Podium Coaching Blog
Active listening is key to successful communication
“We have two ears and one mouth. That is probably because listening is twice as hard as talking.” (Anonymous)
The more you listen, the better you’ll speak. Listen not only to the words spoken by the other person, but also to the tone of those words and the body language used to express them.
Here are some tips to help you really listen.
- Be honest: If you don’t have time to truly listen, arrange to talk later.
- Pay attention: Give the person your FULL attention. If you’re on the telephone, don’t multi task by reading or typing on your computer. People will hear you striking the keyboard. This will not help build a good relationship. If you get a business call on your mobile phone while you’re driving, pull over or arrange to talk later.
- Acknowledge active listening: Give the speaker a response that says “YES I’m listening to you. I hear you”. You can say things such as “Hmmm” “Really” “Interesting”, or ask questions. Just demonstrate you are engaged.
- Show active listening: Use your body language to acknowledge you hear the other person. Nod, smile, lean forward, maintain eye contact, have an open body posture, be relaxed.
- Reflect on what you heard: Do this through your words, tone of voice, body position and gestures – so the other person knows he’s understood. You can paraphrase what speaker said. “My understanding of what you said is….” or “let me see if I understand what you’ve been saying…”
- Reflect feelings: When a speaker is feeling strongly about something, his emotions are engaged. In order to really listen to the person (as opposed to just hearing his words) you need to be in touch with the feelings. Let the speaker work through the emotion before you respond. Then paraphrase the feelings and the facts to let the speaker know you’ve heard.
- Don’t judge: Everyone has the right to express their opinions. You may not agree – but you should respect the other person’s right to their feeling. So don’t judge verbally, or non verbally with your body language.
- Respond: Always say something, even if it’s just “I’ll get back to you.” Say what’s appropriate to the situation. Be honest, respectful. Treat the other person the way you would like to be treated.
These tips come from our presentation skills workshop.
How 3 year-old got the best out of giant supermarket chain
A young customer in England had a question for the giant Sainsbury’s supermarket chain. Here’s part of her letter:
Why is tiger bread c\alled tiger bread? It should be c\alled giraffe bread.
Love from Lily Robinson age 3 1/2
And here’s part of the reply from customer manager Chris King:
Thanks so much for your letter. I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it?
It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a looooong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.
The letter is signed Chris King, aged 27 1/3
Finding inspiration – on a beach
Hanging out on a beach for a few days with a pile of magazines is a great opportunity to mine for some gems. Here are a few nuggets that could kick-start or revitalize many an article, speech or presentation:
Refine and refine. Find the inner beauty within and keep going. Live to refine.
I believe more in the scissors than the pencil.
If you don’t feel like what you’re creating is the best work you’ve ever done, it’s time to throw in the towel.
I enjoy playing characters where the silence is loud.
Pauses and silences give words the room they need to reverberate. And in that reverberation, meaning resides.
Kevin Clash (voice of Elmo)
When a puppeteer is trying to get something out of his puppet, you can see it on his face.
Everybody sort of has their own version of what they think I am. I’m just living my life and doing the best I can.
Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.
Any of these quotes could fit in a Podium Coaching session on presentation skills. Many of them already do.
Rushed delivery tells your audience you don’t care
by Halina St James
We recently flew about 8 hours from the east coast of Canada to the west coast of Mexico for a vacation. Every time I fly I grit my teeth and clutch the arm rests of my seat – not because I’m afraid of flying, but because what I hear is the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m talking about the announcements by flight attendants.
We flew Air Canada. Canada’s national airline has been boasting about being voted as offering ‘Best In-Flight Services in North America’ and being ‘Best North American Airline for International Travel’, for the fourth consecutive year by Business Traveller magazine.
And Air Canada was voted ‘Best Airline in North America’ for the third consecutive year by Global Traveler magazine in their annual survey of business travelers.
So if Air Canada is so good, why don’t I feel like a valued customer? Travelers will give you many reasons, but mine is the way announcements are made. Flight attendants rush and slur their way through them, as if they are an inconvenience they want to dispose of as quickly as possible. They massacre these announcements in French and English, Canada’s two official languages.
So how does that make me feel? Definitely as if they don’t care about me or my comfort or safety. They’re telling me they care neither about the message they are delivering, nor my feelings as the intended recipient of that message.
