Archive for Helen’s Blog – Page 3

Executive presence counts (in just two seconds)

Win hearts and minds through executive presence

You have just two seconds to make an impression. Two seconds to make a lasting impression that counts.

In the first two seconds of meeting you or watching you speak, people will get a gut instinct about you. And research shows that initial gut instinct is usually accurate and permanent.

So when you want to make a great impression, those two seconds might be the most valuable you will ever spend.

But what can you do in two seconds?

You can speak six words. For example: “Our product is innovative and successful”. Will that get you buy-in? Probably not. Two seconds really isn’t very long.

It is, however, long enough for you to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere and an aura of professionalism. This is executive presence at its best.

What is executive presence?

Executive presence is an invisible force field around you. At its most basic it consists of your voice and body language. But there is much more to it than that. Executive presence is person-to-person chemistry.

In the same way that we are drawn to friends and potential partners on a social basis, we are also drawn to powerful people on a professional basis.

By allowing your inner self to shine – bringing traits like honesty, integrity and authenticity to the fore – you are likely to stimulate a warm, open response. And that response is almost immediate. It certainly takes place within two seconds.

Seriously – two seconds?

If you have ever locked your car doors at the traffic lights because of someone dubious on the pavement nearby, or if you’ve swapped seats on a train because you felt uncomfortable about sitting too close to a particular individual, those judgement calls are down to gut instinct. And negative gut instinct takes just a couple of seconds to kick in.

Similarly if you have ever been at a party where an attractive person smiled at you from across the room, sparks might have flown. You might have had an uncontrollable desire to speak to him or her. Positive gut instinct also takes just a couple of seconds to appear.

And so we come to the business side of things. The principles are exactly the same. It takes two seconds to make an impression. Good or bad.

Here are ten very different speakers – take a look and decide within a couple of seconds who draws you to them through executive presence, and who doesn’t.

  1. A politician
  2. A young lawyer
  3. An entrepreneur
  4. A student
  5. The COO of a major international organisation
  6. A finance executive
  7. A prime minister
  8. A sound expert
  9. A vice-presidential hopeful
  10. A Chancellor
  11. A Nobel prize winner

Achieving executive presence

Some of the speakers above engender trust through a truly authoritative executive presence. An executive presence that grabs and holds attention and gently persuades people to listen.

These speakers feel comfortable and powerful within themselves. They have vocal gravitas. They are physically convincing and they create a strong, inclusive atmosphere. They own the space around them.

Some people naturally demonstrate executive presence. Others have to learn.

At the root of executive presence is a skillset built around personality aspects which we all possess. If you can engage with those elements of your personality and acquire the skills to support them, you will start to draw people to you as your executive presence grows.

All my programs include some elements of executive presence – the most comprehensive by far being my one year Reputation Raiser program, aimed at ambitious business leaders who want to shine.

If this matches your goals, let me assure you that – with the right guidance – achieving your ambitions is just one step away. Do call for a chat about your aims and aspirations, and let’s make them a reality as soon as possible.

The vocal attraction of business leaders and Hollywood stars

Powerful men are attractive. There’s no doubt about it. We’ve all seen media photos of beautiful women draped around very ordinary-looking guys who just happen to be highly successful.

Money may well come into it but if those men communicate for a living – whether they are actors, politicians or entrepreneurs – they’re likely to have charisma. Very few people succeed in life without it. (Sports stars are a notable exception, as they make it to the top through physical rather than intellectual skills.)

For the most part, charisma plays a role in success. And the voice plays a big role in charisma.

The power of an attractive voice: influential or just plain sexy?

There are distinct similarities between what’s attractive to clients and stakeholders and what makes you fall for someone romantically.

In a business setting a man’s attractive voice can express authority, gravitas and credibility. But it only takes a slight vocal tweak to convey intimacy, sexuality and passion instead. Such is the power of the voice…

So, as a society, what do we like about a man’s voice and what’s the difference between boardroom authority and bedroom appeal?

To answer this question, let’s look at the vocal qualities that everyone appreciates.

Low and lovely

Here’s the bottom line: we all like low-pitched voices. Whether we’re listening to a business contact or a male love interest, the depth of a man’s voice can have a significant impact on how we feel. And how we feel will determine how we act.

Listen to British chat show host/comedian Alan Carr.

Now compare him with actors Morgan Freeman and Matthew Macfadyen. Or even with Bill Mitchell, who has probably the best lager advertising voice in the world. (I’d buy beer from him and I don’t even drink beer.)

Even staunchly heterosexual men will be much more drawn to the deep male voices than the squeaky tones of Mr Carr (sorry Alan).

Manliness and the attractive voice

Our response to low voices is hard-wired in our genes, whether we are male or female.

Depth of voice is related to levels of testosterone – the hormone which makes men masculine. Our perception of ‘maleness’ is closely linked with physical strength, as it was useful in our evolutionary past to have a strong male leader who could slay sabre-tooth tigers with ease, fight off hordes of marauding cavemen, and carry back buffalo from the hunt. In other words, we needed a truly manly man in charge.

Those requirements are no longer fundamental today, of course, and no man needs to be Hercules to succeed in business or personal relationships. Despite this, our biologically-triggered response to the low voice has stuck.

Voting with our ears

Recent research shows that politicians with low voices are more likely to succeed. Not because they are stronger or fitter in this instance, but because the voice tends to drop with age and a deeper vocal sound has a more positive impact on the voting public.

