As a retreat speaker and regular youth presenter, I’ll be the first to admit that effective communication is as tricky as no-clutching a 13-speed transmission. There are dozens of variables that have to be just right in order to achieve success. So for the benefit of all those aspiring to increase their communication effectiveness, I want to suggest three transforming principles every speaker needs to know in order to transform the lives of listeners.
Principle #1: Communication is more than what is said.
I recently spent an afternoon with my young niece and nephew in Ohio. I was only in town for a few hours but wanted to take full advantage of the situation since such opportunities are rare. Despite driving a truck all night and only getting a restless three hours of sleep, I mustered the energy to hang out with them for several hours. We had a blast! You can catch a short glimpse of our afternoon fun by watching the short video below. It will make you laugh…guaranteed!
After I left town, they kept asking where uncle Brian was and when I was coming back. Apparently, I communicated something that afternoon that far exceeded anything I said (if you watched the video you’ll know exactly what I mean). Somehow I communicated value, love, and significance to these adorable little kids. But I never said, “I love you.” I never said, “You are valuable to me.” I never said, “You are of tremendous significance.”
By the same token, I could have actually said those words to them, opted for an afternoon nap on the couch (which I sorely needed), and communicated something entirely different than I intended. The old cliché “Actions speak louder than words” may resonate here. But it’s more than that.
Effective communicators are congruent. Their words, body language, gestures, dress, and lifestyle all operate in uniform congruence. There is no dichotomy; nothing out of place.
Somehow my niece and nephew caught that. My antics left an impression.
The lesson here for communicators is to pay close attention not just to what we say but how we say it.
Incongruity nullifies the spoken word.
Principle #2: People don’t remember what you say but they will remember how you made them feel.
A while back I had an opportunity to visit with the late Dr. Howard Hendricks. Over his sixty-year tenure this distinguished Dallas Seminary professor and renowned leader in Christian education spoke many words. In fact he’s well-known for a number of pithy sayings. Yet I remember very little of what he said during our short 30 minute visit.
What I do remember was how he made me feel. He made me feel like I could conquer the world! He imbued dignity and respect and confidence. Not once did I get the sense that this giant in the faith was looking down his nose at us. Old and frail with a black patch over his right eye (he looked more like a pirate than anything else), Prof Hendricks sat before us as a living portrait of a race run well. That image alone inspires me to want to follow in his footsteps.
Think of the people who have had the greatest impact in your life. I will all but guarantee it was because of how they made you feel. This isn’t to suggest their words were meaningless. Heavens no! Words are powerful, which is why all communicators need to be cognizant of what our words convey regarding our feelings toward the audience members. Do we sincerely care about them? Are our words seasoned with grace?
If your audience knows that you love them and are gracious toward their shortcomings, they will be much more willing to hear what you have to say. Let us not ignore the affective aspects of communication.
Principle #3: Aim Always to Win the Will
One of my old mentors, Gene Wile, quipped over lunch, “Your want-to is far more powerful than your have-to.”I’ve never forgotten it and nor should any communicator who wants to change the lives of his listeners.
What Gene was getting at was the source of our motivation. What turns your crank? What puts the wind in your sails? In other words, what motivates you to do what you do?
Is it an intrinsic want-to or an extrinsic have-to?
All effective communicators have learned to strum the emotional strings tied to our want-to. By contrast, less effective communicators speak only to the head and not the heart. The underlying assumption is that all our actions flow from our beliefs. Oh, how I wish that were the case! Input right beliefs and (“pooff!”) out come right actions.
A confession will illustrate. As a teenager I had a terrible swearing problem. Monday through Friday my vocabulary around my friends was awful. I mean it was stick-your-nose-in-a-grease-vat putrid awful!
But the moment I walked through the door of the house those words never crossed my lips. I knew my parents would wash my mouth with Clorox if I spoke like that around them. The point is I knew right from wrong. But that knowledge didn’t stop me from cussing like a sailor.
There was something else going on. I wanted acceptance and respect from my peers. I knew I already had that from my parents so I didn’t need to cuss around them. My problem was I wrongly thought that such tough talk could be the means to the end of acceptance.
Wrong means, however well intended, will never result in right ends. And in my case I lost my good friends and got no respect from those whom I sought it most.
I had an unmet emotional need, a desire for acceptance so powerful that I was willing to violate my conscious (what I knew to be right) in order to get it.
It’s not just about the head. It’s also about the heart and the will, the source of motivation.
Transformative communicators understand that life-change can only occur when they seek to win the will of their listeners. And if you want to win the will, then you must pull the heart-strings in order to cause them to want to change. Don’t fight the will of your audience; instead win their will by motivating them from within.
So there it is:
- Communication is more than what’s said.
- People remember how you made them feel.
- Aim always to win the will.
Keeping these three transformative principles in mind before every speaking engagement will do wonders toward enhancing your effectiveness. It won’t happen overnight, but consistent focus over a long period of time will move us along in the right direction.
Which speakers do you most enjoy and why? I’d enjoy hearing your responses!