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Why your message isn’t getting through

3 min read


Whether in conference rooms or as conference keynotes, we all have something to say. But if you’re overly focused on yourself, are a churning ball of nerves or simply lacking the tools to connect, according to communication and training pro Bill Hoogterp, you’re missing an opportunity to convey your message.

Hoogterp kicks off his public-speaking book “Your Perfect Presentation” with this nugget of wisdom: it’s not about you. “When you stop thinking it’s about you, that is when your greatness emerges.”

Here’s how:

Lower your filter

If you dislike public speaking, chances are good you spend a lot of time worrying about how you are perceived by others. Hoogterp says those worries — that you are not perceived as you might like — can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, rendering a speaker almost entirely ineffective on the metric that really matters: conveying a message.

“When we focus on ourselves, we create a barrier — a filter — between ourselves and the audience. … You know what happens when we put up our filter? Those in our audience put up their filter. Now we have double-blocked ourselves from the audience,” Hoogterp writes.

The answer is to flip the mirror. “Like a lot of people, you know your stuff well, but you stay in your own head,” Hoogterp writes. “Instead, focus on how to get the content from your head into their heads.” This will naturally lower your filter, prompting the audience to subconsciously lower theirs.

Channel your fear

Fear of public speaking isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you know what to do with it. But without being harnessed and channeled, fear distracts your focus and clouds your message. Hoogterp urges professionals to instead think of fear as trapped energy — energy that is essential to a dynamic presentation that will naturally flow where it is needed (the audience) and most effective when you lower your filter and shift your focus from yourself to your audience and conveying a message to them.

How to connect

If you’ve lowered your filter, sending your fear (trapped energy) in the direction you want, you still have one more barrier: The audience. They have their own filters. If you can’t penetrate this barrier between you and the people you want to reach, your message is going nowhere fast. Some tips, with comments from Hoogterp:

  • Make eye contact: “With eye contact, you are telling the audience members that it matters to you that they are there, that this communication is between us.”
  • Use names: “When you incorporate people’s names into your talk, their filters drop and they are completely focused on you.” Using names also raises awareness among the rest of the group, who suddenly realize they, too, might be called upon. Even better — use one person’s name while making contact with another. The group will be hyper-engaged as a result.
  • Get real: “Whether you’re working with customers, employees or colleagues, an effective way to lower people’s filters is to make them feel that you care about them. Want to know a great trick for getting people to feel that you care? Actually care. This works amazingly well. They fall for it every time.”

Melissa Turner is an editor on SmartBrief’s health care team, handling briefs on policy, insurance, medicine and veterinary medicine. She’s a former newspaper writer and copy editor and is a trained wildlife biologist with background in biotechnology.

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