Let’s imagine a scenario where two people are singing the same song separately, the first person leaves the audience speechless and is rewarded with a standing ovation. The other leaves the audience cold. Again let’s imagine two professors giving the same lecture. Both teachers are teaching from the same syllabus, have the same notes, and spend the same amount of time speaking about the same subject to the same group of people. One touches the minds and hearts of his students while the other leaves them confused; why is that?
Shouldn’t the same words in the song evoke the equivalent feelings from the audience? Or shouldn’t have the same lecture inspire the students to want to learn more about the subject? What was the difference? The reason for this is because people do not respond to others based on merely the words that are used but also on the connection they experience with that person.
In Stephen Lucas' The Art of Public Speaking, he states: “it is vital to make a personal connection with the audience. Your ability to establish this connection can make the difference between being evaluated positively or negatively, being believed or doubted, or delivering an effective or ineffective presentation. So, how do you make this connection? Simple, focus on identification, and immediacy. Identification happens when a speaker emphasizes common values, goals, and experiences that exist between him or her and the audience. Immediacy refers to performing behaviors that increase feelings of liking, pleasure, and closeness in the minds of audience members”
Since establishing a strong connection can make a difference between a good or bad experience, we do well to focus on both the identification of common values; and immediacy or closeness of minds. It is important that we communicate in such a way that the tone of our delivery is not drowned out by how we perform the delivery.
How to prevent our words from being muffled by our actions?
When some speakers try to communicate with others many believe the message is all that matters. However, the reality is that communication goes way beyond words. John C Maxwell states in his book Everyone Communicates Few Connect, that in one psychological study on communication it was discovered that face-to-face communication can be broken down into three components: words, tone of voice, and body language.
What’s really interesting is that in certain situations where verbal and non-verbal messages are inconsistent what people see us do, and the tone that we use far out-weight the words that we use. In a situation where feelings are being used to communicate what we say only accounts for 7% for what is believed. The way we say it accounts for about 38% and what our audience sees accounts for about 55%. Amazingly more than 90% of the impression we are trying to convey has nothing to do with the words that we are using, so if you believe that communication is all about words you are totally missing the mark. While these statistics may help us understand how people may lack communication they don’t help us in finding a solution.
What’s the solution to effective communication?
All communication has three essential components. The intellectual, the emotional, and the volitional. When we try to communicate we must include thought (something we know); emotional (something we feel); and action (something we do). I believe three components are critical to connecting with others through our communication. Failure to include any one of the three and you can expect to experience a disconnect from people and a breakdown in communication.
Here is an example if I communicate something I don’t feel, I would come across dispassionate. If I communicate something that I do not do I am theoretical. If I try to communicate something that I do not know that that communication would be seen as unfounded. When components are missing the results can be exhausting. However, when all components are present the speaker will show convictions. The end result is forming a connection with your audience.
What are the characteristics of forming a connection?
Any message that you are trying to convey must come from what you believe. You can’t just deliver words. A speaker shouldn’t merely convey information. It’s important to be more than just a messenger. You must be the message you want to deliver, otherwise forming a connection is impossible. That is why it can be difficult to relate someone else's vision to a group.
Yet if you are a speaker in a company and you are not a top leader that is exactly what you are expected to do. So the challenge here is how do you convey this message with credibility? By making it YOUR vision! The first step is to uncover how the vision positively impacts you. You must connect with it on a personal level once you do this you will be able to connect with others through inspiration. “Nothing can happen through you until it happens to you”. This kind of ownership is necessary for leaders and speakers. It’s important that a speaker connects with others through their experience.
When speaking to others the goal should never be to just deliver a speech but to add value to people. To do this what is said to your audience must be in the context of the message that you believe in. Spend time to tailor what you are going to say to fit the needs of the audience. After you finish speaking, take time out to evaluate whether you connected with the group. This can be done by going through a connection checklist.
What is a connection checklist?
