How an Introvert Techie from India Mastered Public Speaking in the U.S.

Don Tennant
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Imagine that you’re a technology professional from India who’s working in the United States, and that the communication challenges you face in that capacity are exacerbated by the fact that you’re a fairly strong introvert. Your communication skills are so poor, in fact, that even though you’re an MIT-educated engineer, your supervisor won’t even allow you to present your work to clients. Now imagine that you’re so determined to do something about the situation that you transform yourself into a world champion public speaker.

If it all sounds like fodder for a movie, it just might be. If the movie is ever made, it will be based on the true story of Vikas Jhingran, the 2007 winner of the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, who has shared the secret to his success in his new book, “Emote: Using Emotions to Make Your Message Memorable.” I had the opportunity to speak with Jhingran last week, and the first thing I asked him was how he arrived at the conclusion that good public speaking is best accomplished with an emotion-based approach. He explained it this way:


When I was trying to develop an approach to speaking, and to understand what verbal communication is about, I began to have some very basic questions. What is a speech? What am I doing when I get up to speak? I realized that at a very fundamental level, a speech is essentially a back-and-forth of emotion and information, and very much like other art forms—a painting, or a dance sequence, or even gourmet food prepared by a chef. What all those art forms are doing is using different tools to work with the emotions of their audience. I began to realize that’s exactly what a speaker does. The good thing about this approach, that really worked for me, is it took me away from the tools, and it made me realize that cultural background is not important; your accent is not important; the exact words you use are not really important. What really is important is just the dialogue that you have, at an emotional level, with your audience. That approach really helped me, and I think it can help a lot of other people, as well—understanding communication in that regard.

According to Jhingran, this transfer of emotion takes place by means of a process in which you determine what you want the final emotion of the audience to be, and you then assess the current emotion of the audience. The speech is the journey from one to the other:

The process is that you start at the end of the speech—you have to understand where you are taking your audience emotionally at the end of your speech. Once you have that, you have to figure out where you’re starting from. You might walk into a forum, and within that forum they’ve lost somebody who is near and dear to them. In that situation, they are starting at a very low emotional state. To be able to grasp that, and understand where the audience is at the start of the speech, is a very important thing for a speaker to understand. You get that by talking to people, by assessing what’s going on locally in the environment that your audience is in. It could be global events that have affected the mood of the audience on that day.

Finally, I asked Jhingran if there’s a link between good verbal communication skills and good written communication skills. He said a link exists, but differences abound, as well:

The common theme is that written communication is essentially doing the same thing—you’re conveying information and emotion. The big difference is that in written format, you can go back and refer to the material again, and take your time to digest that material, which is not possible in a verbal format. So how you approach verbal communication is very different from how you approach written communication. In verbal communication, the words are not really important at all, as long as the emotion and the information are conveyed accurately. People do not remember the words that you say—they will only remember how you made them feel. That approach has to be modified in written communication, because people can go back and read again and again the words that you’ve written—the words take on a lot more importance than they take on in verbal communication.



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