Monday, April 27, 2015

Chapter One Public Speaking in the Semiosphere: Creating a Meaningful Experience

Wanted to make all my readers aware that my new eBook, Public Speaking in the Semiosphere: Creating a Meaningful Experience for Your Audience is available through Amazon.com. It was written with my colleague Howard Miller.

Want a preview? Here's Chapter One.

Chapter 1: Speaking in the Semiosphere: Creating a Meaningful Experience


“Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance of the event.”
Brian Tracy

What both speakers and audience members crave is a meaningful experience. One that changes us, inspires us. But how do we do that? Practically speaking, there are countless possibilities. But there are a few basic principles that can help to identify the opportunities for meaningful moments.

Get Personal
Put some of yourself into your speech. To an audience, you are a strange and exotic creature with the courage to stand up and speak. We want to know about you, who you are, and if we can relate to you. Sharing some of yourself demonstrates trust in the audience, and they will subconsciously reciprocate. That trust is the foundation of a meaningful experience.

Using your personal experience is a key technique for speaking in the semiosphere. Remember the diagram in the introduction. The degree to which your lived-world overlaps with your audience members’ lived-world is the degree to which you are successfully speaking in the semiosphere and creating a meaningful experience. By sharing your personal experience, you bring more of your lived-world to light for the audience. If you share nothing of yourself, the audience has no basis to relate to you. But if you share your experience, especially if you do this wisely and strategically, you become more human. They can relate to you. And maybe they even like you. You open up the possibility of establishing commonality, and thus, audience engagement.

There is a vulnerability to opening up and sharing something of yourself. It is not without risk. However, it is a risk worth taking because the payoff is great. There is certainly a line of what is appropriate self-disclosure and what is not, so be conscious of that boundary. In general though, people appreciate you opening up a bit. It is interesting.

Letting us behind the facade of your public persona to share the back stories to your life signifies an attempt at goodwill (unless you say something extremely distasteful or inappropriate for the occasion or audience). People like to get a glimpse behind the scenes and even into your personal life. They can relate--or they can't. But either way, they will have the engaged response we call a meaningful experience.

Tell Stories
Along those same lines, tell stories. People respond to stories in an emotional and physiological manner. Stories excite our imagination and our brains. Stories stick with us in a way that facts and figures do not. Most importantly, they hold our attention and will be remembered.

Chapter Nine on informative speaking is mostly about storytelling, because that’s the best way to teach people. Stories are all the rage in marketing, advertising, and public relations. That’s because professionals in those fields understand that stories are the most effective way to teach, inspire, and persuade. Storytelling is a skill you simply must develop if you are going to be a great speaker. Some people are natural storytellers, some need to learn how to do it effectively. The good news is that we all do it, probably daily. When you come home and tell your spouse about your day, you’re actually telling the story of that day. You tell everyone about your great vacation, with stories. You can do this, and with some work, do it very well.

And to build on the previous point, personal stories are particularly effective. They are the best types of stories, easiest to remember and tell well, and you get to define the the story’s meaning to draw out the point you want to make.

Empathize with Your Audience’s Concerns
Your audience is the reason you speak. What do they need that you can help them with? Presumably you are there to give them something they need. Clearly identify and address those needs. We will talk at some length throughout this book about the importance of your audience and connecting with them, giving them a reason to listen, and enhancing their lives with your message. For now though, just realize that you have to give your audience something they value. To do so, you need to think about their lives and what they want and need to live their lives more effectively and efficiently

If you are speaking on a work-related occasion, for example, it is important that the audience leaves your speech thinking their work is more important/meaningful/satisfying than they did before you spoke. I once worked as a recruiter, a headhunter really. In brief, we were poaching people from one company and helping them land in the next. Once, a speaker came in to discuss some of the ways we could improve our numbers (make more money), and I remember getting up after his talk thinking that the work I was doing was as important as anyone’s in the world. Before the speech, I thought I had a job as a recruiter. After it, I felt like I was changing lives. And the expectant motivation followed.

Whatever the circumstances that brought them to listen to you, acknowledge that their efforts are meaningful and significant. Acknowledge the challenges they face, and offer something to help them meet and overcome those challenges. There must be something in it for your audience, some incentive to get them to listen closely to you.