A connection checklist includes the following questions:
Integrity (did you do your best)
Expectation (did you meet the needs of the people you are trying to connect)
Relevance (did you understand and relate to the audience)
Value (did you add value to the group)
Application (did you give your audience a game plan)
Change (did you make a difference)
As a speaker, if you can honestly answer these questions with a yes then you are connecting with people. If you do any professional speaking I strongly suggest that you use the connection checklist to ensure that you are providing value to the people that you are connecting with.
When you take the responsibility to connect with others by serving others instead of yourself the probability of connecting will increase greatly. Your attitude will speak louder than your words.
The four components of the connection
If we want to be successful in connecting with others we have to be sure that our communication goes beyond just words. How can this be achieved? This can be done by connecting on four levels: visually, intellectually, emotionally, and verbally.
Let’s review the first component of connecting, what people see? Connecting visually, between hearing and sight, sight is the more important and powerful sense when it comes to communication. The reason for this is because we remember over 85% of what we see but less than 15% of what we hear. This means that if you want people to remember what you say, you must also support your words by showing your ideas as well. You must learn to use the power of visual representation to make a strong connection with your audience’s interest.
Anytime you are in front of other people to communicate the visual impression you make will either help or hurt you. It can be said that we have just seven seconds to make the right first impression. As soon as you enter a room we broadcast verbal and non-verbal cues to our audience. In business, those seconds will determine if you come across as confident, sincere, glad to be there. Yes, the first impressions are important but understanding how we connect on a visual level will help us get the message across.
Whether you realize it or not people respond immediately to our facial expression, gestures, stance, energy. They react to your voice, the tone and pitch. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or a hundred audience sizes. People can perceive a lot in seven seconds. They can decide whether to follow your message or simply disregard what you say. so, it's important that you minimize distraction by not being too flashy with your dressing and grooming.
When connecting on an intellectual level you must try to understand what your audience already knows and try to add value to that. To effectively connect with people on an intellectual level you must know two things: your subject and yourself. The first is pretty obvious. We all heard people expound on a subject about which he knows nothing. At best it can be comical at worst it’s insulting.
However, most of the time it simply can be seen as inauthentic. There is no substitute for personal experience when we want to connect to people’s hearts. If we try to speak on a subject that we know nothing about the audience will experience a credibility gap. If we have experienced something but can’t convey it well enough the audience will experience frustration. As a speaker, you have to be able to bring both together to convey a consistent message.
As important as it is to know your subject it is equally vital to know yourself. Effective communicators are comfortable in their own skin. They are confident. The reason for this is because they know what they can and cannot do. These types of communicators gravitate to a communication sweet-spot. No one starts out as an effective communicator. It takes time.
The third component is emotion. Great leaders don’t only win over the minds of others, but their hearts too. If we desire to be great connectors we have to first win over the person’s heart then the rest of him will follow. Listening to people speak and try to connect I have witnessed too many rely on just their intellect. In addition, many of them have overestimated themselves resulting in losing their audience.
The biggest mistake that a person can make when trying to connect is just to believe that they only have to lay out a logical line of reasoning and that alone will captivate their audience. This is a grave mistake. If that was the case everyone would love to hear lawyers speak. Communication does not depend on syntax, but on the emotional context on which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you.
The exact words that we use are far less important than the intensity, or conviction of those words. For this reason, when speaking to a group it is important to feel the words that you are saying and help your audience to feel them too. When this is done you are truly connecting with people. People that can connect with others on an emotional level are said to have a presence about them.
I hope that I have convinced you that communication goes way beyond words, and that to connect with people you must appeal to them visually, intellectually, and emotionally. However, we must not ignore the power of words. Our fourth component is verbal. Words are the currency of ideas and have the power to change the world. What we say and how we say things have a powerful impact. People respond to the language that we use. The words that we choose to speak can build up or break down. They can make a boring talk into an unbelievable moment. For this reason, we must choose words that are positive and memorable.
How a person says something also says a lot. The art of communicating beyond words requires the ability to bring all four factors together. When you can do this you can successfully connect with the people that you are speaking with.