Each member of the audience has biases, habits, and beliefs that largely control his or her daily life. You have your own set of biases, habits, and beliefs. You must be aware of and address both their biases and yours when crafting and delivering a speech. This article presents a speech that will be a chapter in my upcoming book, Speak the Audience’s Mind, Not Just Your Own. The book will consist of an alphabet of speeches, each one dealing with a different aspect of public speaking. You are free to use this speech as it is or modified if you find it of value.
B Is for…
We think of ourselves as conscious, rational beings; logical, deductive, problem solvers, deliberate, one step at a time. We think of ourselves as Mr. Spock.
But to a large degree we are controlled by our emotional brain, our subconsious, impulsive, prone to form and follow our biases, beliefs, and habits. The part of our brain that we are not really aware of. We are Dr. McCoy.
B is for bias.
Normally, we think of bias as a bad word, a bad personality trait, a harboring of discrimination against ethnic and racial groups. But our brains are designed to be biased. To learn and apply rules, in order to react quickly to danger, to adapt instantly to a situation, to anticipate our needs, to jump to conclusions. If we didn’t have these biases we could not hope to survive.
Learning is teaching your subconscious a set of rules. Biases help us to deal with the constant bombardment of information. But since the mind is designed to use logic to support our beliefs rather than change them, biases can steer us wrong. For example:
Confirmation Bias: We prefer and deliberately look for information that agrees with and confirms our existing beliefs. We reject, without true examination, information that disagrees with our biases. In fact, we will distort new information to make it fit our existing preferences.
Example: Last speech. Positive mental attitude is good because I feel that it is. Confirmation Bias leads to inattentional blindness: We don’t see what we aren’t looking for.
Example: Self-Attribution Bias: We attribute good outcomes to our skills. We blame bad outcomes on something or somebody else.
Example: When a stock in my portfolio goes up, it is because of my research, my stock selection techniques, my genius. When a stock goes down, it is the fault of the hedge funds, the Federal Reserve, the weather.
This is coupled with over-confidence: We use confidence as a proxy for skill. Confidence gives us an illusion of knowledge. We prefer people who sound confident.
Introspection Bias: We see others’ behavior as a demonstration of their underlying nature. We see our own actions as driven by circumstances.
Example: When someone else passes a beggar without dropping some money in her can, it is because they are naturally selfish. When you pass by and fail to give money, it is because you don’t have any spare change, you are late for a meeting, you will come back.
Ability to Predict: We think we can predict the future. When it doesn’t work out: If – only. I was almost right. It just hasn’t happened yet. Everybody can be wrong once. This is coupled with Hindsight Bias: Once we know the outcome, we tend to think we knew it all the time.
Example: I knew Peyton Manning was going to have a let-down. I knew that horse was going to win but I didn’t have time to go to the window.
What does all this mean? When faced with a new situation, a new problem, an important decision, we should override our biases and not jump to conclusions. We should stop and think. Make a conscious effort to be rational and consider all available information.
What does it mean to us as Toastmasters? We should be aware of our biases and beliefs and how different audiences will react to them. We should be aware of the biases and beliefs that audiences have in common and make sure our message reacts with them. They will be bored by facts and subconsciously reacting to what we say, constantly relating it to their experiences, their gut reactions.
Remember those biases when you speak.