Public Speaking Tips from my Dog Balou
By Joey Asher, President Speechworks
My dog Balou is a 60-pound, black-lab mix that we adopted at a PetSmart rescue day last year in Sandy Springs, Ga. And if he could only talk and write on a flip chart, I’m sure he’d be a great public speaker. That’s because he understands how to connect with people better than most humans.
It’s about connection not perfection
First, Balou understands that you can do a lot wrong if you establish great rapport.
Balou makes lots of mistakes. He eats the insoles out of shoes. He chewed the upholstery on our nice living room sofa. When he vomits on the kitchen floor, it’s truly disturbing. And I won’t bother describing the foul and prodigious “gift” he left for us in the basement on Thanksgiving morning last year. I guess we forgot to let him out the night before.
But we forgive Balou’s mistakes because we love him. When I’m working at the kitchen table, he sits at my feet. When my kids come home from school, he runs to the window and starts barking for joy. And he does this hilarious thing with this ratty stuffed panda where . . . Well you get the idea.
Like Balou, great public speakers understand that you can overcome mistakes with connection. They’re not worried about forgetting a point, using an awkward phrase, or having their hair out of place. They don’t worry if the projector breaks. They know that if they connect with the audience with energy, eye contact and stories, all will be forgiven.
My Dog Displays Lot of Passion
If Balou were a public speaker, his best trait would be his passion. Balou has no trouble expressing his excitement. When I’m about to take him for a walk and he sees me grab his leash, he goes berserk. He leaps, twirls, and sneezes repeatedly (Sneezing is how Balou shows excitement). That excitement is contagious and endearing.
Great speakers also show passion. I worked with an attorney that gave a presentation on how women attorneys can balance work and family. As she spoke, her face lit up, her voice became intense, and her arms moved wildly. Her passion was obvious and I was riveted.
Balou Makes Great Eye Contact
Balou knows that to connect with people, you need great eye contact. If I say, “Hey Balou”, he looks up at me. If he wants to go outside, he looks at me and barks. When I come home from work, he shows he’s happy to see me by looking right at me and wagging his tail.
Similarly, great speakers understand that eye contact is critical. I worked with a project manager recently who had great energy but looked at his feet when he spoke. We helped him by making him hold the eye contact for three to five seconds with individual listeners.
Balou just loves you
Finally, Balou understands that you win affection by showing affection. We love Balou because he loves us and shows us in dozens of ways.
The same is true with great speakers. They show their affection for their audience by addressing their key concerns rather than giving a generic speech. They leave plenty of time for questions. They then answer those questions with a helpful, sincere tone. Audiences return the love that you give.
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that Balou knows how to sell himself so well. His livelihood depends on it.
Joey Asher is President of Speechworks, a selling and communication skills coaching company in Atlanta. His new book “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”. He is the author of “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.” firstname.lastname@example.org.