Building confidence in yourself can be a huge personal challenge. It's frustrating, demoralizing and lot of other counterproductive feelings. Sometimes I'll get a student who does amazing scene work, but then look sheepish and defeated, as if he just disappointed everyone. I then point out all of the good things and remind him to "put it in the win column!"
Similarly, sometimes I lead a meeting or give a presentation and feel like it didn't go as I expected, even though colleagues are thanking me for a job well done. I say, “I’m glad that’s over,” but what I should be doing is acknowledging all of the positive feedback and saying, “That was a success!” You can’t really build up your confidence – to go from less sure of yourself to more sure of yourself – unless you recognize your successes when you have them.
In public speaking, you can think “Gulp, everyone is looking at me!”
Or, you can think of your center seat at a table, the podium or where ever, as a place of power, of knowledge and respect. After all, they want something from you.
To help reinforce this idea of "owning your space," in my workshops I use a picture of the Chinese dragon, Lung. Lung traditionally symbolizes power and fearlessness. I place it on the floor at the head of the room and ask people to “Step up to the dragon’s perch.” If you think of it as a place of courage and poise, you will become more confident over time.
You’ll have a great meeting or presentation and put it in the win column!
Networking is one of those things that can require a lot of effort, and yet has the potential for a huge payoff. During the New England Museum Association Conference a few weeks ago, I used much of my time looking up attendees, setting up meet and greets and then following through. That meant introducing myself, telling my story, listening and sharing thoughts on the state of the industry.
I had to pull out a skill I hadn't used in awhile; a simple blueprint to maximize your impression and what you get out of the conversation: Ask It, Show It, Know It.
It may seem counterintuitive when you are trying to make a solid connection with a potential business partner, but your goal should not be to brag about your resume, but rather to ask questions and soak up as much information as you can. Ask about their work, their strengths, their challenges, their successes, what they do when they are not working, what do you have in common. A natural opening will come soon enough, and then you can tell your story. Really? Yes. Good question.
Learn as much as you can about the person you want to meet. Look online, talk to peers, read their bio in the program. You want to come to the conversation armed with relevant talking points and to demonstrate a competence that will get their attention. Remember, it’s networking so you don’t just want to make a good impression on them, but that they will remember you when talking to their colleagues.
"Hey, you know who would be perfect for this job? The woman I met at the conference!"
This is the time to telegraph your passion. Most people who network want to make an industry connection, collaborate, increase their knowledge, find a mentor or a protégé, or simple talk shop. Tell them why you love your job and what personal satisfaction you get out of it. Love your work, your projects, your goals…and let it show.
So, the next time you are at networking event, or a party, or a conference overwhelmed by how to make first contact with important people – just remember it’s as easy as Ask It, Show It, Know It.
Sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that effective leadership really is all about people.
I occasionally look back through my archive of communication materials to remind myself of important ideas and interesting observations. I rediscovered this interview with Gary Smith, President and CEO of Ciena, next-gen software and telecomunications company from October 4, 2015 (New York Times).
Look for how he draws leadership inspiration from his personal life. Experts (like DLM Communications, as a totally random example) can share with you great techniques for effective leadership, but learning them through your personal experience is often the best way to drive them home, to make them meaningful to you.
In this interview, you can see Smith’s leadership approach evolve from analytical observation to personal connection.
Here is an edited version of that interview…
Tell me more about your parents. How have they influenced your leadership style?
My father was particularly influential. He never said a bad word about anybody, and I’ve taken some lessons from that. He was always very positive, and he did it naturally. He’s not confrontational at all and will do anything to avoid a confrontation.
My mother was a little more confrontational and very direct when she needed to be. I’ve taken a little bit of both of them, and part of the skill is to know when to pull on the different levers. It’s very situational.
What are some other leadership lessons you’ve learned over the years?
Early on in my career, I was told, “It’s all about people.” I got it intellectually, but it took me quite a while to really get it. It really is all about people, and if you get that right, the other stuff will get addressed. But you have to work at it all the time.
