I’m deep into the second novel in Veronica Roth’s dystopian young adult series, Divergent, and the more I read, the more I see parallels with public speaking.
***SPOILER ALERT: The main premise of Divergent is about to be revealed.***
The Divergent novels (Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant) are set in a world that’s separated, Apartheid-style, into five “factions”:
- Candor train throughout their lives to detect and avoid telling lies. They’re blunt and insensitive, but you always know where you stand with them.
- Amity grow the food and maintain beauty in the Divergent world. They’re the kindest faction, but unable to tolerate people who aren’t all about peace and consensus.
- Abnegation strive to purge selfish or self-aggrandizing thoughts and actions from their hearts, minds, and souls. They’re admirable, but not much fun to be around.
- Erudite value knowledge and innovation. They’re brilliant but arrogant, and willing to do any amount of damage in pursuit of what they think are rational ends.
- Dauntless value courage, and routinely do things like jump off moving trains onto seven-story-high roofs. They’re passionate but impulsive, and tend to die young.
At first, when I picked up Roth’s series, I thought that her title referred to the five mutually-exclusive groups she created. But Divergent refers to a person who could potentially fit into several factions…
Like the Divergent teenagers in Roth’s series, we embody a wide range of qualities, from courage to kindness. And as public speakers, we can choose to lead with one or another of those qualities at any given moment.
As Public Speakers, We’re All Divergent
Every time you speak to an audience — from a podium, or in a meeting, at a networking event or< a href=”http://speakupforsuccess.com/interview-like-yourself” target=”_blank”> job interview, etc. — you’re making the same choices that the heroine of Divergent,Tris Prior, constantly faces. At some level, you’re asking,
What values am I trying to uphold, as I speak to this audience? And what strategies will help me reach my goals while staying true to those values?
The answers to these questions can lead to very different styles of speechmaking. Imagine, for instance, that you’re a VP of Sales and that your job is to tell the men and women of your sales force that half of them are about to be laid off.
- As a fan of candor, you’ll just state the truth: “The company’s losing money, we can’t afford to pay all of your salaries.”
- An amity adherent would take an upbeat, cooperative view, saying, “Those of you in the bottom half, performance-wise, are clearly in the wrong place. We’ll help you find a job where you can succeed.”
- Believers in abnegation (selflessness) might say, “The survival of this company is more important than any single person’s job, so take comfort in knowing that your sacrifice is for the greater good.”
- An erudite person will be eager to observe and gather data about individual reactions to being fired, so long exit interviews will be scheduled for after this announcement.
- And the action-oriented dauntless might decide to just skip the speech and either shove folks out the door or shoot them.
Bring Divergent Skills to Your Public Speaking
Aside from the unlikely scenario above, what can we as public speakers learn from Divergent qualities? Here are some thoughts:
- Your most powerful tool as a public speaker is CANDOR. Being candid with an audience means that you don’t say things that aren’t true — but it also means bringing “truth” (reality) to the way you address them. So put down the shield of authority or rank or expertise, and speak to your audience on a person-to-person level. They will appreciate your directness, and be more inclined to credit your ideas.
- AMITY (friendliness) should be a default setting for communicators. Try showing your good will toward the audience by smiling sometimes, even if your topic is serious. Having a pleasant look on your face doesn’t make you weak or phony; it just makes you friendly and —as with candor — puts you on an equal footing with your listeners.
- A little ABNEGATION (selflessness) can help you overcome shyness, reticence, or fear of public speaking, because public speaking isn’t primarily about you; it’s about helping your audience connect with useful ideas. But don’t take “selflessness” to the point of thinking, “I’m not important,” or “Why should they want to listen to a nobody like me?” That’s definitely going too far!
- Being ERUDITE (knowledgeable) is a good thing for any public speaker, as long as you remember that the point is not conveying knowledge for its own sake. Unless you’re teaching a college course, the point of sharing knowledge is to give your audience information and insights that they can use in some important way. When you offer what you know in this spirit, people will gladly pay attention.
- Finally, DAUNTLESSNESS (courage). Even experienced and well-prepared speakers have moments of fear, confusion, anxiety, or self-doubt. If you feel those things, take a tip from the Dauntless faction in Divergent: Tell yourself to be brave, and then just keep going. The feelings should fade quickly, and your audience will never even notice.
All of these qualities can help you become a better public speaker — and best of all, you don’t have to join a dystopian “faction” to claim them and put them to work!