Vol 5. Issue 14 / April 25, 2005

Talking the Talk

By Mika Ono

What are the keys to successful public speaking? In an event last week on The Scripps Research Institute La Jolla campus co-sponsored by the Scripps Outstanding Speakers Toastmasters and the Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department, Chris Kaiffer of the Power of Purpose Institute shared a wide range of thoughts on public speaking in particular and connecting with others in general.

"Communication is not about the words we use, how we speak, or how we look, but about something deeper," he said. "It's about intention and energy levels."

Kaiffer cited statistics from the communication field that only seven percent of any face-to-face message is conveyed by the words we use. The other 93 percent is non-verbal—vocal tone and facial expression.

Contributing to these non-verbal cues, Kaiffer asserted, is our intention. What do we really want? Why are we engaging with other people in the first place? Kaiffer encouraged the audience not to settle for superficial answers, but to dig deep for core motivations and to openly acknowledge them.

For example, in his own case, fundamental to his career in public speaking and personal coaching is a desire to promote better relations among people, inspired by growing up in France near the German border. As a child, he had German friends, he said, and they wanted to spend time together despite the lingering distrust after World War II of those across the border.

This strategy of speaking from the heart is critical for speakers to connect with their audience, he said, and also key for good communication in general.

Kaiffer noted that his own public speaking took an unexpected turn for the better when he took on too much, participating in several Toastmasters groups at once. During Toastmasters meetings, members practice their public speaking skills by giving presentations to each other. The day came that Kaiffer was so overcommitted that he didn’t have time to prepare his presentation. Instead, he just went to the front of the room and talked.

"I never did a better job," he said. "Things shifted because I began to share my feelings and experiences. Suddenly, the feedback I got was terrific."

Preparation can be useful. But instead of memorizing your talk, Kaiffer advised, focus on organizing your thoughts so you can transition between different ideas. Creating bullet points works better than spending time committing text to memory word for word.

"If you try to memorize your speech, you will get stressed out," he said, emphasizing the importance of staying relaxed in front of an audience.

In another part of his talk, Kaiffer shared some strategies for effective communication one on one. One technique is to match the energy level of the person you are speaking with.

"If you come on too strong with someone who is down, you will both feel disconnected," he said, "but if you start quietly, then gradually raise your energy level, you will brighten that person’s day."

In conflict situations, he advised acknowledging the dynamics of the interaction and the feelings behind it, and shifting the focus from getting what you want to finding common ground.

"Instead of asking how can I get my way, ask how we can both get our ways," he said. Prompted by a question from the audience, he admitted that this is not always easy and, as in the case of European politics, may need to evolve over the course of many years.

"The important thing is to start somewhere," he said, "one step at a time, one puzzle piece at a time, one person at a time. That’s the only way to accomplish anything."

For more information on the Scripps Outstanding Speakers (SOS) Toastmasters group, contact Tina Montgomery at tinam@scripps.edu or Kathy Sterling at ksterlin@scripps.edu. The group meets on the first three Tuesdays of every month, from 12:15 to 1:15 PM, in the third floor conference room of the Beckman Center. More information about Counseling and Postdoctoral Services can be found on the department’s web site.


Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu.





Jan Hill (left) of Counseling and Postdoctoral Services and Kathy Sterling (right) of SOS Toastmasters helped organize the event that brought Chris Kaiffer to Scripps Research give a talk entitled "Moving from Rainy Argumentation to Sunny Communication."
Photo by Kevin Fung.