After all is said and done, leadership and public speaking are about being in control. Not in a pushy, bullyish sort of way, but it is about gaining control of your audience's attention, guiding their opinions and motivating response.
And that's what I've done, as a professional hypnotherapist and stage hypnotist for the past 30 years. In fact, that's all a hypnotist ever does. Beneath all the fluff and superstitions, hypnosis is about getting 100 percent of a subject's attention, thus helping that person to get past the distractions, cop-outs and excuses. Hypnosis won't violate any moral or ethical paradigms, but it allows you to overcome obstacles and rearrange the subject's thinking process. And the good news is you, as a Toastmaster, don't have to wave a watch to get similar results from your audiences.
You'll recognize some of the techniques listed below from Toastmasters manuals, others may seem unfamiliar to you, having evolved from a different ancestry. The common thread here is that they work for me, both on stage where I have five minutes or so to talk 15 people into giving me 100 percent of their attention and in private therapy settings, where I'm expected to change the way a person thinks in 50 minutes. I'm breaking this down into categories only because it's easier to understand that way. In practice, effective leadership is an all-or-nothing proposition. As a leader or speaker, you're ultimately responsible for the entire experience. If the air conditioner doesn't work or you forget to comb your hair, that's all the audience is going to notice and remember, which brings me to my first point:
If you're going to trust me with all your attention, if you're going to willingly suspend your disbelief long enough to allow me to influence your thinking, then you'll need to believe two things. First, that I know what I'm doing and second, that I have your best interest in mind.
Creating a persona is essential in any leadership endeavor. The shift manager at McDonalds and the motivational speaker at the next International Peace Summit will both be judged by the image they project. It's about coming across as competent.
This includes a lot of what you learn in Toastmasters: personal hygiene, clothing, professional props and preparation. You'll also find that credentials, endorsements by peers or superiors and the overall sense of calm you project under pressure will help establish your audience's confidence in you, whether you are talking to one person or an auditorium full of conventioneers.
How much you're paid, the kind of publicity that precedes you, and the quality of the overall package all establish your perceived authority on your subject.
The second point to keep in mind when requesting people's trust is that unless they believe you have their best interest in mind, they'll never lower their guard. Again, it's all a reflection of your attitude. Napoleon had sergeants tell him about troop members. Casual comments as he inspected the troops like, "Johnson, I hear your wife just had a baby, congratulations," or "Martinez, I heard about your sore leg, how's it feeling?" did far more than all the "go-get-them" speeches ever could. If you can convince people of your interest, and willingness to go out of your way to help meet their needs, they'll listen to you. Research your audience, show you care. Before you ask somebody to follow your lead, you better be sure they believe it's in their best interest.
This principle can be used in virtually any situation. A manager who tells an employee, "Tom, you get with it or you're fired," at best will scare Tom into putting on a good show, and ultimately do nothing but make Tom angry and resentful. Explaining, "Tom, I know you can do this. Please let me know how I can help, because, to be honest, if something doesn't change here fast, I'm not sure I can afford to keep you around" is still a threat, but it shows concern for his needs, a desire to help, and motivates Tom's loyalty and willingness to put 110 percent into earning your friendship and respect. It tells him you're on his side.
Basically, I can't hypnotize you, motivate you, influence you or even keep your attention as long as I have an adversarial relationship with you. Once you trust my ability to produce, you'll find that the more you feel my motivation is meeting your needs, the more willing you'll be to trust me to think for you.
Another way to disarm contradiction is to regulate your availability. My comparative success rate as a hypnotherapist is quite outstanding. But truth be told, it's not because I'm any better than most, it's because I'm expensive and I refuse to take on anybody I'm not sure I'll be successful with. My persona and rehearsed empathy allow this. When potential clients seek my help, I regularly tell them I don't think they're ready for my brand of therapy. I often use comments like, "I'd love to help you, but to be honest with you, I really don't think you want to change." The impulsive reaction is to get defensive. Once they start begging me to help, I usually warn them that my way takes work. We're going to face the problems head-on and not slow down. If they're still willing to pay for the session, then we get started.
