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If you’re a new leader, with a larger team, you might want to know how to give a pep talk. There is some science to pep talks. It’s called Motivating Language Theory, and it uses three different kinds of speech.

3 Kinds of Speech

The first kind of speech is direction-giving, which is language that’s meant to reduce anxiety.  Think of it as useful instruction about how to do the task at hand.

For instance, when you show your team of direct sales people how to reduce negative self-talk, you calm them down and make them feel that they can do the job better. This mode of communication focuses on the what or how of the task at hand.

Meaning making language explains why the work is important. When you emphasize the importance of team or family or the legacy of the institution, you are engaged in meaning making.

Third is empathetic language. This is when you see an individual catching on and doing better.  Positive encouragement, congratulations, and demonstrations of trust in the person can be very helpful to them.

Researchers Theodore Zorn and Sarah Ruccio did a study of people selling ads for college phone books. They found that their study matched up with the theoretical model.  

When they interviewed the sales people and the managers they found that the reps liked three kinds of communication:

  • Modeling success, which is similar to direction giving, which reduces anxiety
  • Individualized attention, which is empathetic communication
  • Exuding energy, important for any communicator trying to inspire
5-Part Formula

What about military pep talks?  Stanley McChrystal ran the Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008, and later, all forces in Afghanistan. While leading the JSOC, he commanded Seals, Rangers, and Delta Force operators–seasoned soldiers who were risking their lives on a daily basis.

He had a standard five-part formula:

  1. Here’s what I’m asking you to do
  2. Here’s why it’s important
  3. Here’s why I know you can do it
  4. Think about what you’ve done together before
  5. Now let’s go out and do it.

In all these examples, there is a push and pull between practical instruction and emotional appeals.  

Stay Calm and Carry On

When Admiral William McRaven was getting ready to capture Osama bin Laden, some people said he gave a fabulous speech that included describing a scene from the movie, “Hoosiers.”

But one former seal said that the Admiral’s talk was entirely instructive and unadorned. “Nothing he said stuck with me. I focused on what was about to happen,” he said.

It turns out that McRaven did both in the same speech. He described the scene from “Hoosiers” when Gene Hackman (“Coach Dale”) gets the players into the huge arena for the state championship basketball game, and in order to make them realize that the big arena is the same as their hometown gym, he has one player measure the distance from the foul line to the basket (“fifteen feet”), and the height of the rim from the floor (“ten feet”).

McRaven did the same thing with the SEAL team. He told them that the mission was no different than any other mission they had done before.

Apparently, it was not a particularly emotional speech. In fact, he may have caused the SEALS to calm their emotions and go about their business, as the British did when they papered London during the Nazi bombing of WWII with posters saying, “Stay Calm and Carry On.”

McRaven’s approach seemed to work. During the hour-and-a-half helicopter flight to bin Laden’s compound, some of the SEALS fell asleep.

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Presenters wonder, “How can I connect with my audience?”

You can connect with your audience in many ways, but there is a rule of thumb.  Essentially, you’ve got to find some similarity or commonality with your audience.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak to a convention of anesthesiologists.  About two weeks before the event, I sat down to try to figure out what I had in common with them.

I racked my brain for hours, and I finally figured out that I had nothing at all in common with anesthesiologists.

So, I decided to tell them the truth.  When I got up to speak, I started by saying, “You know, I believe that we are in opposite professions.  You are in trouble when your client wakes up, and I am in trouble when my client falls asleep.”

They seemed to enjoy that!  So, I’m sure that looking for commonality with your audiences is a good technique. But, it’s also telling the truth.

How can we help?

If you would like help with a presentation, or if your team needs to get better at being understood, remembered, and believed, give us a call. Sims Wyeth & Co. helps our clients with workshops, coaching, and message development. We have experience with scientific and technical presenters, financial firms, and other service industries.

Recently, we’ve expanded our services to include one-on-one executive communication coaching, small group training lasting one or two days, on-line sessions for groups and individuals, a one-hour communication workshop called OPENING THE DOOR. We also offer related services such as Improving the speaking voice, How to find and tell your story, and Preparing teams and individuals for important opportunities.

Don’t forget, if you find this video helpful, please be sure to share it on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

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Presenting is such an important skill.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice says that any officer who sends a soldier into battle without a weapon can be court-martialed.

Well, if there were a code of justice in the business world, it might say this. Any one of us who goes into our careers without first arming or equipping ourselves to be good presenters will suffer consequences.

Why? Because our careers depend on how we speak, how we write, and how we think–in that order.

However, don’t forget that nobody knows what you think until you speak or write. Moreover, these days people don’t read– they skim, they scan, and they surf.

They wait for the meeting. Or, they wait for the presentation. In other words, they wait for somebody to come into the room, make the points, and make the arguments come alive.

Another thing to keep in mind is that business is not a writing culture. Business is a verbal culture,  and you don’t get rewarded in business for your brilliant writing. You get rewarded and promoted because you can sell yourself and your ideas.

