Making Sense of Speechmaking – How You Look

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Making Sense of Speechmaking – How You Look

January 22, 2009 Persuasion 2

It’s a big week for speechmaking.  The week began with MLK Day.  Then the inauguration of our new President.  (He did a great job, too, once he got past the flubbery oath of office!)  But the speechmaking is just getting started, folks.  With a major sea change in policy, there will be pronouncements galore, congressional grandstanding, and the punditocracy will pontificate it’s own perspective.  

SpeakerTo help you make sense of it all, and help you make more persuasive presentations,  I’m going to drill down a bit into how to make speeches that make the most sense to your group or audience!

There are two sides to the delivery stage of speechmaking, the inside of it and the outside of it. First I’m going to talk about how you come across, the way you appear to others, and then I’ll tell you exactly how to get yourself in the right state of mind and frame of reference to come across persuasively.  And while the politicians and pundits may or may not have a clue, you certainly will. 

There are three things that matter about your behavior when talking to a group.  Well, maybe there are 2 dozen, but these three constitute an excellent organizing framework for addressing the subject at hand.  

It matters how you look.

It matters how you sound.

And it matters how you talk.  

Since persuasive messages must address both the logical or factual side of information and the feeling or emotional aspect of people’s interests, an effective speaker makes certain that what is said has this emotional undercurrent.  You may have heard (or read, in one of my books) of Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s fascinating study of how people make sense of messages that carry feeling or emotion.  

Dr. Mehrabian determined that a person speaking such messages is understood first from what he or she appears to be saying (55%) then from what he or she sounds like she is saying (38%) and finally through the words the speaker chooses to say whatever it is he or she is saying, (7%).  This is a useful model or frame of reference for organizing the best way to speak to others.  

I’m a big fan of comedy.  In part, that’s because comedy tends to tell profound truths that are otherwise hard to recognize.  I remember, and perhaps you remember, Billy Crystal’s wonderful sendup, on Saturday Night Live (and later, in his standup appearances and specials) of Fernando Lamas saying, “It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look.  And, darlink, you look marvelous!”  

HOW YOU LOOK – It’s a funny phrase in that it says two things at once!  How you look at your audience matters, and how you look to your audience matters.  You can control some of this with the way you use your eyes, your face, your posture, your gestures and, yes, your clothing!

I’ll continue along these lines over the next several posts.  Until then, and after then, your comments are always welcome and appreciated.   I’d love to hear about your response to the appearance of presenters and speakers.  Ever seen one you could relate to?  One you couldn’t?  Ever thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me?” 

Be well,



2 Responses

  1. Gary C Smith says:

    My wife and I owned a beauty salon for 22 years. Looks got us through strange economic times and continue to do so. We are a visual society and that 55% body language is steeped in our first impression, visual. If the audience likes your tie, a necklace, it catches that spark from your eye, attraction begins and the audience likes you, and as I have read “we do business with people we like.”
    The business of speaking is to have an attentive audience, looks get attention. A good haircut, a well fit outfit, set the stage. It says your prepared, you are up front to set a good example. You got their attention, now go to work.
    In the 80’s I attended many of those ‘opening up’ seminars. They were a diverse crowd set to ‘create miracles’, become unconditionally loving, lose the fear, break patterns, make a difference, go for higher goals. The trainer very effectively used costume changes to bring characters into the room that the appearance of brought up esteem and judgment issues that moved an audience to identify with or move away from the topics. He engaged the audience with the presence of his ‘Dress for Success’ outfits and his ‘street’ clothes. An elegant way of setting a stage.

  2. J.D. Meier says:

    I like your data and delivery.

    I too am a fan of comedy. One thing I’ve noticed by going to comedy clubs is that some comedians are absolute masters at working a crowd. Seriously. I’ve seen otherwise great comedians, fail when the crowd is hostile. I went often enough to see these same great comedians have off nights depending on the feel of the room. At the same time, I’ve seen one or two black belt comedians completely turn a room around, with just a few lines. I can’t put my finger on exactly how they did it, but the results were amazing.

    In the one scenario, the comedians, otherwise great, becamse self-monitoring, self-conscious, and everything spiraled down. Timing was off. Laughs were nervous. Basically, they sucked.

    In the other scenario, the comedians, met the audience, challenged them, and turned them around. It’s as if they knew how to pull the strings of the entire room. It was masterful and amazing.

    Have you seen this in action and do you know the secret of going from self-monitoring and being the audience’s road pizza to becoming one with the audience?

    > You can control some of this with the way you use your eyes, your face, your posture, your gestures and, yes, your clothing!
    what are the keys that make the right things fall into place? For example, when crossing a hi-wire, don’t look down and focus on where you are going, not where you don’t want to go.

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