Culture takes an awful lot of time and effort, and it can be destroyed very quickly, because it’s built on trust and respect. You’re respecting the individual and what they do, and you’re trusting them, and they’re doing the same for you. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like personal relationships.
How do you hire?
I tend to focus more on whether the person is the right fit for the company. So I’ll ask questions like What do you truly enjoy doing? How can I tell if you’re having a bad day, and how does that manifest itself? What are the things that really irritate you, and what do you do about it? What’s it like to work for you? How do you interact with your peers? What do you do if you don’t agree with the direction of the company?
If you are a leader in a new role, or veteran manager, take a look at role models in your life – what you respect about them, how they deal with people, what they think of you. The lessons you need to elevate your approach to communication leadership are all around us.
You may have noticed our new logo.
We spent a long time trying to figure out the best way to represent our primary mission: to empower individuals to be the best communicators they can be.
The three ribbons on the left all launch from the same point – you – and expand out. These arrows represent the many choices anyone can make to enhance their communication skills. And we want to enhance our skills because we all know different choices lead to different outcomes.
As discussed before, Harvard University did a study that found there were two factors that determined what kind of first impression you make on people: competence and warmth. These qualities are on a spectrum from greater to lesser. That means we can choose to more or less warm and more or less competent. It’s up to you. The same goes for being more forgiving or less forgiving, more flexible or less flexible, and any combination of choices that directly effect your fellow humans
When you partner with DLM Communications you are partnering with people who want to help you be your best self, comfortable in your own skin, and give you tools to tell the world what you want to say.
And the best part is you get to decide how you want to do it.
We throw around the phrase “active listening” a lot in the business world. It's short hand for concentrating, understanding, responding meaningfully, and then remembering the conversation. That can be a challenge, but for the most part we get it right. But what happens if there is more than one voice? How do you manage the different ideas and unique lines of thought?
I sometimes lead an exercise creatively called “story.” Half a dozen participants stand in a line. I point at each of them one at a time and they make up a story, picking up where their colleague left off. Everyone shares the role of the narrator.
It’s collective storytelling, which means in order to tell a coherent story there needs to be collective listening. (For some reason the stories almost always involve dogs. I don’t know why. Someone look into that.)
There are challenges to this practice though. For example, it can be really tempting to throw in your own twist – or as we call it in the business world, "Hey, look at me!"
Once upon a time there was a dog…
…that loved running through the forest…
…and chasing squirrels…
…and then he blew up!
That non-sequitur is the equivalent of jumping to a new agenda item during a meeting, or skipping to the exciting reveal of a client pitch. "Story" quickly demonstrates the need for collective active listening, or, “honoring the intention" of who came before you.
Where was my colleague going with this? What’s the next obvious thing that needs to be addressed? How can I support that idea. It’s sharing the narrative. It’s sharing the story.
Actively tracking each piece of the conversation and being inspired by your team will lead you to a better place. You are literally moving the agenda…pitch…meeting…brainstorming session, in the same direction, with the same intention.
Not the best motivational poster, right?
How many times have you told yourself, “I can’t do that”? If you want to make yourself a more valuable employee (and a “can-do” human!), it’s worth looking at what “can’t” might actually mean.
I Don’t Want To…
You say: “I can’t go to the meeting on Wankel Rotary Engines, I have work to do.”
But, you really mean: "I don't want to..."
Be honest with yourself. More often than not you really can go to the meeting if you budget your time differently. You just really, really, really don’t want to. But, as no one ever said about monkey bread and cinnamon rolls, it’s not the same thing.
Why make this distinction? Because finding a way to make you want to go to the meeting can make everything better! Imagine signing up a different speaker every week instead of listening to Mr. Monotone all the time. (Contact DLM Consulting to fix that. I know a guy.) You could infuse a little optimism into the agenda by everyone sharing a “good thing that happened this week.” Keep people engaged by making sure everyone contributes to the agenda. Keep the meetings short. Have them in the park. Serve drinks.
Saying “I can’t” implies the presence of an immovable barrier. Saying “I don’t want to” is an opportunity for improvement.
