Public Speaking: Creating the Impression You Want

In public speaking, creating the impression you want isn’t always easy. Aristotle wisely said: “The impression created by the speaker as he utters the speech is the single greatest power of persuasion.”  How you present, and the image it creates, makes an impact in how your message is received.

Your behavior determines what people think about you

I was in a fender bender today.  It was the first time I’ve been in a legitimate, police-report-inducing wreck.  Important facts (and good news) first: no one was hurt; there was only minor damage.

But it was surprising and disturbing.  I was sitting in stopped traffic – had been for several seconds.  I looked in my rearview mirror just in time to see the car behind me get slammed by the car behind her.  That started a chain reaction where I was hit, and knocked forward hard enough to hit the car in front of me (although he sustained no damage).

fender bender, impression when speaking

Side note: have you thanked an engineer today?  Car bumpers are amazingly sturdy.  It was shocking to see how little damage resulted from the rather forceful impact.  Engineers rock, even if they are notoriously bad presenters.  But I digress.

When the policeman arrived, he opened with, “Who wants to tell me what happened?”  We all sort of looked at the driver in the rear, wanting to see what she would say.  She ‘fessed right up.  “I was in a rush to my class, I looked down to change the radio, didn’t see her stopped, and ran into her.”  That was all the story that really came out.

One additional question: “Were you moving?”  (no).

The policeman went to write his report, and came back some fifteen minutes later to explain how it would work from this point.  Since none of us were experienced crashers, we appreciated his advice.  The driver of the rear vehicle was understandably upset, and had chosen not to stand with the rest of us.  The policeman said he’d get any final comments from her with this footnote: “She seems to be the honest sort.”

I’ve had several friends in law enforcement, and they have told me about the training they receive to determine who is telling the truth. How you present, and the image it creates, makes an impact in how your message is received.

The larger message for communicators is this: your behavior determines what people think about you.  Why did the policeman think she was honest?  Because he noted her mannerisms and behaviors.  You can make people think you are kind, confident, honest, sincere, passionate, genuine, approachable, funny, or professional even if you don’t think you are. It’s all in training your body and your voice to execute prescribed behaviors.

Many students I train balk because the behaviors feel fake.  But they also don’t like the image they are presenting.  The image comes from the behavior.

What image are you portraying to those who listen to you?
What skills do you need to improve to drive the image you want?

P.S. It seems a lifetime ago, but I am an engineer (Aerospace) and strive to prove to all engineers that excellence in communication is an attainable skillset.

Communication matters.  What are you saying?

This article was published in the November 2016 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.