Managers can apply this principle with comments like, "Bob, you have what it takes to be a great shift leader, but to be honest with you, I don't think you're willing to make the sacrifices it would take to get you there." Public speakers can force attention and suspend disbelief by making comments like, "There isn't a one of you here who can't make this work. Unfortunately many of you probably won't even try." The basic formula here is simple: I've just told you I believe in you more than you do, and I'll be available to prove you can do it as soon as you'll quit trying to do it your way and trust me to guide you.
Now we start getting into the exotic. Once you've established your credentials and desire to meet their needs, and you've made your help a commodity they must be willing to pay for, you need to convince them into letting you do the thinking for them. One way to do that is called stacking.
If you ask people to do something, it's an invitation for them to figure out why you're asking. If you give them a list of things to do, they have to decide whether to make fools of themselves while thinking it all through, or trust you must have worked it all out ahead of time.
When corporate management offers "training manuals" or "company policies," it uses this technique. The fact that someone with more authority and skill has put this master plan together usually intimidates employees into just following instructions without question or thought. Speakers who offer a "5-step plan" will be far more successful than those with a single suggestion.
Another very powerful motivator is the "wisdom" of the crowd. Surveys of demonstrators in the '60s showed that large percentages of the crowd didn't even know why they were there. They just wanted to do what everybody else was doing, because if the mob thinks it's okay, then it must be.
When I do my seminars I begin by doing safe "mob-creating" exercises - anything that'll force everybody in the room to participate in a communal activity. Stand up and stretch, jump up and down, rub the shoulders of the person next to you. The wilder the behavior I can talk everybody into doing, the more willing they'll be to continue doing "the incredible" for me, provided I can convince them everybody else in the room will. I make entire rooms full of people walk on fire by establishing "a mob" and then guiding them through the process of accepting "communal" self-confidence.
If you can get your entire sales crew to wear crazy hats for a day at work or talk your entire audience into closing their eyes and imagining something with you, you'll soon find most, if not all, of your crowd blindly "following the mob."
Once you have their attention, let them see themselves doing what you want them to do. Remember "selling the sizzle?" It works much better once an audience trusts you and your intentions. Comments like "Karen, I can see you running your own store some day" will start Karen daydreaming. Audiences will react quicker to, "Running doesn't start getting you in shape until it becomes work" than they would to "you need to get all your paperwork done if you want to get good at it."
If you ask someone to do something, it invites them to look for your selfish motives. If you create images in their minds, they rarely come back down to earth long enough to think it through.
I remember once, during a speech, pulling out a $100 bill. While discussing the value of working as a team I spoke a bit about the spending power of a $100. Then I casually tore the bill in half and explained how each half wasn't worth $50. I then wadded up the two halves and tossed them into the trash can at the end of the stage. It definitely got the audience's attention; they're probably still talking about it. It forced them to temporarily live in a world without preset rules, a world where $100 was a mere stage prop. I didn't tell them that I actually switched "roles of paper" in my hand as I wadded the bill and I stuck the two halves (which I later taped back together) in my pocket. And I got a kick out of the number of participants who sheepishly worked their way over to the trash can during the next break.
That's a dramatic example of a stage demonstration. When working one-on-one in therapy settings I go out of my way to react in unconventional ways to things people tell me. Again it shocks them, destroys their conventional security blankets, gets their attention and forces them to live in my world. People who come in and start listing problems regularly get an excited "Great!" Most of them are so used to getting sympathy that it means nothing to them. My excitement is a real shocker, and anything I say after that they're sure to remember. I usually follow with an enthusiastic, "That's so much better than when people walk in not knowing what's bothering them." Or maybe, "Every one of those 'problems' is an opportunity to prove you can grow. Which one do you want to start with?"
Obviously, this works only if you've taken the time to carefully think through the entire sequence ahead of time, but my guess is there are very few "new" issues you deal with in your daily management or speaking environment. Milton Erickson, a pioneer in innovative hypnotherapy, used to work miracles using this technique.
If the world really is a stage, it's up to you to decide if you want to work with an audience that's giving you a small percentage of their attention, or if you'd rather do a hypnotic show. As in most truly wise advice about living, these techniques will work everywhere, from individual encounters to corporate leadership. But don't take my word for it, just put on a crazy hat for a day or two while looking for ways to meet the needs of your listeners, and you'll soon find that creating a separate reality has its own inherent rewards.