Thursday 17 October 2019

Rules are there to be broken to suit our individual needs

The Communicator

Captain Barbossa
Captain Barbossa

Gina London

Remember this scene in the first film (of too many) from the Pirates of the Caribbean series?

Elizabeth Swann is aboard the Black Pearl ship and demands to be taken back to shore by invoking a rule from the "Pirates' Code". But Captain Barbossa refuses to acquiesce to her request explaining, "The Code is more what you call 'guidelines', than actual rules."

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That's the point for today, dear readers. The Rules. They're more like guidelines.

A couple of weeks ago I was the first speaker at a large conference. I spoke about the importance of creating an "employee-centric" culture.

The second speaker spoke about some new technology that would be beneficial to the audience. The third speaker gave a presentation on how to give presentations.

His polished performance provided some very good ideas. But I couldn't help noticing how he positioned his teachings more as requirements than recommendations. He juxtaposed his list of what "to do" with another list of what "never to do". Ouch.

No doubt you've come across plenty of numbered lists here in this column. They're not hard-fast rules devoid of unique contexts and situations you may find yourself in. They're tips and suggestions.

I want to build your awareness so you can develop life-skills that allow you to make more informed decisions around how you communicate to better connect. I don't want to bind you into a rigid framework that prevents you from being you.

(It reminds me of that tight corset that restricted Miss Swann's breathing so much that she fell off the top of the Fort Charles battlement into the ocean and was later rescued by Captain Jack Sparrow.)

For help on this matter, I turned to Neil Gordon. A speaker and writer in his own right, he's noted for his work with numerous New York Times best-selling authors and speakers on helping them make their keynote speeches stick.

We talked by phone and I'm delighted to share some of our conversation with you. Get ready, here's today's list. When it comes to presenting, Neil says:

1 There is no hard and fast rule

You could break all the so-called rules and still impact people in a positive way and that's what matters.

What only matters, is how much we empower our audience to solve a problem they truly care about.

What's more, no one in an audience walks into the room and hopes they'll see a riveting speaker, or a dynamic speaker, or anything else. They just care about shifting the trajectory of their life in a positive way.

2 Presentations vary because people vary

If a person is super amped up and speaks with loads of energy and volume, that's great. If they show up on stage and use those qualities to help their audience to solve a problem, the audience will love them for it and want to connect afterwards.

But if the person is more subdued and nurturing, that's great too. If they show up on stage and use those qualities to help their audience to solve a problem, the audience will love them for it and want to connect afterwards.

"And if the person is like me, who acts random, goofy, and totally over-the-top, that's great. If I show up on stage and use those qualities to help my audience solve a problem, the audience will wonder what I'm smoking," Neil jokes. Ha! Hopefully, they'll still want to connect, right, Neil? Because if you're too over the top, you might risk putting them off.

3 Don't compare yourself negatively to others

"Of course," Neil replies. "The point is, when we're on stage, it doesn't matter if we have a different style than other speakers. It only matters how our audience feels at the end."

It's human nature to compare ourselves to others. But don't do it to make yourself feel superior or subservient.

Instead, listen to people whose speaking and presenting style you admire - and consider adapting some of their techniques to suit yourself. Developing your presentation and speaking style isn't disingenuous, it's important to grow, practice and refine.

4 Inspire your audience

"It is not our job as a speaker to sound like a public speaker. It's our job to empower others from the stage. And we are most likely to do this when we speak from as authentic of a voice as possible," Neil says.

As of this writing, the fourth-most popular TED talk is on "the power of vulnerability" by Brené Brown. Neil points out that she gave this talk not on the main Ted stage but at a smaller TedX event in Houston. And yet her talk has tens of millions of views.

"Is she amped up, super extroverted, and full of high-energy madness on stage?" Neil asks. "Not even close. She provides a kind-hearted, slightly self-deprecating talk on vulnerability and conveys more introverted, nurturing qualities."

The most effective communicators value the recipient over the sender. And I hope that empowers you like a pirate, to bend a few "rules".

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