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InfoQ Homepage News QConSF: The Art (and Science) of Compelling People

QConSF: The Art (and Science) of Compelling People

Ronit Avni, founder of Just Vision and LocalizED, presented at QCon on compelling people, identifying ways to connect to one's audience through warmth and skill, and how to provide a clear message by ensuring that the visual and vocal channels used to deliver the message don't detract from the actual message - the part that speakers spend so much time preparing.

Avni notes that, if there's tension between what an audience member is hearing and what they are seeing, studies have shown that focus on the verbal message is diffused; visual distractions can keep the audience from understanding the message. 

Additionally, according to Harvard and Princeton research, the combination of warmth and strength drive the amount of respect a person can engender when speaking to audiences. High strength (recognized skill and ability), and high warmth (relatability) make a person more respected. To ease this conflict, Avni recommends practicing the delivery of the speech or presentation so that the nonverbal align with the presentation's content. People presenting information put a lot of effort into the words themselves, but don't focus very much on the visual elements - how they appear to the audience - or to vocal distractions - speed, vocal ticks, volume, and tone, and even pauses. Practicing arm and hand placement, posture, vocal strength, and where to look within your audience all will reduce the risk of unintended vocal and visual messages interrupting the verbal message. 

Projecting warmth and strength comes not only from the words delivered, but also in the way that message is couched, as Avni explains. A speaker’s posture, gestures, and authenticity of expression can emphasize knowledge and relatability when they correspond appropriately with the message.

Avni points out that a balanced posture, with arms in front and slightly raised (like you’re holding something between the size of a soccer ball and a beach ball) when gesturing, enhances strength and warmth. She notes that the head tilt often seen by reporters on the news reduces the sense of strength, so is not a recommended stance when speaking with authority. Gesturing helps gain credibility, but within reason. Avni notes that gestures must not detract from the message, but rather support it. 

Vocal strength and warmth, Avni says, can help emphasize the strength and warmth in the message. Using a "low, slow, and steady" voice helps emphasize points. Avni points out that one’s natural range should be used, with more time in the lower bounds of that range. Slow speed and low tone can be used to make a point and generate strength, but variation in tone and speed helps generate warmth. Ravni also notes that speakers should learn to "embrace the pause" - eliminate the vocal pauses that fill silence (ers, ums, uhs, oks), and let the silence stand on its own.

Additionally, Avni emphasizes the importance of building a connection with one’s audience. She used many stories within her talk, some complex, and some rather small, to illustrate how stories help to connect with one’s audience, granting the speaker the role of trusted messenger. This gives the speak the ability to connect with the audience, which is necessary before trying to lead the audience.

Avni reminded the audience that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave about 2500 speeches before his "I have a dream" speech. His practice in delivery helped emphasize his message. She recommends training, practicing, and even using videotaping, in order to learn the mechanics around posture, gesturing and use of voice.

Ultimately, Avni notes that the heart of public speaking is mindfulness, being aware of yourself, and your audience’s responses to you and the rest of the environment.

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