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To Practise Or Not To Practise…

July 18, 2014 | By | No Comments

Ever woken up and for a few dizzying seconds, tried to place the day? Thought, oh no, is it Monday? Then, gratifyingly realised with immense joy it’s actually a Saturday? That’s one of the better ‘coming-to’ realisations. One of the worst is ‘Oh, its speech day, I forgot to practice it.’  Although, why worry? Some people clearly don’t need to, Midas being one. Why not start just unshackle oneself from the notion that practice makes perfect, that doing something ten thousand times over makes you an expert, that honing your craft, makes you a craftsman?

http://www.jiveturkeyjives.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/beer-tv-game.jpgHow about this instead and it is just an idea but if you have a speech coming up, think about it for a bit, crack open a beer or pour a long cool drink and then just put your feet up. If something interesting on the telly or a good book comes along to distract you then don’t bat it away, after all, it is only a speech. Let’s face it, you have a lifetime of words, wit and experience within you, surely when the time comes and you’re standing in front of an eager (or bored witless) audience, your charisma will ignite a trail of neon bulbs around you and the magic will simply HAPPEN.

That’s right. An amazing, intelligent, well formed, string of engaging, informative sentences will samba from your lips, captivating and enchanting your audience. You’ll hear gasps of rapture and delight, little titters of mirth and deep hooting belly laughter. You’ll cast your eyes across of sea of people transfixed by the power of your presence. You’ll move easily and confidently within your space and your breathing will be calm and strong. Your voice will be clear and melodic and despite your well-rehearsed script you will feel comfortable ad-libbing.

Unless you are in fact Midas, you may find in order to achieve the above you may need to put the beer down and practice. However, it is all more or less within reach. And it really is true that the more you do it, the better you get AT it. (David Beckham didn’t spend his junior school years practicing his corners for nothing.) In fact everyone who is brilliant at someone generally spent years learning how to be brilliant at it. So the more you DO practice ‘speaking’ the better you will become at it, the more natural it will be, the smoother the flow.

Supposing though you are asked to stand up and speak with almost no notice at all. What can you do when you are completely ill-prepared?

  1. Smile. As terrified as you might feel on the inside, if you can try and fake it and look relaxed it’s a better experience for your audience and it will soon help you feel better too.
  2. If you are speaking formally, then have some notes to refer to. It’s fine to refer to them.  Remember to look at the people you are speaking to and engage with them. People are more important than notes.
  3. Breathe!! –  In through your nose and out through your mouth, and speak slowly. If you’ve been put on the spot, you’ll feel tense you don’t want that to come across. You’re only human, just like your listeners, so act/be as cool as a cucumber and chill.

When you really do have to wing it, the above can tide you over but why be a ‘last-minute Larry/Linda’ when you can get prepare and deliver a performance to be proud of?

 

 

Engaging Conference Calls

April 28, 2014 | By | No Comments

The faceless speaker

How much easier is it to speak without having to see the person you’re having to talk to? It takes the pressure of you having to worry about your appearance as well as having to worry about the content of the information you’re having to deliver. And let’s face it, for all you know, The CEO of So-and-So Management Solutions could be sitting in his home office in a pair of scruffy pyjama’s and slippers covered in dog hair. The Director of Hit-Me-With-It Marketing Miracles could be a dis-organised Ann Widacombe lookalike, could be clad in a faded tracksuit but with the velvety tones of a Charlie’s Angel and the sharp wit of comedy store regular, the imagery for you could be very different.  Without even realising, our brains respond to the every nuance of the voice and it draws (quite literally) its own picture of a person.

When you are only a voice, you are your own set of crayons. In more ways than you realise you have some quite specific powers about how allow yourself to be drawn in someone else’s head. What impression do you want them to conclude?

When you ARE only a voice, it is everything you are offering. So what ARE you offering? Firstly, voice, if you’re late, what does that say? If you can’t arrive to a simple conference call on time, what else can’t you manage to do? It’s a big message.

Relax. It’s important to be professional but it’s more important that people don’t feel tension in your voice. It’s okay to sound friendly and approachable. Don’t try and cover nerves with jokes and ‘banter’.  Just be yourself but be focused. You’re here to do a job.

Be prepared to really listen, actively. It sounds obvious but without seeing nods or smiles, people will only know you’ve heard them if you made sounds of acknowledgement or ask questions or make comments about what they’ve said. This in itself will leave a positive impression. Of course, when it’s your turn to speak, you want to make sure you’re fully prepared.

