Archive for Helen’s Blog – Page 4

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!”

Talk like TED (Executive presentation training)

I wish I’d got there first…

Every now and again I come across a book I wish I’d written. “Talk Like TED” is one such publication. I recommend it as a great start to any executive presentation training program.

One of the reasons I like this book so much is because it is written by a former news anchor and journalist, Carmine Gallo. I also come from a broadcast journalism background, so Carmine and I speak the same language.

His book is as easy to read as a page-turner novel. It tells the story of individual TED speakers in such a way that the reader is drawn to them, relates to them and feels their experiences in a very emotional and pertinent way.

While the book lacks any solid advice on practical performance and delivery skills, its suggestions on content and storytelling are superb.

TED talks

Carmine has analysed hundreds of TED presentations, interviewed some of TED’s most impressive speakers, and compiled 9 top tips on successful public speaking based on their experiences.

His advice falls into three categories:

  1. Emotional: connect with people’s feelings to create a powerful response
  2. Novel: tell them something new, exciting and refreshing
  3. Memorable: create clever explanations to stimulate great recall.

From a professional perspective there are no amazing revelations here. I use all these concepts in my executive presentation training practice. But Carmine’s written explanations are clear, comprehensive and engaging. They turn a potentially dry subject into something stimulating and they are fundamental for anyone who needs to speak with impact.

Carmine’s advice follows the principles of Aristotle, which have held true for around 2,500 years. The Greek philosopher defined the three vital elements of a good speech as:

  1. The means of producing persuasion
  2. The language
  3. The proper arrangement of the various parts of the speech.

Not much changes. But it is great to read Carmine’s well-written reinforcement of a solid, lasting concept.

Storytelling in executive presentation training

One of the fundamental rules of “Talk Like TED” is to tell a good story. From early childhood we all love stories. As adults that’s why we read books, magazines, newspapers. That’s why we watch TV, listen to radio, go to the cinema, theatre, ballet, opera etc.

As a corporate executive you might not think about it in these terms, but deep down you are probably still a story-lover at heart.

As a story teller your job is to act as a tour guide – taking people on a fascinating journey and helping them recognise and explore your ideas, concepts and data.

You’ll need to bring them from a comfortable, familiar place where they know little about your topic or argument, to a brand new, unexplored location where they can understand and recognise the importance of your viewpoint. Along the way realisation will dawn as their knowledge grows.

Practice makes perfect

I love the fact that ‘Talk Like TED’ advocates passionate, persuasive and conversational speech. It takes practice to talk naturally in front of an audience while sounding spontaneous and enthralling at the same time. But these are all learnable skills, and with the right teacher you can go far.

If you are considering investing in executive presentation training, it would be wise to read this book first. It will support your learning process, and enable you to start your training or coaching process from a position of knowledge and strength. This will help you to develop your presentation skills faster and more productively, whether you need to address internal meetings, pitch for business or deliver one of the crème de la crème talks known as TED.

Reversing the fear of public speaking

Coaching magic

Sometimes magic happens. And when it does it blows me away.

This month a benevolent fairy has been sprinkling magic dust over one of my clients. Both he and I are delighted with the results.

A devastating fear of public speaking

My client (let’s call him Thomas) is the founder and CEO of a very successful company, which is getting bigger and bigger. As its reputation grows, Thomas is increasingly asked to speak at external events.

Thomas loves his company and he wants to take it as far as it can go. As the face of the organisation, he knows that increasing his personal profile has huge potential for the company.

But when Thomas came to me last month, he confessed that he was terrified of talking in front of an audience. His fear of public speaking was such that when he gave a recent TED talk, he felt compelled to take a course of hypnotherapy beforehand, just to get himself on stage.

With the help of hypnotherapy he managed to stand up and speak, but he was a shaking wreck and he loathed the experience.

The corporate consequences of presentation phobia

Thomas’s company is his own creation, his passion, his raison d’être. His work combines disciplines which have never been brought together before. He is breaking boundaries and becoming internationally recognised for what he does.

But Thomas told me that unless he started to enjoy public speaking, he was planning to employ a stand-in as the face of the company. He was very clear that he never wanted to talk in front of an audience and feel that level of pain again. Either the pain had to go, or he did.

This was a challenge I could not ignore. Thomas just had to reverse his fear of public speaking. It was inconceivable that anyone else could explain his work with the same fervour and expertise. I felt sure that Thomas’s enthusiasm and knowledge could create a fantastic impact, if only he would let himself speak.