People are more likely to elect politicians in their 40s and 50s, whose voices convey an optimum level of seniority and wisdom. Politicians in their 60s and above can start to sound as if their health is failing, and may come across as too old to lead.

This might interest Donald Trump, who has just turned 70. He would be the oldest US President ever to take office if he wins the election later this year.

Rich and reassuring

Meanwhile last year, on the other side of the Atlantic, a much younger politician, Ed Miliband, led the UK’s Labour party to an appalling general election defeat. His strangulated, congested sound was mocked by voters, and he resigned immediately on the day of his phenomenal failure.

Richness of tone is vital when it comes to the attractive voice. A rich voice often equates to a powerful person.

The gloriously rich and resonant voices of Sean Connery and Daniel Craig may have contributed to each of them being cast as James Bond. The world’s best known secret agent is always successful in missions and always gets the girl. His attractive voice a fundamental part of his appeal.

Melting and melodious

Speaking with an attractive voice involves using a wide range of vocal notes. The voice is a very fine musical instrument and can be used to evoke emotion. And emotion is what people act on. Even the toughest corporate executive follows his gut instinct when deciding whether he wants to do business with someone.

The world’s number two tennis seed, Andy Murray, is a powerful man in many senses of the word. He is loved by the British public as a great sporting hero, and was married last year after a 10 year courtship.

But if Andy were working in business or competing against others for the love of a good woman, his voice would not be his greatest asset by any means. None of the energy he shows on court comes through when he speaks. He sounds flat and monotonous, even at times of great joy such as winning a major tournament. This makes him vocally unengaging and would reduce his ability to influence in a workplace.

Compare his sound with that of the Welsh actor Richard Burton, who, more than 30 years after his death, is still considered to be one of Britain’s greatest voices. Rich, resonant, melodious and just beautiful.

From boardroom to bedroom

The low, rich, melodious voice is attractive in both boardroom and bedroom, but one more element adds blatant sex appeal.

Research reveals that women like their men to sound breathy. It seems that heterosexual women want partners who are large and low voiced, but not aggressive.

Adding breathiness into the voice reduces the perception of aggression and therefore makes a man more attractive. Pillow talk is hushed, and a man with an intimate bedroom voice can make the ladies swoon.

Although he’s not known for being a romantic hero, Clint Eastwood provides us with a great example of breathiness. He’s one of the ultimate tough guys, but he moderates his voice with breathy tones to appear calm, considered and reflective (usually while killing someone).

Oh and let’s not forget the guru of love himself, the large, husky singer, Mr Barry White.

To add a sexy breathiness to your voice (or to avoid it in a work situation) you can learn how to use your vocal cords properly. They need to be fully closed for a rich, resonant tone, and not quite closed for that come-to-bed sound.

Creating your own attractive voice

But what if you’re a medium-sized man with a middle-of-the-road voice? Don’t worry – all is not lost. There are ways and means to a richer, deeper voice.

Learning how to breathe more effectively, and using your abdominal muscles instead of your throat to pump out your sound, will create some amazing changes to the way you sound.

This is simple and natural, involving techniques which we all used as children but which, as adults, most of us have forgotten. The vast majority of my male clients find their voice drops naturally and turns more masculine and attractive after a very short while.

David Beckham is a point in question. He’s not a client (otherwise I couldn’t talk about him) but in 2008, for example, his voice was high-pitched and awkward. With significant voice training under his belt as well as football training, he now sounds very different – much lower, much more masculine.

But you don’t need to be a professional footballer to work on your voice. If Beckham can do it, you can. And by understanding how to use your bedroom voice and your boardroom voice at appropriate moments, you’ll certainly boost your chances of success – one way or the other.

The role of movement in successful communication

The impact of physical activity

It’s well known that children’s creativity is enhanced by moving. But does the same apply to adults? Does physical activity increase our ability to think laterally and creatively? And if so, how can that benefit our communication?

Physical activity at work can have very positive effects. Incorporating a few basic movements and exercises into our working day can boost our energy, engagement and efficiency. Taking the stairs instead of the lift, holding meetings while walking, and carrying out a few stretches every now and again can make a big difference to how we feel and act.

Physical activity and communication

Being energised and engaged is fundamental for successful communication. So adding movement to our often rather sedentary lives – even just a little – must have significant results on how we are perceived.

But is there a correlation between the amount of movement and our levels of energy, engagement and efficiency?

With more movement will we be more energised, more engaged, more efficient? Can movement make us more creative? Is it likely to give us better ideas? Will it take our business further? Can we use it as a tool for change?

Movement and clarity of thought

I recently joined an experimental session involving coaching and movement, in which a group of open-minded people met in beautiful Richmond Park on a gloriously sunny evening to walk and talk about an issue and solve some unrelated physical challenges (‘movement riddles’).

After our initial walk-and-talk, and once we’d puzzled over how to reposition a long stick without taking our hands off it (more complicated than it sounds!) we walked once more.

Surrounded by wild deer and swishing our way through the long grass, we talked again to see to what extent 45 minutes of riddle-related movement had stimulated our minds and enhanced our insight, creativity or clarity about the original issue.

My young partner in this experiment, Sophie, detailed the process rather exquisitely in her blog.

But did it work? Well the stick challenges gave me energy and enthusiasm and my thinking certainly became clearer afterwards. Which made my communication clearer as Sophie and I discussed the issue in question.

