Fire Your Bodyguard
Ask yourself this: How comfortable would you feel the next time you take your car in to track down that annoying little ping if the mechanic had nothing but a screwdriver in his toolbox?
Or suppose you’ve got a leaky faucet and the plumber shows up with only a socket wrench in his tool belt. Suppose you’d feel a little uneasy? A little concerned the job might now get done right?
You’ve got a toolbox. It’s full – chockfull of priceless communications tools. But if you’re like most presenters, you’re only using a couple of your tools. You’re slamming the lid shut, keeping the rest of your tools under wraps. And like most presenters, you’ll probably put up a pretty good fight when I ask you to take a few of those rusty tools out and put them to work.
Using them, you’ll say, is “just not me”. Or, “But I feel phony”.
But you’re letting such potent tools go to waste. Gestures. Posture. Eyes. A face that’s expressive, enlivened, not blank or frozen in seriousness. Purposeful movement. Vocal variety.
Your words alone won’t do the job. A deadpan message is not going to move anyone to action, to emotion, to change. You’ve got a million-dollar toolbox in your hands. Don’t slam it shut!
Because the truth is, it is you – the you that you’re holding back, stifling by being on guard against feeling foolish or becoming vulnerable. It’s almost as if you mentally employ a bodyguard to keep you stiff, formal, safe from expressing the enthusiasm and energy we all naturally feel before we learn to rein ourselves in.
Please…for the moment, suspend judgement. I’m not going to ask you to fire the bodyguard that’s keeping your physical tools under lock and key. But sending him out for coffee wouldn’t be a bad idea. And while he’s gone, let’s explore your valuable assets. Let’s jump out of the box we place ourselves in. Let’s stop worrying about our level of comfort. Communication isn’t about how comfortable we are. It’s about how comfortable the listener is and how effective the sender is.
The Actor’s Tools
Often in business we’re taught that it’s wise not to show our hand. Negotiators play it close to the vest, we’re told. Keep a poker face.
But we’re not negotiating here, we’re communicating. So let’s not hide the tools.
People have laid down the tools of communication in the name of being professional. We think we shouldn’t risk anything when we stand up to speak, that a lifeless face, a monotonous tone is somehow more business-like. The idea of getting animated, being expressive, using gestures doesn’t fit our idea of the serious corporate pose. But that idea interferes with authentic expression.
The tools we’re talking about now are the performer’s tools. But don’t take that the wrong way. Actually, we are performing all the time, with family, business associates, lovers. I differentiate between “performing” and “acting”, which is trying to convince others you are someone you aren’t. Performing is about conveying authentic expression, the deepest, truest you.
So one aspect of becoming an effective communicator is to become an effective performer. We use these tools to show who we are, and to infect the listener with our enthusiasm. With the right use of the right tools, a good speech becomes great.
Here are the 5 vital tools to stash in your toolbox, ready to employ:
- Eye Contact
- Physical Presence
Let’s talk about how to use them, and how using them will result in almost instant pay-off.
Use your face. Let your face convey whatever message your words would convey. Show surprise, disappointment, disbelief, horror, sorrow. And yes, delight. Smile. A smile of compassion, empathy, humor, and/or connectedness. Smiles are power. There is nothing weak or lightweight in a smile.
Allow your face to light up. Allow it to reflect what you’re thinking and feeling. It will open the doors to effective communication, even under difficult circumstances.
Makes personal, friendly eye contact with each person in the room, in only a matter of seconds you can convey to every person, “You are the sole focus of my attention. You are important”. Use your eyes as ambassadors of good will. Connect with people as if you were having a one-to-one conversation. When you do, this visual rapport will relax you and reinforce your sense of confidence.
Eye contact creates intimacy and connectedness. It is the highway on which communications travel.
When you stand in front of an audience, the individuals in that audience evaluate you immediately. Yes, they’re looking at your clothes, your hair, the expression on your face – all of those things contribute to the image you create. But the way you stand and position yourself also speaks volumes. Posture and balance communicate something vital about what you think of yourself. And your audience will not afford you any more respect than you give yourself.
We have to learn to make our movements work for us, not against us. Here are some quick tips:
- Always look like you’ve got somewhere to go and something to say. Move with purpose. When there’s no reason to move, stand planted.
- Speak from a balanced position. That means not leaning against a lectern, not draped over a flip chart.
- Keep your hinges greased by searching out those good reasons to move: to point at someone who has a question, to move in the direction of that person, to reach for a legitimate prop of visual aid. Which brings us to our hands…
Plan movements as carefully as you plan the content of your talk, and practice them until your gestures, too, are second nature. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your hands are comfortable, your audience is comfortable. Using your hands from a position of power – with authority, with confidence, with ease – lends you power. And those gestures also lend color and character to your presentation.
If you’re serious about advancing your skills and making an investment in yourself, we invite you to our Excellence in Speaking Institute. Classes are filling up quickly so don’t delay! Visit this page to read feedback from our graduates about their experience.