Our most powerful and persuasive speakers focus on the needs of their listeners, and this includes the need to understand the speaker’s message fully.
One way to help ensure your listeners’ complete comprehension is to allow your spoken ideas to “land”. This is a concept that crafted actors always keep in mind. It involves the following disciplines as you are speaking:
1. Think in thought groups, not in words.
2. Pursue the focus word of each thought, aiming for the point.
3. Pause briefly between each thought, to breathe and allow the previous thought to be digested by the listeners.
1. Think in thought groups.
While it is true that every word that you speak “counts” and should be heard/understood by the listener, every word is not equally important and, more to the point, we don’t think in words. Your listeners don’t “hear in words”, either. People think, speak, and listen in thought groups (ideas).
When you prepare to speak for business, analyze the whole message and each sentence (whether you are reviewing notes or a script), to determine where one thought ends and the next one begins. It is helpful to ignore standard punctuation when doing this; punctuation is a navigational guide for the reader, not for the listener.
Focus on meaning and be sure where each thought begins and ends. If you are inattentive to the end of one thought and the beginning of the next, your audience may become overwhelmed by an unmanageable amount of input and may be forced to tune out.
2. Pursue the focus word of each thought.
Because all our words are not of equal importance, your preparation to speak should include a deep investigation of each thought you plan to express, to determine which word in the thought should receive the focus.
Deciding which word to view as the focus word is an interesting and fruitful endeavor; it has a strong impact on the degree to which you capture the listeners’ attention, keep them engaged, surprise them, and even entertain them. The choice of one word instead of another should be based upon (1) which words constitute “new” information and which words constitute “old” (previously referred-to) information within that complete thought and (2) your own perspectives about the content within each complete thought.
If part of your preparation involves notes or a script (as I hope it does), underline the focus word of each thought and practice aloud, stressing only the focus word of each complete thought. Pursue this word enthusiastically as you speak.
One of my acting teachers (the late, great Mira Rostova – acting coach to Montgomery Clift), used to say, “Go for the point! Go for the point!”
Doing so will drive your ideas with power.
3. Pause briefly after each complete thought.
Even the smartest and best listeners require time to digest a complete thought. Most people need more time to digest a spoken thought than to digest that same thought when expressed in writing. One of the reasons for this is that, for most people, the visual medium is more powerful than the auditory medium. When people are both watching and listening to a speaker, they must process a greater amount of information than when they are only listening. Therefore, it takes more time (even if it is only a few seconds longer) to sort and digest meaning from this wider palette.
When you speak for business, help your listeners understand your message by giving them time. Pause briefly after each complete thought, to let it “land”. Don’t be in a rush to go on to your next idea. During that pause, breathe deeply, maintain eye contact, and smile whenever appropriate. With content that is not “happy”, your demeanor and voice should project a positive spin: as you speak, think thoughts similar to “I’m so happy to share this information with you” and “the good news is that this information will help you a great deal.”
When you give your listeners time to process each thought, you not only facilitate their comprehension, but you communicate your own conviction that your ideas have value and carry weight.
Allow time for your thoughts to “land” when you speak: this will enhance your listeners’ comprehension and dramatically increase your persuasive power.