Great communicators seek connection over perfection. Connection is crucial for communication to take place, and few of us can connect, or identify, with someone who appears perfect. Perfection is rarely reality, and we seek out people who are real.
Most of the executives I coach falsely believe their presentations must be perfect. They put tremendous pressure on themselves to say the right words, the right way, at the right time, all the time. Under this kind of pressure, it's no surprise so many of them would rather eat glass than present in public.
Think back to a recent conversation you had with a friend. You probably can't remember the exact words he or she used but you can remember the point he or she wanted to make. Great communication is far more than the words we use.
Great presenters focus on their audiences and not on a script. Research tells us our words - the actual words we use - account for only seven percent of our credibility as a speaker. Visual and vocal cues make up the remaining 93 percent.
When we strive to be word perfect, we do ourselves a disservice. In the unlikely event that our speech flows like milk and honey, it can also curdle for we appear scripted, stilted and not our natural, authentic selves.
If we stumble and lose our place, we do not have to lose our credibility. We can simply acknowledge we have lost our place and take a few seconds to find it. Most audiences want us to succeed as speaker. They will be patient as we find our place and resume our talk.
If we misquote a figure or statistic, we simply correct ourselves. Most audiences won't think twice about the correction.
If we don't know the answer to a hard question, we say so, but promise to find out the answer and get back to the questioner. Audiences will appreciate our honesty and responsiveness.
Audiences may not expect perfection, but they do demand humanity. They want to connect with the speaker above all else. They want to get to know us; they want to know that we can be trusted. Showing them our vulnerability accomplishes these important tasks.
We can be competent and not perfect. Competence comes from knowing your stuff, and many times we learn our stuff from the mistakes we make.
One of my more effective speeches was entitled, "Confessions of a Reformed Manager." In it, I recounted ten miserable mistakes I had made as a new manager. The audience of new managers was mesmerized during the hour-long presentation for they felt a real affinity with me. By exposing my flaws, I had invited them into my home. By sharing my humanity, we could walk on common ground.
In conclusion, great speakers combine competence with vulnerability. They seek connection over perfection. They know their stuff and are not afraid to show us who they are.