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  • Welcome!

    Welcome to my blog!

    Aaron Ignites Connection is a blog that publishes development content for leaders and speakers whose goal is to improve connection with diverse teams, communities, and audiences.

    I’ll share lessons learned, tips, best practices, and bite sized “food for thought” articles inspired from my time working with and leading diverse teams and giving speeches.

    Ultimately, I hope to provide insight that will help you better connect with others on your teams, in your communities, or with your audiences.

    “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives”

    Brene Brown
  • Robert Kennedy, an Impromptu Eulogy, and The Power of Empathy in Public Speaking

    Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Or, as writer Robert Greene stated when addressing a crowd of Google employees in June 2019, empathy is “basically the ability to get inside the perspective and point of view of other people, to literally see inside how other people are seeing the world.” Some view it as an essential skill to be a leader in today’s world. Others view it as a “buzzword” that companies use to prove they’re on board with the new school style of managing and nothing more. Regardless of opinion, empathy is a tool that can be used effectively by speakers, especially when addressing a diverse audience. You may not share a similar background, ethnicity, gender, age range, etc. You may not be able to relate completely, but you can always empathize. Here are three ways to empathize with your audience.

    1. Talk to individuals from the demographics represented. The key here is to ensure you’re actively listening. It would be best if you tried to hear what the individual is telling you regardless of whether you agree with what they’re saying. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to increase your understanding.
    2. Take some time and see if you can put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Putting yourself in the audience’s shoes is great after you’ve talked to individuals from your audiences demographics. Genuinely think about how you would feel if you were in their situation. Ask yourself what you would want and need to hear. If you want to know whether you’re on the right track, go back and talk to the individuals from the different demographics in your audience.
    3. Don’t be afraid to share a personal story that will help you relate to the crowd but remember, the focus of the message should be on the audience, not you. If this action is done right, it will help you relate to the audience. It will enable you to build an emotional connection. In the speaking world, we call this establishing “pathos.” It is one of the most valuable things a speaker can do.

    One of the most remarkable displays of empathizing is Robert Kennedy’s address to a predominately African American crowd on April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis, several hours after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Kennedy was initially scheduled to deliver a campaign speech but changed course after finding out aboutDr. King’s assassination.

    Robert Kennedy, who hailed from a wealthy family of Irish-American descent, was able to empathize with his audience who were predominately working and lower-class African Americans during a time when emotions were running high.

    • The family member Robert Kennedy refers to in the speech below is John F. Kennedy. This speech was Robert Kennedy’s first time publicly addressing his brother’s assassination, which made Kennedy’s statement much more powerful. It had been over five years since the assassination occurred.
    • 1:20 – 3:00 is where Kennedy begins empathizing with his audience.
    History Channel (YouTube)

    Click Here for a transcript of Robert Kennedy’s remarks.

    Did you notice anything else about Robert Kennedy’s remarks?

    How can you incorporate empathy into your next speech or presentation?

  • Before You Speak — Understanding Delivery Methods


    Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock with no smartphone, television, or other 21st-century technology, you’ve probably seen a speaker give a speech. This could’ve been a religious leader delivering a sermon, a politician addressing constituents, celebrities giving commencement speeches, non-profit leaders addressing the community, or simply Johnny from down the street speaking at a town hall meeting. You may not have noticed the different methods these speakers used to address their audience. Suppose you intend to speak to an audience. In that case, you must decide which form of delivery you’ll use before you begin drafting your speech since this will help determine how you’ll prepare for your speech.

    There are 4 standard methods for delivering speeches. They are extemporaneous, impromptu, memorized, and manuscript. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Every speaker has their preferences, including me. Ultimately, it’s about what you feel comfortable with as a speaker and which method allows you to connect with the audience based on the situation. Let’s look at each method.

    Extemporaneous

    Extemporaneous speeches are where the speaker relies on using an outline or notes instead of writing out their entire speech and reading it word for word. The speaker usually practices their speech and is comfortable before delivering it when using this method. This is my personal preference when giving speeches. I write manuscripts for others to use; however, I prefer to make a general outline instead of reading a speech and rarely look at notes for myself. Religious leaders, motivational speakers, and keynote speakers often deliver speeches using this method.

    Impromptu

    Impromptu speeches are given “off the cuff” with little or no time for the speaker to prepare. This is considered one of the most challenging situations in which a speaker can find themselves. In a way, impromptu speaking is something we do every day. We have spur-of-the-moment conversations, job interviews, and question & answer sessions. The difference is that we’re not always asked to address an audience of more than a few people. Some speakers are superb impromptu speakers. My father, a former City Administrator and consultant, can give a lenghthy speech in an organized and effective manner without preparation. Keep in mind, if you’re expected to give a lengthy speech you usually have enough time to practice and it’s a good idea to do so.

