Note: This blog piece was written June 10 2016 but has been migrated onto a new site.
Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.
My previous blog post focused on body language in a big way. When our bodies are forced into atypical “business” environments the way we connect with each other changes as we negotiate with our sense of personal space. Now I want to talk about – talking.
C2 obviously nailed it when they decided to break down the physical barriers between people and offer a more organic method of connecting. But let’s focus on the speakers. The rush after a particularly vulnerable and rewarding brain date is difficult to describe and the only thing that crushes that rush as fast as it sprouts is a bad speaker. One who has not translated their “industry speak” into the love language that participants were organically crafting.
Okay, to be fair, I was fortunate in enjoying all the speakers I saw but I thought this is would be a great opportunity to point out a problematic trend I’ve seen in public speakers. I will, of course, also continue my flattery of C2 and acknowledge speakers who subverted this horrible trend that I am calling “winners speak”.
As a speaker you have two jobs. 1) Know your shit. And 2) educate yourself in what words have become meaningless as they are overused and melded in with “industry speak”. Having a powerful message is one thing, but delivering it in a powerful way is what creates momentum and ensures your message will penetrate the behavior and thinking of your listeners. So how do you do this? You create a love language for the thing you are passionate about. You ingest it in all the forms its available in so that when you are asked to speak on it your words are as varied and rich as your perspective on the subject.
Jargoned speech is like a Coca-Cola. In the moment you could not imagine being more refreshed and satisfied as its carbonated sparks electrify your throat. Of course, this doesn’t last. The short term effects are fatigue, irritation, and yes, thirst. The very thing we were hoping to rid ourselves of. Real momentum is staying hydrated with clean substances throughout the day. Every once in a while we surprise our bodies with a fresh watermelon, which carries with its appeal a messiness, and inconvenience.
Before I get completely carried away with my analogy here let’s reel it back in. “Winners speak” is problematic. It relies on our fears of failure, it feeds our weakness for fast results, and it misses out on the “why”. Why this is important. Why this is truth. Why this is devastating. Why this is beautiful. Why this is sad. Why it’s allowed to be all of those things at once.
A speech is not there to flatter your senses and then just as promptly leave you craving the very thing you went to satisfy. Perhaps if you were about to play a football game and needed a bit of pep, or about to enter into a situation where nerves had to be met with a fierce sense of invincibility. These, however, are intended to be in short bursts. They are there to represent the larger more complex mechanics of something you’ve worked hard at. Key being – you’ve already engaged in.
Okay, so how do we fix this? I obviously don’t have all the answers. But I’ve been paying close attention to the speakers I have had the pleasure and displeasure of seeing. Partly because I myself am moving into public speaking and needed to see what worked and what didn’t. Here are my thoughts:
- Find and nurture your love language. It could be your ability to turn a call to action into poetry that speaks to deeper human truths like Massimo Bottura. He nourished our minds and sense as he lovingly and poetically described how “cooking is a call to act”. Just like poetry we were feeling it before we understood it. So when he walked out onto the stage and began telling us of his project Food for Soul our mouths were already hungry for the realness and truth of the devastation of food waste.
- Tasha McCauley spent the majority of her talk on VR and its potential for redeveloping our intuitive thinking. She started by telling us the story of “the first page”. As in, the first documented piece of history that humankind recorded symbols and language onto. What made it so special? What prompted us to shift from oral-only to a written language? Her love language is history, discovery, and adventure. She made me look at my own writing as a vehicle for exploration in a way I hadn’t before. It was through this unique and creative lens that I began to understand how we are moving to a more intuitive and symbolic thinking space and our language for it is not ‘text speak’, as some naysayers want to believe, but technology; things that allow us intuitive modes of interacting with our environment.
- Struggle and failure cannot just be acknowledged. It must be treated with the same respect we inherently give a win. My biggest complaint against “winners speak” is its terrible habit of indulging in the win and acknowledging the suffering only as a means of enhancing the win. With mental illness being so prevalent, you’d think we would work harder to develop a love language for it that didn’t rely on a win. At C2 the vast majority of speakers chose learning over winning. Learning relies on failure. There is just as much, if not more, joy in seeing a child trying to walk for the first time than seeing a child walk perfectly for the first time.
The language we are given to explore a topic is in a large way going to dictate its course. When ideas start to shift in society, one of the first things that crops up is a call to action for a change in the language we use. So why in a business setting do we often forget this? Well, its fear. So first we need to acknowledge that for fear to grip us that badly, it must mean there is something deeply personal intertwined in the way we do business. Ah okay! We know this. So let’s make a commitment then to prioritize personal expression even in a business setting. Let’s not let our ideas only flow from our heads out our mouths. Let’s take it on the scenic route, straight through our heart, winding through our toes, up and down our shoulders, giving it a clean jump off our tongue and out into the world.