I Don’t Know How…
You say: “I can’t make a Wankel Rotary Engine!”
But, you really mean: "I don't know how..."
The solution is simple: learn! But, if you’ve ever worked in a wankel rotatory engine factory, or had any job anywhere ever, you’re already thinking about the tradeoff. On the one hand, if not having that knowledge is negatively effecting your job, it’s probably in your best interest to learn it. The more you know, the more you can do and the more valuable you are to your boss. And you’ve added a new skill to your resume. "Wankeling!”
But on the other hand, you lose the right to say you “can’t,” and you’ll probably end up doing more work. On the other other hand, think of it this way. Would you rather learn a new skill that helps you, or knowingly miss an opportunity to make yourself more valuable as an employee?
I don’t believe I can…
You say: "I can’t change the color of the Wankel Rotary Engine!”
But, you really mean: "I don't believe I can..."
You want to change the color because Wankel Gray is boring, but no one said you could. This is not a case of “do it first and ask forgiveness later.” Save that for eating someone else’s monkey bread. This is when you empower yourself to ask the right questions and clarify your range of influence. Maybe you can’t, or maybe you can. Maybe you can create a system whereby suggestions are made to the color-making people and you get your voice heard anyway, even if you don't have a final say in the matter.
Do you want to improve the company and make yourself a more valuable employee? Look at why you think things can’t happen and restate the situation. I can’t think of a better way!
As part of Third Sector New England’s Better Nonprofit Management Training Series, this October DLM is proud to be leading a workshop entitled, “Become A Power Presenter.”
One of my favorite topics as a communications leader is learning how to be authentic. It seems like a contradiction. How can you force yourself to be more natural? It’s often a challenge, but not impossible.
Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, is known through her TED Talk of coining the phrase, “Don’t fake it until you make it, fake it until you become it.” Her point is anyone committed to being a better public speaker can do the simple things like stand straight and speak up. But, it’s the uncommon thing – engraining those behaviors into who you are – when things really start to get interesting.
Your message should always be about who is doing the speaking, not just how it’s being said. How can you draw on your passion? What values do you cherish? And as Cuddy suggests, how can you be the most compelling version of yourself (fake it) while staying true to who you are (until you become it)?
It doesn’t matter if you are presenting your life’s work at a TED Talk or listing quarterly earnings, the really good speakers – the ones who lead meetings you like going to – make you feel their interest and passion through the energy they give off.
They can do this because they found an authentic connection with the material and are sharing that enthusiasm. This is the kind of speaker we should all strive to be.
This idea is reflected is the words of Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Registration will open soon. I hope to see you there!
The Myers-Briggs personality test is a process by which one performs a self evaluation and the result tells you which of 16 different personality types you fall into. There are many similar evaluative tests such as the Predictive Index or Traitify which attempt to mirror the same quantitative outcome, but Myers-Briggs is by far the most popular.
Although the test can be applied to many social and personal circumstances, it is most often used in the workplace in an attempt by the management to reform poor employee communications. In theory, the implementation of this process can create more agreeable collegial relationships.
Introspection and awareness of your personal communication strengths and foibles can be very helpful. Likewise, it can be satisfying to gain insight into how a colleague generally processes information. Defensively, anxiously, or excitedly, for example. You can alter your approach based on their expected reaction.
I have taken many such tests over my career and found them fascinating in theory, but cumbersome in practice. There is no denying that improving communication with friends and co-workers can have an empowering and positive effect on relationships. But personality tests, by definition, can create categories that isolate people from one another. They define perceived personal limitations and encourage you to consider how your personality type should interact with the opposing personality type. This approach is often mechanical and belies the natural human desire to find agreement regardless of “type.” As I tell my students when they are looking for a shortcut to success, “I would rather work the skill than find a work-around.”
DLM uses group mind and organic communication practices derived from traditional and improvisational theater. This allows one to stay in the moment, to listen, remain positive and find common ground by discovering constructive agreement. It’s experiential, not analytical.
