As my daughter (age eight) and I were driving to pick up my son from a sleepover this morning, she asked a very innocent question: “How many boys are there?”I answered, “Six,” even though I didn’t have the foggiest idea how many really were there but figured in my mind that six 10-year-olds would be the maximum any sane person would invite to their house for a sleepover.  I supposed it amazes me as I type this how many of my kids’ questions I answer when I don’t really know the answers.  (I am equally amazed and mortified that making up answers for my kids is somehow justified in my mind – something I’d probably never do with an adult.)Little Sweet Pea, ever needing reassurance (or maybe just knows her daddy), followed up, “Really, six?  How do you know?”I then ‘fessed up — “I have no idea – I’m just guessing.”With 8-year-old innocence and clarity, she responded, “Well, you sure SOUNDED like you knew!”My daughter has figured out what most people never seem to get and is a real eye-opener in my public speaking classes.  HOW we say something drives the emotions and perceptions people have about us.  We tend to think (I know I did) that WHAT we know and say drives those impressions.  But people who don’t know us (or know our content) make their mind up about US based on our actions.  If we want to appear confident, then we have to ACT confident (which is independent of actually BEING confident).One of the exercises I use in class when someone says anything about someone having passion about what they’re talking about is to ask, “How do you know?”  Frequently, people answer something along the lines of,  “You can just see it.” or “I’m a good judge of people.”  To that I make the speaker take the OPPOSITE view (or something I KNOW they don’t care or believe in), and make them use the same skills we are learning to make their point.  Almost always, they are VERY convincing and passionate, and we learn our lesson.On the flip side, I frequently hear people tell me they LOVE something, but they share it with all the passion of an ousted politician thanking the American people for believing in democracy.  Perceived passion (confidence, knowledge, genuineness, care) is something that absolutely can be put in audience’s mind even when it does not exist in the speaker.Here’s my legal caveat and plea: Use that knowledge and skill for GOOD and not evil.  Please.Don’t misunderstand me (as one student did, (mis)quoting me: “I learned that content doesn’t matter.”).  Content matters.  When you’re caught making things up (as I was, and may explain why my daughter needed confirmation in the first place), you lose credibility and likely whatever influence you were trying to create.  And if you have nothing to say, all the (perceived) passion in the world won’t save your message.  But you can absolutely predict and to some extent control an audience’s perceptions of you based on your delivery skills.

Drive audience impressions with your delivery skills.

If you want to learn how to answer questions and appear confident, consider the public workshop Powerful Questions & Answers, this coming Tuesday (it’s piggy-backed with a PowerPoint/Visuals class in the morning).  If you want to develop those speaking skills, there are a few seats left in December’s Powerful, Persuasive Speaking workshop.

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