We usually speak and train in an area of which we have great expertise. So what do you do when someone challenges you and suggests that you have got it wrong? My advice is to listen, pay attention, be curious, and see if there is something that you can learn. And even if they misunderstood you or have an error in fact, still treat the person with respect, curiosity and acknowledge their idea. And often their comment or point of view will highlight a blind spot that you have in your knowledge or experience. Harvard Business Review (HBR) talks about the need for leaders to accept and welcome dissension within their team. That is the leader will give permission and encourage staff to disagree or put forward an alternative idea to a problem or issue.
I was recently running an online program on one of the key areas of expertise, Thinking And Speaking Off The Cuff. I have a lot of fancy models and formulas that I teach to help people respond to questions, speak off the cuff, give an opinion or a position on a particular topic. The models are highly effective and taught by lots of other bodies and they can also be found in literature and journals on public speaking.
One of my attendees said, “I think this is all trickery and smoke and mirrors. When asked something can’t you just say yes I agree or no I don’t agree or sorry I don’t have an answer? In other words, just be honest.”
It was a profound statement and one that I realised is completely true. So I was teaching some fancy skills and models and sometimes it is easier to just answer simply and succinctly and even admit that you do not know. I was so focused on the models and formulas that I had forgotten to realise that just a simple off the cuff response to a question, without the need for a model also works well and often is the default method that people go to when put on the spot.
So as I move forward with this workshop, I will still teach my models, but I will also let people know that just responding with a yes, or no, or I don’t know or a simple acknowledgment is also OK. The models that I teach in my workshops are for situations that may be more demanding, have greater stress, or have higher stakes. For example, job interviews, being cross-examined in a court of law, dealing with hecklers, handling angry people, live radio interviews, and responding to a question when you do not know the answer.
I think this feedback has made my workshop more inclusive, less daunting and it will appeal to a wider audience.
In another public speaking workshop that I run, after my introduction and workshop outline, I start by asking everyone to do a little introductory speech about themselves. I ask people to “Tell us something about yourself and tell us about your work”. I had done this for a number of years. I found out a while ago when working with Noongar Health Professionals that they do not ordinarily like talking about themselves. So asking them to start by “saying something about yourself” is not culturally appropriate. I really valued this feedback and the subsequent meetings that I had to increase my awareness of Aboriginal Culture. I now start my workshops with the exercise “tell me a little about where you are from, your family, your mob and what is important about your work”
So back to the purpose of this article. Even if you are the expert in your topic, be open to learn from your audience and be open to being challenged and always welcome these alternative points of view and treat the other person with respect and understanding and never belittle or undermine them in front of the audience. I even recommend, as in the HBR article, that you make your workshop or seminar safe for people to question you, to disagree, and to offer other ideas. Always be open to feedback.
If you are interested in effective public speaking skills, I am running my Winning Presentation Skills workshop on the 10th of November in Port Hedland.