Public Speaking Requires Flexibility…
When you’re trying to communicate with other people, you need to always be on your toes. And even when nothing goes technically wrong — like the lights going out, or a fire alarm sounding — there may be reasons to adjust what you’re doing:
- If your audience looks confused, it’s good to slow down, or repeat what you just said, or give a simpler explanation;
- If you’re talking to someone who just wants the facts, it’s best to leave out the heart-warming story you were going to tell;
- When new information or ideas come up, it’s great to incorporate them into your argument; and
- If you thought you had way more time than you have, you’ll need to lose some of what you planned to say.
In these and many other situations, flexibility — the skill of staying calm while you adapt to changing circumstances in real time — is essential.
…But Sometimes, You Have To Stand Firm
Nobody wants to be rigid and inflexible, but sometimes you need to just stick to your point. This can be the case when:
- Your point is new or controversial;
- Your point is so important that you have to successfully convey it;
- Your point is under overt attack; or
- You’re talking to someone whose agenda is opposed to yours, as in the video below.
When that’s the case, it’s time to dig in your heels.
Stick To Your Point Graciously
Most communications go better if you can maintain a calm, friendly demeanor. (In other words, just because you’re being firm doesn’t mean you have to be stern.)
In this video, Ms. Oliver — the director of a daycare center that was momentarily breached by a fleeing criminal — totally flummoxes her opponent by keeping a sweet smile on her face while masterfully parrying his leading questions.
You’ll get the picture in just a few rounds, although the reporter keeps trying for 5 1/2 minutes to elicit the mea culpa that he, or his producer, want. [Thanks, Morgan Simon, for letting me know about this video!]
And Stick With Your Audience, Too!
One more thing about Ms. Oliver’s stellar performance: Notice how, after the first minute or so, her primary focus is on the camera, and through it, on her local television audience.
They are the people she’s talking to — people who want to see professionalism, not a nasty, personal battle.
They are the people for whom her message — “We executed our safety plan perfectly” (i.e., your children are safe with us) — is intended.
By subtly demoting the reporter’s importance, Ms. Oliver makes it clear that, whatever his game, she’s not trying to hear that!
Sticking To Your Point Is a Skill
We all want to have positive interactions, and normally, I’d be the last person to suggest that you repeat yourself inflexibly through seven rounds of questioning. (Yes, I counted them so that you wouldn’t have to! :-))
But sometimes, with an inflexible opponent, you have to fight fire with fire. In that situation, being inflexible does not make you a bad person, it makes you a realistic one.
So if you ever find yourself in a situation that calls on you to be steadfast, get your thoughts in order, focus on your true audience, and just stick to your point.