Engaging Speech: Getting the Feel of It

August 23rd, 2010

Daniel Webster, 19th century statesman and orator, said, “True eloquence does not consist in speech. Words and phrases may be marshaled in every way, but they cannot compass it. It must consist in the man, in the subject, and in the occasion.”

Preoccupation with the content and mechanics of public speaking is a great barrier to effective communication. Attempting to think your way through a presentation is a recipe for frustration and failure. The secret to great speech is your state of being. Passion, charisma and personality are rooted in feeling, not thinking.

Get out of your head. Your conscious brain can focus on only one thing at a time. Thinking limits your performance of complex tasks such as giving a speech. A golfer, dancer or table waiter would never approach the task as a sequence of consciously controlled actions. They would be paralyzed. When you learn speechmaking by breaking it down into small components, then creating a checklist of mechanical steps, the wheels come off the wagon in short order.

It pays to get physical. Your body, by contrast, can process many sensations at once. Imagine eating your favorite food, appreciating taste, texture and appearance as one seamless experience. Working with body awareness allows you to integrate the many facets of communication (relaxation, breathing, vocalizing, gesture, eye contact, etc.) in a way that feels natural, genuine, and spontaneous. Instead of being overwhelmed by the complexity of presentation, you feel calm, centered and highly attuned to the interaction. To borrow a phrase from Arthur Lessac, you look good, sound good, feel good and communicate well.

Great communication is not about what you’re saying and doing; it’s about how you’re being. That’s not something you control from your head; it’s something you feel: physically, vocally and emotionally. By cultivating the optimal sensations, your desired outcomes happen automatically. You’re free to move beyond content and technique. Your speech becomes an engaging conversation. Your communication ignites relationship. And you create a captivating experience for your listeners.

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