No one doubts that the ability to communicate well orally is considered a crucial skill effective leaders should master. We see an extensive offer out there of consultants and other professionals selling different types of training courses and tips on the art of persuading and connecting with an audience.
The problem is that in most cases the sole focus of the training and preparation is exclusively placed on the HOW and not the WHAT. How to convey your message more effectively, how to engage your audience, how to use your non-verbal language to your advantage, how to modulate your speech tone, how to expand your emotional range, how to structure your speech, etc. So we end up measuring the value of an effective presentation by how well the presenter manages to captivate their audience. A successful presentation is then the one that entertains but rarely educates.
Take the TED presentations example: for those of us who have gone through several sessions on making effective presentations, we can quickly discover the structure behind them. We might even foresee what the presenter’s next moves will be. We listen to a regular TED presenter, and we know in advance how their whole speech will evolve: starting on a high note to seek admiration, adding the needed self-deprecating jokes, continuing on a storytelling mode with emotional notes to show empathy, introducing a turnaround situation to show resilience against adversity, and finally ending their speech with an inspiring message that makes us feel good. We all clap with enthusiasm and leave the room with a smile on our faces. However, how come this supposedly empowering and moving message can so quickly get forgotten, perhaps even in less time than what the canned 10-minute presentation lasted? Why those fiery motivational speeches full of rah-rah, make us afterward feel empty and discouraged? Why do we remember so little of what was said?
The issue is that we have too many Sophists and very few philosophers. In the old Greece, Sophists were the popular 'consultants.' They taught rich people rhetoric -the art of persuasion-, and how to dominate the Assembly or persuade Athenian voters to elect them. Sophists took to the streets of Athens to give verbal exhibitions on education, virtue, and human excellence. Unlike true philosophers like Socrates, who would embody them in his life. They would charge an arm and a leg for their worldly wisdom on how to “get on.” Unlike Socrates, who would always teach for free to people of all classes and educations. Socrates crusade was against ignorance. Theirs, fame, wealth, and power. Socrates had an ethical and social mission and held the lack of wisdom to be a lack of worth. Sophists' purpose was not to seek the truth but to develop effective presenters.
Another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, stated that the three essential elements each good rhetoric (an effective presentation) should have are Logos -logic-, Pathos -the emotional appeal- and Ethos -trustworthiness-. Perhaps what many speakers lack today is not only Logos but also the Socratic Ethos, the moral injunction: the intention to bring about internal improvement in men, instead of just captivating and entertaining an audience.
When preparing your next effective presentation, I suggest you ask yourself what your ultimate goal is. Your real intention will then reflect on how much effort you put on the Ethos Vs. the Pathos. I am not saying you forgo of the HOW; just do not let it overshadow your WHAT.