As I walked down an extremely busy street in London sometime ago with a friend, a young man stopped me and said in a rather puzzled manner, “Do I know you?” I replied that I did not think so.

Later, as I considered this brief exchange of words, bearing in mind that I certainly had never seen him before; that I am not world-famous nor was he trying a smooth chat-up line, I concluded that the only reason he could possibly have had for stopping me was the fact that I had smiled at him, as I tend to do to many people. This little scenario got me thinking how important it is to maintain an openness and connection with other people even if we do not know them. Mother Teresa said “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

Children, apparently, smile about 400 times a day; adults, however, smile 40-50 times a day when happy and only 20 times a day when not! Interestingly though it actually takes far less effort, from a physiological point of view, to smile than it does to frown and I often find myself encouraging clients to remember the power of a smile in connecting with others and simply to feel better.

The benefits of smiling are well documented and proven …

• Smiling helps you to feel happy and relaxed. If you are in a bad mood, simply by choosing to smile you can lift your spirits. Consequently, smiling can change your mood, your feelings, even your resulting actions by helping to generate more positive emotions.

The scientist Andrew Newberg has said that in experiments, the smile was “the symbol that was rated with the highest positive emotional content.”

• Smiling stimulates your brain’s reward mechanisms in a way that nothing can match.

• Smiling boosts your immune system.

• Smiling reduces stress as it leads to a decrease in stress induced hormones, this positively affects physical and mental health.

• Smiling is contagious. A recent study in Sweden showed that it was extremely difficult for others to frown when they looked at others who were smiling!

There is a reason that the most read book in the world says “laughter does good like a medicine”.

 

The whole subject of speaking is absolutely fascinating and difficulties in this area are so often not what they seem on the surface.

Absolutely we can have a difficulty with the distinctness of being able to say our ‘th’ sound or our ‘l’s’ and we need to work on those in order to have clear speech. However, we do have to come at speech work, at times, in a more holistic manner …

In another arena of life, people may experience financial difficulties which could be simply due to the loss of a job or a stream of income, but so often it can be more a symptom of a deeper issue ie. overspending due to lack of self esteem, an inability to budget and so some fiscal discipline and management is needed. Similarly, very often, this can be the case with regards to being able to confidently stand up and speak in front of others. The moment the spotlight is on us, if we are untrained and unskilled in this area, a myriad of thoughts and feelings can manifest which make it extremely difficult to function and do a great job.

Happily, I believe that there are some very practical ways through these difficulties …

Take one, not very tall, man; some lights; a huge platform and 20,000 people… all laughing for one and a half hours!

It really is an experience to be in an arena of so many people all laughing together. Laughter is infectious and so good for us – it certainly does good like a medicine.

Such was our very enjoyable evening a few nights ago at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney where the hilarious Michael McIntyre was entertaining an enormous crowd with no props, no special effects and no visual aids at all.

It was a great feat of memorisation, engagement with the audience and energy to entertain so many with simply a voice and a body! Michael McIntyre’s ability to make the mundane and familiar so amusing; to laugh at culture and language and be so observant of the people to whose towns and cities he visits, is a gift.  He is a very humorous and skillful communicator.

Some key skills that he exhibited were having great energy and enthusiasm, content that connected with his audience and clearly hours and hours of practise. He was totally professional and flexible when a couple of ladies interrupted one of his stories, and handled the situation with grace and absolutely no sign of panic!!

A few keys for all us public speakers there!

 

“I really enjoyed the sessions and took a lot from them. Apparently I did a great job at the conference … Thank you so much!”  AC, Music Industry Exec

“It was such a great experience and my presentation went really well. It was a huge conference … All of your training and support stood me in good stead, and I adjusted my sessions to fit my audience… I followed all your recommendations to prepare myself for the presentation – and then thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Thank you for your steady guidance in the lead up. I couldn’t have done it without you.”  ST, Educator

“I’m so relieved it (the presentation) is over but it went well! I’ve had heaps of compliments …. Thank you so much.”  NE, HR professional

 

WOW – Let the comments speak for themselves!

Just because most of us are able to open our mouths and say something, doesn’t mean that what we are saying and how we are saying it, is effectively communicating with whomever our audience happens to be.

As with everything in life that we want to do well at, practise and skill are necessary. Being a great speaker, whether in a small group setting, a large audience or on media takes time and effort.

A talk begins as a little seed that has to be nurtured, thoughtfully developed and worked on if we are going to hit the mark with our listeners. We so want to be able to microwave everything and produce it in 2 secs flat! Very few people are really able to brilliantly speak spontaneously, and the few that can have had years of practise and experience, although they may not tell you that!

When I hear, occasionally, people say that any sort of public speaking courses, presentation skills training or vocal coaching is unnecessary, I just smile; remember and celebrate the many individuals that I have had the privilege of working with, in so many different professions and walks of life, who have successfully achieved and enjoyed the fruit of having grown in their communication skills.

 

People with good social skills earn more money!

 Recent research documented by the Harvard Business Review has shown that “People who have higher social skills, as measured by the survey, earn more money … than those with poor social skills. There seems to be a positive return to social skills in the labour market, according to the data, and the return is relatively greater when people are in jobs that require more interaction with others.”

The soft skills of good inter-personal communication and effective teamwork; getting on with your colleagues and connecting well with clients are extremely important. Much time, effort and training are put into hard skills but what good is a lawyer if he can’t effectively communicate with his clients … what good is a manager if she can’t speak with some emotional intelligence to her employees … what good is a leader who is unable to envision his team.

How we effectively communicate and connect with others could be the sole reason for success or failure in a project, place of employment or promotion opportunity.