Offer Strong Visual Support
This is the opposite of death by PowerPoint. A photographic image can be a powerful thing. It can anger or amuse, educate or inspire. Carefully selected visual support can leave a lasting memory in the audience’s mind, and being memorable is essential to being meaningful.

We have devoted Chapter Twelve to how to use visual aids effectively. If you are able to do this, you will immediately distinguish yourself from the myriad presenters who use PowerPoint poorly. You’ll send a sign early on that your talk is something special. It’s not the same old, same old with slides filled with text and data that no one really cares about or is meaningfully connected to. You will quickly stand out as someone who gets it, and audiences will know they’re in for something unique and special because you are maximizing the visual potential of your topic.

Highlight Values or an Ethical Dimension
In our world of increasing moral ambiguity, political correctness, and blurred lines between right and wrong, people have a hunger for ethical discourse. We bring this up not to lecture to you about what constitutes ethical rhetoric, but to encourage you develop a rhetorical ethic. This is a distinction Professor Richard L. Lanigan points out in his book Semiotic Phenomenology of Rhetoric. It’s about embodying an informed understanding of one’s ethical value system, not preaching what others should believe. It’s about being ethical yourself in your consideration of issues and how your share them.
So when we say to highlight values or an ethical dimension, we are not encouraging you to preach with moral certitude as to how others should live their lives. Rather, we are suggesting that you not shy away from ethical issues. In fact, you can highlight the ethical dilemma in question for your audience. As you tell the story, call attention to the ethical quandary the subject of the story faces. When a choice is framed with an ethical dimension, most people will opt for the right interpretation and do the right thing. Some may disagree as to what the right choice is, but if you anticipate such disagreement you can include it as a consideration for their deliberation.

All people have values, relatively stable long-term beliefs about right and wrong, as well as what is important in life. Tying your message to things that people value is a key to creating a meaningful experience. We will talk more about values in Chapter Ten on persuasion. At this point simply recognize that people will find things they value meaningful to listen to and think about.

Furthermore, people like to be reminded that they are doing the right thing, not necessarily doing things the easy way. When you have the opportunity recognize those in your audience who have done exceptional things, do so. Applaud their strong moral compass. We all want and need to be inspired, to do better and to be better people. It is the nature of all living things to grow and progress. Appeal to your audience’s ideals, appeal to the best within them. You will see the lights go on in their eyes because you are creating a meaningful experience.

Don’t Take Your Audience’s Time Lightly
No matter how wonderful your presentation, if you fail to meet audience expectation, particularly in regard to time, they can leave the room disappointed. Maybe even angry.

A number of years ago I attended a presentation by a speaker who was one of the country’s foremost experts on his particular topic, so I was incredibly excited to hear his ideas. After 35 minutes of his presentation, which was scheduled for 45 minutes, he wasn’t disappointing. He was truly an incredible speaker. And so when he said, “in conclusion,” anyone listening understood his presentation was about to come to an end.

Another 30 minutes later, he finally stopped talking. I can’t tell you what he said in the last 20 minutes or so. I had stopped listening. So had the rest of the audience. The speaker even noticed we had. He acknowledged that it had been a long day that we were losing steam. Little did he know that he was making our long day so much longer.

One of the best speeches I had ever heard turned into one of the worst just because the speaker ignored time. He made the terrible mistake of thinking he was so great that we no longer cared about our time. He was wrong.

When you have to deliver a speech, make sure you know how much time you’re allotted. And make sure you speak within that time frame.

Speak Extemporaneously
Extemporaneous speech is natural, conversational speech. It’s real, it’s direct, it’s you speaking in your own voice. When you write a script, you read your message. When you speak extemporaneously, the message originates from you, in that moment, with that particular audience in mind. This is an essential prerequisite to authenticity. Your audience will not connect in a meaningful way to you or your message if they feel it is inauthentic. Speaking extemporaneously is a must for meaningful authentic public communication.


The suggestions in this chapter are just capsules of the kind of analysis a good speaker conducts. They can be taken in countless directions to suit the needs of most anyone and most any audience. Employ them, and you will be on your way to transforming your communication and creating a meaningful experience for both yourself and your audience.