Thursday, May 19, 2016

Is your reason for communicating hiding in plain view?

Can you see the snow leopard in this picture? It's in the centre. Snow leopards are rather spectacular, yet the camera shows us that they can also hide in plain sight.

How clear is your purpose for communicating? The most common problem I uncover as a communication coach is that people haven't really thought through what they want. Like the snow leopard, their purpose is in the picture, but it's not easy to see.

The single most important thing you can do to improve your writing or speaking is to decide before every communication: what do I want to change in my reader or audience? What do I want them to think or do differently because I communicated? And then ask: "What will that get me?" Repeat the question until you're sure you've come to the deepest, best outcome for the email or blog post or presentation you are preparing.

When you give your mind/brain/body a clear description of what you want, that system is remarkably good at adapting to circumstances and finding what you need to get what you want. When you communicate, that system will choose your words, gestures, expressions and postures so that you make the most of what you have prepared. But your performance will only be as good as your words, gestures and expressions and postures. And those will depend on how clearly you have defined your outcome.

It's not enough to know that you "have" to give a presentation or that you have to "cover" a topic. Imagine instead, that the opportunity to connect is a valuable and limited resource. You need to get and to give real value each time you communicate. It's worth preparing not only your topic, but your best reason for speaking or writing.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Do you ever feel frustrated?

If you're reading this post, I know you answered yes to the title question. The truth is that everyone gets frustrated some of the time. It's that feeling you get when you are anxious to move forward and you're not, or when you've let someone push the same button for the thousandth time, or when you hear the voice in your head telling you that you deserve the roadblocks you're facing.

Frustration sucks.

But here's a different question: are you finished being frustrated yet?  And the answer to that might be more complicated than you think. You might want to hang in there with your frustration until it gives you a strength or an insight that you need.

You don't have to be a Jew or a Christian to appreciate the story of Jacob - one of our great stories of frustration. He was not the eldest son (automatic frustration in a system where the eldest son gets the lion's share of opportunity and inheritance). He worked 7 years for the right to marry a beautiful girl only to be tricked into marrying her sister (and agreeing to work another 7 years). And in the middle of an uneasy journey back to his homeland, his way is blocked by an angel who dislocates Jacob's hip.

Jacob doesn't quit. He doesn't let go until the angel promises him a blessing.

If frustration hasn't given you a blessing yet, maybe it's not time to move one. Maybe it's time to hold on. Maybe the resources you need are not the ones that let you move, but the ones that let you wrestle with uncertainty until you find the unexpected opportunity it holds.

If this seems like "just a story," consult your own experience. Think of a time when you quit something because you were frustrated (music lessons? a sport? a job?) and later regretted quitting so soon.  If you look, you'll find that you've given up too early more than once.

Now think of the time you were frustrated and tired and overwhelmed and you held on until something good came of the whole mess. How did you do that? How did you overcome both frustration and logic to create an opportunity?

Saturday, May 07, 2016

How your presentation audience will perceive your mixed messages

I found this video in my Facebook stream this morning. It's about the relationship between sound and vision. When you see the guy's lips making an "F" sound, you hear the sound "fah" and when you see the guy's lips making a "B" sound, you hear the sound "bah." But the sound is the same all the way through (with your eyes closed, it always sounds like "bah.")

This connected for me with a coaching session yesterday, where I was working with a client preparing a short presentation. In the presentation he sometimes used the pronoun "we" to refer to his team, and sometimes used "we" to refer to his team and the audience combined. I imagine this kind of confusion is quite common in organizations, where "we" covers a lot of different units of meaning.

I think the effect is another sorting problem for the brain. In the video, the brain resolves the difference between the sight and the sound by choosing one over the other. In the presentation, the audience is likely to hear the sound "we" and choose either to believe that "we" represents just the presenter's team OR that "we" represents the collective experience of the whole audience. And they'll determine whether or not "we" includes them based on what they see as they watch the presenter and the sound of his voice as he uses the term. In other words, the meaning of "we" will be determined less by the grammar or situation, and more by whether or not other sensory information supports the idea that the presenter is really playing on the same team as the audience.

The way to resolve the shifting use of the pronoun is not to script the presentation: it's to clean up the presenter's intention (either to play on the same team or to influence from outside the team). When that becomes clear, the pronouns he chooses will line up with his meaning.

The trick while presenting is not to get the audience to hear "fah" when we say "bah." It's to get the audience to hear what we are saying accurately (only "bah" means "bah").

We get there by forming such clear intentions that our automatic use of little words (like pronouns) will line up with the message we want to send.