As I continue to do more public speaking — whether on stage, on air, or via recorded interview — I’m becoming interested in what does and does not make an effective communicator. But I’m not just interested in how to communicate with a passive audience; I also want to be a better conversationalist with my friends and family.
Recently I spent ten minutes watching this TED Talk from Julian Treasure about how to speak so that people will listen:
To begin, Treasure covers the things you ought not do when you talk. He says that these are the seven deadly sins of speaking:
- Gossip. When you speak ill of somebody who’s not present, the action reflects as poorly on you as it does on them (and perhaps more so). I gossip way more than I should. It’s a problem.
- Judging. Gossip is, of course, a form of judging. But judging includes sweeping generalizations about a group of people or things. Whenever you judge, you run the risk of offending somebody in your audience. (This isn’t always a bad thing, perhaps, but it’s something you should be aware of.)
- Negativity. It seems that some people only see (or speak of) the bad things in life. But people prefer to pass time with folks who are positive. We want to feel good about ourselves and the world around us.
- Complaining. One form of negativity is complaining — or “viral misery” as Treasure calls it. It goes beyond just talking about what’s wrong with the world at large to griping about perceived trials and tribulations in your own life. Everyone has shit to deal with; try to keep your complaints to yourself. Don’t vent.
- Excuses. People don’t like to listen to the reasons you haven’t accomplished the things you’ve promised to do (whether for yourself or others). They want you to do these things. If you don’t do them, don’t talk about them. And, especially, do not blame others for not getting things done. (Again, I have trouble with the first piece of this. I try not to blame other people, but I tend to make excuses for not doing my work.)
- Exaggeration. At its most basic, exaggeration (or hyperbole) demeans our language, says Treasure. If we use big words all the time — like “awesome” and “unbelievable” and so on — they lose their meanings. At its worst, exaggeration becomes outright lying. I have a couple of friends who are prone to exaggeration; it can be tough to know when to believe what they’re saying!
- Dogmatism. Too often, people confuse fact and opinion. They believe that just because they think something is so, it must be so. They don’t recognize that each person has her unique personality, circumstances, and experiences. What’s true for one person may not be true for another.
These seven “sins” can sabotage effective communication. But there are things to become a more effective speaker. According to Treasure, the four cornerstones of powerful speech are:
- Honesty, the ability to be plain and true in what you say. “Be clear and straight,” Treasure says.
- Authenticity, the ability to say what you think and feel instead of trying to say what you feel is expected of you. “Be your self,” Treasure says.
- Integrity, or the ability to do what you say. “Be your word,” Treasure says.
- Love, or the ability to make others feel better about themselves. “Wish them well,” Treasure says.
By aligning what you say with these qualities, people will want to listen to you. Treasure says that how you speak is important too. He covers tools of speech, such as rhythm and pitch and pace and timbre.
Treasure’s talk is short. If you’d like to become a better communicator, it’s well worth ten minutes of your time.