Sunday 18 November 2018

Summer: time to tone up your communications skills

Gina London
Gina London

Gina London

America's annual celebration of barbecue, aka Memorial Day as you all likely know it, was held this past Monday in the nation of my birth. Friends and family posted about a million photos of burgers, hot dogs and other assorted meat products grilled outside in their annual tribute heralding the traditional, if not technical, arrival of summer in a swirl of charcoal briquette smoke.

The impending arrival of summer also heralds about a million ads reminding you that it's time to get your soft, wintry body into swimsuit shape.

I pondered those advertisements and my unfortunate lack of said seasonal preparation in the toning department as I strolled along the beach during a sunrise last week in Alicante, Spain.

As picturesque as that description is (about the Mediterranean beach, not myself), I wasn't there on early holiday. Alicante happens to be the home of the European Union Intellectual Property Offices (EUPIO), providing trademark registration and services to the EU market of over 500 million consumers. I was there to provide story-telling training to staff.

It was a great location and a great opportunity - not only to work with a dedicated group of international EUPIO professionals, but also to connect and reconnect with a couple of equally dedicated and inspirational co-trainers. I hadn't been briefed on who the other "external speakers" would be. As it turned out, it was in Irish affair.

The multi-day conference introduced me to Mark Downey, an Ireland-based certified vocal coach and presence expert who worked with the group to develop those skills and also directed them on teleprompter-presenting techniques.

I was also happily reacquainted with the congenial Orlaith Carmody, former broadcaster and RTE board member who provides communications training along with her husband and Dragons' Den investor Gavin Duffy. I first met Orlaith three years ago when I spoke at Dublin's Pendulum Summit. But we hadn't seen each other since. You might think that bringing three trainers into the same event would leave little room for oxygen. Each of us clamouring for the spotlight while keeping our so-called trade secrets close to the vest. But you would be wrong.

Sure, we each have our own personal styles and sets of professional experiences to draw from - but we truly revelled in the chance to reinforce our teachings before the group by using the others' complementary approaches.

Getting outside validation of what you are already doing is a powerful tool. With their expressed permission, I am now delighted to share a few communication tips from Orlaith and Mark.

1 Put your audience first: Orlaith reminded the group that before preparing any presentation, it is essential to first consider the agenda, perspective and points of view of your audience. She then stressed the importance of defining your goal. What do you want your audience to actually do with your presentation? Thirdly, she explained that only after you have considered these first two items, should you then undertake the crafting of your message.

Sound familiar? I hope so. I have written before how I deploy the Stanford Graduate School of Business methodology of AIM - "Audience, Intent, Message." A different middle word, but the same dang goal, er, intent.

2 Strive for clarity, credibility and colour: Orlaith's communication recommendation is vivid and memorable. First, can your audience even understand you? Next, do you have content that demonstrates your authority of the topic properly? And finally, are you layering on detail or flair or stories that make your presentation interesting, or dare I say it, "entertaining?"

These are strategies that any truly engaging speaker willingly deals with. I regularly urge my clients to strive to balance their "credibility" with their "warmth". But honestly, as an unapologetic fan of alliteration, I adore Orlaith's catchier description of what every person should convey during a presentation.

3 Develop a powerful personal presence: Mark has honed his methods through a rigorous combination of experiences in government, business and the arts - particularly music and theatre. He has also worked for years with renowned voice and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg, whom Forbes magazine reports has collaborated with "many great actors and directors, including Judi Dench, Ian McKellan… and Mike Nichols". She is the author of several books on ways to harness your voice and become more charismatic.

Mark emphasised her 2008 book, The Second Circle. Inspired by it, he delivered a dynamic keynote in which he described and demonstrated how each of us can transform ourselves through breathing, voice and posture exercises.

We can evolve past humanity's "first circle" of introversion and self-doubt or pull back away from the negative and aggressive "third circle" of boasting and narcissism toward a more positive, self-affirming and egalitarian style embodied in the "second circle".

4 Become more caring: Mark described the second circle as a "place of humility, because you care." He was joined in chorus with Orlaith's and my calls to put others first in order to better communicate and connect. It's not counter-intuitive, folks. It's really the only way to reach mutually beneficial solutions or agreements or understanding on any business issue.

I described us as three evangelists proselytizing. We're all preaching the same "good news". That is: when you're toning up your body for this summer, we encourage you to tone up your communications too.

Sunday Indo Business

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