When it comes to the content of the call, do you know what you should be talking about? Do you have notes to hand or a relevant web-page open? There’s nothing worse than being left open-mouthed with nothing coming out because you didn’t actually bother to gen-up in advance. Make sure you have all the information you need and if someone asks you a surprise question, get ready to deal with it, even if it means using the internet to navigate your way to a quick answer. There are other things to consider too. Have you spoken to everyone on the call before? Does anyone have an unusual name? Are you sure you know how to pronounce it correctly? If you’re the one person who does, you’ll be the one remembered favourably.

If you’re taking a call from home, consider the following:

  • No-one is going to call the police if you take a conference call in your P.J’s but there is something about it that reeks of lack of professionalism. Even if they don’t know. YOU do. If you suffer from nerves, dressing the part will definitely bolster your confidence.
  • Shut off outside distractions. Keep the dog out of the room; an ill-timed canine belch can be most off putting. Make sure you’re not near the washing machine when it’s about to launch into a spin cycle or any other screechy, beeping, high-tech noisy gadgets.
  • If you have information to impart. Have it in front of you, ready to refer to. Have a pen and paper, or your laptop handy in order to make notes.
  • Glass of water at the ready in case dry mouth should occur.
  • If you’re using a mobile phone, ensure it is fully charged or you are using a head-set you have a back-up appliance.
  • Ultimately, it’s like anything. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Communication In Teams

March 7, 2014 | By | No Comments

AntsSo let’s start with the basic premise that a team is a group of people working together with a common aim. In some teams, motivation to reach the common aim might be much higher. Team members within Manchester United FC for instance, may, for passion, pay packet, and prestige feel compelled to battle harder to reach manager-led targets than say, team members for Manchester City Centre Morrison’s. Having said that, given the right manager, there’s no limit on the enthusiasm that might be inspired in their staff team.

Communication is key in everything we do. Anything, involving someone other than ourselves necessitates it. Let’s face it, most of us even talk to ourselves at some point and if we’re honest, sometimes we’re not even always that honest with ourselves! 

What happens when we communicate within our work teams?

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Information comes from high above does it not? Well some of it has to. Unless of course you are top dog, the big cheese, from whom the directions are drizzled or dictated. Are you confident your team or your minions understand them, relate to them, take them on board in a way that inspires them and motivates them to carry out your wishes, your expectations properly and sufficiently?

What about if you’re a middle person. Someone who gets armfuls of information dumped on them and is expected to sort through it, to decode it, decipher it, translate it somehow and make it more user-friendly for the next batch of people who have actually got to action it. Is that you?

Or do you consider yourself a mere plankton? Small-fry who gets on with well-oiled day to day instruction with only the odd change to the daily grind. In fact, a change does occur, you welcome it as a ridiculously exciting event because your job is otherwise so samey?

I’m not here to stroke any egos but you’re all significant. You all need each other. Big cogs need little cogs to turn. But could you all turn that big machine a bit more efficiently?

We all know how things have changed over the last twenty five years or so. In the office, the most modern form of communication back then was the fax. People still smoked at their desk, or met by the vending machine to buy a Twix and a scalding cup of coffee that tasted of plastic, in order to swap paper files, which are now electronic. People had meetings in actual rooms, shook hands and locked eyes, smiled and enjoyed conversations. Often these days’ colleagues can work in the same building and not see each other between pay-days, yet exchange thousands of words between emails. That’s just how time has moved on.

When you do spend time with your colleagues, or do send an email, or pass on information, it is worth considering if you are optimising it. Is it always professional yet make you seem friendly and approachable? Is the information well laid out and accessible? Is it relevant? Does anyone else need to see the information? Are you sending the information to anyone who doesn’t actually need to see it?

Why not think about your role within your team and ask yourself if the way you deliver information could be improved. If you make positive changes, they may just impact on a colleague in a way which has a positive effect on the rest of your team.

 

 

Communication at Christmas

January 1, 2014 | By | No Comments

We can learn so much about communication from almost any scenario. Take Christmas.

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Nan sits there near the tree, staring at the television, hands in her lap, nursing a plate of half eaten mince pie. She doesn’t say a great deal. She suffers from selective deafness. Her aural function however is incredible if the phrase ‘cup of tea anyone?’ is uttered within a ten metre radius. ‘Yes please dear!’ she’ll shout to whomever made the offer.

Uncle Dave has been on the Stella since lunchtime. He doesn’t stop talking or cracking jokes. He doesn’t bother making eye contact with anyone because deep down he knows that no-one really wants to lock irises with him. He knows that he’s doing everyone a favour by forcing this one less intrusion upon them. He knows he’s loud, a bit crude and not all that funny but he does know that when there IS a lull, it’s Uncle Dave they’ll all be grateful for. Isn’t it?

