Your Personal Brand — Verbal Communication

The second element in creating or fixing your own personal brand concerns how you communicate–both verbally and in writing (online, in print, and anywhere else where you use text.)

In this post I will start with a discussion of verbal communication:

After I had gained the experience of teaching university-level public speaking classes for many years, I arrived at a surprising realization. Some people just are born with an innate skill at communicating well verbally. The same is probably true about Olympic athletes and great actors. You are born to be good at one thing or another.

So, while some are born to be great verbal communicators, others suffer through public speaking 101 in college and yet emerge nonetheless as mediocre speakers. I don’t mean to depress you here, but I want you to know what’s going on the real world.

However, the positive spin on this is you can become better at communicating verbally, no matter what your starting skill level might be.

The key to becoming better at verbal communication is to model how you communicate based on someone else’s success. Simply put, look around you in the world out there and find someone that you can respect for his or her verbal communication skills. This works best if you can identify someone that is still alive today (not someone you’ve only been able to see on film or videotape) and who also is recognized by others as having high verbal communication skills.

Great Orators versus Great Communicators

Some people believe that we can look to those who get elected to the office of President of the United States to find excellence in communication. But, on behalf of all who have taught public speaking, I’m telling you that just became you can get elected to the White House does not mean you are excellent in communication. A president may excel at oratory, but be otherwise lousy at verbal communication.

There are some presidents who generally make it to the standard list of excellent communicators in the verbal sense. Let’s limit ourselves to considering presidents who have served in office only during the time since live network television coverage of the presidency became possible. So, in that context, you should focus upon American presidents who stand out as excellent in verbal communication as differentiated from presidential oratory that comes from prepared remarks and usually using manuscripts. I can identify four presidents who fit this profile: John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and, Barack Obama.

To focus on people who are still alive today, if your choices are presidents who are excellent communicators, your choices are narrowed down to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

However, you need not look to partisan politics to find models of excellent communicators. You certainly will be able to find people alive today who are excellent verbal communicators who happen to be from an organized religion, a corporation, a university, and so forth. You just need to take the time to look around.

Telling a Good Story

Once you identify the person whom you think can model excellent verbal communication for you to emulate, you begin by listening carefully to how he or she communicates verbally across a variety of different settings. Try to identify what factors are most apparent to you.

For example, if the person tells a good story, that certainly is something to note. Another example of what to look for would be to see how the person puts feelings into their words and whether they consistently reveal emotions across various public speaking settings as compared to speaking only in a factual, logical manner.

This brings us back once again to the subject of emotional intelligence. I believe that a person cannot be effective in verbal communication without first attaining some degree of emotional intelligence.

While it is not true that all verbal communication is merely telling a good story, I believe wholeheartedly that if you can tell a good story, you can become a better verbal communicator.

Why is telling a good story so important? Every human being is born into a world where telling a good story is part of what it means to be a person. Even though we live in the 21st century, we can still look around within our country and see living examples of cultures that began centuries ago based solely on a verbal culture and specifically without the benefit of written communication. Of course, I’m referring to the people and culture such as the Navajo.

At the heart of excelling at verbal communication, therefore, is the ability to tell a good story through your choice of words. Anybody can improve his or her ability to tell a good story. Even though I’m certain that one is born with the facility to tell a good story, you can certainly learn how to improve your storytelling skills from reading books as well as from formal classroom or online learning settings.

Personal vs. Public

Excellence in verbal communication starts on a personal, one-to-one, level. If you can become good at that level, you are off to a great start. However, the acid test for one’s personal brand, especially in terms of getting a new job or succeeding in a job once you start working, is how well do you communicate verbally with groups of people.

Many people feel that standing up to speak in front of others can be a big challenge. We’ve all heard of “stage fright” — the fear of being up in front of others (like on a stage) to share one’s thoughts, feelings, information, and so forth. People also can feel that speaking in front of a group can feel very threatening on a deeply personal level because of the opportunity for rejection.

