I was coaching a client last year who sells office products in Canada. We were putting together his presentation for a conference where he would be speaking to others in his industry sharing ideas that have been successful in his company. He was assigned a topic by the meeting planner but as we began chatting, I asked what set his company apart from all the rest who sell office products. His answer was simple, “It’s our story.”
His whole demeanor changed as he began telling me their story. He got excited. I was engaged. He walked me through their story and told me although they sell office products what they project to the customer is a belief that the community and the environment are an integral part of everyone’s success. He explained they re-circulate 33% of their revenue directly to residents and local businesses compared to 19% of their multinational counterparts. They stock local products and buy local services. They support local charities, events, and sports teams and they hire local labor. They have a carbon reduction strategy. Their delivery trucks and cargo tricycles run on green electricity while their customers use reusable totes for recycling toner cartridges, etc. These electric vehicles can be seen throughout the community on a regular basis providing awesome brand recognition.
Additionally, they are a founding partner and sponsor of a social enterprise that provides life skills to residents of the community. Participants go through an eight week culinary training program. So far 500+ students have gone through the program with 75% finding jobs.
As he’s telling me this story we decide he won’t use the topic provided by the meeting planner but instead he’ll address the importance of having a clearly defined corporate story. And, he’ll do this by telling the audience their story. Storytelling is a presentation skill you must have if you want to be successful. We changed topics because he was excited about this story and when he stood in front of the audience at the conference they felt his enthusiasm and they were very engaged. Everything he told them about his company related back to the company being focused on the community and the environment. It’s why they do what they do. It’s their story. People in the community know their story and support their business.
Corporate stories need to appeal to human emotion, they need to be authentic and they need to leave a lasting impression. This corporate story does all of that. Why do you do what you do? What’s your story?
As Carl Rogers said, “The major barrier to mutual interpersonal communication is our very natural tendency to judge, to evaluate, to approve or to disapprove.” Approval usually comes when my perceptions of your behavior match myassumptions of how I think you should behave. Disapproval usually comes when myperceptions of your behavior do not match my assumptions of how I think youshould behave. It’s time to stop shoulding on each other! Stop saying, “You should do this.” “You should do that.” When we should on someone we enter into the parent-child relationship which never turns out well in the workplace.
Since effective communication is about reaching mutual understanding, acceptance and tolerance can go a long way. Remember to keep an open mind because a closed mind cannot receive messages of any kind. This doesn’t mean you always have to agree with each other; just see if you can find a way to accept what is being said. Acceptance is just seeing something through the eyes of the other person as it is to him/her and saying, “That’s just the way it is.” The next time you sense a communication breakdown due to a difference of perception or opinion, challenge yourself to be more open-minded, tolerant and accepting. If that’s too hard, you can always agree to disagree and move on.
People will tell you a lot about how they feel or what they think without saying anything. Renowned management consultant and self-described “social ecologist” Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Think about it.
A significant percentage of how you deliver a message comes through in your voice and body language. The words you choose are important but the meaning of your message can change simply by punctuating it differently. For example, My friend was waiting for the local gas company to inspect some work she had done on her home so the gas could be turned back on. The scribbled note she found attached to her door said, “You passed gas on Monday!” We giggled about this and determined the note should have read, “You passed. Gas on Monday.” Regardless of whether you’re speaking or writing, punctuation matters.
In addition to how you punctuate and use your voice, body language must be considered. Things like posture, facial expressions, gestures, and one’s appearance say a lot about how messages are sent or received. Pay attention. Listen to what isn’t being said and dig deeper for understanding. Remember, communication is really just the transfer of meaning with understanding. And, it’s the mutual responsibility of both sender and receiver to reach that understanding.
Professional powerful presentations are not synonymous with electronic presentations. Perhaps you’ve walked into a meeting and once everyone has arrived, the presenter clicks again and again, showing you slide after slide until you can take no more. Exasperated, you shut your eyes and doze off because once again you’ve been “slideswiped!” And, to make it even worse, this presentation looks exactly like the last one, same template, same order of bullets; the only difference is the words have been changed.