Also known as the “Yes, And Technique,” this universal tool applies regardless of your communication environment and where people fall on the personality matrix. As you sharpen the effectiveness of your personal interactions it becomes second nature, and the differences revealed by testing become less important.
This comprehensive and natural philosophy encourages behavior we should all employ as a general principle. As mentioned in a previous post, this approach actually gives you the tools to be the change you want to see in the world, not simply define the things you want to change.
We have all heard, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” Adding an additional word gives you an even greater truth to live by: “You only have one chance to make a memorable first impression.”
This is what should concern you when greeting people you want to impress. This is a rare opportunity to identify yourself as helpful and unique, as someone who will enter their world and leave it better than before.
If that sounds overly dramatic, it is. But I would argue only slightly. I consider this approach as the natural outcome of following another wise maxim often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Leaving a memorable first impression is your chance to establish a higher standard of expectations, hopefully one that will spread from person to person.
In other words…
“You never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Within a few seconds, with just a glance, people have judged your social and economic level, your level of education, and even your level of success. Within minutes, they've also decided your levels of intelligence, trustworthiness, competence, friendliness and confidence. Although these evaluations happen in an instant, they can last for years: first impressions are often indelible.”
~ Olivia Fox Cabane, author of "The Charisma Myth"
“Image is the way other people see us, it deeply influences the way people react and respond to us.
“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark.”
~ Jay Danzie, motivational speaker
There is no shortage of ways to make a lasting impression. And you can quote me.
According to a report in the Columbia Journalism Review, since 1989 the number of weekly newspapers featuring scientific developments has dropped from 95 to 19.
As periodicals devote fewer resources to science reporting, the responsibility of communicating new discoveries has fallen more and more to the scientists themselves. And because science communications is often considered separate from core science curriculum, this can lead to researchers feeling unprepared when called on to share their findings with the public.
A few weeks ago I was teaching presentation skills to rising seniors for the MIT Summer Research Program. I used Neil deGrasse Tyson as an example of my favorite science communicator. Probably the most recognizable astrophysicist of our age and host of the recent COSMOS series, Tyson is knowledgeable, approachable, passionate and quick to find relevance between what’s happening in the stars and what's happening here on earth. He has more than the technical knowledge required to excel in his field, he has the skills necessary to grab the public's attention and excite them about what's going on up in the sky. He and others like him are battling against a disturbing trend that his mentor Carl Sagan described as, “…a society [dependent] on science and technology in which nobody understands anything about science and technology…”
According to a 2014 survey by the National Science Foundation, a quarter of Americans were unaware that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around. At the same time a 2009 Gallup poll found an increase in the number of people who believe the space program should be scrapped.
Simply put, we need more Tysons and Sagans.
How does one square a misshapen understanding of the universe with decreasing the means to improve that understanding?
Some might argue this kind of ignorance does no harm. Like eliminating penmanship from elementary school curriculum. Sad, but come on, is it really important? Humans didn’t know what revolved around what for thousands of years and we got along just fine.
Of course, they didn’t have GPS, satellites, airplanes, cell phones and weather stations – all things that depend on understanding that fact. If someone didn’t care about the order of the solar system and wasn’t able to effectively communicate it we would be lost and driving around in the rain like a caveman.
Space exploration is an excellent example of a missed opportunity to demonstrate scientific value. It has brought us such a ubiquitous wealth of riches we are hardly aware of the connection between landing on the moon and our daily comforts. Here’s a partial list of new or improved technologies that evolved out of the space program, from the (rare) science section of Business Insider.
There are simply too many items to mention, but here and here are other sites that expand on that list. NASA does spend some resources communicating its discoveries and technological progress to the public. That’s because although they could certainly do more, as the list above implies, they understand that being a good scientists doesn't just mean knowing things. It also requires the ability to communicate those things in a way that makes people care.
As a scientist, you may excel in your field; you know exactly what's important and so do all of your colleagues. But when you step into the public spotlight you have to do more. It’s up to you to sell the value of your work in a clear, concise and compelling manner. Ask yourself, what’s old, what’s new, and what’s cool? And then tell the world.
