Monday, October 27, 2014

Practicing the Pitch

I have two clients right now that are in the midst of preparing their 'pitches' to potential investors.  In both cases I strongly urged them to not only practice their pitches but to videotape themselves while doing so. This is an unbelievably powerful tool that will help you to improve your delivery dramatically.  It is one thing for me to tell you what you are doing and need to change, it is another for you to see and hear it for yourself.

It is important that you see and hear your pitch from your audience's perspective.  Their receipt of your information is what will determine the action they take next, that is what you are trying to influence. You need to become familiar with the experience that you are providing them.  How did your delivery of your content make them feel, what did it make them think and what action did it make them want to take?  The better you are able to design and craft your audience's experience of  'you', the more successful you will be in influencing the result you achieve.

With the capability of videotaping from your phone, videotaping your practice sessions is more accessible than ever, and yet it is an overlooked and underutilized development tool.  It seems we don't hesitate to take thousands of videos of just about everything in life, but we hesitate to turn the camera back on ourselves. However, if you want to fast-track your improvement you need to do just that!

  • Got a big presentation coming up?  Tape and review it!
  • Looking to ask the boss for a raise?  Tape and review it!
  • Want to convince your team that they need to shift direction?  Tape and review your arguments!
  • Starting up your own new venture?  Tape and review your networking 'speeches' to ensure that you sound interesting, comfortable and confident! 
The following suggestions are offered to provide you with some direction as to what to look and listen for when reviewing your videotape.  Though not exhaustive, they will give you an idea of some of the biggest things that I look for when helping my clients to strengthen their presence and perfect their pitches.

  •  Do you sound mechanical or natural?  Most people, when faced with the pressure of preparing for an important speech or presentation, practice with the intent to learn their content.  A huge fear most of us have of public speaking is the desire not to forget everything we wanted to say!  Certainly practicing helps us to become more familiar and comfortable with our content, but do not make the mistake of believing the intent is to memorize it.  Become familiar with where you want your talk to go (the key points you want to cover) but recognise that there are many verbal paths that can take you there. Keeping the choice of words loose will give you the flexibility needed to keep your tone more conversational and will prevent you from freezing when one key word escapes you.  You'll simply choose another to fill the gap.  
  • Check for tics!  Do you have any repetitive nervous habits (verbal or physical) that are distracting your audience from your true message?  These could include the notorious Ums and Uhs, but could also be other repetitive catch phrases (the overuse of the word So at the beginning of sentences seems to be huge right now), small body jerks, head tosses, lip smacks, nose sniffs, finger flicks... you get the idea.  We all have them, but you aren't likely to know what yours are, or hope to control them, until you see and hear them for yourself.  
  • Monitor your pace.  When people get nervous they tend to speed up.  Everything.  They start speaking faster and, because our bodies tend to keep pace with our voices, they move faster too. This will appear nervous and anxious to your audience.  You want to speak and move with a smooth comfortable deliberateness.  Everything is targeted toward your audience.  You need to deliver your message at a speed that enhances your audience's receipt and understanding of the messages.  Too fast and you are too much work to listen to and your audience will shut down.  Too slow and you are also too much work, they'll tune you out.  
  • Give 'em time to get it.  You need to build pauses into your talk, small moments where you give the audience time to 'get' what you are saying, to catch up to what has gone before and to be fully present for what is to come.  Comedians (the good ones anyway!) know, understand and use the pause. They can't simply deliver a punchline, they must follow it with a pause that allows the audience to fully process and experience the content, to 'get it', before moving on.  Rushing the audience means that they don't have a chance to think through what you've shared and react to it.  The content falls flat. Pauses build in small moments that allow your audience to begin to feel something.  If you are looking to move your audience, don't rush your pauses.  
  • Where are you looking?  You need to connect with and draw your audience into your pitch, which means you have to look at them. As much as we have our own agenda for why we are speaking, we need to suspend it while we are speaking.  The moment that we make it all about our audience, the easier it is to remain connected.  However, when we shift our thinking to focus instead on ourselves we tend to go into our heads to do so.  This results in a physical withdrawal from our audience, which tends to negatively impact our eye contact first, with other body and voice cues following.
  • Show 'em your hands.  We tend to trust people more when we can see their hands.  Keep your hands visible and centered, holding them loosely right about belly button level, gesturing outward from there. Dropping the hands down at your sides will drop your energy, taking your audience's interest with them.  Your hands are great tools to help you to draw your audience into what you are saying and can help emphasize, clarify and strengthen your message.  Smooth, controlled movements, rather than short, sharp or jerky, is what you are aiming for.  If you are selling, not telling, then make more of your gestures from the palms up perspective.  Palms up is collaborative while palms down is directive. There is a place for both but if you are seeking something from your audience, you are in sales-mode, then your palms should be facing upward or toward each other, more than they are facing downward.
  • Smile.  When we get nervous we tend to stop smiling.  However, our smile is a powerful universal gesture than can be used to help us to connect with others and to convey our confidence.  Though you may be delivering a very serious message, you will likely find that there are still a couple of opportunities within which you can share a smile with your audience, if only when you are first greeting them and when thanking them for their time. 
Use the above points to help you to review your video.  Highlight which areas need a tweak or adjustment and then try it again.  The accessibility to video has made it easier than ever to gain important feedback on your delivery and yet few use it.  Those that do (which now hopefully includes you) will therefore have a strong and distinct advantage.  Practice and perfect your pitch and see for yourself the impact that it has on your success rate.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