Having empowered previous clients to ditch their fear of public speaking, I knew it was possible. But I knew I also had to persuade Thomas of this. So I tailored our first coaching session very carefully and kept in touch with him over the next few weeks.

From petrified to ecstatic in just half a day

One month later, Thomas is a changed man. Arriving for his second coaching session he proudly told me that he has grasped the nettle with both hands, and has given 12 talks around the country.

He has spoken to audiences everywhere from the back rooms of pubs to high-tech business centres. And far from being petrified, he is loving the experience. He is now putting himself forward for as many presentations as he can get, and is planning to deliver another TED talk as soon as possible.

Thomas is joyful about his change of heart and his new direction, and I am absolutely delighted for him.

Conquering your own fear of public speaking

Thomas was one of the most terrified clients I have ever worked with, and he has turned his entire life around after a single coaching session. That’s stunningly quick, but it just shows how possible it is.

Thomas has realised his own abilities and is very good at holding an audience’s attention. As he speaks more and more in public he will be able to tweak and perfect his performance, and raise his reputation further – both personally and corporately. The possibilities are huge.

Many senior executives are terrified of giving presentations. It’s very, very common and I see this all the time. But Thomas reversed his phobia with determination and practice (and the right coach of course!)

If you too have a fear of public speaking, please remember that a sea change is possible, and magic can happen – if only you allow it.

Clear speech without language

Understanding the incomprehensible

Some people express themselves so clearly that their meaning is immediately obvious – even though their language is foreign to the listener.

My taxi driver on a recent business trip to Oman was a point in question. Speaking in Arabic, he demonstrated vividly how clear speech can transcend language barriers.

Now I’m no Arabic speaker, and Ali spoke for a good five minutes in his native tongue, yet I understood his meaning implicitly.

So what creates clear speech?

Ali’s hands, his facial expressions, and his vocal inflections all contributed to his ability to communicate successfully. This was a man with a natural flair for conveying information.

On an afternoon tour of Muscat, he explained where we were, where we were going, how long it would take and that the Grand Mosque was only open to non-Muslims between 8am – 11am. “You can go there tomorrow”, he told me, in clearly enunciated Arabic.

Gesture, intonation and pauses all play a major role in getting a message across. And none of these involve actual language.

To be fair, I did hear a couple of recognisable words (“Sultan” and “marina” were easy to grasp) but 99% of Ali’s vocabulary was completely alien to me. It was his non-verbal communication and the ups and downs of his voice that empowered him to get his message across.

Clear speech and business leaders

Many people think of clear speech as meaning crisp articulation, but it is so much more.

Ali’s innate abilities allowed him to communicate across language barriers, demonstrating the true meaning of clear speech.

But while Ali had a natural gift for communication, many senior executives fail to make themselves understood, even by those who speak their  language. It is such a shame, as the requisite skills are eminently achievable.

The role of passion in clear speech

I’ve noticed that many business leaders seem to lose their passion in executive meetings. The more important the meeting, the less the passion. They seem to metaphorically sit on their hands and prevent their true excitement from shining through. (Does this ring any bells for you?)

Perhaps some people think it is inappropriate to bring emotion into the business world. Perhaps you have been taught not to give anything of yourself. After all, business is business; personal is personal. Whatever the reason, if this is you, you stymie your ability to achieve your objectives.

Most people don’t recognise what they are doing (or not doing) until I point it out to them. And then the light goes on, and I hear an almost audible gasp of “oh my goodness”, followed by an immediate change in behaviour and a significant improvement in communication.

“We are all made to shine”

The spiritual activist Marianne Williamson stresses that “we are all meant to shine, as children do… and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This is so true. Business leaders who allow their passion to shine encourage those around them to shine. And when everyone shines, great things can happen.

My Omani driver demonstrated clear speech, trustworthiness and credibility through his excitement and his love for his city. He gave me understanding, despite my lack of language, and he passed on such enthusiasm that I found myself excited and eager to see what he wanted to show me.

My plea to you is this: remember your passion and allow it to flow out in business as well as in life. It may well lead you to your goals.

Eid Mubarak.

The edible means to effective meetings

The benefits of biscuits for effective meetings

Biscuits are apparently the king of effective meetings. Survey after survey has underlined that the better the biscuit, the better the meeting.

