An Unexpected Path to Team Transparency and Trust


During a team meeting last week, one of our colleagues did something that set off a tidal wave of emotional applause throughout the room.

We were responding to an unselfish act of communication. This colleague abandoned her insecurities and spoke with a level of passion and force that we had never seen. Because she showed care and trust for the people in the room, everyone absorbed each of her words and responded with gratitude.

I had flown Clark Merrill, a Dale Carnegie instructor, to this meeting to work with the team on public speaking. As the positive emotions poured over the room in that moment, I couldn’t help but think back to my first encounter with Clark several years back when I had taken a Dale Carnegie course to overcome my fear of public speaking.

The course, which Clark facilitated, met once a week, and I found it nearly unbearable to drive to those sessions. After a few weeks of this anxiety, I walked out to the parking lot with Clark to ask him for more advice on controlling my nerves.

He looked at me intently and said, “Matt, it’s not about you. It’s about the audience. As soon as you stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about them, your nerves will calm down.”

Last week, true to form, he repeated several times to the group: “It’s not about you. It’s about the audience.” As he’d coach us, he’d ask, “Who are you thinking about?”

Something magical unfolded.

We released the expectations that each of us put on ourselves about image and approval. One colleague who values his personal strength and steadiness became vulnerable. Another who takes himself very seriously let himself have fun. And another who is generally reserved and guarded became open and animated.

It wasn’t a game. It wasn’t a performance. These were glimpses into sides of people that they don’t normally reveal in public. They were acts of unselfish connection.

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The experience revealed to me a secret about team transparency and trust: public speaking can have a profound impact on human connection.

But this isn’t inherently obvious. Whether at a podium, at a conference table or on a webinar, public speaking tends to be one of the most self-focused activities. If you’re the speaker, you know that all eyes and ears are focused on you. If someone else is speaking and you’re expected to speak soon, you’ll only be half listening as you think about what you will say, how you will respond and what others will think.

It’s no wonder that public speaking is one of the most common fears. When we are focused on ourselves and what others think of us, we’re alone in our heads. Our identity is at stake.

But when you speak unselfishly with transparency and trust, you won’t be alone; you will be connected to the humans around you. It opens you up to:

  1. Listening.  You will hear what others are saying rather than being deafened by your own inner monologue.
  2. Risking.  You will be more willing to allow yourself to be seen for who you are and heard for what you really think.
  3. Understanding.  You will be able to speak and hear more clearly without the filter of agendas, biases and insecurities.
  4. Growth.  You will learn to engage lesser-used parts of who you are. The serious will show humor, the funny will show depth, the stoic will show emotion and the vulnerable will show strength.

How can you and your team benefit from practicing public speaking with a more profound focus on the audience?

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