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on Leading the Next Generation


Windows and Mirrors: Communicating with Authenticity

windows and mirrors

In January, we released a new addition to the Habitudes series, Habitudes for Communicators. Can I bounce one off of you here? I call it “Windows and Mirrors.” Effective communicators use windows and mirrors when they speak. When a communicator provides a window for people to see into his or her life, those people receive a mirror to see their own. By holding up a window to their own soul (their own humanity), listeners identify with their story and become engaged with the speaker. Because the communicator was secure enough to pull back the curtain on their own life—everyone feels safe to lean in and examine their own. That’s what the window accomplishes. Once an audience sees into the world of the speaker, they’re provided with a mirror to their own.

Consider this. Effective speakers identify with the people who are listening. They do so, by reflecting on the kinds of issues those people might be facing, then revealing the part of their life that relates to those issues. They may tell a story on themselves; they might reveal a fear, or a hope, or a weakness they possess. When they do, their window puts a mirror in the hands of the listener. Through the raw act of being transparent, they attract listeners to identify with them.

Windows and Mirrors is all about becoming authentic and transparent. Being both real and revealing. It’s the opposite of what you might have learned in many public speaking classes, where we are encouraged to be polished and professional. Windows and mirrors doesn’t require us to be unprofessional, it simply goes beyond the sterile transmittal of information. It reminds us that as we speak, what people really long for—what is magnetic to most audiences—is a genuine spirit.

Communicators and Public Speakers

During certain periods of history, people celebrated the great orator; the person who could stand in front of a large crowd and speak in a booming voice, with big words, and perfect grammar. He was polished and distant. Through the 19th century, crowds would swell in towns just to hear a politician or an evangelist who held them spellbound with their powerful and persuasive speeches. Today, I’m not so sure that’s what people really want. I think what they want is not only good content, but a candid delivery as well. They’re looking for a communicator more than a public speaker. Public speakers want to impress people. Communicators hope to impact people. Public speakers teach lessons. Communicators teach people. Their focus is entirely different. Let me summarize.

PUBLIC SPEAKER                                                      COMMUNICATOR

1. Puts the message before the people                          1. Puts the people before the message

2. Asks: What do I have?                                                2. Asks: What do they need?

3. Emphasizes techniques                                               3. Emphasizes atmosphere

4. Focus is content of the words                                    4. Focus is change in the listeners

5. Polished (image conscious)                                       5. Personal (impact conscious)

6. Goal: Complete the message                                      6. Goal: Complete the people

Leaders who practice “windows and mirrors” focus on the audience they are addressing. They’re less concerned with making a good impression, and more concerned with adding value, which enables them to be real.

For years, I’ve gotten X-rays done on my teeth by my dentist. It’s standard procedure. Before my dentist takes the X-ray, however, he will put a vest on me for my own protection. Because the vest is full of lead, it protects me from the radiation and prevents my dentist from seeing anything behind the vest. It’s a great picture of what happens to so many when they talk. In one sense, many speakers walk onto the platform with a lead vest on. It blocks anyone from seeing what’s inside of them. They remain protected. I believe great communicators take the vest off and allow listeners to see inside. They take risks, and become vulnerable. Forthright. Honest. My rule of thumb is this: I intentionally look for at least two occasions in each talk to share personal stories about my failures or successes as I address an audience.

I hope you’ve found this new Habitude helpful as you communicate with the next generation.

How can you be authentic when you communicate? How do you use windows and mirrors?

Order your copy of Habitudes for Communicators today.

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  1. Tim Carpenter on May 1, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Great Post! I preach and teach elementary aged kids and they love to hear stories about when I was a kid. When I share mistakes, dumb decisions and fears I had as a kid, it gives me instant credibility. Kids smile because they know that I understand and respect “kid world”. I can describe the feeling I had being the last kid picked for kickball. The heart pounding nervousness I felt the first time I called a girl on the phone. Thank God we didn’t have face time. Of course with kids there is a balance, but that window has helped me so much in connecting with kids. I believe another aspect of the window is that we can stand together and look out at wonderful world that is just waiting for them to discover. Their future is bright! THANKS Tim for helping me be a better communicator with the coolest people on the planet.

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

      Stories are such a great way to connect! Thanks for sharing your examples. Best wishes as you continue to connect with the next generation!

  2. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes on May 1, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Hi Tim – I very much resonate with what you’re talking about here.  The word I use is “authenticity”, which is one of six qualities of an inspiring public speaker I identified in my book (see the pic attached for the other 5). It goes as deep as finding your REAL purpose for speaking; what (positive) change you are really hoping to transmit to the audience and letting that shine out through your vulnerability and openness as a speaker.

    I love the idea of putting the audience before the speaker’s agenda (I call this becoming the Servant Speaker – it’s part of the Empathy quality), and we should also be aware that if we combine this Servant attitude, with Authentically and Fearlessly communicating our message – we can become an inspiration to others.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Tim – inspiring stuff :O)

    Sarah Lloyd-Hughes
    Ginger Training & Coaching
    Author – “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson)

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Sarah, Thanks for sharing your book. The Servant Speaker is not an idea that is talked about enough but I think it’s essential!

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Windows and Mirrors: Communicating with Authenticity