open-micI recently shared the presentation below at the first Chapter Meeting of the Professional Speakers Association of Namibia. The presentation is loosely based on the work and talk of Adam Grant at TEDxEast in 2013 and explores power dynamics in communication.

Specifically what to do when you are intimidated and you feel powerless in that situation. Our go-to strategy is to proclaim our individual excellence and competence, but that may not be the best strategy to employ to win over the audience.                    Enjoy…

Slide 1 – Intro Details
Slide 2 – Starting off with a simple question. “As a speaker/presenter have you ever been intimidated when you’ve had to deliver a speech or a presentation at work or a talk?” Of course you have, it’s a normal human reaction to an uncertain environment?
Slide 3 – But have you ever stopped to consider why you may have felt intimidated? Firstly, there’s normally a lot at stake. You are either making a pitch to sell something, or doing a budget presentation to ensure funds for all the projects you need to do in the next financial year. BUT also and probably more importantly, there is power dynamics in the room. The audience has power over the decision of what you are presenting. Such as a boss or client having the power to decide whether to retain your services or to buy your stuff.
So, what do we do to recover in such a situation? If you’re normal, you stat to boast. You start to push your credentials and or the effort you made to put the presentation together. In other words you are attempting to prove you competence in the particular field.
Slide 4 – Did it work? Or did you miss the target? Often the strategy you are using is missing the target because of …
Slide 5 – power dynamics. That word again… But what is it?
Slide 6 – French and Raven in 1958 identified 5 “power bases” that we use to influence others. They added a 6th in 1965. You can read more about that here.
Slide 7&8 – The point of this presentation is that there are only two sources of power that can is really sustainable over time. Those two are referent (getting people to like you) and Expert (knowing more than others) power. Obviously none of the power bases are absolutely sustainable as relationships can get damaged and as the saying by Leonardo da Vinci goes “Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master”. However, with some effort you should be able to sustain those two bases of power.
Slide 9 – Kohut and Neffinger did research to show that when we judge others we use exactly those two qualities, competence and warmth. These two relate very closely to the two power bases of expert and referent.
Slide 10&11 – And here is the kicker, according to their research, when we judge others, we FIRST ask the question, can I trust this person. The world is full of very competent crooks, so we first need to establish a base where we can trust the person before we can judge their competence. This is the opposite of the strategy we normally use. The one we discussed in slide 3 and 4.
Slide 12 – The quote sums up the process.
Slide 13 – So how to you use your powerlessness to your advantage? Practical strategy tips (Adam Grant gives most of these tips in his TEDxEast talk. You have to give credit where it’s due. Thanks Adam!):
1.) In his talk Adam references he famous quote by Abraham Lincoln when he was accused of being two faced. Lincoln famously responded: “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” The point is, by deflecting incompetence with humour, he managed to take the sting out of the situation. His looks obviously has nothing to do with his competence as a leader.
2.) Speak tentatively. Commonly, we teach people not to use fillers such as, ah and umm, etc, but these may make you come accross as more likable. Having a speech or presentation that is not 100% polished males you look human and increases the warmth score.
3.) Obviously it is important to actually be competent in what you do. Think of a “lovable clown” vs a “friendly professor”. You’re not going to give your business to a clown, but a friendly professor at the top of her game. Anytime.
4.) This one is interesting. Instead of saying “You must do this” or “We should do that”. Reframe your opinions as suggestions such as “you may benefit from doing this” or “have you ever considered that we should do that”. By stating an opinion in a question you allow the other party to believe that this is their idea and not your opinion forced on them.
5.) Being authentic, means not pretending. If you don’t know, you don’t know. Period. Be real and admit mistakes if they happen. Referent power goes out the window of you’re caught out.
Slide 14 – One disclaimer. Your competence needs to be without doubt. The one big downfall with this strategy of powerless communication is if you are not competent. Then you just look like a fool, it’s called the pratfall effect.
Another strategy to overcome powerlessness is found in Amy Cuddy’s brilliant TED Talk and subsequent book.
Slide 15 – thank you for listening 🙂