But was it the physical movement that did this for me, or would I have been clearer anyway after 45 minutes? I don’t know. However as there are several more of these experimental sessions before the end of the year, each involving a different type of movement (dancing, yoga, martial arts etc) I’m hoping to find out.

Stress and clear thinking

One thing that regular, gentle movement certainly does over a period of time is to reduce stress. Low intensity exercise is known to lower our baseline cortisol levels. And as cortisol is the stress hormone, that’s got to be a good thing.

Nobody is at their best under stress and there’s a known correlation between clarity of thought and stress. Taking this to its logical conclusion, then even adding a little movement to our working day should enable us to think more clearly.

Conversely, exercising too much can make us more stressed. It makes the body feel under threat and at risk, which results in the production of extra cortisol. And that can’t be good for our thought processes.

Movement and successful communication

As the stick-riddle experiment might suggest, I suspect that movement which allows us to think more clearly plays just as great a role in creativity in adults as it does in children. Taking ourselves away from the desk every now and again for some mild exercise is likely to stimulate our creative juices and get us reflecting in a different way.

But what does that do for our communication?

Improving our clarity of thought will enable us to ‘own’ what we say more fully. And that means we’ll be able to communicate our ideas and suggestions more effectively.

Added to this, our physical movement will increase the levels of endorphin flowing through our body. As endorphin is the ‘happy hormone’, we’ll feel physically perkier. Those around us will pick up on our energised mood and will perceive us more positively. And this will have knock-on effects for our increasingly successful communication.

The conclusion? To misquote a famous TV dance show, “Keep moving!”

High heels at work make women less successful

The controversy over high heels at work

There’s a row in the UK over whether employers should be allowed to force female staff to wear high heels at work as part of the dress code.

Regardless of the sexist nature of such an outdated policy, any company that compels women to wear heels is damaging its own progress. The hidden impact of high heels at work reduces women’s ability to succeed in the workplace and is likely to have a negative effect on the economy.

A raised shoe might look beautiful. It might give you the extra height and confidence to help you feel you can compete in a man’s world. But the downsides far outweigh the aesthetics. And any confidence you think your heels provide is built on a house of cards.

High heels at work damage voice and executive presence

The effects of high heeled shoes are atrocious. And I’m not talking about pinched toes or bunions here. Wearing high heels at work can damage your voice and significantly reduce your executive presence – even though you might think it does the opposite.

The only reason that heels still appear on dress codes up and down the country is employer ignorance. And once companies realise the implications of their demands, things must surely change.

High heels at work almost equates to smoking at work. Cigarettes were once the norm in the workplace. People thought it made them look cool, feel calm and concentrate better. Nowadays no-one smokes at work and the dangers are well recognised.

Of course heels won’t give you cancer, but they can lead to vocal cord damage and other significantly negative effects which employers don’t take into account.

The row over high heels at work

The row started when PwC temporary employee Nicola Thorp was sent home without pay when she turned up to work in flat shoes.  She argued that this was discriminatory, as there are no rules requiring men to wear heels. She started a petition to make it illegal to put high heels into a dress code.

The headmistress of a well-known girl’s school then tottered into the row , encouraging girls and women to wear whatever feels comfortable on their feet. Jenny Brown, from St Alban’s High School for Girls, seems unaware that by putting forward this viewpoint she risks creating a generation of women with communication issues. This isn’t about foot comfort (perceived or otherwise). It’s about much more than that.

Nearly 150,000 people have now signed Ms Thorp’s petition and the government has responded that it “takes this issue very seriously and will continue to work hard to ensure that women are not discriminated in the workplace by outdated attitudes and practices”.

Two cross-party, independent government committees met this week to discuss the issue: the House of Commons Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee. Let’s hope they agree very soon to outlaw the discriminatory practice of forcing women to wear high heels at work.

High heels at work equate to less brain power

When standing, high heels knock you off balance, forcing part of your brain to concentrate on steadying yourself on tiptoes rather than communicating with others. However comfortable you feel in heels, they make the balance part of your brain work overtime.

But balance is not the only issue that affects brain power. There is also a direct link between effective breathing and brain power. Breathing well is fundamental for thinking clearly, speaking well and creating executive presence. And you can’t breathe effectively if you’re standing in high heels.

High heels at work equate to less clear thinking

The tiptoe foot posture created by high heels forces you to arch backwards to compensate for the balance issue. This stretches your abdominal muscles – pulling them tightly and leaving very little slack for you to breathe effectively into your belly.

Because your breathing is shallower, your breathing rate increases. You have to breathe more times per minute to take in the same amount of oxygen. And this faster breathing makes the body think it is under stress. It mimics the faster breathing of the adrenaline-prompted fight or flight response which allows you to act physically to save your life (running from danger or killing the enemy).

In today’s high pressure world, we are often under stress, regardless of whether we wear high heels or not. Mental stress is widespread and can lead directly to physical stress. We tend to become so habituated to physical stress that most of the time we don’t even notice it. But it’s happening under the surface nonetheless.

Breathing more quickly as a result of wearing high heels when standing can exacerbate your physical stress, and here’s what happens as a result…

Under stress, the body shunts oxygenated blood away from your brain and down to the muscles of your arms and legs that need it to deal with a life-threatening event. Less brain oxygen equates to less clear thinking. And that can be a problem, particularly if you need to express yourself successfully in a pressurised situation such as a business pitch, a talk or a media interview.