That’s precisely why I believe presenting is such an important skill.

Good public speaking gives you that ability to sell yourself and your ideas.

How can we help?

If you need help with a presentation or speech, or if your team needs to get better at being understood, remembered, and believed, give us a call or drop us an email. At Sims Wyeth & Co., we provide workshops and coaching to help our clients with focus, message development, and presence. We have experience with many different industries, but we specialize in supporting scientific and technical presenters, financial firms, and other service industries. Don’t forget–if you find this video helpful, please be sure to share it on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

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People often ask me about a good way to begin a presentation.

There are a number of good ways to begin a presentation.

After all, smokers like matches that light with the first strike, and audiences like presentations that ignite their interest from the start.

So, I suggest that you jump right in! Start with the pitch–don’t start with the windup.

Churchill famously said that opening formalities are opening amenities. In other words, get rid of that upfront stuff and get into the meat of the matter.

We all know that Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg did not start his speech by saying, “I’d like to say a few words about his terrible battle that just occurred here…”

No, instead he rolled out an amazing sentence that described eighty-seven years of American history–history that Americans cherished.

Of course, we all know the phrase that begins that sentence. It’s four score and seven years ago.

Here is a less grand example. A client of mine was speaking to a group of food industry experts.

He started his speech by saying, “There’s a storm brewing in the ketchup aisle!”

Then, he went on to describe how foreign condiments were coming in and eroding the market share of Heinz 57, etc.

As an opener, it was a fun, interesting, and memorable.

He had their interest from the start!

How can we help?

If you would like help with a presentation, or if your team needs to get better at being understood, remembered, and believed, give us a call. Sims Wyeth & Co. helps our clients with workshops, coaching, and message development. We have experience with scientific and technical presenters, financial firms, and other service industries. Also, if you find this video helpful, please be sure to share it on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

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Improv can improve your business culture, and it’s a great skill to bring into your company.

What is improv?

Most people think improv is about being funny, and of course that’s one part of it, but it’s more than that.

It’s really about listening, and listening is the super glue of successful business cultures.

In real life, when you get into heated discussions, you compose your retort while waiting for the other person to finish talking so you can say what you want to say.

But, you learn in improv that nobody knows what crazy thing is going to come out of anyone’s mouth, so you have to pay rigorous attention to what your scene partner is saying.

Why? Because In improv, there is no blocking. If your scene partner says, “There’s a unicorn in your beard,” you can’t say, “No there isn’t,” or “I don’t have a beard.” You’ve got to go with it. You should say, “There is? Where?” and scratch around to find it. Or say, “I gave birth to it yesterday.” You can’t be planning anything. You have to go with the flow.

Listening is key

In most businesses there are lawyers and analysts and IT people, designers, Ph.Ds, technical writers, MBA’s–a huge range of discipline diversity. So you’ve got to get your people connecting with one another, which means really listening to each other.

7 Ways to Improve

Here are 7 things that you can do to improve your business culture.

  1. Clarify what you heard. I like it when, after I’ve expressed my opinion in a meeting, my interlocutor says, “So what you’re saying is that you don’t think it’s a need to have, it’s a nice to have,” which gives me a chance to confirm that my colleague is correct, or say, ”No, not exactly. I just meant that I need more data to make the investment.”
  2. Encourage people to share their work so colleagues can see it. You don’t want a culture of “that’s my idea. I don’t want them to take it.” Or even worse, “Maybe they’ll find a flaw in it.” Applaud yourself for finding a flaw in your own idea, and applaud your colleagues who find a flaw in it too.
  3. Admit mistakes. Meetings are crucial culture shapers, so start some meetings by saying, “Let me tell you how I screwed up.” Set a tone that allows everyone to put their mistakes out there. After all, we don’t call it trial and success–we call it trial and error. In fact, I like to say that the world moves forward on two legs: trial and error. The great film and stage directors encourage their performers to make more mistakes. Wasn’t Viagra originally meant to prevent hair loss? If so, it was a very successful mistake.
  4. Deal with it. When someone comes into your office blaming something on another department say, “Really? Let’s get them in here. Let’s find out what really went wrong. We are going to get to the bottom of this.” Get everybody together. The gripes and blame game will shrink and things will turn out to be not as bad you thought.
  5. Pay attention to projects and the office environment. You need to attract great people, and in order to do that you have to have great projects–something really interesting for people to work on. And of course you need to cultivate a great environment. Get these three things going and they feed off each other.
  6. Move people around into different positions. It’s uncomfortable because we all like to be settled. Moving people around helps to prevent silos and fiefdoms.
  7. Hire people who like to read. Make it one of your standard interview questions. Ask them what they are reading and why they’re reading what their reading.

Don’t discount improv as a great business tool. Yes, it can be fun, but even more important, it can lead to a better culture.

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