I understand one of the challenges of having to repeat the same message over and over on flight after flight is that it becomes familiar, and boring.
The challenge of repeatedly delivering the same (or similar) message is to make it fresh every time. One way to do that is to remember your audience. It’s always about ‘them’, never about you. The information may be boring to you, but as passengers we genuinely want to know about meal service, flying time, weather conditions – even the safety information.
Here are a few more tips:
- Break down your long convoluted sentences into simple short sentences with one thought per sentence.
- Speak the way you would always speak in a natural, normal conversation.
- Slow down.
Maybe the next flight, I will be able to relax as I listen. Perhaps I’ve even feel I truly am a valued customer.
How to find that ‘presence’ that gives great speakers the edge
What is it about a speaker that truly holds us? I mean really hooks us and holds us so tightly that we are on tenterhooks for the next thought.
What gives a speaker that spark, that WOW! quality, that holds us engrossed and sends us out of the room at the end of the speech happily marching to a different drum?
In truth it may be a mix of several qualities; but at Podium Coaching we believe a large part of what gives a speaker WOW! appeal is authenticity.
So we were intrigued to read a new book by Washington DC-based leadership coach Kristi Hedges, The Power of Presence.
Hedges argues that technical knowledge, a strong work ethic and excellent presentation skills, are great leadership tools. But, she says, nothing puts people on the fast track to success as much as one quality… presence.
She describes presence as ‘a little-understood but potentially game-changing tool’.
And at its heart, says Hedges, is authenticity. That means knowing who you are, and being comfortable in your own skin. Or, as we sometimes tell people in our presentation skills workshops, using a Judy Garland quote: ‘Always be a first rate version of yourself rather than a second rate version of someone else.’
We believe finding authenticity comes in part by changing the way you prepare a speech or presentation; speak the words out loud BEFORE you even think about writing them down.
Hedges adds a couple of question to help you prepare an authentic presentation:
1 – How do I want my audience to feel about this exchange?
2 – What emotion do I want to embody?
You can have technically excellent presentation skills – but still lack presence. Unleash your authenticity and you are well on your way to finding that game-changing quality that we recognise but find hard to define – presence.
Why that grand mission statement is a big turn-off
Forget about the mission statement… at least when you are trying to convince an audience about your product or service.
Most mission statements are earnest expressions of good intentions. And great cures for insomnia.
Here’s an example of deadly dull they can be: “The mission of the National Outdoor Leadership School is to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment.”
Most mission statements are bloated and self-serving. Fluffy statements of the blindingly obvious.
But that’s not why they should never be dusted off in public.
The biggest problem with mission statements is that they are intended for internal consumption only. They are not meant to be seen or heard in public.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve asked clients to express their core message, and they trot out some phrase that’s had the blood drained out of it. They look genuinely puzzled when we roll our eyes and say ‘do you really want people to get excited about THAT?’
If you are hoping to get some traction in the media, or to be a hit at a speech or presentation, you need to look way beyond the mission statement.
Your message needs to be about how you help people. How you make their lives better, or safer, or more fun. How you save them money, or time, or trouble. How you make their homes or their offices run more smoothly.
Effective messaging talks about what you do – from the clients’ perspective.
So before you start bragging about being ‘the leading teacher of wilderness skills’, pause. Ask yourself how people’s lives will change because of the skills you will teach them. What will they be able to do that they couldn’t do before? How will they feel about that? How much more confident will they feel about dealing with a crisis in the woods or on the hills? They could have more fun, they could have bigger adventures. Maybe they could save lives.
What’s the highest expression of the benefit of your service or product? When you are figuring out your key message, see how high you can raise the stakes.
When you’ve found the highest honest expression of your message – you are ready to wow any audience.
(This posting is an edited version of an article that appeared in our January newsletter. If you are not already a subscriber, sign up on this page to get your free monthly digest of great tips to make you a better communicator).
Want to be a better speaker? Can you spare 4 minutes?
Beware the tool of the devil.
It turns gregarious, engaging speakers into lumbering robots. It drains speakers of energy. And it puts hapless audiences to sleep – instantly.
What is this fiendish weapon?
It’s the paper or the computer screen on which you write your speech or presentation. It seeks your complete, silent attention.
And when you succumb to its wiles, it sucks the soul out of your words.
Because it forces you to read – rather than speak.