By wearing high heels at work and causing yourself to breathe ineffectively, you are impacting your ability to think clearly. And if you can’t think as clearly as you otherwise might, you can’t act or communicate as effectively.

High heels at work equate to reduced executive presence

High heels don’t just affect brain power. They affect vocal power as well. Women who don’t breathe well tend to have weaker and quieter voices. They can sound squeaky, creaky or just plain girly.

It is impossible to use your voice effectively if your abdominal muscles are pulled tight due to your high heeled posture. You need to relax those muscles to project your voice properly and create a rich, resonant tone. And you just can’t do that effectively in heels.

The voice plays a major role in executive presence – the personal presence that grabs and holds attention, engenders trust, and gently persuades people to listen to you and follow your suggestions. Women with great voices use their abdominal muscles to achieve their sound. But if you wear high heels at work when you are standing to speak, you just can’t use your voice well, and your executive presence suffers as a result.

This executive presence also suffers because you cannot ground yourself properly while standing. You need both feet solidly on the ground to feel physically secure, supported and grounded. When you are physically grounded, you become much more mentally grounded. You can think more clearly and speak more clearly. Grounding is a fundamental part of executive presence.

So if you wear high heels at work you do yourself a major disservice. You will demonstrate less executive presence and you are therefore less likely to achieve your potential in the workplace.

High heels at work equate to financial costs to the economy

It’s not all about executive presence. It’s about vocal health as well. If you stand in high heels, with your abdominal muscles effectively out of action, you will try to compensate for your lack of voice by using your relatively weak neck and throat muscles to project your sound forward. This is a great way to cause yourself vocal health problems.

Misusing your voice over time by standing to speak in high heels can have similar effects to shouting at a football match. You risk losing your voice temporarily and damaging it permanently. Most people need to speak at work, so with no voice, work suffers.

Many voice mis-users (high heeled women among them) are completely unaware of their unhelpful vocal habits until their voice disappears at a critical moment.

One in three people suffers from a medical voice disorder at some point in their lives. One in five people suffers from daily voice problems. And one in fourteen is off sick for at least one day a year with voice problems.

Those ‘one day a year’ absences alone lose the UK economy more than a million pounds a day and it is likely that high heeled women play a significant part of this financial loss.

Ditch the heels to fulfil your potential

Any employer who asks a female staff member to wear high heels at work is asking for trouble. They are opening themselves up to potential personal injury claims, damaging their employee’s chances within the workplace and reducing their own potential for success.

Why go to all the trouble of hiring someone good and training them up if you then do the equivalent of gagging them with your dress code?

As a woman in the business world you might believe that heels give you more confidence and make you appear more professional. That’s a very common misperception. All my female clients who take off their heels gain an immediate sense of power when I show them how to speak effectively in flats. And they are always surprised by how good it feels – it’s like being released from a cage.

The Managing Director of an international institution in the world of finance, for example, told me that as soon as she removed her shoes, “I felt more balanced and centred to speak and more in control”.

My message to all women is why harm yourself with heels when flats are a fantastic asset?

If you want to think well, speak well, stay vocal healthy and demonstrate gravitas and executive presence, just ditch those heels. Opt for flat shoes instead and give yourself the opportunity to communicate more successfully. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

PS…Going global

It’s now the end of July 2016, and since I wrote this post the Petitions Committee asked me to submit an evidence paper explaining why it’s discriminatory for employers to require women to wear high heels.

My report has been picked up by the news media – The Telegraph, The Times and the BBC, for example. I’ve also appeared in women’s magazines, fashion pages and HR publications. And the story has gone global too. I’ve been quoted everywhere from The Sydney Morning Herald to Ghana News to Gulf News.

Hopefully all this media coverage will help the UK Parliament to recognise that heels put women at a disadvantage and to ban high heels from corporate dress codes.

Effective body language for leaders

Create effective body language with your hands

Your hands are an amazing part of your body, and what you do with them has a significant impact on those around you.

Effective body language means using your hands appropriately. As I told the finalists of an HSBC business competition recently, when you are truly connected with what you are saying, when you believe it fully and when you wholeheartedly want to get it across, your hands will support you automatically. Take a look at the video for more details.

Using gesture to best effect

Demonstrating what you mean is a great way of underlining your point, and it is fundamental for your hands to replicate your words.

Paint pictures in the air. They don’t have to be literal pictures – although sometimes they can be. They are usually representative and they can really have an impact.

Almost all children describe things with their hands while speaking. Most adults do too, although some of us metaphorically handcuff ourselves as we grow up because we no longer feel comfortable moving our hands around.

If you recognise something of yourself here, then please remove those cuffs. Allowing your natural gestures to come out spontaneously will emphasise your message and allow your point to hit home. Effective body language can make a huge difference in achieving buy-in to your suggestions.

Common body language mistakes and their impact

Even the best business leaders sometimes use their hands poorly.

It may sounds very obvious, but please don’t put your hands in your pockets while you’re speaking or in conversation. Even with one hand in one pocket you’re likely to come across as overly casual and not paying much attention.

What about Prince Charles, who is regularly photographed with his hands behind his back?

This posture can mean different things, depending on the context. One thing’s for sure though – it inhibits you from moving your hands and therefore it inhibits you from demonstrating your emotions, whether positive or negative. It also makes you appear stiff. It’s not a great look and I’d definitely advise against it.

