Thursday, March 26, 2015

Speak with Empathy - B&T Talks about Stephen Covey's Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, Then Seek to Be Understood

Butter & Toast Toastmasters Club draws inspiration from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and highlighting one habit for every meeting. This week, our theme is habit # 5. 

Speak with Empathy
by Gege Sugue

Seek to Understand then to Be Understood. That is Habit #5 in Stephen Covey’s bestselling concept, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s mainly about empathy.

Empathy might seem like something you need to do to be kind, compassionate, generous, forgiving. But it really is not a one-way street. Having empathy benefits you too. Empathy enables you to be more persuasive, when you’re selling insurance, properties, training programs, or ideas; or when you’re trying to be a good manager, counselor, coach, teacher, or leader. Empathy helps you to be effective in winning friends and clients. Empathy helps you to succeed.

As a speaker, you will find that empathy can work for you too. In my almost ten years as a Toastmaster, I feel that I have grown to be a more effective speaker. And it goes beyond polishing skills. It goes beyond learning to gesture or vary my voice. Stephen Covey says that technique, truncated from character base and the relationship you have with somebody, is hollow, shallow, and can be perceived as manipulation or duplicity. And though Toastmaster has taught me techniques, actual practice has shown me that it goes deeper into attitude. I have learned to make the audience part of the formula.

A huge part of the craft of public speaking is really that PUBLIC. Who are they? What do they want to hear? What do they need to know? What makes them laugh, cry, desire? How can what you know help them? When you take the stage, make sure it is clear to you how your speech can help them to become better, smarter, richer, more popular, more competent, more confident, happier.

In my first division contest, I panicked at the sight of a big audience. And I focused on delivering my speech flawlessly. I just did not want to mess up in front of the crowd. I focused on my speech. And on me. And it (and I) was a dismal failure. Nobody laughed at my punchlines, and I did not even place in the contest. And I missed out big time on connecting with my audience. I was selfish, and I failed. But I learned my lesson.

Now, when I deliver my speech, I look at my audience. In particular, I look at Sheila. Her face is very responsive—she laughs at the right time, she looks sad when you’re telling a sad story. She frowns when you’re annoyed. She wrinkles her brow when she’s confused. Her left eyebrow lifts a little bit when you’re being obnoxious or sounding full of yourself, and her face gets stone cold when she’s bored.  And I learn to adjust myself based on those cues. Of course, I look at other people too and adjust to their reactions as well. As a trainer, my eyes are alert for people who might be confused by the lesson, offended by my jokes, affected by my opinions, or are sleepy. The audience is my barometer, thermometer, speedometer, and they tell me if I’m doing well or I need to adjust.   How I react to their cues, questions, and reactions determines how much applause and appreciation I get at the end of my talk.

So, be an empathic listener. Be an alert observer. And you can be an effective speaker.

Here are three tips to be an empathic speaker:
1.       Know your audience’s needs, wants, values, culture, preference, attitudes, profession, and expectations.
2.       Adopt your speech to their needs.
3.       Respond to their response.

Of course, you still have to make sure that you are prepared. Knowing your material well, rehearsing your speech, and being confident that you’re coming in armed and prepared—these enable you to stop focusing on your speech, so that you can focus on the most important part of your speech--your audience.  

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