    Memorized

    Speakers can also commit their speeches to memory. Some prefer this method of delivery. I will be completely transparent; you will never see me memorize a speech or recommend that anyone else do so. From my experience, it adds unnecessary pressure. Everything hinges on the speaker’s ability to remember every word. Often, if they forget a line, the speech falls apart, and the speaker freezes. It’s painful to watch and probably more painful to experience. I don’t want to completely discourage you from memorization; I just want you to think long and hard about this delivery method. You may be okay if you memorize a short toast at a wedding. You may not be okay if you try to do so for a 20-minute speech. Make sure you’re self-aware of your ability.

    Manuscript

    The manuscript method of delivery is the last method we’ll discuss. Simply put, it is where the speaker goes up to the podium and reads their speech word for word on paper or teleprompter. Commencement speakers and politicians frequently use this style of speech. Using this style is adequate as long as you’re comfortable with the material. The only pitfall you have to watch out for is staring at the paper or teleprompter and forgetting to look up at the audience. It’s essential to make eye contact with, engage, and get feedback from the crowd. It’s hard to do that if you’re staring at the text the entire time. You should be okay if you practice looking up and engaging with the crowd before giving the speech.


    There you have it, four methods of delivering a speech. Like many other areas of public speaking, the delivery method is driven by the occasion, speech, rhetorical situation, audience, and of course, the speaker. When drafting the outline of your speech, think carefully about the method you’d like to use.

    Considerations

    If you’re comfortable speaking using just main points on a 3×5 notecard (or no notecard) and have time to practice, consider using the extemporaneous method.

    If you’re good at reading but not as comfortable memorizing main points or filling in space between main points, consider using a manuscript. Practice making eye contact, rhythm, tone, etc.

    Try to only use the impromptu method if you’re put on the spot (Not everyone can do what my dad does).

    Try not to memorize your speech unless you feel comfortable and you’ve done it before. The only time I have seen a speaker absolutely have to memorize a speech was for a class.


    Remember, choosing the proper delivery method for your speech is essential. The appropriate delivery method is the one you’re comfortable and effective with.

  • Meet Your Audience Where They Are: Public Speaking

    You’ve probably heard the saying, “meet others where they are.” The phrase is accurate, especially when it comes to public speaking. It took me a while to learn this lesson. I used to try to sound like the most intelligent person in the room to impress others. I did this because I wanted to sound like an expert. In reality, I often spoke above others’ heads, ultimately defeating the purpose of what I was there to accomplish. I wasn’t meeting the audience where they were, meaning I didn’t communicate my message in a way they could understand. It’s not about “dumbing it down.” Chances are, your audience is just as intelligent as you are. It’s about effective communication.

    Next time you speak, make sure you meet your audience where they are.

  • Care

    “People aren’t robots, and we shouldn’t treat them like robots. They want to work with, be around, and follow those who care.

    A.L.H.S.

    Have you heard the expression, “Nobody cares what you say until they know how much you care?”

    I had never heard this saying until recently, but I understood the concept long ago. As a young team leader, I always thought about ways to influence others. I wanted to know what words I needed to use and how to say certain things. Eventually, I had a realization. Every time I’d work with new people, it wasn’t until I had earned a person’s trust that I could influence them. That trust usually came from helping those individuals, often in situations where they didn’t expect anyone to have their back. My influence grew because they knew I cared. That’s when they started to care about what I was saying.

    People aren’t robots, and we shouldn’t treat them like robots. They want to work with, be around, and follow those who care.

    If you can’t get others to hear you out, maybe you need to show them you care. And remember, most people can tell when others genuinely care and when they are putting on a show for self-serving purposes.

  • Communicating: Effectiveness Over Ease

    There are a lot of ways to communicate. Face to face, text, email, video chat, social media, etc. Simply put, we have options. It’s easy to fall into the “ease over effectiveness” trap.

    It’s easy to send someone a text or email, especially if it’s a difficult conversation. Those conversations often go better when held in person or over the phone.

    When you’re about to have a complicated or emotional exchange, think carefully about how you choose to communicate.

    Keep an eye out for Communicating: Effectiveness Over Ease part II

  • Words, Tone, and Body Language

    7% verbal (word choice)
    38% tone
    55% body language

    Tone (38%) + Body language (55%) = Nonverbal (93% of communication is non verbal)

    *This is a rough breakdown of how we communicate.

    These numbers vary based on who you ask, but they all come to the same conclusion. The majority of our communication takes place through body language. After body language, the tone we use communicates more to the person receiving our message than the actual words we use to communicate. Think about it. What are you communicating to your sister if you say, “I like your shoes” in a friendly tone while smiling? What are you saying if you tell your sister, “I like your shoes” while scoffing and sounding condescending? You used the same words but communicated different messages.