Finally, do be aware that if you get into the habit of using the same movement again and again, you risk boring your audience. Those around you will not appreciate what you have to say. They may even become fixated on your overly repetitive gesture rather than listening to your words.

Effective body language means avoiding all these no-no’s.

Effective body language is great for your voice

The use of natural gestures leads to what I call “vocal onomatopoeia”. In other words the movements of your hands are reflected in the acoustics of your voice.

When you sweep a hand downward to describe a reduction in customer complaints, for example, your voice is likely to become stronger and lower as your hand descends. (If your hand went upwards instead, this would be incongruent and confusing and would undermine rather than underline your message.)

Vocal onomatopoeia enhances your prosody – the rhythm and pattern of your speech. And prosody reveals your underlying attitude to what you are saying.

Prosody involves the same elements of sound that you already use subconsciously to express emotion, including pitch, volume, rhythm and speed. So if you employ effective body language – body language that really matches your words – this will reinforce the positive messages that you want to portray by reinforcing the positive emotions in your words.

Effective body language coaching

All my coaching involves elements of effective body language – using not just your hands, but your eyes, feet, face and indeed your whole body to imbue your message with the right meaning.

Appropriate use of physicality is a essential part of influence. Check out some of my programs if you’d like to know more.

Every business leader can enhance the way they communicate, so do get in touch if you think you could make better use of effective body language to help you achieve your aims.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim: the power of a great female speaker

Among the world leaders and dignitaries to speak at last Friday’s UN climate signing ceremony was a woman from a nomadic tribe in Chad, whose mother walked 10km every day to collect water and food.

Talking to the world from the podium at UN headquarters in New York – about as far from her roots as it is possible to get – Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim showed just how to capture and hold the attention of an international audience. Hindou is what I’d call a naturally great female speaker.

In fact there are far too few women out there who can do what Hindou does. Yes, she needs some work on her voice – she does sound a little squeaky. And yes, she could tweak the way she uses her notes – she looks down a little too much. But wow, does this woman have presence. And wow, does she make an impact.

Who is Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim?

Hindou comes from a group of people known as Peule Mbororo. This group consists of around 250,000 nomads who survive by growing just enough food to feed themselves and their families.

Rising from her background of nomadic poverty, Hindou now co-ordinates the Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad. She co-chairs the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change. And she is a member of the Executive Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee.

Hindou was chosen out of more than two hundred Chadians who applied to represent civil society at the event in New York, in which 175 countries signed an international agreement to cut carbon emissions.

Hindou’s warnings

With temperatures in Chad currently soaring to around 48C (118F), Hindou used the UN signing ceremony to warn of the dire consequences of climate change on her people.

She told how young mothers in the Mbororo community today cannot follow in her own mother’s footsteps by collecting water and food. Their pasture, their livestock, their food and their community are vanishing. “Climate change is adding poverty to poverty every day,” she lamented.

Many people are forced to become climate refugees, she explained. Men in particular leave Chad hoping for a better future. Women and children are left at home to cope with the climate change on their own.

“Migration is challenging for rich countries,” Hindou cautioned, “But it’s a tragedy for those who are left behind.”

She told the international audience of the very real threat facing Chad without financial support. “If you do not increase funding for adaptation, soon there will be no-one to adapt.”

What makes Hindou a great female speaker?

Several factors combine to make Hindou a great female speaker.

Firstly she is a master of the pause. If you watch the official UN video you’ll see how she establishes her presence before she even begins to talk. That long silence as she stands at the podium and looks around draws people to her, making them aware that they need to pay attention.

She then uses carefully considered pauses between sentences to help the international audience understand and reflect on her message.

Her words hold great power. They are incredibly strong right from the start, as she thanks those present for the opportunity to speak and describes the UN assembly as “this assembly who decides war and peace, and who now has to decide the survival or the death of my community.”

Her physicality underlines everything she says. She emanates a sense of physical urgency to support her words, and she speaks with authenticity, passion, and vitality.

Expanding her influence

Not content with speaking with impact purely in English, Hindou delivers her message in no less than three languages: English, French and Arabic.

This makes her understood by a much broader section of the international audience, giving her the opportunity to demonstrate a more widespread authority and optimising her opportunity to influence UN member countries into implementing the climate change agreement.

Hope for the Peule Mboro?

While climate change is obviously devastating the Peule Mbororo, they should have hope in the bright star of Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim in their midst. Maybe this great female speaker might just make a difference to their very survival.

If only all speakers could be like Hindou.

Brilliant communication comes in threes

The power of three

The number three: it’s lucky for some, magical for others, powerful for us all. Three is seriously useful to achieve brilliant communication.

