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Reaching Your Audience

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As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and have it Stick. By Peter Meyers and Shann Nix. Atria Books, Hardcover, ebook, 275 pp.

"One upon a time information was power. Now you can get all the data you need in a heartbeat, the information age is over," assert authors Peter Meyers and Shann Nix in their new book, As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and have it Stick. Referring to the changed global landscape after the Internet, which made "information free and equally available to everyone," Meyers and Nix point to a new problem facing public speakers: "Now we are drowning in data and starved for a meaningful connection (10)." They offer an answer.

Unlike the many other public speaking books available for the general public, As We Speak offers a unique approach that borrows from college writing, literature and theater courses, and business management to provide a holistic approach to winning over an audience.

Peter Meyers, who heads his Silicon Valley-based consulting firm Stand & Deliver, has spent the past 25 years coaching many high powered political and corporate players from Fortune 500 companies and public offices employs a methodology -- which often borrows from Method acting as well as other theater and opera techniques:

According to Meyers and Nix, one overcomes ones fear of speaking in public not by playing a theater character, but rather in immersing oneself mind and body in the act of communication, and by concentrating on the needs and interests of the audience.

Their advice: Organize, prepare, get yourself into peak performance for delivery. Learn to use your body, to master its innate flight or fight chemistry and turn this energy into a way to communicate with your audience. As a public speaker you can reach that audience personally, move them emotionally, invite them to adopt your ideas and succeed without overwhelming them with information.

For all audiences, especially hostile ones, Meyers and Nix stress the point that you have to direct your conversation to the audience's needs and make an emotional impact on your audience. You can achieve the former through research, by knowing your audience and addressing their interests. You attain the latter by deploying what college rhetoric teachers call making a pathos appeal, using emotional material or examples to reach your audience. Cut the excessive logos, e.g. information and stats, don't spend too much time on your own credentials or ethos, just go for those stories, ideas and images that you can draw from your audience.

To do this you need to be prepared. Especially the "rest of us morals" who can't wing it, or read people's minds, one needs to do research and have a plan before showing up to talk.

Meyers and Nix offer detailed advice on how to prepare, from initial outlining to rehearsing the presentation with colleagues and family members, who can provide feedback. In structuring the speech, Meyer and Nix assert many times that audiences have little interest in listening or turning their attentions from their own thoughts and interests until the speaker addresses these directly and affirms the audience's work while speaking to their concerns. One needs to do this at the very start of the talk: "Together you've built this company up to become a leader in the industry. But ... thirty-five percent of you will be retiring in the next seven years... (52)."

The authors call such an opening a "ramp," which "like a ski jump... alters the angle of attack and sends you to a higher level." It is the place where you win your audience over and make them listen by addressing their needs first. Next you need to narrow your main point to a single sentence and be prepared to summarize it.

Most importantly, never end on Q&A. Question sessions are a great way to bond with the audience and build trust, but they can also elicit an awkward silence or provide an opportunity for a belligerent audience member to forward his own agenda and undermine your talk. So it's your job to take back the stage in the end and reach your audience emotionally with what they call "dessert," which can be a quote or a reference to some inspirational content. The author's provide an appendix of samples from famous speeches by the likes of Lou Gehrig, Lyndon B. Johnson, Michelle Obama and Steve Jobs.

Training for the peak speaking performance you can also learn to master your fears and signs of anxiety:

Shaking hands, trembling legs? Wear baggy trousers. Sweating? Keep your jacket on, and have a cotton handkerchief handy. Wavering or cracking voice? Take deep breaths, it will fix that by creating a steady volume of air-flow over your vocal cords, and help calm your nerves too.

Ultimately, all this work focusing on the audience and preparing your ideas, voice and body to move that audience becomes your own gift. Meyers and Nix offer their last words of advice: "Show up in the world, Be generous with your voice. Share what you have to say. Give your gift: the world is waiting to receive it."