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speaking skills

Aristotle, HBR, and Me

Excellence is a habit.

Excellence is a habit.

I love it when the Harvard Business Review agrees with me. A recent HBR blog post by Scott Edinger focuses on, “Three Elements of Great Communication, According to Aristotle“. The three are: ethos, logos, and pathos.

Ethos answers the questions: Are you credible? Why should I trust your recommendations? Logos is the logic of your argument. Is it factual? Do you have the evidence to back it up? (Interestingly, the more ethos you have,the less evidence you need to back up your logos. People will trust that you’re credible). Pathos is your ability to connect emotionally with your audience. If you have high credibility and impeccable logic, your audience might conclude that you could take advantage of them. Pathos reassures them that you won’t — your audience knows that you’re a good citizen.

When I teach people the arts of public speaking, I generally recommend that they start by establishing their credibility (ethos). The trick is to do this without overdoing it. If you come across as a braggart, you reduce your credibility rather than burnishing it. A good tip to remember is to use the word, “we” rather than “I”. “We” implies teamwork; “I” implies an egocentric psychopath.

After establishing your credibility, you proceed to the logic (logos) of your argument. What is it that you’re recommending and why do you think it’s a good solution for the audience’s needs? It’s often a good idea to start by defining the audience’s needs. Then you can fit the recommendation to the need. Keep it simple and use stories. Nobody remembers abstract logic and difficult technical concepts. They do remember stories.

Think about pathos both before the speech and in the conclusion. Ideally, you can meet the audience before your speech, ask insightful questions, and make personal connections. The more you can talk to members of the audience before the speech, the better off you’ll be. Look for anecdotes that you can use in your speech — that also builds your credibility. If nothing else, spend the last few minutes before your speech shaking hands with audience members and thanking them for coming to your speech. At the end of your speech, you can return to similar themes and express your appreciation. It’s also appropriate (usually) to point out how your recommendation will affect members of the audience personally. For instance, “We believe that our solution will help your company be more efficient. It will also help you build your career.”

Those of you who have followed my website for a while may remember my videos on ethos, logos, and pathos. I made them when I worked at Lawson Software and was teaching communication skills internally. Again, I’d like to thank Lawson for allowing me to use these videos on this website as I build my own practice.

By the way, all these suggestions apply to deliberative speeches. You present a logical argument and ask your audience to deliberate on it. On the other hand, you can also give a demonstrative speech where you throw the logic out altogether. They’re often called barn burners or stem winders. You can learn more here.

Three Things Not To Do

Yesterday, I wrote about four ways to be unpersuasive — in the broadest sense. Today, let’s narrow the focus and talk about three things not to do in public speaking. These are behaviors that I see all too frequently and they detract from your effectiveness and your persuasiveness. (For my tips on three things you should do, click here).

  • No ned to apologize.

    Don’t fumble around — I see far too many presenters using the first five to ten minutes of their time fumbling around with their technology. As you’re trying to find your PowerPoint file, I’m reading your desktop — and I often find some very interesting tidbits. Show up early, make sure everything works, and be ready when the audience shows up. Even more radical — give a presentation without using PowerPoint. That simplifies everything.

  • Don’t apologize — if you apologize for yourself, you undercut your own position. If you don’t take yourself seriously, why would anyone else? You have a right to be there. Step forward and seize the moment.
  • Dont forget the housekeeping — the most important housekeeping items are to agree on the time and on how you’ll handle questions. If you’ve misunderstood how much time you have (or if your audience’s schedule has changed), you may have to adjust your presentation on the fly. Always double check what the audience expects of you in terms of time and feedback.

You can learn more in the video. Speaking of which, this is a good opportunity to acknowledge again that I started this video series when I was still an executive at Lawson. When I retired, Lawson very graciously permitted me to use the videos to build my own practice. I certainly appreciate it.

Multitasking is a Myth

I can’t really do this.

I’ve never been able to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. I always assumed that this was a shortcoming on my part. I have friends who claim to be good multitaskers — attending to multiple projects and sources of information at the same time. I can focus on a task for hours on end but I’ve never been able to do two things at once. I always envied my multitasking friends.

Then last week, I attended a presentation by Bridget Arend, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver. Discussing how the brain works, she dropped an important tidbit: multitasking is a myth. People don’t really do two things at once. Instead, they are speedy serial task switchers. (Let’s call them SSTSers).

The best SSTSers can shift quickly from one target to another and focus intently on whatever target is in front of them at the moment. They focus intently and shift quickly. I think of expert trap shooters who can aim quickly at one clay pigeon, shoot it, and then — just as quickly — re-focus on another clay pigeon. They would never dream of aiming at two pigeons at once — it just doesn’t work. Perhaps we need to forget the old saying that we can kill two birds with one stone. It doesn’t happen. Believing it does only leads us astray.

This has important implications for communications. First, if you want to communicate to me, be sure you have my attention. If you walk into my office when I’m intently focused on my computer, you may not get my attention for a few minutes. It’s often a good idea to suggest that we go out for a cup of coffee — change the scenery, change the context, and allow me to re-focus. As Suellen can attest, I sometimes look straight at her and yet fail to hear anything she says.

Similarly, audiences don’t multitask well. You need a good introduction to grab their attention and get them to re-focus on you rather than whatever they were thinking about before. Some speakers love to show text-heavy slides while continuing to talk at normal presentation speed. They’re assuming that filling two channels — eyes and ears — will increase the impact. Actually, it’s just the opposite — the two channels cancel each other out. Sooner or later, each audience member attends to one channel or the other. Visual learners (a majority of us) tend to look at the slides while relegating you to oblivion.

This is also a good reason not to mention anything even remotely sexual in your speeches. Rest assured that sex is wildly more interesting than anything you’re talking about. If you mention sex, a good chunk of your audience will wander off on that track, never to return to your track. Sex is the ultimate serial task. Even the best SSTSers can’t switch quickly from that track to another. So, now that you’re thinking about sex, it’s time for me to sign off. I’m not going to get your attention back. See you tomorrow.

Managing Your Voice

How many meanings does the following sentence have: What are you doing there?

The sentence has only five words but you can interpret it in at least five different ways. It’s very ambiguous.  Your audience may interpret it in ways that you didn’t mean.  It all depends on your tone of voice.  You work on your speaking skills but how good are you at managing your tone of voice? Learn a useful exercise to improve your tone-of-voice control in today’s video.

The Difference Between Debates & Battles

debateThe words “debate” and “battle” stem from the same root, so you might expect to use similar tactics in each.  However, if you use battle tactics in a debate, you’re likely to lose. In a battle, two parties are involved – you and the enemy. A debate involves a third party as well — the audience. In a battle, you’re trying to defeat the enemy. Debate tactics are quite different. In a debate, you’re trying to use your speaking skills to win to over the audience. The different objectives may call for very different tactics. Above all, you must know your audience to win a debate. That’s even more important than knowing the competition. Check out the video.

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