When I worked my way up the ranks of tae kwon do years ago, one of our tests at every stage was to break a board (or several), with various punches or kicks. We were taught to aim not at the board, but about an inch beyond it. Hitting that target meant that a broken board was a foregone conclusion. It’s the same way with persuasive communication: a small but critical shift of your target can make a world of difference.
One of the most common bits of advice for speakers who are about to make a big presentation is to envision success. Imagine what it would feel like at the end of a successful presentation: walking out of that room knowing that you accomplished what you wanted; you got the agreement you sought, the kudos that came with it, the respect of the listeners—maybe even the financial satisfaction of a big commission from the sale. Think about reporting back to your boss how well it went, and the words of gratitude and praise you would get in return.
It’s a great vision, isn’t it? “Envision success” is great advice because it shifts your focus your fear and onto your excitement, and that can carry over to your entire performance.
But what if there is an even better way to envision success, one that will give you an even more positive focus and increase your chances of achieving the success you seek? I believe there is. Instead of envisioning your own success, envision success for your listeners. Imagine what they will feel like after they leave your presentation. Will they feel excited to tell others about it, because they know they’re grasping an opportunity to improve their situation? Will they feel relieved, knowing they have solved a problem that has bothered them for a long time? Will they feel confident, knowing that they have strengthened their defenses against possible risks?
Envisioning success for your listeners will help you in three ways. It will force you into outside-in thinking, because the only way to envision their success in credible and concrete detail is to truly understand what your listeners will care about and what they are most likely to respond to. If you have trouble doing it, you know you have more work to do. Second, it will take your focus off yourself, off that little bundle of nerves and voice of doubt that nags at the back of your mind; when you’re truly focused on others it’s hard to be worried about your own concerns. Finally, your intentions will show through in your talk; if you’re excited for them, you will communicate that excitement.