It's a Matter of Moments

Our lives are a series of Moments strung together like one bead following another on a cord.  Most
moments in our lives don't stand out and remain indistinguishable from those that preceded it, or even from those that follow.

There are 'those' moments we experience though, that are memorable.  Moments that stand out in our minds, our memories and our hearts.  When we string these moments together, the moments that 'matter', we begin to shape and define our lives.  These are the moments that give meaning to the life we are living and that influence the choices we will make for the life we will live in the future.  Our perspective on what matters therefore, is critical in giving definition to how we view our lives and how we continue to live them.

As much as we typically assume that our memory is nothing but a direct recall of events as they were, it is important to recognise that our memory is driven by our choices.  Our memory of an event is shaped by 'How' we choose to remember an event and even by 'What' we choose to remember about it.  Our interpretation of an event then serves to influence the way we view it and, ultimately, how we remember it...

  • as good or bad
  • in joy or sorrow
  • in pride or shame
  • as loss or gain
  • in anger or forgiveness
  • as experience or failure
It is our choice that shapes the moments we preserve and that, in turn, shape the story of our lives.

If you don't like the story you are telling then choose different moments.  Many of us have inadvertently allowed others to select our moments for us, giving a shape to our stories that doesn't serve us and that we do not want to be defined by.  If so, then it is time to invest in ourselves and spend the time in redefining our lives, by restringing our moments.

Take mental scissors to your string of moments, cutting away those moments that don't serve the 'you' that you know yourself to be, the you that you want to be.  Invest the time to recall moments that support this desired view, moments that are empowering, pride-filled and heart-felt.  Choose moments of joy and triumph, moments of love and giving, but also moments of challenge and adversity, sorrow and loss.  

We learn much about ourselves through how we are tested.  Choose moments in which you dealt with your loss, overcame adversity, pushed further that you thought possible or pulled yourself back up out of despair.  These too are moments to be remembered and treasured.  

String together moments that define the true you, your humour, your strength, your passion, your honour, your sensitivity, your courage, your vulnerability, your tenderness, your openness, your creativity, your curiosity, your weaknesses, your humanity.  String together moments that tell the story of you and wear these moments with pride.

Our lives are a series of moments, strung together.  Choose the moments that matter to you, to define a life that matters... to you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Feeding Your Performance

Your performance on the job is a factor of many variables.  Do you know what to do?  Do you know how to do it?  Do you have the necessary skills to do it?  Is training and support provided?  Are you capable of learning it?  Are you interested in learning it?  All of these elements will influence your performance and productivity.

