Almost Famous is one of my wife’s favorite movies. There’s a part in it when the main character, Russell, travels to Topeka and gets sick of hanging out with his rock and roll band and crew — instead, he just wants to hang out with ‘real people.’ I think craving something real, down-to-earth and relatable is something we all want from other people — turns out, it’s even emerging in design trends, too.
This last weekend, our local newspaper’s real estate section shared a new design trend called “Wabi-sabi.” Wabi-sabi is a Japanese approach that celebrates imperfections and authenticity. In the article, Wabi-sabi is defined as, “all about keeping things real. It’s asymmetrical design and finding flaws to celebrate. Think wrinkled linen sheets, handmade pottery, weathered wood and worn or chipped furniture that make Type-A perfectionists nervous.”
We all need to communicate in this Wabi-sabi way! That means be conversational, flawed, transparent, vulnerable—and celebrate our imperfections and authenticity. It’s these imperfections that make us real and help us connect with people.
Too often we think our communications need to be perfect. That can lead to a robotic version of ourselves, we get too formal, which leads to rigidity and a lack of connection. Of course, we want to avoid creating distractions for our audience, and that’s why we’ve blogged in the past about filler words, gestures and having a point of view. The goal of all these tips is not to make you too precise or robotic. We want you to be more real.
So embrace wrinkled sheets and those little flubs. This Wab-sabi approach can help guide us to a NEW true north, and be more real and authentic in our homes AND our communications.
As Guy Kawasaki says, don’t be afraid of the crow’s feet. That’s right, the most sincere smile is a Duchenne smile (named for French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne) that lights up your eyes and shows off your pearly whites.
Guy is a powerful influencer and speaker – and his Duchenne smile (and crow’s feet) are part of the likability equation. When we smile, it makes us more human and helps us connect on a human level. I love how this article in HBR ties human need for connection to leadership.
We work with a lot of executives who try to strike the balance between warmth and competence. The natural inclination of many professionals is to lead with competence – so they can prove their position and expertise. But for leaders, it turns out warmth is critical.
According to social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, “Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and communication and absorption of ideas.” When people perceive you as warm, you’ll almost automatically be more influential because we trust people we that we like—and part of being likable means showing it.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The simplest way to add warmth is to smile. So many people think that to be taken seriously you have to be serious all the time—when it’s actually the opposite. Smiling boosts others’ perception of you – and your competence. We don’t mean a cheesy, ear-to-ear, used car salesman grin—instead, think about it as lightening up your face. Lift your cheeks and smile with your eyes.
Who can you think of that smiles with their eyes? For me, I think of Guy Kawasaki (pictured above), Huey Lewis, Sheryl Sandberg and the late Arnold Palmer (pictured below), to name a few.
Who else can you think of who smiles with their eyes?
Flu season is a doozy. And it seems that the strains this year are harder than ever to kick! That means a lingering cough, nasal tone and not enough rest can really impact how you communicate in your next meeting. While it would be nice to reschedule, sometimes that’s just not possible.
If you’re battling symptoms while presenting (hopefully at least no longer contagious), here are a few recommendations beyond, “drink lots of water:”
Do not start the talk by saying “Sorry, I feel sick.”I realize it’s tempting to introduce yourself this way. Doing so is a bit like saying you feel nervous: it’s successful in garnering audience empathy, but unsuccessful in convincing them of your message. You don’t want people focused on your cough rather than your message.
Be aware of the fact that due to congestion, you can no longer accurately gauge your volume. Before your talk, have someone (a friend, conference volunteer, whomever) head to the back of the room. Keep decreasing your volume until they can no longer hear you. Take a mental note of that volume and always try to exceed it. Feel free to play with variations, too, i.e. “Do I sound excited enough?”
Time how long you can maintain energy. If you can’t go 15 minutes without coughing, plan some sort of break every ten minutes: a video clip, audience interaction, even an actual break. If you’re wearing a mic, remember to switch it off for a second, cough, then turn it back on.
