Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lessons of 2010

Here are a few things I learned from working with my clients this past year. Maybe they can be of some use to you as you reflect on your own communication style in 2011.

  1. CEOs get nervous. Even more than us since they perceive the fall if they fail as longer and harder than ours. They stop taking risks as speakers - the exact opposite of what they need. Many settle for boring and safe vs. daring and dangerous. I encourage them to take choreographed risks on stage, relax and live a little.
  2. Screw the slides - before they screw you. I see executives agonize over how to speak to slides created by someone else. Create arresting visual formats for (10 or less) slides, then make the information fit the design - not vice versa. If all you do is plow through a 30-slide data dump in front of an auditorium, you've failed yourself and your audience.
  3. Practice with peers. There's no better way to hone your client skills than to practice in front of colleagues and get support, feedback and suggestions. Don't just talk about clients. Role play with colleagues as the clients. You're among really smart people who do what you do. Share client stories, tips, techniques and make each other better.
  4. Master your core stories. There are probably half a dozen core stories that explain your business. First, identify them (philosophy, process, structure, products, brands are all candidates as core stories). Then write them out in 500 words. Then practice out loud till they become second nature. Then have a long and short version - an electric and acoustic version. Then take them on the road and try them out on clients. It builds a masterful mental IPod.
  5. Videotape the "other" you. If you are quiet and reserved, videotape your "inner evangelist" talking about a passion of yours. If loud and expressive, videotape your "inner librarian" whispering in a more understated style about something important. You get to see the other side of your communication self and expand both your verbal and nonverbal versatility.
  6. Connect with your people. Grab a few free minutes and bring someone who works for you into the office and try to draw them out. Focus on finding out as much as you can about how their job is going and how they're doing. You become a better questioner and listener. They will leave feeling you heard and understood them. We all spend too much time talking, when we shoud be listening.

Much more to come in 2011. As you take whatever stage you will communicate from this year, remember my motivational mantra: If You Believe It, You Will Be It.

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