Public Speakers: Flash your Lt. Columbo Badge of Confusion

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to help you more fully connect with an audience and become even more persuasive.

       Oh yeah. I was prepared. Too prepared. Too sure of myself. Too proud. Too confident. Too bad.

Lt. Columbo in his iconic rumpled trench coat

      It was my first public speaking gig outside my company to a general audience (not my staff). And I made a big mistake. I thought the podium gave me a virtual license to act more like a preacher, more like a lecturer. After all, I was the expert. That’s why they invited me.

     My mistake. I later realized that I should have acted more like Lt. Columbo than Sgt. Joe Friday at the podium. I should have acted more like the disheveled and somewhat confused Lt. Columbo , the detective that actor Peter Falk made famous in the television series Columbo, rather than the stern, button downed, highly disciplined, no-nonsense, just-the-facts-man Sgt. Friday, the detective that Jack Webb made famous in the television series Dragnet.

      I gave this audience just the facts. I was self-assured. I called it confidence. Others I later learned called it cockiness. Anyway I realized only later what that bromide really means that says: No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

      And no one likes a know-it-all. At least not initially. Behavioral research shows that an audience is likely to be persuaded more by someone they can identify with, someone who seems just like them, someone like Lt. Columbo  who personably camouflaged his professional prowess like a proverbial Ferrari engine hidden beneath the beaten and battered hood of the jalopy he drove. Lt. Columbo hid his  criminal investigative expertise beneath the rumpled trench coat he wore; behind the squint of confusion on his face, and deep within the halting hesitancy in his voice.

     After all, Lt. Columbo’s  detective work was first-rate. His expertise at the top of his field. Despite (or because of?) his disorganized façade , confused style and haphazard thinking process (‘just one more thing”) he consistently outsmarted the murderer in the detective story.

              Feign Doubt or Confusion to Win Over an Audience

       So these days whenever I give a speech to an outside audience I try hard not to hide behind my title, my pedigree, my degree, or my mountain of facts. I focus on being just a guy. Flaws and all. With something of interest to say as long as I say it in a way that interest the audience, engages them, and welcomes them as a peer . And I know now that feigning a sense of doubt or confusion somewhere early in my speech will help my audience more easily relate to me .

      Rhetoricians call it dubitatio , a personal form of aporia which is doubt or ignorance – feigned or real—used as a rhetorical device to make the speaker seem more honest, more human, more real.

      The dubitatio also lowers audience expectations in the beginning so that the speaker can surprisingly wow ‘em in the end, much like Abraham Lincoln did at his Cooper Union speech in his presidential campaign in 1860.

       Now in delivering a  speech, I will quickly flash my Lt. Columbo badge of confusion, saying  something like “I’m not sure that I have the answers, heck I am sure I don’t even have all questions, but today together let’s explore…..” At any rate, these days I prepare for a speaking engagement by writing the music of feelings as much as the lyrics of facts to be sure I get the audience humming my tune along with me. Then they are more likely to care more about me. And my message.

Today’s ImproveMINT
Parlay doubt and confusion in the opening of a speech to win over an audience and keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

You may also like these previous Leadership Mints on Public Speaking:

Making Your Last Words Last
Public Speaking in a Bathrobe & Beyond
Podium Power: Speaking Less Talking More
Speaking Meaningfully Without Words

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2 thoughts on “Public Speakers: Flash your Lt. Columbo Badge of Confusion

  1. Pingback: Savoring your M&Ms : Magical Metaphors « LEADERSHIP MINTS

  2. Pingback: Persuasion: Playing Your ACE in a Stacked Deck « LEADERSHIP MINTS

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