(Interactive talk at BDVT-workshop, Petersberger Trainertage on 23 April 2010)
Go to German Version
‘Empathy’ was one of the three topics at the workshop ‘People make markets – future qualifications’ at Petersberger Trainertage, and the empathy-part looked for answers to the questions: What significance has empathy as a future qualification for people acting on markets? And what exactly does empathy mean? The ‘people’ at the workshop on that day were training and business consultants and coaches, HR and marketing specialists. Being a presentation consultant my focus lay on empathy in presentations. Presentations – in my view – also comprising those short ‘pitches’ that we do when introducing ourselves to somebody else at a conference like Petersberger Trainertage, for example.
First step when confronted with a word like “empathy” is to look it up in a dictionary: “Empathy – ‘strong passion’” – hey, that sounds exciting and even sexy. Moreover, empathy is defined as “the willingness and ability to adopt the attitude of others”. So, empathy is the “as if” (I had somebody else’s attitude) and means adopting the emotional perspective of others. Regarding presentations the following question remained: How can I have an empathetic effect on others and be empathetic?
That’s quite a challenge. The Indians use a metaphor for describing empathy which makes obvious the dilemma: “Walking in somebody else’s moccasins.” In Germany we say: “Looking through somebody else’s glasses.” – But if I take my audience on Petersberg as an example: Can I wear 80 to 90 pairs of moccasins at the same time? Do I see anything when wearing someone else’s glasses? (Have you ever had new glasses in your spectacles? It’s hard!) And even more important: Are the people in my audience willing to let me have their moccasins or glasses?
Aiming at presenting emphatically the solution lies in looking at the presentation situation from a different angle: What if I gave my audience the possibility of being empathetic? My point is: If I – as a speaker – make a clear emotional offer and show an strong attitude then I offer my audience the possibility of adopting my view emphatically. I offer them a way to project their empathy on me. And as it is an offer – it’s their decision to accept it or not.
So forget moccasins and glasses. There is only one thing that counts: fire – your fire, your passion as a speaker!
The good thing is that you can ‘rehearse’ presenting passionately. On Petersberg I showed an exercise coming from improv theatre which I already described in a former blogpost (for those who weren’t on Petersberg, please read it now). In my talk I did an improvised speech on ‘Buying a Grand Piano’ (topic suggested by audience) with ‘emotion-cards’ that had been written for me by members of that audience.
The audience’s feedback after that speech was that I digressed from my topic while discovering aspects and experimenting with emotions that I would not have normally associated with buying a Grand Piano. Of course, this creatively emotional facet is a great benefit when rehearsing a well planned and profound speech, too. And the experience with the ‘emo-cards’ helps to anticipate, reflect and question your emotional attitude and that of your target group in the live situation ‘on stage’ and to attune to it.
To sum up: Your passion as a speaker offers a projection space for the empathy of your audience – and gives them the possibility of living that future qualification.