Dave’s long suffering girlfriend Sue flaps her hands a lot. She doesn’t drink, she’s the designated driver, however she loves to be the conveyer of drama and intrigue and her primary mission is to engage eye-contact and ‘lock-on’ like a limpet. She loves to talk, to impart, to divulge and to express as if her regurgitated gossip is a gift wrapped basket of wisdom rather than a second hand sack of hearsay.

Mum Pam rules the kitchen, and the house. She barks orders at Dad who chops, peels and slices. Mum wants Dad Stan to be Jamie Oliver. Dad is more Oliver Hardy. However he wants a peaceful life and that means a happy wife so he does as he is ordered without argument.

Son Jason wants to be at the pub. He thinks there is still a way. He has purchased generous and well thought out gifts for his family. He will charm them into a two hour reprieve this afternoon and slink away for three pints of Guinness. He can and he will.

Spoilt daughter Amber is preparing her ‘tears of devastation’ if her top three desired presents fail to materialise. There is, after all, the Boxing Day sales and Dad Stan cannot bear the sound of female sobbing.

Sound familiar? How could this possibly not translate to the workplace?

  • Nan, the colleague who refuses to be a team player.
  • Uncle Dave, the class clown, who really ought to spend more time being productive than being entertaining?
  • Sue, the gossiper who needs to concentrate less on what others are doing and more time on her work
  • Pam, the hard-edged office manager
  • Stan, who needs some assertiveness training
  • Jason, the charmer
  • Amber, the manipulator

There can be positive aspects to almost all of the above personality traits if used in a positive context. Recognising them and harnessing them is the skill. Learning about yourself, how you come across is the next step.

For example, if you want to get someone to do something and be happy about doing it for you then learning how to be assertive, convincing and charming is key. If you appear to be a pompous, manipulative bully I suspect success will be elusive. Obvious but true.

For more information about public speaking go to www.surespeech.co.uk

 

Blushing

November 21, 2013 | By | No Comments

Blushing …

What is it? Well most of us know how it feels and probably first experienced it as small children. It’s that flaming heat that pulses in our cheeks when we have been caught with our hand in the biscuit tin, trying to sneak out that extra Jammy Dodger we were told ‘No!’ to, five minutes earlier.

It’s the burning hot, double cheeked, slap of shame we feel as we get shouted at in the school corridor in front of our peers; a cruel jibe or nasty nickname leaving the rest of the crowd laughing at our expense.

Or It’s the breath-taking, scorching, ember-imitating, moon landing-type lighting effect, facial glow that bestows us when having to open our mouth and ‘speak’ to a room full of silent, expectant people. An audience, all staring and waiting to hear only OUR voice.

If you haven’t experienced ANY of the above, consider yourself lucky. I consider you a little unusual , no disrespect but blushing is perfectly normal. (I defy you to think back to your teenage years, remember catching the eye of your first crush and NOT blushing!)

Anyway lets get the science out of the way. Blushing is simply the body’s response to embarrassment, anxiety or any other over stimulation for that matter. When we have these feelings, the fight or flight response kicks in, the blood vessels in the face widen and blood flows there leaving the cheeks looking much redder.

Some people believe that blushing serves a social purpose in that it displays a sign of contrition over a social faux pas; a way of expressing shame or regret, instantly securing an unspoken understanding of a mistake. Apologising without having to speak.

However in terms of blushing due to the sheer terror of having to speak in front of an audience, the science and psycho-babble does little to help in practical terms.

Here’s what might.

1. Stop worrying. Your face might feel like it resembles the top of a Belisha Beacon but most people won’t even have noticed I promise you. Ignore it and carry on. The more you stop thinking about it, the less blood will rush to your cheeks. If you want to be a worrier, then worry wisely. Worry about devising a cracking speech, work on your pitch, pace, delivery and posture. Worrying about blushing is a waste of resources.

2. After you’ve washed your face in the mornings, run the cold tap. Fill your hands and douse your face in icy water, repeating the phrase ‘icy calm’ in your head as you do so. Each time you feel the freezing cold water on your face, repeat the phrase in your head. When you’re in a situation when you feel a blush coming on, repeat the phrase to yourself. Your brain should soon make the connection between the words and the cold feeling and this should help cool you off when you feel warm of face. Try it.

3. If anxiety is making you blush then look at all aspects of planning, preparation and positive psychology; all the things that underpin your presentation. Take control. Make sure you are well organised, have things properly prepared so nothing is a last minute rush. This doesn’t have to feel like a hideous ordeal. You can make it into an exciting challenge and you know what, if you do get a little bit of a pink tinge to the cheeks, console yourself with a quote from the Greek philosopher Diogenes which puts the whole thing in a very positive light:

‘Blushing is the colour of virtue’.