When you want people to hear your words, understand your point and buy into your message, you just can’t beat a good three. Our brains are hard-wired to recognise and remember things in threes, and the rule of three embraces our lives in many different guises. Consider these:

  • Nursery tales including:
    • Three blind mice,
    • Three bears
    • Three little pigs etc
  • Religion including:
    • Christianity: Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
    • Buddhism: Three Jewels (the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha)
    • Hinduism: Trimurti (the three gods Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva)
  • Physics including:
    • Newton’s three laws of motion
    • Fleming’s rules linking electric current, magnetic field and mechanical force
    • The three sound-influencing factors: source, environment and listener
  • Visual arts – the rule of thirds, for example used in:
    • Painting and photography
    • Design
    • Architecture
  • Music including:
    • Three-note building blocks of harmony – triads
    • Composition in the form of idea, repetition and variation
    • Three movement concertos
  • Language – three line slogans including:
    • “Veni vidi vici” (Julius Caesar)
    • “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (French national motto)
    • “Education, education, education” (Tony Blair)
  • Advertising – three word slogans including:
    • “Vorsprung durch technik” (Audi)
    • “I’m lovin’ it” (McDonalds)
    • “Just do it” (Nike)

The three steps to brilliant communication

With so much of our world working in triplet formation, it is perhaps unsurprising that brilliant communication also comes in threes.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, first unpicked the concepts of brilliant communication more than two millennia ago. As a journalist it’s almost an anathema for me to blog about such old news, but I’m always surprised that so many business leaders don’t know or understand Aristotle’s principles. Those who do find them obvious. But for those who don’t they are often a revelation.

Aristotle’s findings still hold so true today that anyone who ignores his tenets does so at their own risk. With this in mind, I’ve decided to air his ancient ideas again for the modern business community.

So here’s how Aristotle defines the building blocks of brilliant communication in his book, Rhetoric:

In making a speech one must study three points:

  • First, the means of producing persuasion
  • Second, the style or language to be used
  • Third, the proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech

In terms of producing persuasion, Aristotle cites three elements that are required to convince others:

  • Ethos
  • Pathos
  • Logos

Ethos: getting buy-in to your credentials

Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech was so spoken as to make us think him credible.

Ethos refers to the authority and credibility of a speaker. In other words, how do you convince people that your expertise, experience and/or uniqueness make you absolutely the right person to speak on that particular subject?

Only by making people trust you will you have any hope of persuading them. So think carefully before you speak.

In a public arena it is never safe to assume that others know your background. State your credentials, explain your rationale for being there, and sell yourself as the expert without overtly sounding like a sales person. (Unless, of course, you are a sales person. In which case you have a good excuse for bigging yourself up.)

Here’s an example of ethos: “As Managing Director of XYZ Corporation, I’ve been involved in widget production for nearly four decades – since the birth of the widget industry, in fact. I have personally tested every single widget ever invented and at this year’s Widget Conference I’ll be discussing the future of widgets, the changes as technology develops, and how space-age widgets are now entering the beta stage of development.”

Pathos: achieving emotional buy-in to your message

Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions.

Pathos means appealing to people’s emotions and making them feel what you want them to feel. The words sympathy, pathetic and empathy are derived from the word ‘pathos’.

You can achieve great pathos when you understand your audience and what makes them tick. By demonstrating affinity for their feelings, you can create an appropriate emotional response to your words.

Pathos can involve a number of different elements. For example it might include giving a passionate delivery. It might revolve around drawing on people’s fears or concerns. It might mean appealing to their imagination and hopes by painting a positive picture of what your suggestions could mean for them.

As well as storytelling, this is where images come into their own. A powerful slide deck with emotive photographs, videos and/or soundbites can underline your message and enhance the sentiments your audience feel.

Here’s the MD of XYZ again: “As you can see from the picture behind me, this is how we coped without widgets in the 1970s. Life was tough. Remember the industrial strikes? Miners’ strikes, bread strikes, the three-day working week? There were regular power cuts and piles of rubbish rotting on the streets. Can you imagine living that life of hardship again? Thanks to widgets, history will never repeat itself.”

Logos: developing rational buy-in to your ideas

Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.

In other words state your case strongly, using supporting evidence to explain why your point is justified.

Logos means logical appeal, hence the word logic. Logic underpins all brilliant communication. Support your claims with hard data. Use relevant facts and figures. Explain their relevance clearly, to provide those around with you with a rational explanation of why they should accept your views.

Appealing to the commonsense, logical side of people’s minds through logos will also enhance your ethos by making you look even more knowledgeable and prepared.

Let’s hear some logos from MD of XYZ: “On average, every home which invests in a new widget will save 30% of their previous year’s fuel bills. With an average household spend of £100 per month on gas and electricity, this is a saving of £360 per year per household. In a city like Looptown with 250,000 homes, we’re looking at around £90 million pounds in savings. Think what that could do for the local economy, let alone the national economy. This is why we have to ensure that within the next five years every home has a widget.”

Want more details?

If you can achieve ethos, pathos and logos, then you have your means of persuasion sorted. And as Aristotle tells us, persuasion is the first mainstay of brilliant communication.

But we mustn’t forget mainstays two and three. My free e-course, “Boost Your Influence”, goes into some depth about the “style or language to be used” (number two) and the “proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech” (number three). Sign up here if you’d like to know more.

In the meantime, watch this space for my next post in April, and do remember to buy a widget.

Public speaking anxiety shuts down the brain

The root of public speaking anxiety revealed

Scientists have just discovered that when someone is watching you perform, or even when you think you are being watched, an important part of your brain switches off. It’s called the inferior parietal cortex (IPC), and it’s situated in the outer part of the brain near the top and back of your head. There are two IPCs – one on each side of the brain – and they control the fine, precise movements of your lips and tongue, among other areas.

If public speaking anxiety has ever caused you to feel tongue tied, this may well be because your IPC was not functioning at full capacity.

But your IPC doesn’t work alone. Another part of your brain reads people’s emotions through their facial expressions. It then tells your IPC what is going on, and the IPC initiates specific little movements to suit the situation. When your emotion-reading centre recognises that your audience is happy and wants you to do well, your IPC will be happy and will allow you to perform well.

