Speak To Their Humanity

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William Zinsser, author of the classic book “On Writing Well,” wrote that the four basic premises of writing are clarity, brevity, simplicity and humanity. Today, let’s examine “humanity,” defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as “the quality or state of being human.”

What does “humanity” mean in the context of writing a presentation? For me, it means keeping in mind what we have in common as people and always relating to the audience on a personal, human level.

When writing a presentation, you start with a topic, then define your goal for the presentation. Even at that point you must keep the premise of humanity in mind. You’ll need to consider whom you will be speaking to and research their needs and interests. Without knowing that information, it is impossible to address your audience in a way that would allow you to achieve your goals. You need to befriend them, get them on your side, lead them to buy into your proposition. To do that, you need to make a human connection with them.

Ideally, you learn about your specific audience; who they are, what they do, their current level of knowledge about the topic at hand and how they feel about it. Even if all that information is impossible to secure, you know for sure that these are people with human needs and responses. We all have that in common. We all want security, recognition, connection with other humans, good health. We all feel common emotions such as joy, sadness, anger, fear, gratitude and more.

So on a basic level, we will need to keep these shared human qualities and needs in mind when deciding what to say.

We also all want to be listened to and understood. By keeping in mind whom you are addressing, and speaking to their needs and interests throughout your presentation, you will create a connection with your audience. They will feel understood…heard without having even spoken. When you speak directly to their concerns, you elicit their trust and respect. Build in acknowledgement of their issues right into your presentation, and describe what you will do to improve the situation, and that trust will deepen.

Think about that human connection when relaying information. Does it really work to dump out the data in an impersonal way? Why not make facts and technical information more accessible by using examples and stories to illustrate them? The audience can then relate to the data in a more human way and “file” the information in the context of their personal experience. It’s much more “sticky” that way.

We also know that people are moved to take action when motivated by emotion rather than by reason. Most people don’t stop smoking when they hear how many people die from lung cancer every year. But as my mother will attest, it’s highly motivating to stop smoking when your child asks, “Mommy, do you want to die?” or when a close relative or friend comes down with emphysema. Those scenarios trigger our emotions. And emotions motivate our behavior.

When you are trying to convince your audience to take an action, or when requesting they adopt a new idea or protocol, appealing to their humanity is the way to go. People will only do something when they have a good reason to. And logic isn’t enough on its own. Add in the zinger of human emotion and you have a motivating force. Find a personal and human reason, whether specific to them or general to most people, and link it to the action you are requesting.

If you have a new protocol, for example, let them know specifically how it will save them time, how it will alleviate stress, or how it will make the job easier. Everyone wants those things. They are the basic human needs and desires of a contemporary working person. And they are all linked to our feelings of well-being, of comfort, of safety, of serenity. You can count on people to be motivated by the desire to experience those feelings.

When you are able to, target personally beneficial outcomes to specific audiences or audience members. You then show you understand them more deeply. A group of executive assistants may not be as motivated as their bosses by the incentive of the company turning a particular profit in a given quarter. The executives’ job security and reputation are contingent on company or departmental performance. However, the assistants may be motivated to contribute as they can to that effort it if you point out that their bonus is contingent on the company’s annual performance. Or they might be motivated to adopt a new protocol if they know it will simplify their scheduling process or intra-office communications.

Bottom line, relate to your audience as humans throughout your presentation. Think of their needs and concerns, how they will best take in information, how they might like to be spoken to, and what will be personally motivating to them. You’ll then enhance your human connection with them. You will move them to trust and respect you, and thus to take any actions you are requesting.

Until the next time…


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