Unfortunately, many people equate the word presentation with PowerPoint® and have become over-reliant on the software as a vehicle for “communicating” just about anything. As a result, we are in danger of losing touch in this high-tech world. It seems the more connected we get the more disconnected we are becoming. It doesn’t have to be this way. The right blend of technology and human connection is the answer. Professional powerful presentations are more about your ability to know your subject matter and communicate it in a way that is understood by you connecting with the audience rather than you having numerous slides flying in and out as you stand to the side and read to the audience.
Most presentations fail because the speaker has not taken time to adequately prepare. There’s more to it than opening PowerPoint®, picking out a background and adding bullet points. More to come in future posts.
So, there I was in Greece. The first time I traveled in Europe and I was jazzed! For the past 25 years I had been teaching people how to communicate through my workshops, seminars, coaching programs and national PBS television series. I knew a lot about how to communicate but in Greece I had a wake-up call and his name was Aldo.
We gathered on the terrace of the hotel in the old town of Rhodes where a group had assembled to explore the ancient castles and go shopping. We were in Greece to celebrate the wedding of some friends. I was soon introduced to Aldo, an Italian man who arrived from Venice to join our group. Before long, he and I were alone on the terrace and I began chatting in English. I thought we were doing great until he, looking a bit confused, smiled, reached over, gently grabbed my arm, and said, with the most amazing Italian accent, “Please, you’ve got to slow down!”
Aldo reminded me how arrogant Americans can be, expecting everyone to know and understand English. He reminded me how important it is to be fully present and mindful in each and every interaction. And, he reminded me to slow down.
Aldo was the inspiration for a four part communication process I call The Way of ALDO.
- Assume nothing; keep an open mind and never take anything for granted. When in doubt, check it out!
- Listen carefully. Show the speaker you care. Nod your head. Give eye-contact.Pay attention to the speaker’s non-veral language.
- Don’t rush. Enjoy the conversation. Be with it wherever it leads you.
- Observe everything– the sparkle in the eye, the sky above, the smells around you, the wind against your skin. Simply be fully present with the encounter.
Sometimes we have to travel a long distance to rediscover a simple truth; life is not a race, but rather an experience to be savored. Thus, The Way of Aldo. Use it. It works!
Life doesn’t come with a rule book so when the script hits the fan…improvise!
Because there are times we all have to think on our feet, effective communicators and leaders would be wise to master the art of improvisation. While studying with the improv group Second City I learned some valuable lessons that directly impact outcomes at work and at home. Here are some improv basics that can help you, too:
- Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. It can mean your life, a project, a relationship, your car, whatever.
- There are absolutely no judgments; total acceptance. You don’t have to agree, just accept what is and go from there.
- Improv is using and trusting your intuition, that inner knowing that is right 99% of the time. Business people have identified intuition as a key component to decision making. (More on this in next week’s post.)
- Improv is about process rather than result.
- It means being present moment focused…Be Here Now!
- Be sure when you set out to solve a problem or create something you don’t have any preconception as to how you will do it; you work together to get there. It goes deeper than Brainstorming.
- There are NO No’s (when you eliminate denial you have truth, affirmation, support, creation, focus, progression, cooperation).
Let’s focus on the last one. There’s a great improv game called “YES and…” that I use when teaching improv as a way to help people with public speaking, team building or interpersonal communication. For example, if collaboration is your objective for problem-solving, it’s crucial you replace “Yes but…” with Yes, and…”because when you say, “Yes but…” you are really saying “NO.”
Here’s an exercise that will demonstrate this. Two people are given a task like planning a vacation. The first person makes a statement like, “Let’s go to Hawaii.”All subsequent statements between these two people have to begin with the word BUT. It may go like this: “But it’s so humid in Hawaii and we could get caught in a hurricane.” “But we can stay cool by going to the beach and make sure we go when it’s not hurricane season.” “But there are too many people at the beach and I want a quiet vacation.” “But…” The conversation has stopped.
In the next go-around the pairs are asked to replace BUT with AND. It may go like this: “Let’s go to Hawaii.” “And when we’re there we can go find a quiet secluded beach.” “And we can go whale watching.” And…” The conversation continues as you acknowledge and validate what the other person is saying.
Imagine your next problem-solving session where the word BUT (NO) is banned and replaced with AND. You just might uncover something you never thought of before.