: “Be yourself, but be your best self.”
3. ASSUMPTION IS THE MOTHER OF ALL MESS-UPS.
Simon Newcomb, 19th century astronomer and Johns Hopkins mathematics professor, once wrote, “May not our mechanicians…be ultimately forced to admit that aerial flight is one of the great class of problems with which man can never cope, and give up all attempts to grapple with it?”
6 weeks later, the Wright brothers successfully spearheaded the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk.
Now, most of Newcomb’s contemporaries were skeptical of the prospects of manned flight. He was not the only expert blindsided by the Wright brothers’ success. But as one of its most vocal and most passionate critics, his words do teach us a valuable lesson: assumption is the mother of all mess-ups.
One of the fastest ways to disengage the audience is to build a narrative on top of assumptions. Your listeners have their own perspectives, backgrounds, and lived experiences that can – and will – be different from yours. Their unique insight will color their interpretation of what you say.
If you have the chance, do some research and reflection on who you’ll be speaking for so that you can best prepare. If not, avoid sweeping generalizations and talking on behalf of your listeners.
Are you looking for ways to up-level your communication skills?
At Maxwell Leadership, our heart is personal growth and development. It is so much part of our DNA that at our twice-annual event, the International Maxwell Conference, we have an entire day dedicated to personal growth – and we’d like to invite you to join.
On March 13, 2023, join Dr. John C. Maxwell and his panel of personal growth experts at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Florida (or remotely!) for an entire day of growth and development training. Not only will you connect with other professionals passionate about achieving their full potential, but you’ll also go home equipped with an intentional action plan to begin putting in place same-day.
You can register for Personal Growth Day here – we would love to grow with you!