 

The phrase ‘Finding your voice’ resonates with so many of us because it is about freedom of expression to be all that we have been created to be. From the moment a new little person is born into the world we listen for the first sign of life – a cry. The newborn baby comes out of the safety of her mother’s womb, takes in air, opens her mouth and emits a sound that lets us know that she has arrived safely in this world.   The child continues to express herself through crying and noises until learning to form sounds and words and sentences, so developing the ability to express herself in a more mature and effective way.

I remember, as a child, wanting, no, needing to release my voice with full force and vigour as I had done as a baby with no restraints of what was polite or socially acceptable so … would stand under the railway bridge close to our home, and, as the train went over, would let out a long, well-supported (by then I knew how to effectively use my diaphragm) shooooooooout! This vocal release eased tension, frustration and somehow helped me again to connect with my innermost being. Singing can be a wonderfully health promoting pastime also.

Dr Peter Calafiura, an American psychiatrist, agrees that yelling can have a positive mental influence. “[Yelling] might trigger some endorphins, a natural high,” he says. “They might feel calm and it might even be a little addictive. It’s really similar to a runner’s high. They’re getting the same effect in a different way.”

Sometimes, we need to shout, shout and let it all out …! My only word of advice would be to do it somewhere where you are not going to distress or alarm someone else and I am certainly not advocating giving way to venting and yelling at another human being! There is plenty of evidence that yelling in anger is seriously detrimental to one’s health.

 

Hi Sarah, just wanted to let you know that my presentation went really well. I didn’t get that anxious feeling, which was great!”  NH, Sydney

 I love receiving feedback from my clients and hearing how well they have done, and are doing, in achieving their personal communication goals. One of these goals can be about actually beginning to enjoy standing up and sharing our thoughts, knowledge and ideas with others.

What is it about speaking publicly that can make even the most robust of us tremble at the knees, and to be cited as one of the greatest fears for people, second only to the fear of death?

Is it the knowledge of all eyes being just on us? Is it the acute awareness of the responsibility to ‘deliver’? Is it a mistrust in ourselves not to do something that would make us look foolish?

There are certainly proven strategies and techniques for handling nerves that do not include drinking lots of alcohol prior to speaking, or taking beta blockers!

I believe that, as individuals, we all want to be considered “a confident person”. We recognise the benefit of coming across to others as being fearless and self-assured. It is always interesting to clarify the exact meaning of words that we use so regularly …

‘confident’ –marked by assurance, as of success

having strong belief or full assurance

very bold

trust or faith in a person or thing

the state or quality of being certain.

Trust, assurance, aplomb, self–confidence … these nouns all denote a feeling of emotional security resulting from faith in one’s ability to achieve a certain goal.

So if we desire to be confident in the area of verbal communication we remember that a ‘communicator’ is someone who is skilled at conveying information or ideas to others. ‘Communication’ is the art and technique of using words effectively to exchange thoughts and to express oneself in such a way as to be readily and clearly understood.

Let’s put time, focus and intentionality behind achieving the above and we will be able to confidently say “I am a Confident Communicator!”

Emma Watson

I was moved last week in watching Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, give what has been called by the press and media as a “game changing” and “powerful” speech.

Emma Watson was addressing the UN at their HQ in New York as an introduction to the HeForShe campaign.  She has recently taken up the role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and was inviting the male members of her audience to make a stand, along with the women, for gender equality.

Emma indeed made an effective and impassioned plea for change that was undoubtedly heartfelt and deeply considered.  So what qualities was she evidencing in her speaking that evoked such a glowing response from the ordinarily critical media machine?

I believe that she was courageous in making a stand for what is still, in our ‘progressive’ 21st century culture, a significant issue for many women the world over.  Emma also highlighted how the issue adversely affects men on a number of levels.

She was relatable, using well-chosen examples from her own life and allowing some vulnerability and transparency.  Although, at times, her voice trembled, this in no way detracted from her message or ability to connect with her audience.

Emma was well-prepared and practised  – she knew her speech inside out and did not falter.  Her chosen facts entirely supported her cause.

Finally, I want to highlight the point that she had a cause.  There is nothing else so empowering and provoking to challenge us to step out of our comfort zones, as having something to speak up for!

 She spoke from her heart.

William Wilberforce

In Western terms it was William Wilberforce, the 19th century champion for the abolition of the slave-trade, who coined the phrase and terminology “manners”, encouraging considerate behaviour towards others.  In a purely social context, we generally prefer spending time with people with pleasant social habits rather than poor ones.  Nobody likes to sit in a restaurant with the person at the adjacent table picking his or her nose.

On the nose front, however, there are cultural differences as my mother-in-law found out as she travelled in a taxi in Indonesia years ago.  She was chastised by the driver who exclaimed that it was the height of disgusting behaviour to blow your nose into a small piece of cotton and then put it back in your pocket – he then proceeded to blow his nose straight out of the taxi window onto the street!

Enough of noses … Manners and courtesy, of course, also relate greatly to what we say; the words we use and how we say them.  We have all experienced the lie that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.  It is a great question to consider what sort of verbal culture we are creating in our workplaces and homes.  We expect our employees to speak to us and their colleagues and clients with politeness and warmth so we indeed need to treat them with the same considerateness.

I read recently about  ‘Mindful Communication’ where readers of the Huffington Post were encouraged to really consider what they were about to say before they said it,  ie. “Is what I am about to say to this person how I would like to be spoken to?”  If we are not sure then even writing it down and rephrasing the communication could save unnecessary offence, difficulty and upset.

We can be careful, as good communicators, that the words we are choosing to use are creating a positive environment around us, our colleagues and employees and so make for a happier workplace. Much has been said about the dangers of being misunderstood by poorly thought-through texts and emails, but this continues to be something for excellent leaders and communicators to think about with regards to our verbal comms.