Collaboration in the workplace only thrives if people agree on primary goals and an understanding of the way to succeed. How often are discussions derailed by someone whose contributions are argumentative or contradictory? In improv theater, the idea of collective agreement is called “Yes, and,” and it’s an incredibly powerful tool for productive and positive business and interpersonal communication.
This form of unfettered agreement comes with the understanding that you don’t have to like 100% of what the other person says – alas, life is not that harmonious – but you do need to agree 100% that they said something of value and that it adds information to the discussion. In the office, you can’t solve problems if people are constantly undercutting each other’s ideas. On the improv stage, where we make stuff up as we go along, nothing works unless performers agree they are operating in the same reality. If you say it’s a dog and I say it’s a cat, that scene is going nowhere and we will end up fighting over which world we live in.
Transparently collaborative idea building has the benefit of creating some very memorable comedy theater, and brilliantly productive planning meetings. Unfortunately, humans by nature can be quite defensive and it’s our greater instinct to throw up road blocks in the name of saving our fragile ego. It often comes in the form of saying “Yes, but” instead of “Yes, and.” This natural inclination allows you to apply control over the other person’s idea, but it’s at the expense of a richer and more collaborative relationship.
Saying “but” is a qualified response that often evokes unnecessary conflict. “Yes, you have started the report, BUT I need it tomorrow.” There is no contradiction in those two truths. It is just as accurate and more cooperative to say “Yes, you have started the report, AND I need it tomorrow.” Candor with kindness!
If you have ever been on a second interview or a second date you already appreciate the acute value of this concept. In those situations you are eager to find common ground in order make a good impression. The moment you say, “You like movies, BUT I like books,” you have very effectively begun a list of things you don't have in common. If you were to say, "You like movies, AND I like books," you have just doubled your likes! Saying “but” is just a polite way of saying “no.” And when you say “no,” you are often not invited back. To either meet the team or go for a drink.
There is no doubt finding accord can sometimes be a challenge, but it does not have to be complicated. If you take the example, “I agree with your idea, but I have another one,” you can simply replace “but” with “and.” (Try it now, I’ll wait.) There is no factual conflict. Why invent one? No one likes to hear “Your idea is good, but mine is better.” When you apply “Yes, and” you are saying, “Your idea is good, and I have another one.” That’s a lot more palatable. Why yes, I’d love to get a drink!
The “Yes, and” technique is particularly effective when brainstorming. And particularly apparent when not in use. I have been in many brainstorming sessions where we were enthusiastically instructed, “Toss out your ideas and we’ll put them on the board!” And when someone has an idea that doesn’t conform to some hidden parameter – where the facilitator is essentially saying “no,” – that idea does not go on the board and that person doesn’t really feel like sharing any more. Using agreement and support for mutual discovery is the entire point of collective thinking!
When used judiciously, the result of all this unrestricted cooperation is it frequently leads to a more comfortable and productive working (and playing!) environment. Mike Morrell, one of my theater colleagues, calls it “the gospel of positivity.” We indoctrinate all of our students into that school of thought. I try to do the same with my clients.
The “Yes, and” concept is such a powerful path to effective communication, DLM embeds it in all of our training curricula. It’s a universal tool that can positively alter the tone of almost every interaction, including customer service, leadership development and project facilitation. How about personal relationships or client interaction? Can you think of other areas where agreement is the best route forward? Toss out some ideas and we’ll put them on the board!
Ever fall off a bike?
Often the best way to alter unhelpful behavior is to first recognize the change you want to make, commit to improvement, and then practice the solution until it becomes second nature. Going from ignorance of a problem to unconscious perfection is often referred to as the “Four Stages of Learning.”
This model appeals to my avidity for the step by step process, even in the creative realms. I tell all of my theater students the same thing – you can’t accidentally become a better performer. Improv requires being open to crazy and unexpected ideas. Messing around and being playful during rehearsals is part of that. But eventually, you need to flex a specific muscle and intentionally decide to move from a lower level of ability to a higher one. It’s not just practice, it’s practice with purpose.
