Creative artists in general welcome aloneness and are often apart, by themselves, and deliberately seek heavenly solitude. To be able to work with no one to bother them and boss them around and divert them from their creative goals may be the main reasons they go into the arts to find fulfillment nothing else brings. Some creatives cannot produce a single thing unless no one is near. However, they cannot work alone forever.
The day inevitably dawns for artists–particularly if they have any hope of making money from their art or of establishing any kind of favorable reputation–when they must come out of hiding and leave their easel or keyboard. They must go somewhere, telephone someone, meet people, sometimes in groups, and talk. In that world of person to person conversation and group dynamics, rules other than sentence structure and perspective apply. The artists leave their expertise and often become fledglings in a world they don’t quite feel secure in. The artist wishing to survive in that give and take and take again competitive marketplace of the arts today will have to learn new skills related to how they present themselves to groups and the media.
Nowadays authors usually do their own promotions, but in the past the deal was that that was the publisher’s job. I was surprised back then to learn that not all writers were sent on promotional tours to tout their book–in a way shocked–that some authors make a poor impression in the media. The publishers’ thinking was, “The book looks good, but if the author is not able to inspire audiences to purchase it and may even be a disincentive, why send them out of the road at the cost of…?”
You might think that having a facility with language, authors in particular would be articulate and persuasive and make good guests. But that is not always–maybe not usually–the case. That has been confirmed a number of times at various author’s readings, author’s speeches, and at book signings, etc., I’ve attended, the uncomfortable authors obviously as aware as everyone else that they had lost the audience. At times I have been embarrassed for the author and wondered why in the world they didn’t take the time to learn how to speak effectively.
I participated in an arts center poetry reading, and I noticed that many of the poets that day were rather diffident and shy in front of the audience. Although many were fine poets, they lacked confidence. Speakers wishing to connect with their listeners must be sure of themselves, their skills, and the positive effect they will have on audiences.
The objective when a writer, artist, or most any other person in the arts appears on radio, television, and cable, discusses their work in face to face contact with people in groups, gives a formal speech, talks with journalists, or is involved in any other public forum is usually ultimately to behave in such a way that results in the sale of their work. Oh, a desire to inform and educate may be there too, but creative artists are always aware of their desire to have their work published or put in a show or gallery, or produced in a theatre, etc. I’ve had considerable experience with media appearances and making speeches. I was a graduate school teacher, and taught classes of about twenty or thirty students.
After my book Fighting to Win (FTW) was successful and I became nationally known–and because of it–I quickly found myself speaking to audiences of thousands in cavernous auditoriums in America, Canada, and Europe. With that kind of responsibility I was very conscious of the obligation on me to satisfy through my words, skills, and personality those who had sometimes traveled far to hear me talk about my ideas.
The goal of your planning your comments and delivering them is to get the listener’s ATTENTION, to hold the listener’s attention, and induce interest in what you have to say. You must hold the listener in the highest regard whether it be a single listener or an audience of thousands. Whatever the size, you have to get the listeners’ attention right away because, as in writing a story or novel, the very beginning of your talk, whatever your art, will often determine who stays with you and who tunes out, never to return. To the listener the start of your talk is a preview or dress rehearsal of the whole talk. If it’s no good, the listener will assume the whole talk will be no good, so why bother listening?
The beginning must be lively and have verve (Verve, what a magnificent word.) Never take listeners’ interest for granted. You have to earn their interest through your skills and personality, including the aura your body, mind, and spirit communicate. You might want to start, as I do, with a brief, colorful, story that shows that your mind is sharp and you are down to earth, a regular person. Your job during the first few minutes is to convince your listeners that you have something interesting to say, that you are competent to develop your ideas, and that you should be listened to to the end.
My career made a leap up in quality and success when, riding home on a plane from a talk, I had an insight I want to share with you. That insight is that in contact with an audience you are not just a speaker, you are a PERFORMER, and to come across in the best possible way, you need some of the skills of an actor. That will make your presentations better. You must, like an actor, be at least slightly “larger than life,” more alive and animated than you may usually be. Gesture with your hands, arms, and face. Be energetic, have a sharp mind, be quick, alert, mindful and dynamic, and visibly happy to be there with those listeners who want to hear you. Energy is contagious. It is generated from you in waves or a steady stream out into the audience.
You must always be SINCERE and MODEST. Fakery and big egos will not do. Audiences can see right through a phony–and it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes. No tricks–just actual sincerity and modesty. Even if a speaker is not overly brilliant, polished, or a spellbinding wordsmith, if he or she is truly sincere, the listener will like the speaker, and will listen, and liking and listening are necessary if listeners are to be pleased with you and stay with you every second, every word, till you take a bow and thank them for their attention.
My second main insight was that you must appeal to listener’s FUNDAMENTAL INTERESTS such as health, wealth, family, home, and personal success. Once a publicity tour took me to St. Louis, Missouri to appear on a radio show hosted by one of the country’s leading radio personalities. He began by interviewing me for a while, and then turned it over to call-ins. I was there mainly to talk about the book and why the audience would like it and should buy it. The callers were interested in solving their problems such as unemployment which was rampant in the community. So I talked about how the book might help them handle that problem in a positive way.