Most people I meet write in silence – as if their words are to be published in print rather than spoken out loud. Creation takes place in a library-like atmosphere. A mouse with socks on would fear being shushed into silence. The words are assessed by the eyes. They never pass over lips and into ears.
This silent obedience to the tool of the devil produces just one thing – words that are meant for the eyes alone. The vocabulary, the sentence structure and the grammar harnessed in this silent process all work well – for the written word.
But they don’t work for words intended to be spoken to an audience. When we speak we are more relaxed. Less formal. More conversational. Words are shorter. Sentences shorter. Sometimes not sentences at all. Mere fragments. But they give energy to our speeches and presentations. And they liberate our authentic voice.
How do you break free of the clutches of the tool of the devil?
Let me show you, with the 4 minute highlights of a presentation skills workshop I conducted, using our proven TalkitOut™ Technique.
Yes, you still write it – but only after you have tested your words on your tongue and lips and ears. Speak before you write. Try the words for size. See what they sound like. Try variations. Only when you like what you hear can you write down the words. This is writing for the voice, not the eye.
Try it. You will speak with conviction and passion. You’ll find your authentic speaking voice. You’ll gain confidence, because you are being true to yourself.
You will beat the devil.
(The video is from part of a workshop for a campaign school for aspiring politicians. It was organized by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. You can see an 8 minute version of the session on the Resources Page of our website. My thanks to Cheryl Newcombe, who was a very brave and willing guinea-pig for the session).
Get an enforcer if you are serious about those resolutions
Did you know that 20% of all New Year’s resolutions are broken by the end of January? The remaining 80% die by the end of the year.
We start off with such good intentions. But very few are able to sustain those good intentions beyond a few weeks.
This year I decided to do things differently. First, I made only one resolution. It’s much easier to turn over one new leaf than a whole garden full of them.
Second I made myself accountable to someone. I decided to find an ‘enforcer’ to help me keep on track.
The idea for accountability came from my colleague Patricia Davies. We are both part of a communications panel for the International Institute of Business Analysis. Patricia is the writing expert, and I help people improve their public speaking and presentation skills.
My resolution this year is to write 30 minutes everyday. Patricia has agreed to be my enforcer. And she came up with these suggestions to help me stay the course:
- write only 6 days a week and give myself one day off.
- write at the same time everyday, but have an alternate time just in case.
- write only for 25 minutes each day. Spend the last 5 minutes organizing what I will write the next day.
Patricia also made a New Year’s resolution – and has enlisted me as her enforcer. She has pledged to get rid of the ‘uhms, ahs and You knows’ from her speeches and presentations.
My suggestion to make that a little easier is to pause each time she finishes a phrase or sentence. Sometimes we as speakers get intimidated by silence – and rush to fill it. We forget that our audiences love pauses – because the pauses give them a chance to understand and consider our words.
As British voice coach, theatre director and author Patsy Rodenburg said, ‘pauses and silences give words the room they need to reverberate. And in that reverberation, meaning resides’.
So, if you are a speaker or presenter, embrace silence. It helps your audience. And it helps you gather your thoughts without recourse to the ums and ers and other vocal tics we use to buy ourselves time for thought.
If you are serious about your New Year resolutions, I recommend you find a buddy who can hold you accountable.
Got to go now. It’s time to write.
Dare to be different – and make your message memorable
by Halina St James
I want to tell you a story. A story about a company that wanted to find a way of promoting a province – and persuading people that province is a good place to live and work.
The occasion was rather special. The company was sponsoring a big celebration where the Premier could deliver his State of the Province address.
The company thought about a slide show, packed with facts and figures and graphs and charts. But they rejected the idea.
They thought about a video, full of beautiful pictures and interesting interviews. But they rejected the idea.
The slide show and the video would have been well-produced. But the company wanted something different – something people would remember for a long time.
Then they had a bright idea. They decided the way to make the story of the province really memorable…
…was through story.
So they wrote a story book.
They filled the pages with the legends and lore of the province and its people. They illustrated the book with whimsical drawings. They called the book East of Dreams. You can read it here.
The company gave the book away to everyone at the big event. And lots of other people got copies too. And they’re still talking about the little book called East of Dreams.
There are many ways of getting your message across to an audience. Slide shows and videos are great tools. But sometimes it’s nice to surprise your audience.
If you really want to create a buzz with your message, keep it simple. Tell a story.