Sunday, October 27, 2013

Likability: The Speaker's Secret Weapon

As an undergraduate Speech Communication major at St. John's University (NY) many years ago, I came across a little book in the library that did more to aid my understanding of communication than anything I had ever read up to that point. It was titled You Are The Message and was written by Roger Ailes. Ailes was, among other things, a communication consultant to President Ronald Reagan, who was often referred to as "the Great Communicator". I've always thought that Ailes' coaching was at least partially responsible for Reagan earning that moniker.

Politics aside, Ailes has a chapter in the book devoted to the importance of likability--he called it "The Magic Bullet"--for public speakers and communicators in general. The truth of this simple fact has been proven to me time and time again throughout my career. Simply stated, if an audience member likes you, they will forgive nearly any flaws or imperfections in your speech and even your personality.

For some, likability comes naturally--or at least it seems that way. These folks have a manner of being that evokes positive regard from nearly everyone they meet. In fact though, these people just have developed behavioral traits that endear them to others. These are traits that can be developed by anyone. However they must be sincere and genuine or people see right through you.

What makes someone likable? Well, think about the people you know who are most likable. They are authentic, they're not phonies. They probably have similar values to our own, treat people right, listen respectfully, are empathetic, generous in spirit, kind, and have a sense of humor. Heck, who wouldn't like such a person?

In short, they re good people and treat others well. It sounds so simple but being likable takes effort for some people. Some are held back by fear, insecurities, closed-mindedness, and negativity. It is risky to be kind, for instance, because it makes us vulnerable to those who might take advantage of us. So it takes courage to habitually embody the behaviors that people find likable. But I think if someone wants it, he or she can cultivate a manner of being in the world with others that elicits positive regard from those they encounter.

For a nice starting place, try reading this. Just understand that it can't be an act we put on. It stems from a genuine liking of people and a desire to be liked.

The payoff transcends being a good speaker. For the likable nearly everyone they meet is a potential friend and ally. Yet, the likable do not takes advantage of the esteem others hold them in. To abuse the power of being likable makes you less likable.

In my consulting work, I often advise politicians who desire to communicate more effectively. Much of what I coach them in is aimed at making them more likable. We talk about how to handle tough interviews, hostile audience members and the like in an honest and straightforward way, while remaining likable. Because the simple fact is we don't vote for people we don't--at least at some level--like.

I do this because I know that people interpret our message through the lens of how they feel about us. If those feelings are positive they are much more likely to interpret whatever we say positively. Sometimes speakers get so caught up in the facts and figures of their talking points, that they lose sight of what is really our audience feels about us. And, as I said at the outset, if the audience likes us they will overlook and/or forgive our imperfections as speakers.

It is hard for me to overstate the fundamental importance of likability. It is worth your time and effort to cultivate it.

That's all for today my friends.

Be well and speak well. And as always, thank you for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes and his consulting work, see