I interrupt our series on communicating with intimacy to bring you a long overdue bit of Friday Silliness.
In today’s lesson, Toby Turner – also known as the YouTube personality Tobuscus – demonstrates how tone can completely contradict content. Alliteration aside, it is a useful lesson.
Does your chorus sound like Coldplay?
The funny thing about establishing intimacy with an audience is that it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you, the speaker, feel that an intimate moment has been shared. Like just about any desired emotion, what really matters is that your audience feels it. They, quite frankly, don’t give a damn about what’s going on in your own head, and neither should you. The audience’s focus is on their own personal feelings and experience. Your focus also needs to be on your audience’s experience.
What constitutes an intimate experience for your audience, be it an audience of 1 or 1000? It’s when they feel that you, the speaker (or manager, or persuader, or whatever you may be) gets them. They feel that you understand them, their context, their desires, their needs, their wishes. They feel that you care about their problems and are helping them improve their own lives on an individual level. Because they believe that you do (or would) understand them, they feel that you can also relate to them, that the two of you have something in common. That feeling of connection can happen whether you are sharing a one-on-one conversation or you are speaking to an anonymous group of people comprised of individuals you will never actually meet. It doesn’t matter that you, the speaker, feels this connection. Your audience feels it. Because they feel it, they will most likely accept what you have to say as right and/or reasonable.
Your job is to create that feeling of connection and intimacy. The difficulty is that you as the speaker become wholly responsible for generating that feeling. The speaker must be willing to forgo every consideration of their own comfort and constantly, constantly, constantly strive to establish an intimate connection with the audience. The audience doesn’t – and shouldn’t – give a crap about your own state. Your job is to project whatever it is you need to project to create intimacy.
Are you physically, mentally, or emotionally tired? That doesn’t matter. You need to appear energised and alert; the audience must see that you are energized about speaking to them. Energy means you care.
Are you completely bored about the topic at hand? That doesn’t matter. The audience needs to believe that you think that topic is the most important thing you could be speaking about at that moment. If you show that you don’t care about the topic, then neither will they. Boredom is the death of intimacy.
Are you uninterested in or lack knowledge about your audience? That doesn’t matter. You must either find something about them that interests you or be able to flawlessly imitate interest. The audience absolutely must feel that you find them worth your interest if they will allow an intimate connection to be established. Do your homework about your audience and find something out about them that interests you; become knowledgeable about the people you are speaking to. If your audience is small, you may potentially discover something about them on an individual level. If your audience is large or you don’t have the means do find out much about them, then research the company they work for, or the area they live in, or the culture they come from, or their demographic, or their interests. There is always, always, always something you can learn about your audience that will help you become interested about them.
Are you disdainful about your audience? Then fix that attitude, fast. It doesn’t matter if your experience or qualifications leads you to think you are somehow better than them. Your audience will pick up on your disdain within moments of you starting to speak. Something will betray you – the words you use, the posture you adopt, your tone of voice, a way of behaving that you never considered. Once your audience picks up on this, they will reject you and everything you have to say. If you are approaching a speech or conversation with feelings of superiority or disdain, then you again need to research your audience and learn something about them that you can respect. Intimacy cannot exist without respect, and respect is the antidote to disdain.
Are you in a foul mood? Then do something before you meet your audience that improves that mood. Go for a walk, meditate, look up funny pictures of cats. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it makes you feel better. If you are surly, your audience will become surly. No one wants to connect with a cantankerous swab.
Are you an anxious or nervous speaker? Learn some techniques to control your anxiety. Stage fright is normal, but you must appear confidence. Audiences want to connect with strong, confident speakers – speakers who look and act as though they can help them solve their problems. Learn how to project confidence externally even when you are quaking internally.
You, speaker, need to set aside your own state of being and focus entirely on what will create the desired state of being to those you are speaking to. So what if you felt that you just delivered the best speech of your life and that you really felt a connection with your audience? The real question is, did your audience feel the same way?
A major goal that I assign to all my clients as well as to myself is that of creating intimacy with your audience. I’ve had people react to this instruction with everything from nervous eagerness to fear and apprehension. The difficulty with intimacy – aside from the fact that it increases our own vulnerability, which I will address later – is that it is a very complex concept. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to attempt to break down and address the nuances of communication and intimacy.
So here we go – welcome to installment #1: introducing intimacy. Here is a run-down of some of the issues I’ll be exploring further in this series.
Intimacy in communication has nothing to do with romance, attraction, or with the communicating parties even liking one another. A sense of connection is what makes an exchange feel intimate. When this connection (or the perception of it) is achieved, your message will stick with your receiver with far greater strength than it would otherwise. If you really, really want to get through to someone, you need to seek intimacy in the communication, and different circumstances may require in different kinds of intimacies or different tactics to achieve it.
A sense of intimacy can be felt by only one person and still have a powerful effect. Because it is an individual feeling, it can be experienced by members of a large audience just as readily as people in small groups or in one-on-one conversations. When you are the primary communicator, the perception you should be most concerned with is that of your audience, whether big or small. You can feel all the warm fuzzies you like, but if you haven’t triggered a sense of connection among those receiving your message, than you have not created a sense of intimacy. It’s the opinion and the feelings of the receiver that matter.
While the experience of intimacy on the part of the audience is always genuine, a very adept speaker or performer can fake it for the sake of their audience. While demonstrating a desire for connection that you might not actually be feeling is mentally exhausting, there are many circumstances where you may need to fake it for the sake of your audience. There are some key physical, vocal, and facial expressions that demonstrate “reaching out” to an audience or receiver. Being able to realistically demonstrate these on cue when you are not feeling overly connected to an audience takes a great deal of practice. When we look at these skills further, I will yet again be railing at you to spend some solid practice time in front of a mirror.
One of the trickier issues with intimate communication is what level and type of intimacy is appropriate in which situations. The degree of intimacy in communication that is appropriate between co-workers is markedly different than that between managers and employees. Similarly, the type of intimacy that occurs with a motivational speaker and his audience is generally quite different that that between an academic lecturer and her audience. It is well worth taking time to think about what degree of personal connection you would wish to experience as both audience and speaker in differing social and business roles.
Language plays a key component in both the effectiveness of creating an intimate communication as well as keeping the intimacy appropriate to the situation at hand. At times, your audience needs to you be involved in the message at a personal level; sometimes they really need to you be more objective and distant. Language and vocabulary is the golden key that allows you to navigate these circumstances and still create the intimacy you need. Words have power, and discreet differences in meaning, context, and timing may result in massive differences in the level of trust, comfort, and connection between you and your audience. Know when to mince your words and when to leave them whole. Find authors known for extensive vocabularies and wordplay and read their works; your own word hoard and dexterity will grow. You will come to know which words will help create a feeling of intimacy with your audience and which will turn them right off.
Next instalment: your audience experience of intimacy and getting out of your own head.