When Communicating, Inspire—Don’t Inform

I was once asked to give a speech at the regional National Speakers Association meeting in San Diego about my approach for effective communicating.  Specifically, they wanted me to tell them how I give a speech.  My approach is simple.

First, I offer up a concept that could help each person in the audience be a better manager, teacher, coach, or parent.  Next, I give an example or tell a story that relates to that concept.  I get people laughing.  I try to zero in on audience members as human beings and make my point in such a way that it triggers an emotional reaction for each person. Ultimately, I want them to walk out of the room with an idea they can put into action in their lives. Here’s an example of my approach:

Introduce a concept that will enrich the life of each member of the audience.  “Of all the concepts that I have taught over the years, the most important is about catching people doing things right. There is little doubt in my mind that the key to developing people is to catch them doing something right and praise them for their performance.”  The minute I begin talking about catching people doing things right, praising them and letting them know you noticed their good performance, the audience perks up. Everyone can relate to this topic in some way, both at home and at work, because everyone loves praise.

Give an example that relates to the concept. After I talk to the audience about praising in a general sense, I warn people not to wait for exactly the right behavior to praise others—because they could be waiting forever!  “In the beginning, when people are learning something and are not top performers yet, you have to praise progress. For example, imagine that you’re trying to teach a child how to say, ‘Give me a glass of water, please.’ If she has never spoken before, and you wait for that full sentence before you give the child a sip of water, what have you got?  A very dehydrated kid, that’s what!  So what do you do?  You have to praise progress. First, zero in on the word water.  Repeat it over and over again.  Finally, the child will respond with something like ‘loller.’ When that happens, hug and kiss the kid.  Call his grandmother and get the child on the phone so she can say, ‘loller, loller, loller.’ While that’s not water, it’s not bad.  After a while, though, you will only accept water.  Why?  Because you don’t want your child going into a restaurant at 21 years of age and asking for a glass of loller.  So praising progress helps people move toward desired performance.”

Tell a story that shows other applications for the concept. “Is praising important in relationships other than with our children?  You’d better believe it.  Have you ever seen a couple in a restaurant in love?  Margie and I were at a French restaurant not long ago, where we spent three hours enjoying a marvelous meal and elegant atmosphere. On one side of us was a couple in love.  When one of them would talk, the other would smile and listen.  I don’t think they cared if the meal ever came. On the other side was a couple that obviously had been married for a while.  In three hours, I don’t think they said four sentences to each other.  He finally said, ‘How’s your meat?’  ‘Okay,’ was the reply, ‘How’s yours?’  I whispered to Margie, ‘That marriage is dead but nobody buried it.’  How do you get from hanging onto someone’s every word to having nothing to say?  It’s the frequency with which you catch each other doing things right.”

Summarize the presentation with tips the audience can put into action. “The key to keeping personal and professional relationships healthy is to constantly catch people doing things right, and praise them by accenting the positive.  When you accent the positive, you have deposits in your human relationship bank account with that person.  Now, if that person does something wrong, you can point it out without devastating the relationship.”

The example I’ve just presented demonstrates how, when giving a speech, I try to present a concept in human terms and involve the audience in a way that it stirs an emotional reaction in each person.  I try to relate the concept to something that is present in the lives of every audience member so they can feel the power of the concept.  Remember that your job as a communicator and speaker is to inspire and change people’s behavior, not just to share information. If you use this approach when giving a presentation, you will keep your audience interested and give them something they will remember—and be able to use—long after they leave the room.

5 thoughts on “When Communicating, Inspire—Don’t Inform

  1. Ken,
    I like your approach and outline for how you present a topic. You make a reference to humor in the beginning. In a 30-60 minute address what have you learned in terms of how often to stir some laughter in the group and what are some different ways in which you do it?


    • Hi Scott,

      People always appreciate humor in a presentation. The key is to make sure that the humor is relevant and adds to the presentation and doesn’t become an end in itself. As long as it is relevant and enhances the message, humor is great to add to any message.


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