“You’re Norma Holland, the TV reporter,” said the man who stopped us in the grocery store. His smile was kind and he seemed eager to say something to my sister, who is - in fact - Norma Holland, the TV reporter at 13 WHAM News in my hometown city of Rochester, NY. He told my sister that he recalled a story she had covered years ago on a very difficult topic and how impressed he was at the grace and professionalism with which she told the story. “I always said to myself that if I ever met you in person, I was going to tell you how much I admire the way you did that,” he ended.
(...meanwhile, this was me standing off to the side. I’m pretty proud of my big sister!)
It was a simple but very telling moment that spoke volumes about audiences’ reactions to speakers - or in this case people we see presenting information. One of the most common challenges I hear my clients tell me is that they have trouble reading their audiences. It’s not always easy...as humans, we’re capable of expressing soooo many emotions, and it’s no secret that people can often misread what we mean just by the look on our faces. (If you’ve ever been told you have “RBF” (which I struggle with because it's offensive, but that's for another blog, mkay?), you’ll know just what this means.
Maya Angelou said: “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But, they will never forget how you made them feel.” Here’s some important things to keep in mind about audiences - be they in an auditorium or one-on-one across the table at lunch:
People WANT to feel good. We might not always be aware of it, but we all search for feel-good moments. Laughter, “ahas”, connection, knowledge...even the knowledge that we’re not alone. Elevate your language to focus on the positive and remember to be inclusive. “You” and “them” gets old; “We” and “us” is where it’s at!
People will sometimes tell you the great things you’re doing. Sometimes they won’t. Try not to get put off by the lack of appreciation or positive feedback received. The “feedback monster” is real and it can truly damage the way we communicate.
People will notice more the time you didn’t put in, than the time you did. A tremble in your words...one too many “umms”...a little nervous pacing - it can all point to the fact that you didn’t prepare. Respect other people’s time and avoid “winging it” for planned conversations or talks. You can fool some people some of the time, but you can’t fool all people all of the time.
People think more about themselves than they do about you...as well they should! This is basic psychology. Our personal needs and concerns are constantly running through our busy minds until they are somehow quieted down or resolved. When planning your talks or meetings, start there: with the minds of your audience and what’s important to them.
The man we met in the grocery store didn’t have to stop and say anything to my sister. He could have just wandered by. Instead, he chose to share a little something special. Whatever your “job” is in this life, there are few things greater than simple words of appreciation and positivity. They nurture, empower and bring us together....and in THAT lies the real power of people: the ability to care and connect and make things happen.
Having opposable thumbs also helps out big time! I’m just sayin’...