Are the ‘best’ public speakers really the best?

In the past doctors did experiments on dead bodies and made inferences about the inner workings of live human beings.

Then they studied activity in a living brain and claimed to discover the immutable brain functions of the human being studied.

Now they study the ability of synapses in the brain to reform and develop to find out about man’s potential.

Are we always a step behind? What next?!

Small chunk approaches to communication

We dissect scientifically to discover the workings of humans and assume that the parts we discover add up to a whole. But they often don’t – take Albert Mehrabian and his oft-quoted statistic that 55% of the impact of a speaker is made by his/her body language, 37% the tone of voice and only 7% the actual words.

Mehrabian’s original 1967 study was pretty simplistic. Researchers spoke 9 single words out of context, already categorised as negative, neutral or positive (by the researchers!) in a positive or negative tone of voice (or so intended) and participants were asked to judge the feelings of the speaker. In a second study, a single neutral word was used – e.g. ‘maybe’. Participants listened to a recording of the word said in different tones (again, not in context, only intended) and at the same time were shown photos of different facial expressions – then asked the feelings of the speaker. In each case the sample of the population tested was tiny. Hardly proof of the effect of communication!

Body language is a broad-brush visible sign of subtle and ever-changing inner mental, emotional, energetic activity. We are certainly affected by body language; but we are affected more fundamentally (unconsciously as well as consciously) by the internal energy that creates both body language and tone of voice.

What happens inside us is complex. We wouldn’t just examine externals to discover how someone drives a car skilfully. Mental, emotional, spiritual and inner energy are all vital in our communication.

Body language and great speaking

The other day, I listened to a DVD of world champion speakers from one of the huge international speaking associations (you can find lots of clips on YouTube).

To my surprise I was not impressed. Why ever not? Most of the (proven!) individual elements of great speaking were there: well-planned material, excellent well-prepared choice of words; self-assured posture, expansive gesture, easy movement, approachable manner and passion in abundance; all the details of eye contact, pregnant pauses and extreme changes of voice tone, volume and pace …

What was I missing? They performed admirably – these were after all prize-winning speakers. They roused me and energised me; but they didn’t speak to me. They didn’t connect – not really. These were performances, not communications – and certainly not communications to touch my inner core.

As long as you are aware that a performance is a performance – however brilliant – there’s a gap in communication. You’re not quite there. Great actors know this truth. If you concentrate on learning performance skills alone, you learn to perform – but that’s not the whole story, you need to connect – to touch – as well.

Connection comes from a different place.

Now I’m not just talking about competitive speaking, this has general relevance too. It applies to most of our current batch of politicians; it applies to religious speakers; it applies to business leaders too. If today’s in-vogue public speaking style were to be compared to an artist’s work, it would have to be Roy Lichtenstein – Wham! – between the eyeballs, all bright colour, high contrast and gloss. But great art goes much beyond that. What about the delicate detail of Dürer, the powerful physical forms of Michelangelo, the subtle washes of Turner? – as many variations as there are artists – and they connect with us in different ways. Speaking can do that too.

So where does connection come from? It comes from a quieter inner place.

You don’t need to be a super-extrovert to communicate well. You just need to want to communicate with real people, and to want to communicate more than you want to perform brilliantly. Then connection takes place between your inner being and the inner being of your listeners. When you connect, you reach each member of your audience, and each responds positively to you. There are many different ways to do that.

It’s as simple as that really. It can be flamboyant, exciting, calm, peaceful, colourful, tender, strong – any or all of these things. Your way of doing it is fine. And with your desire for meaning and communication you and the listener come together with transparent connection – often at a level deeper than you might imagine.

As Carl Jung said:

Learn your theories and techniques well, then be prepared to set them aside when you meet the miracle of the living soul before you.

Here are some of the public speakers that have moved and influenced me and changed my thinking:

Edward De Bono, who made no effort to ‘present’ in any public sense but I had the impression he was speaking to me personally, one to one.

A man from a mental health support group who was completely terrified but spoke from his heart and reached mine.

Tim Gallwey, who during his presentation took time to find the words he wanted to say to that particular audience, and in so doing created something new.

The quiet Indian speaker whose stillness and soft voice slid under the wire and caught me unawares with her strength.

Who are yours?

And how might you communicate the best of you?

Voice of Influence Workshop, 25-26 April and again in the autumn

If you want to find your voice and your inner confidence and speak in every situation with skill and ease, then go to judyapps.co.uk and book your place on this 2-day course now.

The courses are in London. You can book online, or download a booking form to send to me. More details on the website too, or contact me if you want to talk through your situation with me.

People’s Book Prize finalists – last chance to vote, 21-29 May!

My book, Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence, has been selected as a finalist in The People’s Book Prize Non-Fiction Category – the winners will be announced at a TPBP Prestigious 4th Award Ceremony on the 29th of May. You have a chance to vote among the finalists in a narrow window from 21-29 May – I’d love you to vote for me, so will send you a reminder when I get voting details in May. You can see the other finalists here: http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/winners2012.htm.

Look here to buy my other books on Amazon – either soft back or Kindle editions.

Spirit of Coaching: How to Be Happy in Challenging Times

This Sunday afternoon, 14 April, 2 – 5.30. Register at http://www.bkwsu.org/uk/whatson/national-events. Robert Holden will be speaking. These events are free but you need to register. See you there?

Happiness is a spiritual path. The more you learn about true happiness, the more you discover the truth of who you are, what is important, and what your life is for.  Robert Holden

Daily Speaking Tips & Inspiration facebook.com/JudyAppsVoice.

You can learn loads about speaking and confidence for free on my FaceBook page – Facebook.com/JudyAppsVoice. Have you had a look yet?  Please ‘like’ the page if you pay a visit!

I offer lots of useful tips on Twitter too.

E-Courses to download free from judyapps.co.uk

  • 10 Secrets of Overcoming Performance Anxiety
  • How to Speak with More Authority
  • How to Raise Your Profile
  • An Introduction to NLP
That’s it!
Do get in touch with me with questions and comments about voice, public speaking and communication in general.
Go well,


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