The world of speaking opportunities keeps expanding, and that’s good for authors. Speaking to live audiences is one of the best platform-building activities available for both fiction writers and subject matter experts.
But how to make the connection with a live audience? What gets in the way? In this article author Betsy Graziani Fasbinder looks at how to avoid the appearance of dishonesty and be an authentic voice for your readers and listeners.
When I think of speakers whom I admire I rank one quality above all others. The speakers can vary in skill and message. They can demonstrate different styles of delivery from funny to inspiring. They can be subdued and thoughtful or outlandish and shocking. They can make flubs and lose their trains of thought now and then. And I don’t care about their PowerPoint slides.
Whatever their age or appearance, whatever their topic or point of view, it’s a speaker’s authenticity that keeps me listening. Add sincere passion to the mix, and I’m in. But the moment it feels as though I’m being deceived, or worked, or manipulated, I’m out. And I think that a lot of other people are just like me.
In coaching public speakers over the last two decades, I’ve found that even the most honest and sincere people can appear deceitful, just because of a few ill-advised habits and behaviors. Making a few simple adjustments can instantly increase their credibility.
So let’s look at it in reverse: how can you look like a liar, even if you’re not?
Deceitful Behavior #1: Scan, Dart and Avoid Eye Contact
If you’d like to appear as though you’re lying, I strongly suggest avoiding eye contact or scanning the crowd and having your eyes dart Ping-Pong style as you speak. It works every time.
You’ve likely heard the term “shifty-eyed.” Whenever I think of that phrase, I recall the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon with Boris and Natasha, the oddly misplaced Russian criminals in pursuit of Moose and Squirrel. If you watch that old cartoon, or even more modern ones, you’ll notice whenever a villainous character is doing something sneaky or deceitful, their eyes shift back and forth. Animators know that this implies furtiveness and deceit. The same is true for us as speakers.
If your eyes dart, scan or avoid the eyes of your audience, you’ll come across as dishonest. It can be nerves or shyness that causes us to use poor eye contact technique.
If you think of public speaking not as talking to a crowd, but as having a series of genuine conversations with other people, it’ll make all the difference. Linger in the eyes of a listener for a few seconds, for a whole sentence or two—about three-to-six seconds. Then, randomly find another listener and share a second idea.
Deceitful Behavior #2: Display Contradiction
If you’re aiming to undermine your credibility with an audience, make sure that your body, voice and facial expression contradict your words. Mixed messages imply deceit.
If you observe a speaker wearing a scowl while saying that they’re excited about an idea, which do you tend to register, the words or the expression? If a speaker stands with her arms across her chest or packing up her wares while she’s saying she welcomes feedback and questions, what’s your impression? You’re right; she really doesn’t want feedback or questions. If she invites questions with a relaxed body posture and a pleasant facial expression, she’s much more likely to invite interaction.
The power in public speaking comes from congruence. When your facial expression, your tone of voice, your body position AND your words all say the same thing, you come across as honest, sincere and even passionate about your topic.
Deceitful Behavior #3: Be Sure to “Um” and other “Non-Words” A Lot
If you, um, you know, you, well…well, you use a lot of um, sounds, and um, y’know, like meaningless words, your um, well, your point sounds as though you’re um y’know, like lying, even if you’re like, y’know telling the truth.
That was hard to write, much less read. But I hear people speak like this all the time. Non-words like um, er, like, y’know, okay, right and so (there are hundreds of them) are simply the sounds we make when we’re not yet sure of what we’re going to say. Too nervous to take a second or two of silence to form our words, our lips just keep moving until the idea finally arrives. What often comes out of our mouths is nonsense. These ums and ers, in addition to being a bad habit for you and a distraction to your listeners, can also imply that your statement isn’t truthful.
By inserting pauses (likely many more and longer ones than you imagine) you can get rid of those weedy non-words and increase the impact and believability of what you’re saying to an audience of any size.
Deceitful Behavior #4: By All Means, Hide Your Point of View
Too many speakers try to take a middle-of-the-road stance rather than overtly stating their point of view (POV) and asking directly for what they want from their listeners. Rather than stating their POV in no uncertain terms: I believe strongly that… or My experience has convinced me… or I know in my heart…too many try to take a neutral stance: Some people think… or, It seems that… This neutrality comes off as people-pleasing behavior and implies that you’ll say anything to please anyone—not exactly honest.
Be bold. Start your POV with passion and commitment. Even if people disagree with you, they’ll believe you to be sincere. Disagreement is far better than distrust. That’s my bold POV.
Deceitful Behavior #5: Lie, Exaggerate, and Obfuscate
Every suggestion I’ve made prior to this one is made with the assumption that you, a speaker I’m coaching or to whom I’m writing, are telling the truth when you’re talking. The rotten truth of it is that people do lie and that skilled liars know how to appear as though they’re telling the truth, even when they’re not.
Assuming you’re an honest person of integrity, I will say this. Avoid resorting to unfounded exaggerations or fictional stories to make your point. When a questioner pushes hard, don’t be intimidated into obfuscating. Be candid. Give it to them straight. Don’t let nervousness or your desire to convince people of an issue important to you push you into diluting your truth. Check your facts. Make sure there from trusted sources. Tell it as you know it to be, with passion, conviction and authenticity.
Authenticity is crucial if you want intelligent, open-minded people to believe what you’re saying and especially if you want them to think or behave differently because of it. If your face, hands, voice, body and words are all saying the same thing, at the same time, that’s when your truth shows best. Your authentic self is the very best tool of influence that you have.
What signals authenticity to you, when listening to a speaker, either live or online? Let me know in the comments!
Betsy Graziani Fasbinder is an award-winning novelist and memoirist as well as a public speaking coach. She now shares her expertise in coaching public speaking in her new book, From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Public Speaking Tips for Writers. Reach her at www.betsygrazianifasbinder.com.