Abigail Tenembaum is the co-founder of Virtuozo, where together with her partner Michael Weitz, she uses a unique methodology, grounded in theater, business and psychology, to work with senior executives and teams who wish to up their presence and design their impact as communicators and leaders. Abigail studied theater in Tel Aviv and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School. Abigail and Michael are speaker coaches for the renowned TED conferences.
Every day, at my work, I meet people who want to be heard. To be remembered. Whether I work with a business leader to upgrade their impact, help a TED speaker prep for the biggest stage, or when I work with senior teams on storytelling, the desire isn’t just to talk. It’s to make an impact.
One of my clients, a tech CEO, told me a few years ago, “I know what you do. It’s not just communication skills and messaging. It’s not just presence. It’s H2H.”
Human to Human.
I still remember it as one of my favorite quotes. It touches something at the core of what I believe is great communication.
The techniques and mechanics of impactful communications have changed little since the time of Aristotle. But other things have changed. A lot. We live in an era of collective ADHD and endless messages. How do we cut through the noise? How do we grab our audience’s attention and deliver memorable messages?
In Aristotle’s time, and for many centuries, the speaker had control and power. Audiences were more captive. If my leader is speaking in the town square, I can listen to him, or I can stay at home. There was little fight for the audience’s attention. Having a captive audience wasn’t too difficult.
Today, if my leader speaks in the technological version of the square (let’s say, my TV), he or she is competing for my attention against: all the books in my kindle, more than 200 TV channels, endless content on Netflix, my bookmarked library of podcasts, everything on YouTube, my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram feeds, and this is a very partial list.
Not to mention the fact that our grandparents were exposed to maybe a handful of communicators. Their teachers, bosses, leaders.
Today, our audience is exposed to hundreds. Great technique is expected and can be spotted immediately. Though, it is definitely not enough.
Captive audience is a thing of the past.
It will not come back anytime soon. For communicators, this means that we need to think about our audience and our message differently. Using the tools that were effective even 50 years ago, is not enough to cut through the noise, to grab the attention, to be memorable.
We need to think differently. It’s no longer about being a talented speaker. Today, more than ever, it’s about the audience. What do THEY need? What’s important to them? What will grab their attention right now? What will move them to action?
Why should they give me their most fought over asset – their attention?
This means that we, as speakers, need to refocus our own attention and think from our audience’s point of view.
We, as humans, know how to do this. Think about it. When we communicate with a young child or a toddler, we do this instinctively. We modify our voice. We adjust our language, our speed, our pitch. We use our bodies. We become expressive. We use short, simple messages. We get right to the point. Can you imagine telling a 2-year old “before I start telling you this story, let me give you some background…” or “Let me start with the history of Little Red Riding Hood before we get to that famous morning”?
The beautiful thing is, when we speak to these young audiences, we don’t rehearse and plan and strategize. We just see the person in front of us. We really SEE them. We fully focus our attention on the child and what SHE needs.
Our grown-up audience doesn’t lose this need to be seen and spoken TO. (“To“ and not “at”.) We, as communicators, have that capability. It’s about mindset… and attention.
Giving our full attention to the audience – not to my text, not to how I am feeling, not to my judgments – is what our audiences crave. What we all crave. And the beauty is, this can be learned and practiced.
TED speaker Esther Perel demonstrates this beautifully in one of her TED talks, both in her text and in her delivery. She starts by asking questions, provocative questions, and she pauses after each question. Giving the audience time to think. Then, at around the 19th minute of this particular talk, there is a golden moment. When, together with Michael my partner, we worked with Esther on her talk, she added a sentence regarding her accent (no spoilers). On stage, Esther didn’t change her text, but she added a small pause that created an intimate and funny moment. It wasn’t planned or rehearsed. It just happened. It happened on stage because, as you can see throughout her talk, her attention was on the audience. She could sense them. Her pause is answered with laughter from the audience. And here is where the magic happens. Esther pauses. The audience laughs. Esther’s face lights up in a smile as a reaction to the laughter. An intimate, powerful exchange between humans. Without a word being uttered. Esther told the audience: “I see you. I care about you. And your reaction moves me.”
Esther’s talk has over 15 million views.
In an era of collective ADHD and an endless abundance of messages, having someone really see ME, as a human, becomes increasingly rare. Today, seeing your audience is the new superpower. Especially for leaders. When we feel like our leaders see us, we know we matter. In return, we give our attention, and often even more.
This is the essence of H2H.
When we truly see the audience, when we speak in a way they can hear, we connect fully to them as humans. And when we humans are connected, we can do great things together.