This doesn’t mean that the world’s most expensive biscuit will net you that multi-million dollar deal. In fact the world’s most expensive biscuit is probably inedible, as it is well over a hundred years old. (It was taken by Sir Ernest Shackleton to the Antarctic in 1907 and sold for £1,250 GBP in 2011.)

But if you’re really trying to impress, then a £30 GBP box of 15 gold-leaf chocolate cookies might well do the trick.

Choosing your biscuits with care

The average Brit prefers chocolate digestives  to any other biscuit. But while this might initially seem a good choice for the boardroom table, a survey for this year’s National Biscuit Day reveals that the true biscuit of UK leadership is shortbread.

When 2,000 business people were questioned by biscuit manufacturer Thomas J Fudge’s, a quarter of all respondents said they closed deals more successfully with the right kind of biscuit on the table – and shortbread was the most profitable business biscuit.

The study also found that the type of biscuit you eat says a lot about your personality.

Leaders are more likely to go for custard creams, while risk-takers opt for chocolate bourbons. And do watch out for flapjack lovers – they’re likely to have a short temper.

Biscuits to avoid

While it seems important to have a range of biscuits on offer, some biscuits are an absolute no-no.

Pink wafers are considered too be “far too outrageous for a work environment”, and there is no place for crumbly biscuits in a professional meeting.

There’s nothing worse than spluttering crumbs at a potential client, or wondering whether to wipe them off the table when it starts to look like a two-year old’s eating area. It is difficult to run effective meetings with people’s attention on tidying the table rather than the matter in hand.

My personal dislike is individually-wrapped biscuits, where you get a couple of Viennese swirls in a little cellophane pack. With two biscuits at your fingertips, it’s far too easy to gobble them both in quick succession and then wish you hadn’t. Or perhaps that’s just me.

Biscuit etiquette for effective meetings

Stuffing yourself with an abundance of gorgeously sugar-laden treats is perhaps something best done in private.

All the business biscuit surveys show that most business professionals think it is only acceptable to take two biscuits during the course of a meeting. Any more and you’ll look greedy.

In the Thomas J Fudge’s survey, one in five professionals confessed they had been involved in a biscuit-related argument when a colleague had ignored business etiquette and acted “out of line” by eating more than three biscuits, or scoffing the last one. Be warned!

To dunk or not to dunk?

Dipping your biscuit into your tea or coffee is a business turn-off.

Some people will find this a shame, as dunking biscuits to eat the soggy result is a popular British pastime, which is reflected in many countries around the world.

The trend in South Africa and India is rusk-dunking, while Australians enjoy sucking tea through chocolate-coated, chocolate-filled Tim Tams (a process known as the Tim Tam slam). And in the Netherlands you’ll find stroopwaffels sitting above people’s steaming drinks to melt the caramel inside before they’re dunked.

But the advice for effective meetings is to keep your dunking out of the office.

Do better biscuits really mean more effective meetings?

Biscuit surveys tend to be carried out by those with a vested interest in getting people to eat biscuits. Thomas J Fudge’s makes and sells biscuits. Holiday Inn (which surveyed 1,000 business professionals) provides more than 3 million biscuits a year for the business meetings it hosts.

It’s a great feel-good factor story that biscuits can close deals, but is it true?

We can all get a sugar high and an immediate energy boost from a biscuit during a long working day, but this can be detrimental rather than positive, depending on the rest of your diet.

Psychologists have found that raising your blood sugar levels while performing a mentally challenging task also raises your stress levels and reduces your ability to think clearly. It produces high levels of cortisol – a stress hormone which impairs memory.

So if you’re trying to close a business deal when you’ve had a sugar-rich lunch or breakfast, and you’re chomping on biscuits due to greed or habit rather than hunger, think twice.

That said, sharing food is extremely important and has significant effects. Eating with others makes us feel good, and “makes us feel more positive towards those with whom we do it” according to anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, quoted in The Telegraph. “The quality of the biscuits we share says something about how much we value each other.”

So if offering better biscuits sends out a subtle but very convincing message to those you are trying to persuade, the return on investment is potentially huge.

Just avoid eating too many yourself!

Powerful connections make all the difference

This week I’ve been considering the issue of creating strong interpersonal connections while speaking. It’s the most important way to engage, influence and inspire those around you.

Connecting effectively with others helps people take your message on board, and this increases the likelihood that you will influence and inspire them while achieving your own aims.

