I just returned from the National Speakers Association Conference. I enjoyed seeing friends, learning in small groups, and engaging in hallway conversations that triggered creative solutions and collaborative efforts.
Yet this is the National Speakers Association. You would expect life-altering keynote speeches. Although I liked some of these presentations, they didn’t change my life. Yes, they stirred my heart and reminded me of what is important. But honestly-I won’t do anything differently tomorrow.
The problem is that the keynoters were telling me how to live. They told great stories. They opened my heart. Yet they didn’t trigger me to see life in a new way. Nothing new emerged.
They tried to solve my problems for me. They tried to get me to behave differently. They disguised this advice-giving with pathos, passion and humor. I retold some of their stories. I laughed and cried again.
If the point was to enrich my life with good emotions, they succeeded. If the goal was to transform me into a new human being, they failed.
They failed because they didn’t allow me to think for myself.
Giving advice doesn’t allow for the profound shifts to occur, the shifts that lead to new connections in the brain and real behavioral change. A powerful question that doesn’t have a prescribed answer, that causes me to be a bit uncomfortable and connects me to my personal reality has a greater chance of changing my life than incredible advice and persuasion.
For example, one speaker asked the question, “Are you brave enough to choose what matters?” There is only one right answer to this question. I might yell, “Yes!” but the question doesn’t confront why I won’t do anything differently when I get home and face my email.
Instead, if he had asked, “What are you committed to now that stops you from doing what you know would matter more?” Or, “What is the price you are paying for staying on the path you are on?” Or, as I ask in Wander Woman, “What have you imprisoned that wants to be free?” – and then had people write their answers down and even talk about them with a partner – he would have had a more lasting effect on the audience.
Peter Block in his book, Community, suggests we replace advice-giving with curiosity. Whether you are presenting or conversing, if you seek to understand the person you are speaking to—what is important to them, what is stopping them, and what are they holding back—new perspective and possibilities will emerge. Then, if you engage them in conversation to explore what promises they are willing to make that will change their lives, you are truly helping them solve their problems and grow.
I saw Peter boldly do this last year with his keynote speech. He spoke, but over half of his time he gave to us to explore the powerful questions he asked. The standing ovation he received was both enthusiastic and heartfelt.
More than anything, people want to be seen and heard. Whether you address a group or an individual, when you see them instead of speak at them, they are more apt to see themselves in your eyes. In the moment the reflection is clear, truth appears. Are you helping people grow by engaging them in understanding or keeping them small by telling them what to do?
Consider this the next time you speak to a group, an employee, a client, child, friend, or lover. Then please share your experiences here.
Want to increase the power of your presentations? Join Marsh Engle and me in Sedona in September. We will be working with only 10 people in 2-day pre-conference workshop, Speak Your Power, to define your message, craft a speech and confidently deliver it on stage on Saturday at the Amazing Woman’s Day conference.