I’m struggling up the small hill on my way back from my morning bike ride – down to the park and back – only about 4 miles in all but it gets me going. It’s downhill all the way to the park and uphill all the way back.
If I choose certain roads I can ride all the way without getting off. But today I notice that for the steepest hill I need to drop down to first gear. Usually I can do that hill in third. Maybe I’m a bit more tired today. But it gets me thinking about gears, and how useful it is to have a range.
Later I speak to my good friend (and proper cyclist!) Tony. He tells me that when he started to cycle with a group he learnt that while most of us drop down a gear when we’re going up a hill, the serious cyclist’s approach is to go up a gear. It means that you have to come out of the saddle and stand on the pedals; you really have to make more of an effort. Whereas if you drop a gear or two then you’re simply spinning the wheels, there’s no real resistance, and it’ll take you much longer to get to the top. Suddenly I realise there’s another way to use the gears.
So how does that relate to speaking? Over the years I’ve seen so many speakers get stuck in one way of speaking – it seems they’ve only got one or two gears at the most; they don’t use the range of gears they have. Often it’s too mild, too slow and it’s boring: no resistance, no interest, just spinning the wheels. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of audiences are used to. But take the same material and put some energy in, take it up a gear or two and it becomes alive.
In my experience, most speakers can’t do that. There are 2 things they miss. First is the need to change gear – do you know when you’re boring your audience, or when they’re just not interested in your proposition? And second, if you do notice, do you know what to do?
More energy? Maybe. But not always. More energy, more life, isn’t always the answer. Keep the energy too high and eventually they will switch off. Of course it’s not just about energy; it’s also about your content; and it’s about you and your relationship with your audience.
Sometimes the answer is to stop speaking and ask a question: “is this what you wanted to hear?” or “what else would you like to know?”
The skilled speaker knows their presentation, their audience and themselves well enough to know how to get the best from each – they will use the different gears that they have and will know how to get the best from each one.
If you’d like to explore more of the many ‘gears’ you’ve got in your speaking, or know someone else who would appreciate that opportunity, then make a booking on one of our open courses. And if you’re not sure, get in touch and we’ll have a conversation. (That is, of course, after I’m back from my bike ride!)