The phrase to describe this is performance anxiety. Yeah, that sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it?

Okay, the truth is: Forget what it’s called and think instead about how you can prepare yourself to speak in front of others and get past the natural fears you may experience.

Prepare to Succeed

If you prepare yourself, you can begin to get through much of the natural distaste for public speaking. You probably have met some people who LOVE to get involved in public speaking. For those lucky people who do not feel concerns about getting up to speak in front of a group, the world is very different.

But, if you are like most people, then there is a very natural feeling that somehow getting up to speak in front of other is stressful and worthy of being avoided at all costs.

Understanding What is Being Asked of You

The first kind of preparation that you can do is to think about why you are being called upon to get up and speak in front of a group of people. There is always some specific reason. It can be a happy occasion like a wedding reception where you are the one who must say a few words about the couple.

It can be a sad occasion like a memorial service where you are the one who must say a few words about someone who has passed away. But, you need to be clear about the reason why are you going to get up on your feet and speak to a group of people.

Think about who is in the group that will be listening to you. Of course, you do not need to know people in that audience on a personal level.

But, you absolutely must think about that audience in terms of what they have in common with each other and with you. In the wedding reception example, usually what the audience and you have in common is some connection to either person in the wedding couple. The same can be true in the memorial service example–you and the audience may all have a connection to the person who passed.

In some speaking opportunities, you and the audience can be completely aligned in agreement. In the memorial service example, everyone will feel the emotions of the loss of the loved one that has passed.

In other instances, you and the audience can be out of alignment when taking into consideration people’s agreement with you about the circumstances and what you have to say to the group.

Different Needs Call for Different Solutions

For example, if you are a company spokesperson who must deliver bad news to a group of employees or stakeholders, you definitely will find yourself in a far different kind of setting than compared to social situations like weddings or funerals. If you must speak about issues that involve people’s security as an employee, their compensation as an employee, or other work-related matters, your level of difficulty will increase directly in connection to how high the dollars-and-cents stakes are.

But, the preparation process is the same no matter how high or how low the stakes might be: You need to know and understand your audience first before you do anything else in preparing to stand up and speak to a group of people. Failure to know and understand your audience is a quick and certain guarantee that you will fail in the public speaking setting.

Only after you have done your homework and truly know and understand your audience can you prepare to succeed in a public speaking setting. This is a standard truth that has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years on our planet.

You need to put yourself into the mind of the audience. You need to “walk a mile in their shoes” or whatever other phrase you choose. But, in your mind you must think about what your audience wants to hear you say, what your audience would agree with or disagree with, and how you think you can win over your audience with you presence in front of them and the words that you choose for that occasion.

People who get up in front of a group of others to speak without preparing themselves as to knowing and understanding the audience and then thinking about how to win over that audience probably should never open their mouths.

What you say often can be far less important than your preparation about audience and winning them over to your particular point of view.

After you complete those two important steps in preparation, you next need to consider how you will create an emotional bond between yourself and your audience. You need to consider how you will connect emotionally with your audience and what you can say in front of that audience to persuade them to trust and identify with you while you are speaking.

You then need to choose a way of speaking that will fit the occasion or situation. Telling jokes in your remarks at a sad occasion, for instance, would typically be a bad choice of technique for you as a speaker.

Saying things that anger or insult your audience is generally a dumb idea no matter what the situation might be. Talking too long or using confusing or misleading words can also deal a fatal blow to your chances for success in front of an audience.

In The Moment

The final aspect is how your audience relates to you in the moment when you are speaking to them. If you are genuine and accessible and straightforward with the audience while you are speaking, you can increase your chances of feeling good about yourself in the moment. Your chances of success will increase if you feel good about yourself in the moment. If you do nothing else, you must become comfortable enough with yourself so that you can feel good about what you are doing in front of your audience.

Whether your audience will remember any of your words that were spoken in front of them, they nevertheless MUST remember how they FELT ABOUT YOU in the moment if you intend to succeed with that audience.

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