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You Are The Zebra With The Horizontal Stripes

August 28, 2011 fm

Do you remember when you were a first grader? Take a journey into your past. Turn back the wheel of history.

You sit there with your new classmates. Your teacher, Mrs. Blackshaw, a kind middle-aged lady, puts to the test her recently acquired psychological knowledge.

She diligently draws six zebras on the chalkboard. Five of them with vertical stripes. One of them with horizontal stripes.

She turns to you and the others and asks, “So – who is the evil zebra?”

Without a millisecond of thought and in unison, together with all your classmates you scream as loud as you can in a despiteous voice, “That one, that one!”

You are the zebra with the horizontal stripes

Sometimes it’s not Wikipedia telling you who is good and who is evil. Sometimes it’s not your professor, nor your parents, nor your friends. Sometimes it’s your cerebellum. Sometimes you listen to your instincts long before you can even switch on your reason.

The one who is different from the rest must be evil. You can cheat your reason, but you will never cheat your instincts.

The challenge you face in public speaking is that you are that zebra with the horizontal stripes.

Everyone in your audience has vertical stripes. They form a unit. You are the stranger, the outsider, the one that no one really trusts.

Knowing that, it is crucial for you as a public speaker to build bridges of trust with your audience.

I will share with you my three favorite bridges. Three trust builders that work well according to my experience.

Make them laugh

The first bridge is made of humor. It’s common sense – laughter is contagious. You tend to like people who make you laugh. In The Seven Minute Star you will find out more about three tricks of humor – exaggeration, self-irony and the fall of the alpha-dog. But – don’t forget, you’re walking on thin ice if you use the latter one.

Interact with individuals

At events I always try and make friends with some strangers I meet during the coffee breaks. Later on stage I interact with them. “I’ve never been to Chicago – that’s where Tom is from – and he told me that I should definitely go and see it.” Interacting with Tom in an apparently spontaneous way tells the audience, “A friend of Tom is a friend of ours.”

Interacting with individuals always unleashes a domino effect of empathy. “He cares for Tom, he cares for us.”

It’s a great trust builder.

Share your emotions

From my point of view, you build the most robust bridges of trust when you get intimate with your audience, when you share emotions with them.

Imagine this super slick speaker. Brioni suit. Tailor-made shoes. The greasy hair perfectly combed back.

The only perception popping up in your brain is arrogance.

Then he starts to speak. “Three years ago my mother died of cancer.”

Boom – instantly you throw your first impression over board. How could you have possibly thought so badly about that man? He is so sincere, so human, such a good person.

Aristotle calls it pathos – an indispensable element of rhetoric. Share your emotions with your audience and they will see no horizontal stripes, but your heart.

Merging with your audience

Without a millisecond of thought and in unison the entire classroom screamed in a despiteous voice, “That one, that one!” They pointed at the zebra with the horizontal stripes.

And still… even the most despiteous voice will turn into a sigh of recognition when you make them laugh, when you interact with some their own, when you share your emotions.

You will merge with your audience. You will be one of them. They will trust you.

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