To make a great connection you have to truly believe in your message, and focus purely on communicating it. No other thoughts or feelings should cross your mind while you are speaking.

But the words shouldn’t just appear in your mouth and float out into the air.

If you can link the inspiration of your breath with the inspiration of your thoughts, your words will become a part of your whole physical self.

This will allow you to experience a true connection with what you are saying. It will also enable those around you to experience a true connection with you as an individual, and with the message you are trying to convey.

Being true to yourself

The bottom line in creating any sort of connection is to be genuine while you speak. Using your personal experience to communicate your unique, deeply-felt understanding of your subject will help you connect with your words and gain trust from others.

Your emotions will enhance your delivery. They will boost your connection with your audience and make your words more impactful, whether you are talking in a one-to-one meeting or speaking at a large conference.

Take a listen to the father of the digital age, Apple’s Steve Jobs, for example. Or to media queen and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey. Their belief in their message is obvious. And that’s what drives their success. It empowers them to influence and inspire.

We can also learn valuable lessons from those outside the corporate and media world. The teenage winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, female education activist Malala Yousafzai is a great example of someone who speaks from the heart. And so is Neil Baldwin – the subject of the award-winning UK drama “Marvellous” – a man who refuses to let his learning disability get in the way of his absolute joy for life.

The intangibility of connection

Explaining how it feels to be connected with your words and your audience is rather like trying to describe an emotion to someone who has never experienced it. It is abstract and intangible until its force hits you directly.

You know you are connected in the moment but you cannot grab hold of that connection. If you start thinking about it, it will fade away, as your focus will no longer be on your words.

The constituent parts of connection are unquantifiable. But acting together as a whole, they are incredibly powerful.

Creating energy to influence and inspire

When you really focus on others, with the sole aim of conveying your message, you will lose self-consciousness and gain a sense of energy instead.

Sharing your words will help those around you to feel and understand your meaning. You’ll be totally involved in your listeners, taking them on a journey from an unfamiliar place to a new comfort zone where they really “get” what you’re saying and want to run with it.

There’s no need to force anything. Your message doesn’t need exaggerating, over-emphasising or pushing. If it comes from the heart and if you really believe it, you won’t need to put any effort into speaking it. You’ll be able to communicate with a firm, easy commitment and all your attention.

Ensuring you get it right

Executive Communication Coaching can be very a powerful tool as you work towards achieving your goals. Professional feedback, support and guidance will take you much, much further than you can ever go by yourself. 

So if you want to be absolutely sure that you communicate in the most effective way to influence and inspire your colleagues, clients and stakeholders, do drop me a line or give me a call.

And remember, the business of business is relationships. The business of life is human connection. 

The active listening habits of leaders

"Most of the successful people I've known”, said Bernard Baruch, financier and political adviser, “are the ones who do more listening than talking".

His observations were astute. Academic research indicates that leaders really are better listeners. They listen with an open mind, without becoming emotional or defensive.

Studies show that confident people are better at listening to communication content, while those who lack confidence listen more to the emotional meaning behind the spoken message.

But strangely, although business people recognise that listening is one of the most important skills for an effective professional, only 1.5% of articles in business journals are about listening effectiveness. And in a survey of 1400 executives and business leaders, more than 81% said they had come across leaders who failed to listen. 

Do you really listen?

While hearing is easy, listening is hard. As journalist and author Ernest Hemingway stated “most people never listen”. Are you one of that majority?

Listening really is the Achilles’ heel of leadership. You may not know there’s a weak spot until something goes wrong. But then, of course, it’s too late.

Remember BP's CEO Tony Hayward after the 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico? 11 workers were killed and nearly 800 cubic metres of oil flowed into the sea with catastrophic results both to the environment and to marine-based industries. Many lost their livelihoods and local communities suffered immeasurably. But Mr Hayward failed to listen to their pain.

He may have been overworked and overstressed at dealing with the catastrophe. But instead of responding to what people were saying, he focused on himself, infamously telling the media "There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I'd like my life back." He then proceeded to go sailing with his son. 

Unsurprisingly, Tony Hayward lost his job. 