But researchers at Sussex University have established that when the brain picks up negative cues, the IPC becomes deactivated, and this can disrupt your performance with dramatic effect: musicians can hit the wrong notes, dancers can stumble and trip, and public speakers can struggle to get their words out.

Reducing public speaking anxiety

An IPC meltdown is awful at any time. It is particularly unhelpful if you’re pitching for business or delivering the keynote speech at a conference. However, if public speaking anxiety is the bane of your life, and if reading about the IPC is only making you feel worse, fear not.

Remember, the IPC only responds to what it is told by the emotion-reading part of the brain. As this emotion-reading area has the unenviable moniker of ‘posterior superior temporal sulcus’, I’ll call it pSTS for short. If you can persuade your pSTS that all is well, then your IPC will stay happy, and won’t try to derail you.

The lead scientist involved in the latest research, Dr Michiko Yoshie, has advice for everyone with performance anxiety. “When being scrutinised, we tend to care about how the audience is feeling about us and our performance”, she says. “It’s important to believe that the audience is supporting you and wishing for your successful performance. To strengthen such belief, you should sometimes have opportunities to perform in front of your supporters.

Dr Yoshie suggests that before every public performance you have a practice run in front of people whom you know are going to applaud you. “Such experience would help to induce a desirable activation pattern in your brain and boost self-confidence,” she concludes.

Removing public speaking anxiety

Practice is certainly vital, and so is changing your mindset – as I have found through helping many terrified public speakers to develop confidence and authority. Thanks to Dr Yoshie’s new research, I now realise that what I am doing neurologically speaking is training people’s pSTS to send positive messages to their IPC. And of course once your pSTS recognises that the audience is not going to throw rotten tomatoes at you, standing up to speak can become great fun. Yes, really!

But neuroscience aside, developing a positive mindset is just one element of removing public speaking anxiety. Fundamentally you also need to know what you are doing. Without the requisite skills, you are likely to come unstuck, whether your audience is supportive or hostile. And that’s where having the right coach comes in.

Becoming a great public speaker

There are lots of people with significant public speaking anxiety – the rich and famous among them. Glossophobia (public speaking phobia) can affect anyone. If you suffer from public speaking anxiety, fear or just a general sense of discomfort, then as well as working on the psychological elements of developing a positive mindset, you also need to acquire the skills to become a great speaker. (Don’t shake your head – it’s perfectly possible.)

Sometimes this means honing and owning your material in a way you haven’t yet considered. Most of my very senior clients initially tell me they don’t have an issue with what they are saying – they just want to improve their performance. But after our initial session they all tend to revamp their material significantly. I’m a journalist at heart, and I help people turn their talks into stories that other people want to hear. It makes a massive difference. And it makes you feel so much better when you know you’re telling a tale that will go down well, even if your message is not entirely positive.

Then there’s the physiological side of things. If you can create and maintain a sense of calm, and switch off that dratted adrenaline, your pSTS is much less likely to read audience emotions in a negative way. And that means it is less likely to tell your IPC to disrupt your performance.

“Switch off the adrenaline?” I hear you say. Absolutely. I can teach you how. If you’d like to know more, check out my Presentation Saviour Intensive coaching program and drop me a line or give me a call. Your public speaking anxiety could become a thing of the past more quickly than you imagine.

Pause for power: speak to inspire

“Shh”

When you need to present important information, what you don’t say is just as important as what you say.

I’m not talking about physicality here, although body language plays a big part, of course. I’m talking about the pauses between words.

When you speak to inspire, giving people time to think is absolutely vital. It’s completely obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people believe they are pausing when they are doing nothing of the sort.

We often have a misplaced perception of how we come across. And please don’t think you’re an exception to the rule! Unless you are a naturally brilliant speaker, or you’ve had professional support, you are unlikely to use pauses as effectively as possible.

There is no need to beat yourself up about this, however. It is due to a level of faulty sensory perception, which is completely natural, and which we all possess.

Do you REALLY know what you are doing?

The Alexander Technique teaches that our understanding of how we use our bodies can be so “untrustworthy as a guide, that it could lead us to do the very opposite of what we wished to do or thought we were doing”. That’s according to the Technique’s founder, F.M. Alexander, in his 1931 book Use of the Self.

So does this mean that you shouldn’t believe your own ears when you are assessing your verbal performance? If you haven’t been properly trained, then the answer is probably yes.

If we look at physicality for a moment, it is easy to see how this might apply. For example, if you habitually slump at your desk, this position will feel right to you, even if you see yourself in a mirror and realise that your posture is poor.

When it comes to pausing, most people truly believe they are allowing a couple of seconds of silence for their words to sink in. Unfortunately the vast majority fail to stop speaking even for one teensy, tiny little second. The culprit is faulty sensory perception.

At the start of a leadership communication coaching process, that faulty sensory perception often raises its head. People can initially experience their new way of speaking as feeling wrong, even though they can hear and see in the recordings that it creates more impact for the listener.

It takes practice and persistence to change the habits of a lifetime and get it ‘right’. That said, you can also get there very quickly. And when you do, however you achieve it, the world is your oyster.

Speak to inspire with effective pauses

Pausing really does make a difference when you speak to inspire. It contributes to the speed and rhythm of your speech, your intelligibility, and therefore your impact.

