We have written about motivational speaking, the ministry, teaching, and political stump speeches. They are not much different. At least not from the presenter’s point of view. Every successful presenter must read and react to his or her audience.
In a recent post you wrote about going to see Hillary Clinton at Simpson College in Iowa. It struck me that you observed the underlying dynamics of a successful presentation. Hillary was reading the crowd and responding to their needs. That is just good foot work by an accomplished speaker.
My life experience has led me to the occasional stump – that place where I was charged with either instructing or motivating a group of people. Actually, all educators or instructors or presenters must engage the concept of motivation. They must engage their audience – if the audience is not paying attention then no knowledge will be transferred. No message will be heard. No learning will occur.
Non verbal communications takes a front seat at any presentation, in church, in school, or on the political stump. The presenter naturally reads the audience. When we are talking we can see the response of our audience. When you were 16 we would sit together, a father and teen son standoff. I watched you roll your eyes and cross your arms in defiance. You would look at your watch, wondering when I would be done with the diatribe on frivolity. On one hand I understood your desire for independence of thought, on the other hand I wanted to thump you on the forehead.
My work in social service presented opportunities to teach life skills to recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. These are folks who have been lectured to by family, friends, and employers – their defiance has been stoked by many encounters with social harassment. They would walk in the room and take a seat, usually as far away from me as they could find. Then they would sit sideways in their chair, arms and legs crossed, looking about 90 degrees away from me. A fifty minute presentation can feel like six hours under those conditions. My tact in those circumstances was to speak in the jargon of the masses. I learned the ‘street talk’ and spoke the language. I was raised in a mixed race neighborhood and I used the ‘strut of the street’ to turn the heads in my direction.
The audience requires that the presenter understand them. If a presenter wants to be heard – they must demonstrate that they also hear. Your post on Hillary demonstrates that she is able to hear and respond to her audience – that is masterful work. Only time will tell if what she heard was taken to heart and will ultimately influence her decision making in the future. Her flexibility with the audience is evidence of her ability to listen and act.
But motivation cuts in two directions. The audience can motivate the speaker to new heights of confidence and animation. When an audience leans forward in their seats, makes eye contact, even verbally encourages with an ‘amen brother’ or ‘ that’s right brother’ or ‘you got that right’ then the speaker knows they are on target. They are encouraged and fortified with the reinforcement of audience participation.
Garth Brooks is performing in Kansas City tonight. There is no one who reads an audience better than him. People talk about his skills as an entertainer – I think his great skill is as a listener. He listens to the vibes and intonation of the audience and responds accordingly.
Good presenters, motivational speakers, ministers, educators, professors, or politicians know that communications is a two way street – that they have to listen even while talking.