The art of “going personal”

Speak like a fish and create bubbles of inspiration!You read correctly.. I wrote “going personal” and that’s on purpose though it may sounds funny to some some native English ears.  And you want to read it as “going person to persons”. To explore our thinking, it’s quite interesting to use unfamiliar expressions which are not echoing any predefined meaning. Simple fact: words are loaded with meaning. Whatever the type of communicator you are, a speakers or a writer,  always keep in mind the power of words… they are loaded with meaning before we even use them in a sentence. With this unfamiliar expression -going personal- I am still not fully neutral: I still have the word personal, and I take it as “person to person”; and I have the word going, and there I keep it as a sense of movement, an intention.

“Going personal” is an art full of subtleties, especially since it may not make sense the same ways for you, me or anyone else. It is about giving the audience means to engage with the speaker and the content at a personal level.

Have you ever come across that speech where the speaker went on and on about what they did, sharing their experiences, their fail and their wins? In their mind they are probably going personal, indeed they are sharing a lot of personal details about their life. Did it make the speech personal? Did it allow the audience to engage with the content in a way which is personal to them? Personal achievement or struggles are tricky to use. In the case listeners may never go through the experience, mentioning it could turn them of. It may actually exclude them. Depending on the experience, and how it is shared, it can actually have a counter productive effect. Psychological research shows that for some experiences, such as losing a loved ones, people that have gone through that experience will be less sympathetic to another person going through the same story. They have done it, they have moved along, they know you will do as well. Done and dusted. This does not mean to stop sharing personal information, rather to develop the art of sharing personal information. It’s all about choosing wisely what to share and present it in a form which allows the audience to make it personal to them. Right, it’s about “going person to person”. It seems the secret stems from two questions: what is the value for the listener of hearing that story; would (or how does) the story help the listener to engage with the content at a personal level.

Let’s go back to the speakers we studied so far. Sir Ken Robinson is going personal most of the times, though we don’t actually hear an exact personal story, rather jokes about elements that have animated his family life, and life steps everybody has gone through, the biggest one being school.  As a member of the audience, I can engage as a person with the content. Brené Brown has a similar approach. She is taking us through her own experience, giving us elements to identify with as a personal level.  Similarly to Sir Ken Robinson, she is using herself as the source of humour, which makes her really human, therefore easy to approach and easy  to connect to as an individual level.

“Going personal”, or simply “going person to person”, is about being human, and approachable.

To give us more flexibility with that notion of “going personal”, let’s review some possible definitions; actually let’s call them clarification or precision. We don’t really have a black and white concept here, and we want to keep it that way, since we know it’s all about the combination as a system of: the speaker, the speech, the audience, the context (See our post, What about the audience).

  • connecting with listeners at an emotional level
  • assisting listeners to engage with the content at a personal level
  • bridging the gap to their model of the world.

This last one would be my favourite, and I know it sounds very NLPish. With a speech, I am sharing my universe, my philosophy, how I see the world. this is called “a model of the world”, and I will be sharing “my model of the world”. Now, I know that in front of me, my audience is made of many people, and each of them have their own vision of reality, their own value, their own philosophy. You’re right, they have their own model of the world.

Going personal is building a bridge between different models of the world, so that listeners may be able to join in, as if the speech has been  written for them.

Learning from the best is always a treat. See you tomorrow then for another speech study.

You like our blog series, Speak like a Fish, exploring public speaking in 21 days. Join us then early 2017 and discover our upcoming eBook Speak like a Fish, public speaking in 30 days.

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