Additionally, we know that your physical health is also associated with your performance; those in good physical health tend to out-perform those who are not.  Let's face it, to get things done you have to have the energy to do it.  But we also need to have the right mental mindset to get things done, which means that your mental health and well-being is also a key factor in determining your success, in life and at work.

New studies published from the University of Warwick Medical School demonstrate a high correlation between the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed and your level of Mental Well-Being.  Yes, it turns out that your mother was right to admonish you to eat your vegetables.  In a study with over 14,000 people they determined that those participants deemed to have a high level of mental well-being consumed more fruit and vegetables each day than did their low mental well-being counterparts.  In fact, of those classified as High on the mental well-being scale, 33.5% consumed 5+ fruit and vegetables per day and 31.4% ate 3-4 portions.  Those in the low well-being group typically consumed little to none.

It seems that, along with not smoking, eating fruit and vegetables is the behaviour most consistently associated with maintaining a high degree of mental well-being.

If you consider that previous studies have forged a firm link between low mental well being and mental illness and mental health problems, then we definitely want to ensure that we fall on the opposite end of the scale.

High mental health and well-being is associated with feelings of optimism, positivity, happiness, higher self-esteem and better relationships.  These are all typical characteristics of high-performers. Top athletes know that they need to consume the right fuel for their bodies if they want it to perform at its peak, but they also know that their success is determined as much by their 'mental game' as their physical.  However, as it turns out, eating right for their physical conditioning already helps them improve their mental game.

For those of us that aren't requiring our bodies to 'perform' for us at that level, we may not be as consciously focused on the connection between our diet and our on-the-job performance. Research such as the above makes it clear that what we fuel ourselves with each day not only has an impact on our physical capabilities but our mental capabilities as well.

Really, as it turns out it is quite a simple equation.  Do you want to be happy?  Eat your broccoli!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Upping your Charisma Quotient

Think of the word Charismatic.  
Compile a list of  famous people that you find charismatic. Typical people topping the lists of my clients include: Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Dalai Lama, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King Jr., Pierre Trudeau, Mandela, and even people like Hitler, Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein.  These are all people that had a self image that drew others to them.  Their charisma helped them to build the powerbase needed to influence and change; and there is no question that each of them has been instrumental in evoking change, whether good or bad.

Many of us may be looking at strengthening our influence, though at a much smaller level. Strengthening our Charisma Quotient could be instrumental in helping us to do just that.  After over a half century of study it has been determined that Charisma can be measured and it can be improved.  Rare footage of Hitler shows him practicing his gestures in front of a mirror, perfecting his movements to increase his ability to move and influence a crowd.  With some practice, you too can become more charismatic.

Charisma itself is a combination of two factors: your Emotional Intelligence and your Social Intelligence.  To truly increase your quotient you need to create strength on both sides in three key areas: Expressiveness, Sensitivity and Control.

  • Emotional Expressiveness means that you are able to express your emotions to others.  You appear  animated and energetic and engage in positive eye contact with others.   
  • Social Expressiveness requires you to actively engage others during social interactions, making small talk and putting others at ease.
  • Emotional Sensitivity means that you are able to read the emotions of others, to understand what they are feeling, and to feel and express your empathy.
  • Social Sensitivity means that you understand the social and cultural rules, the nuances of situations, and are able to modify your behaviour to fit within these parameters.  This requires you to be a good listener and observer of behaviour.
  • Emotional Control requires you  to control your outward emotional responses and expressions.  Think of those in power who are able to look outwardly calm during crisis situations, regardless of how they are feeling.
  • Social Control means that you appear poised, comfortable and at ease in social situations, regardless of how you feel.
If you are looking to improve your Charisma Quotient, start by looking at any of the 6 keys areas described above and improving your skill in that area.  The benefit of course is that strengthening your skill in any of these areas will also help you in other aspects of your career and life.  Becoming better at small talk may help strengthen your Social Expressiveness but will also help you to grow and extend your network faster.  Learning to control your outward emotional responses will help you to appear more confident and in control which may be just enough to secure that new contract or opportunity.  Any positive gain in your Charisma Quotient will have a positive impact in your interactions with others and help maximize your success.