I felt great sympathy for the callers, and felt that helping them in any way I could was the main thing and selling my book was a secondary thing. I think it was apparent in everything I said that I identified with them, having gone through tough periods in my life too, as everyone has, wishing them the best, trying very hard to help them. I became totally absorbed in their problems and tried to draw out anything in my mind and experiences that could be of aid to them. I happened to have written articles I had been asked to write about techniques for finding jobs. That fitted into the conversation well. The hour and a half went unbelievably fast, and when it ended I felt I had been of help to the callers.
As the host walked me to the car he said, “Most authors who come here are full of their own egos and don’t connect with my listeners who are important to me. They don’t care about them. But you did connect in a powerful way because you are a caring person and have a lot of valuable things to say. I’ll tell you this right now: if you ever have anything you want to talk to my listeners about just call and I’ll put you on immediately. Thank you, friend.”
The third major insight came easily to me because I always devote a lot of time and effort to being well-prepared whenever I write or speak. It is that PREPARATION for the talk and KNOWLEDGE of the topic are king. You must know your material backwards and forwards. You must love your material and feel a strong urge to share it. Ideally there should be no question you could possibly be asked by a listener on your material that you would not have an intelligent answer for.
With that kind of preparation comes an extremely important and irreplaceable result: CONFIDENCE and POISE. You will not experience stage fright or timidity if you are confident that you know and can present the material, perhaps like no one else. Fear will disappear.
The major ingredient of self-confidence and poise is PAST SUCCESS. If you’ve succeeded doing something in the past, you will likely believe you can succeed with it again: why not? The important thing is to make sure you succeed the first time so that subsequent success will occur. As you begin a speech, having fully prepared and being fully confident of your material and your speaking skills, you should have in your mind, as I always do, the sentence, “They’re going to love what I have to say. Let me at them.”
You will hold listeners’ interest by arousing their CURIOSITY. Keep them looking forward to what is coming next and to what your development of the talk is leading to. Always be specific and concrete; do not be abstract.
Use IMAGERY and COLORFUL PHRASES when you speak. The death of my sister at a young age was instrumental in my beginning to write seriously–her daily courage during her long illness inspired me–and I shared that with my listeners in my Fighting to Win speech, saying, “Goodness shined down on Sharon like light from a private sun.” That very personal image which was important to me connected with my listeners. Often after the talk people would come up to the podium and ask me to repeat that sentence because it had moved them.
Use many EXAMPLES. The easiest and quickest way to get people to listen, and the surest way to hold their attention is to use ILLUSTRATIONS. Talk about PEOPLE. People are interested in other people’s habits, peculiarities, and their stories in general.
Let your PERSONALITY liven up your talk. Early in my career I was hired to give a number of presentations to an organization. After a few of them the director said to me, “The presentations are great. We couldn’t be happier. But there is one thing: people want to know about you. Who you are, what you believe in, are you married, do you have children, what are you like? Are you just a smart man, or are you human too?” You needn’t be a solemn sourpuss. When you prepare the talk weave in personal information that will create an I-and-Thou relationship with the listeners.
I was in a grocery store pushing my cart, on the way to the scale in the produce department to have my vegetables weighed. I could see that a woman to my left with her cart was going to reach the scale at the same time, so, feeling playful, I speeded up and got to the scale first, and said, “Beat you.” I thought possibly I had made the woman feel badly, and so I said, “You can go first,” and she said, “No, no, you go. It’s just so refreshing to find a person who has such a lively spirit.” Audiences too love some PLAYFULNESS and LIVELY SPIRITS in speakers, again showing you’re a blood and bone human being.
LOOK at the audience. You need to read the faces of the listeners to judge whether they are giving full attention. If you give your full attention to what you are saying and the dynamics of the audience, you will not have time to worry or be unsure of yourself. If the audience is bored or uninterested, their faces will let you know. You must always accept full responsibility for holding their attention. Only a naïve speaker thinks it is the responsibility of the audience to listen. The listener has no obligation to a speaker who cannot gain and hold its attention.
From your first word to the last be ENTHUSIASTIC, conveying “What I am telling you I think is important and valuable to you. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I’m excited to be here telling you about it. My hope is that when I am finished you will feel excited about it too.”
People are generally interested in life, action, energy, and movement. They want to be around exciting people, not dull people. Excited people excite them. That’s what charismatic people do. A speaker should never appear feeble or weak, or talk feebly and weakly, nor should he or she rant and shout or be melodramatic. The Greeks believed that enthusiasm is a gift from the gods. Wherever it comes from, speakers are often good or bad based on whether they possess it or do not possess it.
The effective speaker should have a steady a focus: the listener: “So long as you are mindful to say nothing unworthy of yourself, nothing untrue, nothing vulgar, you had better forget yourself altogether and think only of the audience, how to get them and how to hold them” (James Bryce). By focusing on your listeners, you will forget yourself, and no longer be unsure of yourself, but will have the confidence you need to be a superb, polished speaker.
© 2018 David J. Rogers
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