When you speak, you certainly talk about a topic, but you mainly communicate who you are. That’s much of the power of public speaking. You communicate a lot of “who you are” through your actions.

Two incidents within the last week exemplify this.

No IQ test for a driver’s license

“How to use an on-ramp” used to be part of high school driver’s education. Even without special training, though, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that you don’t stop dead at the beginning of one.

For context: when you get on Pellissippi Parkway from Pellissippi State Community College, where I teach, an on-ramp allows you to safely accelerate uphill toward Knoxville and match with traffic speed. That’s what an on-ramp is for. When I first went to work there over 20 years ago, there was no on-ramp–the short access road from Hardin Valley Road dumped you straight onto the parkway if you followed the white lines. The vast majority of people, however, knowing an on-ramp was needed, ignored the lines and accelerated up the shoulder. The state noticed, and put a real on-ramp in place at least 15 years ago.

Occasionally, someone not paying attention will stop dead at the point where the access road used to join the parkway, and crane looking over their left shoulder waiting for an open spot in traffic coming rapidly from Oak Ridge. Pulling from a dead stop into 50-mile-per-hour traffic isn’t safe (hence the on-ramp), and accelerating in traffic uphill burns unnecessary gas and creates a traffic hazard. Usually, a quick tap of the horn will alert errant drivers….

….unless you’re a certain idiotic young driver stopped dead last week at the bottom of said hill. When I tapped the horn, she shot out into traffic (instead of using the on-ramp) and accelerated furiously up the hill. I used the on-ramp as designed, and so I easily merged with traffic, then shifted to the left lane. As I passed her, she flipped the one-finger salute at me. I got a good look at her. I’m hoping she’s in my speech class in the fall.

Your behavior in such circumstances clearly communicates your lack of both intelligence and manners much louder than whatever language you might have–which will probably come from a very limited vocabulary.

Lazy is as lazy does

Yesterday after we left Hobby Lobby, we noticed a young lady pushing a shopping cart across the parking lot. There was a bag in the cart about the right size to hold maybe two greeting cards. She reached her car, threw the bag in, got in her car and drove off, leaving the shopping cart smack in the middle of the parking lot, about three parking spaces from a cart corral.

Yes, it’s possible there was a good reason for this. But she was yakking on a cell phone, pushing the cart with one hand. It sure didn’t look as if she needed the cart for support. To anyone observing, her actions simply denoted someone too lazy or careless to carry the bag, and subsequently certainly too lazy to put the cart in the cart corral. No worries, someone else will pick it up later, right?

You’re always communicating

If I ever see either of these young women again, I am likely to recognize them, and my impression of them has already been formed. Speakers, be aware that you are always “on.” In narrow terms, audiences notice the way you treat people before and after your speech. In broader terms, you never know how you’ll be connected to people in your audience through reputation.

Just be yourself, and make sure that “self” is a person of integrity and intelligence. Then you’ll never have to worry about making a good impression.

Photo Credit: CJ Sorg cc

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