Of course that's an extreme example, but the book ‘Listen Up’ by Larry Barker and Kittie Watson, asks whether you ever find yourself guilty of any of the following:

  1. Interrupting the speaker
  2. Not looking at the speaker
  3. Rushing the speaker and making him feel he’s wasting your time
  4. Showing interest in something other than the conversation
  5. Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing her thoughts
  6. Not responding to the speaker’s requests
  7. Saying “Yes, but…” as if you've made up your mind
  8. Topping the speaker’s story with “That’s nothing, let me tell you about…”
  9. Forgetting what was talked about previously
  10. Asking too many questions about details

If any of these points ring true, then perhaps you need to take a long, hard look at your listening skills. Better active listening will make you a better leader.  

Leaders who listen

So why should you listen? It’s a fairly obvious question, unless you happen to be Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who failed to hear the very strong advice to abdicate, and was savagely murdered instead. (I attended his official funeral, 80 years later, but that’s another story…)

Perhaps the IBM story is closer to home. In the 1990s IBM almost went bust. It was losing billions. The personal computer industry was taking off, and IBM’s core mainframe business was in crisis. The company wanted to look inward and reconfigure itself into separate entities, but the new CEO, Lou Gerstner, started listening to clients. They explained the market and the issues, and Mr Gerstner heard what they said, steered the business in a new direction and turned it into a highly profitable company once more.

Today, IBM’s shares are in decline again, but if history repeats itself and IBM listens once more, it might manage to resolve the situation.

The importance of active listening

A good reason for active listening is that your staff, colleagues, clients and stakeholders are more likely to listen to you if you listen to them. Leaders who do not listen tend not to be heard themselves.

If you listen and take other people’s ideas seriously, they will feel valued, and you will inspire loyalty. Without this, you will have little or no respect as a leader.

As a leader it’s also important to listen to those lower down the business hierarchy so you know what’s going on. If your life revolves around other leaders and managers you’re in danger of missing the wider picture and your decision-making can lose focus.

Listening statistics and active listening

The web is peppered with statistics about listening. Some may be accurate, others are probably wildly inaccurate. As a former science journalist, I only ever rely on stats from peer-reviewed journals, and even then with the premise of ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’. But it’s interesting to see the figures quoted, urban myths or not.

So, according to that highly unreliable source, the internet, we listen at between 125 – 250 words per minute but think at 1000-3000 words per minute. (More conservative estimates say that we think four times as fast as we listen.) Apparently we’re distracted, preoccupied or forgetful about 75% of the time we should be listening, and most of us only remember about 25% of what we hear.

The process of active listening – one of the skills I teach – has its own set of figures, according to professional mediator James Cull, from Decisive Mediation. He believes that active listening is based on a 70:30 rule: “you focus your efforts on the speaker and aim to talk no more than 30% of the time whilst encouraging them to make up 70% of the conversation”.

That sounds a pretty good rule to me, and one which I’d be very happy for my clients to follow.

Healthy listening

A highly respected Professor of Integrative Medicine, Rachel Naomi Remen, tells us that “the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.”

I think she makes a great point. While active listening is fundamental to business success, it’s also fundamental to social and relationship success. If we all listened to one another more effectively and productively, the world would be a happier place, a healthier place and a better place to work. 

My thought for the day is this: give it a go – try to give someone your full, focused attention today, and see what comes back to you. You have nothing to lose, and potentially loads to gain. And of course the better your active listening skills, the more you'll achieve. 

The significance of a strong voice

 I lost my voice this week. It totally disappeared and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it apart from remain quiet. Even communication professionals can fall victim to vocal cord viruses, although this was a first for me.

But never one to let an opportunity slip by, I used this ironic situation and my enforced silence to contemplate the importance of a strong voice, and how its significance is often lost or ignored.

The misconceived importance of a strong voice

There’s a much misquoted research paper by psychology professor Albert Mehrabian, who studied how university students recognised the emotions expressed by other students. He found that:

  • Body language accounted for 55% of their understanding
  • Voice accounted for 38%
  • Words accounted for just 7% of how students’ emotions were understood by their peers.

Since 1971, when Professor Mehrabian conducted his research, this 55%-38%-7% pattern has been wrongly extrapolated worldwide, by organisations trying to make a fast buck ‘scientifically proving’ their approach to communication training.

The pattern is regularly misinterpreted to demonstrate that when you want to make an impression on someone, 55% of your meaning comes across in body language, 38% comes across in voice, and only 7% comes across in words.

Unfortunately that’s total rubbish. Professor Mehrabian himself has complained that using figures out of context is completely inaccurate. For example it is impossible to extrapolate from an understanding of student emotions to an explanation of financial data. It’s like comparing oranges with curry. They may both be foodstuffs but they have very little in common.

