Perception is everything.
How often have you listened to the same conversation as a colleague and interpreted the messages differently?
Our own viewpoint, our perception of a message, is based on our personal life experiences and we tend to hear, and listen to, messages that relate to our own beliefs. Belief systems are complex and are rooted in our culture, upbringing, education and personal experience of different situations. You and I will believe different things and perceive different messages from the same communication. This doesn’t make either of us right or wrong, it makes us individuals.
What may seem quite a nebulous concept is actually extremely important for public speakers to grasp. When speaking, you are, of course, trying to communicate – to inform or persuade. Effective communication is about understanding your audience and making your point in such a way that it will hit home. To do that, you must understand the perceptions of the people listening to you.
Perhaps you’re speaking on a topic about which you are passionate, but for which the audience holds some scepticism. Perhaps they’ve simply never heard about a piece of information you think is absolutely essential. Or perhaps it’s the other way around –you’re speaking for the first time to an audience engaged in a sector you’re much less well versed in than them.
Whatever the situation, understanding your audience’s perceptions, and trying to shape your words around the audience’s truth, will win you greater success than simply trying to persuade them that you’re right.
Remember, the whole audience will not have had the same life experience so, when you are preparing, ask yourself , what experiences do you share with the audience, and how can you build a rapport? Whether you are seeking to persuade them of a new point of view, or encouraging them to see your own, rapport is the first step on your journey.
A key point to remember when preparing is that you will never change someone’s mind about anything if you appear arrogantly convinced of your own point of view and do not explore alternatives. A good speech is a conversation with your audience they need to feel their point of view, their perception, has been acknowledged in your presentation.
Speaking well is as much about research and listening as it is about performance.