Unconscious Incompetence ("I didn't even know I was doing that!")
Many habits are so ingrained we don’t even realize we are doing them. I’ve noticed in my work that men often pace when they are feeling anxious. Young women in particular sometimes stand with their ankles crossed for the same reason.
When I was 9 years old my older brother broke me of a lingering childish habit. He said, “Every time you put your thumb in your mouth, take it out again.” I had literally been doing it my entire life and he had to point it out for me to stop. Fortunately, he had found the quick fix. (Years later I used the same technique on a student who constantly put his hands in his pockets.) One of the challenges of improving behavior is knowing where to start.
Conscious Incompetence ("Ugh, why am I doing that!")
I recently worked with an accomplished but quiet woman who was fighting against a lifetime of reinforced introversion. Growing up in Russia, she dutifully adhered to the principle of a common proverb, “’I’ is the last letter of the alphabet.” (Indeed, the letter ‘я’ or “ya” does come last in the Russian alphabet.)
She was raised believing it was culturally inappropriate to draw attention to herself. At this stage of her improvement she recognizes her stumbling block and actively tries to buck that trend by speaking up, looking people in the eye and offering a firm handshake.
It helps to be self aware during social interactions. Things like texting or checking your watch during a face to face conversation, or talking over someone in a meeting and other seemingly innocuous actions can have an eroding effect over time. Understanding these marginalizing behaviors as they happen will help you “live edit” your interactions.
Conscious Competence ("This is the way we wash our hands!")
This is where all of your thoughtful observations start to pay off. Where you begin to think, “Ok, I’m doing this thing now!” When I teach presentation skills to students they practice walking into the room, planting their feet firmly shoulder’s width apart, introducing themselves and smiling before they begin.
It’s a step by step process but delightfully simple and the perfect plan to overcome the pacing, fast talking and anxiety often associated with public speaking. You know you are doing it – you are fully aware of your motions. Like the first time you rode a bicycle.
Unconscious Competence ("I am awesome? Thank you, I hadn't noticed.")
And like learning to ride a bicycle, you eventually stop stressing about how to push the pedals. No one wants to think to themselves, “I need to smile now.” But the repetition and positive feedback – like not crashing, literally and figuratively – encourages progress. That once awkward action becomes second nature. You have become the master of your own behavior!
Humans are creatures of habit but are also very adaptable when circumstances require. So when you embark on your decision to be more assertive in your professional life, or become a more powerful presenter, or practice a more empathic style of management, remember to practice. And not just practice, practice with purpose!
Speaking a foreign language can be incredibly difficult. But I’ve worked with many English-speaking clients who face the same challenges non-native speakers do. Like speaking too quickly, navigating unfamiliar words, and lacking the confidence to deliver their message with style and poise. Dr. Seuss can help with that!
Maryam, a computer science post doc at MIT, was concerned she was talking too fast. She felt that while presenting scientific papers to her peers some concepts were getting lost in her accent.
Her primary language is Farsi. When we sat down to look at her speech patterns, I assured her she had already mastered the technicalities of the English language. The next step was to face the same challenges everyone does who wishes to deliver information with confidence, clarity and strong personal presentation. Slow down, articulate, and as a college theater coach once told me, “stand there and mean it.”
This is good advice for all kinds of speaking situations.
To slow Maryam down we read “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” by Dr. Seuss and walked through the unfamiliar language. Reading the wibbley-wobbely words forced her to recognize her pace and deliver each thought with clarity.
On the first day we made a recording of her reading from a technical textbook so she could hear what her presentations sounded like. At later sessions we ran exercises that focused on breathing, diction, volume and pace. We regularly replayed the first recording to track her progress.
After our last week of working together she delivered a paper at a science symposium and got glowing reports from colleagues who praised her improvement.
It’s comforting to know that what might seem like an intimidating problem – shuffling your native language around the idiosyncrasies of the English language – can be addressed using the same techniques everyone can benefit from. Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?