And yet the urban myth persists. It’s difficult to dispel a myth. But it’s also important that the truth comes out. So that’s what I’m reflecting on today.

The fundamentals for a strong voice

Apart from whispering, I’ve been silent for several days now, in an attempt to let my vocal cords heal from the bug that attacked them.

I normally have a rich, strong voice, which is such an integral part of my everyday life that I very rarely think about it as a tool – it’s as much a part of me as my arms and legs.

Of course a strong voice is something that anyone can achieve – it’s just a matter of understanding what to do with your body to make your voice ring out properly. But you do need a healthy set of vocal cords at the outset.

The independent value of body language

As a quasi-experiment, I’ve been trying to communicate without speaking. And I can categorically confirm that people do not understand me by body language alone. They certainly do not get 55% of my meaning that way.

It might be useful if I spoke sign language, but I don’t. And neither do those around me. So I’ve reverted to the Christmas-afternoon type of charades, which is usually played with mince pies aplenty and overflowing sherry glasses.

Sadly, my wordless attempts to make myself understood have met with confusion and bewilderment. Body language alone just doesn’t cut the mustard. Perhaps I should have tempted people with alcohol and sugary carbs for better results.

Adding a strong voice to effective body language

Many years ago I lived and worked in Russia for the BBC. English was a rarity on the borders of Siberia, and as I spoke no Russian when I arrived, the potential for misunderstanding was high.

It might have been easier had I stayed in a hotel, but the BBC allocated me a Stalinist apartment in a grey concrete block, a bus ride from work. So I had to communicate with bus conductors, shop assistants and market traders, none of whom understood my language, and in whose own mother tongue I was completely lacking.

As you might imagine, body language played a large part in these encounters. But my voice helped too. People tended to recognise my tonality when I spoke in a clear, strong voice, and they could often glean my meaning from the ups and downs, the stresses and inflections of my voice. A question in most languages ends on an upwards tone. A negative response is usually short and authoritative.

My words were incomprehensible and therefore irrelevant to those around me, but my body language mixed with the sound of my voice provided people with equal measures of understanding.

Of course my communications were very basic: “I’d like that cheese please” (pointing and verbalizing). “No, not that one, the one next to it”… and “Water?” (tilting an imaginary bottle).

Words play a fundamentally important role in communication, so it would have been impossible to have held a coherent, interesting conversation at first. But at least I didn’t starve.

After a year or so in Russia, I’d picked up a considerable amount of the language, and could happily converse about miners blocking the railway lines or teachers going on hunger strike. As a journalism trainer these were my topics-de-jour, but small-talk would still have been all but impossible.

Strong voice, effective body language plus impactful words

When I compare my silent body language experiment of this week (no words, no voice) with my ‘Russian’ body language and speech, the Russian version wins hands-down.

Trying to communicate with people who speak my language, but without voice or words is much, much harder than communicating in a foreign country with a strong voice to add to the body language.

When words are taken out of the equation, it seems the importance of voice and body language are roughly equal in helping people understand meaning. And when words come into the picture, they play a similarly important role.

It seems that words, voice and body language are all just as valuable as one another when it comes to getting a message across. And that blows the Mehrabian myth right out of the water.

Party leaders resign: the final leadership communication

Well who would have thought it? The pollsters are navel gazing and self-flagellating for getting the election results so overwhelmingly wrong. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Conservatives are in charge of the UK, sweeping aside memories of the past 5 years of coalition government.

And the party leaders who were buoyed up and egged on by the media frenzy around the profusion of ‘too close to call’ polls? In acts of broken-hearted acceptance, the three main players have delivered their last acts of leadership communication – each resigining from the party they hold so dear.

Leadership communication to end all leadership communication

The likelihood is you’ll never have to resign in front of a large crowd and a panopoly of international TV cameras. But you can learn a lot about leadership communication (or the lack of it) by watching the different techniques employed by the three outgoing party leaders. Their methods of delivering uncomfortable news – recognising publicly that people didn’t like them all that much – varied significantly.

Ed Miliband: from phony to authentic

Before the election I slated Labour’s Ed Miliband for playing up to the camera, overperforming and coming across as fake and disingenuous during a TV debate between party leaders. I couldn’t bear his technique of  purporting to address the Prime Minister while taking every possible opportunity to stare robotically at the camera in an attempt to communicate directly to people at home.

