Balancing Certainty with Curiosity As a Speaker

In this video, I discuss balancing certainty with curiosity as a speaker. There’s so much opinionated certainty nowadays – particularly online. And I have strong opinions myself! So my thoughts are around the ‘dance’ of how we come across to an audience when we present.

Of course we need to be certain about our data, facts and figures, and our key messages. But too much certainty and we can seem arrogant, dismissive, inflexible. The perfect antidote to this: balancing certainty with curiosity as a speaker. Being open to the topic as you prepare, and the audience in the moment, and considering other points of view.

Transcript – balancing certainty with curiosity as a speaker

“There’s a lot of chatter online at the moment about call-out culture and cancel culture, particularly after Barack Obama’s highly publicised speech last week where he talked about cancel culture and how judging others is not the successful way to effect change. (See this New York Times article for more information on his speech.)

And one of the ways that we show judgment is through being too certain. The absolute of being certain that we are right about whatever it is. And I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently and how it plays out to our audiences when we’re presenting an idea-based talk and how we need to balance it.

As presenters, of course we need to be certain of our facts and figures and our opinions. However:

we want to have opinions not come across as opinionated, and we want to convince our audience, not coerce them!

So, if we think about how do we balance out certainty, what do we need as presenters? I think it’s something that is more nuanced in our intention, in our attitude underlying what we say, and that something is curiosity. Do we come across as open? Are we connected to our audience? Remembering that good public speaking is always about our audience and not about us.

This does take extra thinking time, often in short supply. I wrote about this a while ago, about a common reason for bad presentations!

Having curiosity as a presenter divides into two timeframes:

  1. Firstly, as we prepare our talk, being curious about our audience. What do they need from us? How can I make this particular point more clearly? How can I help them to connect with me? And of course, this is going to need thinking time which is often really in short supply, and I fully get that – but even any amount of thinking time is going to help us. So, the first timeframe to using curiosity is during preparation.
  2. The second is, as we present, our delivery style, our attitude underlying what we do. And this translates to an openness or willingness to connect with our particular audience to be flexible, to consider things through, perhaps through an audience question or interaction.

We can think of it like this: the desire to be interested in our audience more than interesting to them.

It’s about our energy, really.

So, final thought just quickly for today:

Too much certainty squashes curiosity!

It makes us come across as potentially arrogant, inflexible, dismissive. It separates us from our audience, and, fundamentally, separation is the opposite of connection. It destroys learning and growth for our audience, as well as for ourselves.

So, when we’re feeling particularly certain about something and have a really strong opinion about it, it might be worth considering just balancing that viewpoint out a bit with some curiosity about possible flexibility, about different options.

I’d love to know what you think about this particular balancing act.”

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