“Increasingly powerful systems seek to ensure that our attention is never truly ours… We are witnessing the dark side of our new technological lives … Vast quantities of high-pressure media content are pumped into our faces.”
You know this because you too are distracted by emails, breaking news and discounts.
This guest opinion NYT essay goes on to share, “You are lucky these days to get 47 seconds of focused attention on a discrete task.”
How do you get heard above the noise when you only have 47 seconds?
Be unique from the get go. Do not begin a meeting, presentation or even a Linked In post with generic pleasantries. Start with a startling statement, a story, a quote, or a solution to a problem targeted to your listeners.
Tell good stories – in a speech, at your holiday party table, or in the hallways at your next conference.
Schedule carefully. Place your presentation mid-morning if possible. Caffeine has been injected and your digital life is under control.
Insert breaks – if you’re talking for more than 90 minutes.
Mix it up. If you’re giving a presentation of any length keep your content moving and include your audience in nonthreatening ways.
Be organized. Tangents will kill you.
Use humor. Carefully. I’m not a fan of jokes because you might alienate others. Use self-deprecating humor. One time my computer blew up. Another time someone stole it. Painful then, funny now … and lessons abound. (Always bring a backup and put your info/ppt in the cloud.)
Bribe often! I always throw snickers into the group to bring home the point that we need to snicker/chuckle more. Take your work seriously, take yourself a little less seriously.
Catching a small piece of chocolate – perfect attention crisis antidote!
I’m nervous and think, “This 90-minute class will never end.”
But I’m done in 5 minutes!
There I stand, with 40 college students looking at me. I know I have nothing else to say. They know I have nothing else to say. And my entire body breaks out into a sheen of sweat.
Had I not signed a contract to teach this class I might not be a speaker and communication consultant now as CEO of Speak For Yourself®! I am forced to show up at Richland College every Tuesday and Thursday for 16 weeks. That’s 32 class sessions in case you didn’t do the math.
It was a powerful lesson that I learned about practice and perseverance.
Effective speakers/teachers/communicators make it look easy.
I warn all of my fabulous clients that speaker anxiety is part of the game of speaking. You won’t get rid of it. In fact, you want that adrenaline edge. You learn how to dance with that demon and use that extra energy in a positive vs. negative way.
And some of those demon-dance steps include practice, perseverance, time, rinse and repeat.
I taught at Richland College for 10 years. The first class of each semester (and all my classes) lasted the full 90 minutes!
One of my coping mechanisms then and now (I still can get hot!) … I wear cotton.
It’s Paris Fashion Week. The city is invaded with stunning 6-feet tall models.
By chance my husband, Jim, and I are staying at a Paris Fashion Week hub hotel. We wear black, pretend we’re important, and walk right into the fray.
The models, while gorgeous, all have the same facial expression: miserable to catatonic.
Vanessa Friedman’s NYT article, “Why Do Runway Models Always Look So Grumpy?” explains, “it’s hard to maintain a believable expression of great joy and when a happy face is required, it turns, very quickly, into a frozen rictus that doesn’t reach the eyes.”
Vanessa – I disagree. Smiling is powerful.
6 benefits of smiling
Ground rule: Smiling does not mean grinning like the “village idiot”. Smiling means an open positive facial expression.
Smiling is good for relationships by providing a nonverbal positive feedback loop.
Smiling reduces your stress. It leads to the release of endorphins, the good chemical of the body which suppresses the effect of cortisol, the stress hormone. Even forcing a fake smile can legitimately reduce stress and lower your heart rate.
Smiling suggests success. People who smile regularly often appear more confident.
Don’t look like a depressed runway model.
Do smile. It enhances your demeanor and your business deals.
Think of a 500-piece puzzle. Heck, think of a 50-piece puzzle. Either way you begin by dumping out all of those pieces on a table and finding the four corners. You build from there.
Same principle applies to the way you communicate. Whether you are delivering a company business update, or you’re on a panel about how Wall Street evaluates your organization, or you’re writing an email – you begin by developing your “four corners”.