Contrast that with his performance as he tells the party faithful that he’s stepping down. After an exhausting campaign with no sleep the night before, he is unpolished but somehow real. We can see genuine emotion. He is truly connected with what he’s saying, and it shows. That’s what leadership communication is about. Pity for him that he didn’t learn it before the election.

Nick Clegg: from compelling to unconvincing

Unlike Ed Miliband, the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, gave a very disappointing resignation speech. I’d praised him in the leaders’ debate for being credible, real and connecting with his audience. I was impressed with how well he performed.

But directly after the election, he deflated like an elderly balloon and social graces seemed to fail him. He found it difficult to make eye contact, and he read rather than spoke his words. Leadership communication it was not. And it certainly didn’t make the audience warm to him.

Perhaps the whole situation was just so difficult that the underlying cracks in his performance appeared. So perhaps it was best for that he withdrew from the leadership of the party.

Nigel Farage: consistent in defeat

Today’s third resignation came from the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, whom I’d cited previously as the leader who appeared the most genuine in April’s TV debate. (I must stress that this assessment was based on his performance alone, rather than the content of his communication.)

His resignation as party leader, announced al fresco on the Kent coastline, also appeared genuine and completely off the cuff . This is a man who does not need notes to speak his mind. His leadership communication style works for many people. And his passion (misguided though some think it is) may be why 1/8th of voters across the UK placed their cross in the UKIP box.

But just a word of advice… If, like Mr Farage, you ever find yourself in the position of being interviewed by the national and international media, try not to position yourself in front of a bad tribute act to Reservoir Dogs. Farage might be able to carry it off, but it doesn’t exactly add to his credence and as far as I can work out, it doesn’t support his message.

The new generation of leadership communication

As the Cameron wolf blows down the houses of the three little pigs, it’ll be interesting to see who replaces them at the top of the political elite, and whether the newcomers will learn the lessons of leadership communication that their predecessors might have been wise to take on board. As the new government steps in, I’ll definitely be watching this space…

Crank up your speech volume for leadership and power

My favourite aspect of leadership communication coaching is hearing my clients experience the beautiful ‘Aha!’ moment when they realise they can take their speech volume and their vocal richness to a totally different level. Rose buds spontaneously burst open, church bells peal out and fireworks explode every time a client suddenly ‘gets it’.

And ‘getting it’ is oh so pleasurable. It’s an amazing experience to realise that your voice has the power to affect others in the way you want. To recognise that it’s an incredible instrument. And to appreciate that it will always be with you, every single day, and that you’ll never again have to wonder whether you’re coming across in the right way.

Once you experience your true vocal potential, you’ll never look back.

Although – oddly – looking back is actually a great way of ‘getting it’. Many business leaders mumble and drone their way through meetings, pitches and presentations, purely because they don’t remember that they have this brilliant communication tool at their disposal. They’ve forgotten that as babies their voice was fantastic.

Babies are excellent at making themselves heard, and at getting those around them to do their bidding. They can crank their speech volume up to the max at will, they never lose their voice and they never run out of steam (as any weary parent will verify).

Babies just use their vocal instrument naturally and optimally. It’s not always the most pleasant of sounds, but it’s certainly powerful and compelling, and not something you can easily ignore.

Now I’m not suggesting in any way that getting up and screaming your head off in a meeting is a good plan. Don’t even think of going down that road! But as adults we can learn a lot from the natural techniques that we all used to have.

The only difference between a baby’s voice and an adult’s voice (beside its high/low pitch) is that adults tend to superimpose unhelpful habits on their vocal apparatus and associated muscles. And in doing so they stymie their natural abilities to use their voice to best effect.

As part of my leadership communication coaching programs I help clients to undo these habits, allowing your pure voice to shine. Everyone has an authentic, powerful voice within them. It’s not just in some of us – it’s in all of us. And when you let your true voice ring out – usually for the first time in years – you’ll leap into an inevitable ‘Eureka!’ moment.

And that’s what makes me smile. That’s what I look forward to when I get up in the morning, and that’s what I never tire of seeing and hearing, however many clients I’ve worked with over the years. The rebirth of a voice always feels like a truly miraculous event – not just for my clients, but for me as well.

Once you’re reunited with your true voice, and you’re able to boost your speech volume and richness whenever you want, your voice will always be there to support you. Learning how to reconnect with your own natural abilities is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to lead with power and pizzazz.