Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Speaking of Manipulation by Speakers

"Listen to me! This is IMPORTANT!!!"

Sounds like something a kid might say, right? Absolutely - as kids we can end up feeling ignored and minimized, and the only way to break through is to yell, to get dramatic, and sometimes....even CRY!

Funny thing - we often carry those feelings, and those tactics, into adulthood - and if we're speakers, onto the stage.

Are you shocked? Aghast? Don't believe it?

When was the last time you heard a speaker literally tell you how important what they are saying is? When was the last time they lowered their voice, gnarled their face intensely, and shoved their words toward you for minutes at a time, vs. a well-placed 10 word line to make a point? When was the last time they talked about their dead parents, mentors, or old friends in a way to make you feel bad for them, instead of giving you something from those who passed to make you feel good for YOU? When was the last time you watched a speaker actually cry on stage, and felt that pit in your stomach as you debated whether it was real or not?

When was the last time YOU were guilty of doing this yourself?
It's an easy trap to fall into, especially if you're trying to win a competition - not just in Toastmasters, by the way - or if you're just starting out as a speaker, and experience success early on with this approach.

As speakers, we DO have important messages to share, and we are invested in getting our audience to remember them. But audiences need to be able to decide for themselves what is important, and they are more than capable of doing so.

How do you avoid being unintentionally manipulative?

1. As my friend Craig Valentine, author of World Class Speaking, says 'Don't Do Therapy On Stage.' If you like to speak, it's almost in your DNA to share your stories. But if you're not ready yet, if you're too emotionally close to the situation, you'll end up bringing your audience down with you, instead of sharing the true message from the situation that will uplift them to a place you want them to go.

2. Don't Monologue Too Much. The downfall of many a super-villain, it's an easy place for us to go onstage. This is when we get out of storytelling mode and just start preaching. If your speech hasn't made your points for you, 2-3 minutes of impassioned convincing and pleading isn't going to help. Instead, remind them of your points, and put them in a position of power to use them.

3. Don't Be a Drama Queen, or King. Public speaking isn't MacBeth. You don't need to put your body into wild gesticulations, or worse yet, start ACTING on the stage. Gestures planned to the second that look more like dance moves than natural physical movements will distract from the meat of your message, and actually weaken your connection. People go from LISTENING to WATCHING.

4. Separate Yourself from Your Presentation. Video yourself, and show it to a trusted coach. It's easy to be too close to your material. Let a more objective source provide feedback.

How do you be intentionally manipulative for the good of the audience?
1. It's okay to flag a point, tell people to write this down, suggest this is one of the nuggets they want to pay attention to, etc. But to try to emotionally drive it into them with dramatic vocal gyrations will often put your audience into one of two emotional states: Sympathy, in the case of emotional manipulations, or Defensiveness, if they feel you're ramming your message down their throat.

2. Pick your moments, and plan your exits. There are times it is OK to be dramatic, emotional, and intense. Keep them short, and always link them to a point that is ultimately positive. If you bring your audience down, end the segment with some humor to lift them up. At the very least, let the next section of your presentation lighten the mood.

3. Ask yourself 'Is this for them, or me?' There's no denying a good emotional story, or general intensity onstage, or even crying will affect your audience. The question is - is it for their edification, or your own? Are you putting them through something for their greater good, or just trying to look good and feel good about YOURSELF when you step off stage - often into the comforting arms of a sympathetic audience?

4. Know the difference between persuasion and manipulation. Dave Lakhani's book 'Persuasion - The Art of Getting What You Want' does a great job discussion these concepts. Persuasion is based in giving your audience the ability to choose the choice you've made most appealing over the long haul. Manipulation is dragging them, with or without their permission, into an emotional state that they won't be able to maintain when you're gone.

5. Realize your message is important in its own right. It shouldn't need the drama, the preaching, the intensity we're tempted to bring to it. Instead, bring humor, bring great examples, and show uplifting and productive outcomes. Then it's up to the audience to decide how important your message is to them.

Yes, it is our job as speakers to persuade, convince, cojole, and even push our audience from the state of mind they came to our presentation with to the state of mind they need to be in to improve their performance, their attitude, and their life in general. Just remember, a little intensity, a little emotion, a little dramatic flair - goes a LONG way.


Now go Speak & Deliver :)

1 comment:

  1. The line sometimes is thin, between manipulation and persuasion... but I do know so well when it begins to be propaganda! And besides, many believe what they think is "for their good" and others are just too good to manipulate us. As I was manipulated in my youth, in the Communist Romania, I know what I am speaking about. Plus, all the TV sometimes is just disgusting manipulating.

    I do not think we should detach ourselves too much from our beliefs and passions, perhaps some times take a step back, and think. Or even, as I make sometimes, explain the effects of different techniques.



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