You need to construct these four “corners” to get heard above the noise ➜
🎤 CORNER #1 — Your Audience: Who are you talking to and what do they need/want to know? How can you meet and exceed their expectations?
🎤 CORNER #2 — Your Statement of Purpose: What’s your overarching theme? If this is a book, what’s the title? If this is an email, what’s your concise subject header?
🎤 CORNER #3 — Your Return on Investment: What’s the ROI for your listeners … at your quarterly town hall, in a zoom meeting, on the golf course, or by email? Will you save them time or money? Will you increase their competitive advantage? Will you make them happier or stop their headaches? Sharing your ROI creates buy in.
🎤 CORNER #4 — Your Call To Action: After listening to you or reading your digital info what do you want them to do, think or feel? What are your “next steps”? Without a “call to action” you have wasted everyone’s time, including yours.
Your next steps: When you communicate formally, informally or electronically, develop your Statement of Purpose, ROI, and Call to Action while knowing exactly who your audience is and what they want.
Just 20 minutes into my Speak For Yourself® Workshop in New Jersey…
… an attendee shuffles into the room. It’s not a big room. Everyone stops, as do I, to let him walk in front of me, and the group, to find a seat.
You know the beginning of your presentation is crucial. That’s when you build credibility with your audience, gain their attention, set out your goals, get their buy-in.
This guy misses that train. I stop him – right in the middle of the room – and say, “Hey – I’m going to sit down and let you teach this class!” And I find a seat, leaving this guy center stage.
Note: This maneuver can get you into trouble. It’s edgy. But I was NOT going to leave him up there for more than a few seconds. Reasons FOR doing this: everyone is distracted and you, the speaker, need to address the distraction. At this moment, no one is listening to you anyway.
From my seated position I ask, “What’s your name?” He replies, standing in the middle of the room, “Bill Cutler.”
I pause and respond, “Bill, thank you for founding this company in 1977. You are the reason we are here today. It’s your genius and your tenacity that got your business to its international status during this past 40 years!”
How do you really screw up as a communicator?
Not doing your pre-intel on your audience.
If the ship misses the harbor, it’s rarely the harbor’s fault. Whether you are speaking to your investors, your team, chatting at a cocktail reception, or sending an email – do your homework. Find out who they are, what they do, what matters to them. You won’t hit any icebergs and you will reduce your speaker anxiety.
Speaking of ships, when this tardy attendee says his name my credibility and trust in that room could have hit an iceberg. By doing some homework ahead of time I avoid a Titanic Moment. He looked different than his website photo, but (thank you Lord) I did know his story.
On a recent visit to the Carter Presidential Library I was intrigued with the peace accord U.S. President Jimmy Carter brokered between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
3 surprising tactics learned from these leaders that you can use to navigate win-win outcomes
1️⃣ Plan your context as well as content.
The background for this historic accord was Camp David, a 125-acre secluded retreat for the President of the United States, with a dozen guest cabins. A perfect place for conversations, meetings and space.
🏕 Tactic: For your big deals you might think that your subject matter trumps all. False. While content matters, pick a location for your critical events that provide the setting for success.
2️⃣ Cultivate perspective.
At one frustrating point Sadat packed his bags. Carter came to Sadat’s cabin and began talking about their grandchildren. Sadat unpacked his bags in hopes of shaping a better world for the next generations.
🏕 Tactic: For your power talks think beyond your perspective. Carolyn Hax, a Washington Post columnist writes, “ To have no conception of how other beliefs could be right for someone else is to fail to understand that other people can have an emotional makeup, cultural history and/or set of life experiences that differ from yours.”
3️⃣ Show gravitas.
Carter’s good fortune was that he had Begin and Sadat as negotiating counterparts. They were determined political leaders who possessed strong wills, stamina, courage and vision.
🏕 Tactic: For your good fortune exude gravitas (defined as a sense of authority and presence) just as these three leaders exhibited in 1978.
That summit laid the groundwork for an historic peace treaty.
Think about how you lay the groundwork for your win-win power talks.