    One day take a moment and focus on the communication around you. Concentrating on words is easy, at least in my experience. Pay attention to tone and body language. You’ll notice interactions with your friends, family members, and coworkers. You might observe something like this:

    You’re sitting in the office next to your coworker Kate when your boss walks in.

    Boss: (staring down at her clipboard) Hey Kate, I need you to take the lead on this new project.

    Kate: (shoulders drop, and speaks in a hesitant tone) Okay.

    Boss: (still staring at her clipboard) Thanks, Kate!

    Kate: (eye roll and speaks in an unenthused tone) No problem boss, glad I could help.

    Communication is more than the words we use.

    *The study that led to the 7/38/55 principle was focused on communicating emotion specifically. The study was conducted by world renowned behavioral psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian. While percentages may differ, I’ve personally found the majority of communication is still non-verbal.

  • Conflict: Discussing, Arguing, Fighting

    When you communicate with your team, family, or friends, you will eventually have conflict. You’ll have your opinion or goals, and they’ll have theirs. It’s easy to get into a verbal altercation and say something you’ll regret. The good thing is you have different ways to communicate when you find yourself in this situation.

    • Discussion: The goal is to listen to each other. You must hear the other person out. What is your objective, and what is theirs? Can you work together to help out one another
    • Argument: Each person wants to win. Neither individual is listening to understand. You listen to respond, which isn’t listening at all
    • Fight: Avoid this at all costs as it will strain and potentially ruin a relationship. The goal here is to destroy. You don’t want that person to think the way they think ever again.

    From my personal experience, discussion leads to productivity and civility. Teams thrive when they have discussions. Arguments aren’t productive. No one listens because everyone wants to get their point across. Conversations become overly emotional and unproductive and often lead to fights. Nothing good comes from trying to destroy your teammates.

    I want to give a shoutout to Dominic Syracuse. Dominic is a comedian, actor, teacher, and business owner who owns a business called Cognitive Behavioral Theater. I’ve been aware of these principles for most of my professional career, however I’ve never sat down and really thought about how we communicate during conflict until I attended his seminar. His seminar is where I really began to understand discussions, arguments, fights and the emotional process we go through during each. If you have time, please check out his bio and webpage (hyperlinked above).

  • Communication 101: The Basics

    Have you ever been told that you need to improve your communication? Do you work on a team that keeps miscommunicating? If so, you may want to revisit the basics. Most of us make the mistake of communicating without thinking about how communication actually works. Whole books have been written on this topic, but here are the basics that you need to understand. 

    The Roles:

    1. The sender
    2. The message 
    3. The receiver(s) 

    The Steps:

    1. Encoding: The process of the sender sending the message (verbal and nonverbal)
    2. The medium of transmission: How a message is transmitted, i.e., email, text, conversation  
    3. Decoding: How the receiver interprets the message
    4. Feedback: The receivers response to the message. 

    What does this look like?

    You (sender) are having a face-to-face conversation (medium) about a project with your coworker (receiver). You tell (encoding) your coworker that you have a ton of work that needs to get done before you can focus on the project. Your coworker takes a moment to think about what you said (decoding), flashes a quick smile (feedback), and walks away. A couple of hours later, your manager announces that you’ve been taken off the project. You had no intention of being taken off the project? What happened?

    Does this sound familiar? Where do you think the communication breakdown was? Was it the sender, receiver, the message? Was the message decoded correctly, or could it have been encoded differently? Take a moment to think about it. Once you believe you have an answer, ask yourself these questions. Are these individuals from the same culture? Do they both have the same communication styles, life experiences, etc.? Are you starting to see why communication is so difficult?

    If you’re interested in improving your communication skills, please check out our other blog posts and subscribe to our blog.

     

  • Late Night Thought: A Team

    A team is more than a collection of random individuals. A team is a unit that thinks as one and acts accordingly.

    A team is not driven by ego. A team thrives off of sacrifice.

    A team should have star performers and leaders, but should not live or die based on the performance of any one individual 100% of the time.

    A team is many pieces who have one mind, drawn together to accomplish one common goal like different parts of the body coming together while being controlled by the brain.

    Are you a team or a collection of individuals?

  • A Brief Thought: It’s Not About You…It’s About Your Audience

    “The goal is to be understood, to be heard by the audience, not to feed our own ego.”

    A.L.H.S.

    Communication is complex, that’s no secret. Naturally, we’re going to make mistakes. One common mistake I see often is speakers focusing too much on themselves and what they want and not enough on the audience.

    Great speakers focus on tailoring their message to the audience, whether it be a crowd of thousands of people listening to you deliver a keynote speech or a small intimate team of 5 people that they are trying to persuade. The goal is to be understood, to be heard by the audience, not to feed our own ego. In order to be heard we have to meet our audience where they are.

    Are you focusing on your audience or is it all about you?

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