Academic research shows that to convey a message effectively, you need to pause correctly.

A peer reviewed paper published in July 2015 compares the pauses used by two US Presidents in public addresses. In a speech given by Barack Obama, the longest pause was more than six seconds, while in a speech given by George W Bush, the longest pause was three seconds.

Now that doesn’t mean that longer is better, but Obama is always praised by the media for his oratory skills, while Bush is not considered to be a proficient speaker.

Pausing slows down the rate of speech. And research shows that slower speech is easier to understand because people have more time to process the information.

Obama speaks significantly more slowly than Bush. You can draw your own conclusions.

World leaders who speak to inspire

Whether you’re an advocate of Obama, Bush or anyone else, it’s important to appreciate the value of the pause.

Most recordings of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech have had the pauses shortened in the editing process. Radio and TV audiences don’t appreciate pauses as much as those who are actually present. But here’s a rare glimpse of a 9 second pause after Luther King’s assertion that “all men are created equal”. There are also brilliant pauses all the way to that point and beyond.

Like Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill used pauses to build confidence in his words, particularly in his morale-boosting broadcasts to the British public during World War II.

In fact politicians have been using the pause for centuries as a powerful tool. And as a business leader you can certainly take advantage of this political technique.

The king of the business stage, Apple’s Steve Jobs, now sadly departed, held his audience in the palm of his hand with his long, long pauses. Silence gave flavour to his speeches, and there is no doubt that Jobs could speak to inspire. In 2007, when he introduced the iPhone, you could have heard a pin drop as he paused, while people sat with bated breath wondering what he was about to say next.

Pausing is power

Pauses at moments of tension, interest and excitement increase gravitas and Executive Presence, impact and influence.

Use pauses wisely, and they will serve you well. They are a silent, golden tool which can give credibility and authority to your words and make you a much more powerful speaker.

Santa’s resonant voice

“Ho ho ho”

If there’s one man who knows how to speak with a rich and resonant voice it’s the world’s most famous driver of reindeer, Santa Claus himself. “Ho ho ho”, he chuckles, bringing the sound from deep within his rotund belly.

Santa obviously appreciates a few mince pies at this time of year. And he’s been eating them for a long time. Back in the early 1820s, Divinity Professor Clement Clarke Moore penned a Christmas poem for his children. A Visit From St Nicholas (more commonly known as ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas) includes the lovely line that Santa has:

“…a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly.”

The role of Santa’s belly

It’s not surprising that Santa wobbles when he laughs. His warm, resonant voice is due in no small part to muscular contractions of his abdomen, pumping out his sound. And of course there’s rather a lot of padding covering Santa’s muscles. He is rather curvy, to say the least, and his chubbiness shimmies and shakes as his abdominal muscles contract.

While Santa’s deep pitch is related to the shape of his long, thick vocal cords, his tone is purely due to what he does with his belly and his mouth.

Santa’s belly is his vocal powerhouse. His abdominal muscles act like bellows, propelling the air out of his lungs and past his voice box. This supports his vocal sound, and enables him to “ho ho ho” with volume.

Santa’s mouth and his resonant voice

Santa’s voice is often described as resounding, ringing, warm or compelling. All these words describe the quality of resonance, which adds beauty and strength to Santa’s vocal tone.

In scientific terms, a resonant voice is down to air molecules carrying soundwaves from your voice box and vibrating in your mouth, nose and throat. The vibrations change depending on the position of your tongue and lips and on the tension or relaxation of your mouth and throat muscles. And when the vibrations change, the vocal sound changes.

Santa’s “ho ho ho” tone is rich and vibrant. At the end of each “ho” his lips are pursed forward, creating a long horizontal space in his mouth. His tongue is far back and high up near his soft palate (the roof of his mouth). This leaves a deep vertical cavity in the rest of his mouth.

In effect Santa creates the maximum possible mouth space for his soundwaves to fill. And this creates the richness of his tone and his resonant voice.

“Hee hee hee”?

The onomatopoeic “ho ho ho” is thought to come from a Gaelic Irish expression of laughter, first recorded in the 12th century. And it’s no coincidence that Santa adopts this ancient form of mirth.

If he were to vocalise a “hee hee hee” his sound would be completely different. The mouth position required for “hee” is much more closed, providing very little space for soundwaves. The tone that emerges is therefore relatively weak and tinny. “Hee hee hee” would just sound silly from such a big, warm man.

Developing your own resonant voice

Resonance is fundamental for anyone who wants to make an impression, and your ability to influence through your voice relates strongly to the tones you use.

When you imagine your sound flowing towards the front of your mouth, this has the subtle, yet important effect of bringing your resonance forward and out. People perceive this as a richness and warmth, just like Santa’s.

A resonant voice touches something very deep within the listener. It helps you to make others feel the way you want. And it endows you with authority almost as a side effect.

Most business leaders tend don’t use resonance to full effect and they therefore fail to take advantage of their full potential. So if you can enhance your resonance you will certainly put yourself at an advantage.

Listen out for Santa

The winter holiday season is almost upon us, and if you’re out and about on Christmas Eve, keep your ears tuned and your senses alert. You might be lucky enough to hear the tinkle of reindeer bells as Santa’s sleigh approaches. And if you strike Christmas gold you might just hear the big man’s resonant voice, chuckling in belly-wobbling merriment, as he prepares to deliver his gifts. “Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!”