What makes a great conversationalist and a powerful speaker?
First, let’s focus on what people do not want to hear. By this I don’t mean that they are uninterested in hearing the content, I mean that the following list of things tend to make you, and whatever you say in the future carry less weight.
- Gossip – People gossip all the time, it’s an unfortunate fact of life, but it belies the shallowness and perhaps even the insecurities that we ourselves have. I do not believe that we should hide our insecurities; I just believe that there are more constructive approaches to dealing with them than belittling people and their actions.
- Negativity and complaints – This seems obvious, yet everywhere you go people are negative, you do not need to augment that.
- Excuses – Whether you are late for a date or didn’t submit your work to your boss on time, the fact that these events have happened are concrete, excuses may make you feel better, but they fall flat on the people you are making the excuse to. Be genuine, but above all, be accountable for your actions. Excuses shift the responsibility, but accountability is important.
- Generalisations and dogmatism – Everyone seems to love painting broad brush strokes. It’s in human nature to classify. Perhaps it was useful when we were fighting for survival, but in the modern age, bigotry, sexism and racism (and much more) are narrow minded and shallow. Voicing those opinions will not make you interesting to listen to, they make you an asshole.
With awareness and effort, speech can be shifted into a more positive, more powerful light, so that people around us want to listen and connect on a deeper level.
Before we can really speak with power and meaning, we must first learn to listen empathetically. We must learn to listen with the intent to understand; we must listen with love.
We all have deep-rooted behaviour. These are a few things that I struggled with and am slowly, but surely, taking steps to improve upon.
- Assuming what a person is trying to express before they have expressed it – You do not know what the person is trying to say, and even if you do, listen to them anyway. Take the time to become genuinely interested in what that other person is trying to tell you.
- Listening with the intent to respond – This needs to be replaced with listening with the intent to understand.
- Speaking too fast – Just slow down. Enjoy the conversation. Give yourself time to think and just appreciate the exchange of information with pleasant company.
- Interrupting people – “I am afraid that if I do not immediately say what is on my mind, I will forget it”. This is okay, you can forget your thoughts, what is more important is really hearing, feeling and understanding what the other person is trying to communicate.
Now lets actually look at how to speak
The foundations of speech – Julian Treasure
- Enthusiasm – Nothing makes what you are saying as interesting as you being passionate about it. You set how much interest people should feel by being interested in it yourself.
- Honesty – Nothing is quite as refreshing as someone who is (or at least comes across as) genuinely honest.
- Authenticity – Be who you believe yourself to be. Don’t try and create a persona. People are not interested in communicating with an act.
- Integrity – Believe in something, stand by it, listen to other views, analyse your views critically; “Stand within your own truth”.
What you say and how you say it are both important for communicating a message. Depending on the receiver, one may be more important than the other. Being empathetic is key to understanding what type of person the receiver is in order to communicate your idea. It sounds obvious, but actions resonate with people either consciously, or subconsciously more than words every will.
Less words can be more expressive than more words.
Once you simplify a concept, not only do you understand the ideas that you are trying to communicate more in depth; people will have a better chance of understanding you as well. This does not mean people should be treated as simple or stupid; but in the words of Albert Einstein (possibly) “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Academics and philosophers struggle with this as they tend to add complex analogies and words to their explanations either because they are familiar with talking to people in the same fields as them who understand the context of the content, or (in some situations) to appear smarter than they actually are.
Transparency in communicating and expressing my emotions and ideas through speech is vitally important to me. Having people understand the emotions and perspective that surrounds a topic means the idea will be better processed and better communicated.
Complete information transfer is impossible because every idea that is communicated and processed is coloured by the communication medium (speech and other non-verbal communication), the context, the other person’s personal background and experiences as well as their various bias. In order for something to be communicated and understood by the other person completely, that other person would have to become you, to have the same chemistry as you and to have lived and processed all of your personal experiences. This is obviously impossible, but by giving people background to the idea that you are communicating, gives them more context for your idea, and therefor leads to a more clear understanding of what you have to say.
Here are a few very interesting sources that inspired this post: