Dignity in Public Speaking

Dignifying the Audience, A Key to Persuasion

Lesson: Always allow the audience to maintain their dignity in public speaking. To accomplish this goal, learn to listen to what is not being said.

Whether you’re speaking to an audience of one or one thousand, before you can persuade, always dignify the audience in what you say and the way you say it. Your listening comes from watching their response as they listen to you.

Dignity in Public Speaking to One: On Wanting to Go Home

This dignity can best be illustrated by a gentleman who wanted to check him self out of the hospital one winter evening. My job, persuade him not to AMA (against medical advice) himself out of the hospital. He wanted to go home. The story was told to me that he wanted to go home to get another drink, as he had been accustomed to on cold winter evenings.

My charge nurse told me I had been requested to go to the lobby out side the Emergency Department (ED). I was greeted by the nuns who were the driving force of the hospitals pastoral care and perhaps one of the biggest reasons we were one of only 2 hospitals in the state that the board of health enjoyed visiting. This was because of the high quality of patient care we provided.

Not a single patient went to bed at night with out being offered a back rub. Caring for the patients physical and spiritual needs was as paramount as the medical care they received.

My new patient assignment as of this moment was to care for this gentleman who wanted to go home. A brief report was given from his nurse who was there at his side. Communication between the two had obviously broken down. She returned to her floor and her other patients.

Success depended on dignity in public speaking, even though this was an audience of one.

Outside was a blizzard. Our transport van was 1 hour away. The patient, an elderly man sitting in a wheel chair wanted out and he wanted out now. Others were still trying to convince him to stay during my receiving report.

"...they won't let me"

Approaching and asking how I could care for him, the patient simply said, “I want to go home and they won’t let me.” Acknowledging that he had the right to go, I volunteered to take him. By this time, we had quite a few spectators. I asked one of the ED nurses for a blanket to wrap him in. A coat was requested from one of the guards.

One of the ED nurses began to object, “He can’t …” She was cut off by one of the nuns who quickly maneuvered to intercept the naysayer. I heard the, “husssssh!” from over my shoulder.

Dumbfounded, the guard looked at the nun who gave him the ok and he handed over his winter coat. Standing in front of the wheel chair with my new friend, as the coat was handed to me, he said, “I’m not wearing that.”

"I'm going to walk you home"

My reply, “It’s not for you, it’s for me.” as I put it on. “It’s cold outside. They tell me we have quite a ways to go to get you home. You will have to give me directions because I don’t live here. I live down the line.”

Wrapping him in the blanket, I started wheeling him to the doors to the out side and his freedom. The first doors opened automatically by the sensor as we approached. A blast of cold air greeted us. Outside was the dark of night with a raging blizzard, snow flying almost sideways illuminated by a light above.

Only eight feet from the outside and eight seconds from freedom, he was empowered and free to have his say, his dignity, his right. He held up his hand to have me halt.

He said, “I’ve been thinking, maybe I should wait till morning to go home instead of tonight.”

Persuasion didn’t come from reasoning, explaining or even threatening ("you could die in this blizzard"). The persuasion was possible because of listening and answering his spoken and unspoken request. Persuasion came from maintaining his dignity.

In this story is the essence of the importance of dignity in public speaking.

He Wanted Respect and Dignity

He words were that he wanted to go home. The assumption was he wanted a drink. His non-verbal communication was being ignored. It is something all of us want and need, respect and dignity.

And at his age, with losing so many other things we take for granted, he wanted one simple thing, the right to bodily self determination. Most likely he did want another drink. Even more importantly, he wanted the freedom and dignity to choose, which when given to him, he chose wisely.

He taught me to listen not only to the verbal but also the nonverbal communication. Only then can we start to persuade sometimes not with speech, but with our actions.

Next time you speak, maintain dignity in public speaking and be better able to persuade your audience.

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