Finish early. I have never, ever heard someone complain about a talk going short. It will probably make you feel better, too.
Our leadership team recently got into a conversation about product selling versus consultative selling. And it got me thinking about our clients and how many of them deal with this same issue. We’re asked and tasked to help with this. A lot. How do we do it?
It’s similar to the pictures, above. Which would your customers say you are? Are you providing a more consultative-type of service or are you just slinging product?
When your team cares about the customer, they perform better. They provide better service. They figure out the solution to the customer’s needs, faster—and most importantly, the customer feels it! They can feel the end result before you even deliver it. That’s intention. That’s care. That’s providing a valuable service.
Plumbers are possibly the best solution sales people out there. They help you, and they fix it. And you love ‘em for it. I don’t need to know all the parts and tools required to get my toilet unclogged, I just need to know it’s going to be fixed before everyone comes to my house for the holidays! (We’ve all been there.) Bottom line, it’s the end result that’s important to the customer. The more we know about what they want, what will improve their personal experience, the more we can show we care and make the solution fit them. The same rules apply to ad sales, financial management, SaaS and biotech.
It’s the start of a new year and sales kickoffs are approaching. Too often, these meetings are spent talking about the product and what’s new. What message does this send to the team? Of course you want them to sell your product(s), but instead, encourage them to care. Challenge them to be listener-focused and understand the customer better. What are their wants? Their needs? What do they already know about your product and how do they feel about it? Then, design your message with those things in mind.
You don’t have to be a plumber (or a tailor) to have a more consultative-selling strategy. You just have to care. The answers to the questions above will help make your message more relevant, and they’ll love you for it.
When we experience something bold, it jolts us to action, leaves a measured impact, ignites a collective memory, or empowers the afraid. These are the moments that punctuated 2017. These are the moments that changed the way we think or inspired us to act.
For twenty-one years, we have identified the top communication moments of the year – the highlights, the lowlights and the impact they yielded. This year is no exception. Communication matters now more than ever.
So, which communication moments stood out in 2017? And what can we learn from them?
1. The Power of Many: The #MeToo Moment, October 2017
Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Unless…
Unless victims rise above the abuse, actions and threats to tell the stories that would sacrifice their own relationships, livelihood, reputation and future. Unless the voice of one brings courage to others. In October of 2017, it happened. With help from investigative journalists like Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey and Ronan Farrow, powerful accounts of Hollywood heroines including Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd and Angelina Jolie gave rise to a collective voice. Supported by the work of activist Tarana Burke, the #MeToo moment illuminated the widespread, prevalent practice of sexual harassment and abuse across every industry. But this goes beyond a hashtag. #MeToo is a watershed moment because it is changing something…big. Moguls, actors, owners, business leaders, politicians, comedians and athletes, alike, were immediately ousted and distanced, finally sending a message of intolerance that will change the game.
So What: The biggest communication moment of the year came from truth, stories, and the boldness to dig deep and tell them (for many brave women, it was done at a great cost). Communicating and putting yourself out there takes tremendous courage. Be willing to take a risk and share something you’d rather keep close to the vest. Be bold, raise your hand, speak up – it might even start a movement.
2. The Power of One: JJ Watt’s Appeal for Hurricane Help, August 27, 2017
A surprisingly important moment occurred the day after Hurricane Harvey landed on the Gulf Coast and wreaked havoc on Houston. NFL star JJ Watt of the Houston Texans made a fundraising appeal for $200K to help the communities and people of Houston rebuild and recover. Little did he know that his video appeal on Twitter would multiply more than a hundred-fold – as of September, it was well over $37,000,000. Talk about inspiring your audience to action! A man of humble confidence, Watt didn’t put himself in the front of his cause, but he positioned the people of Houston as most important to his heart.
So What: One person can make a difference – a big difference – when he or she is authentic and straightforward. Authentic appeals pack a punch. While it’s easy to get hung up on which specific words to use, sometimes a less-scripted ask yields better results because it’s more real. Plus, it helps to leverage the power of social media, and use it skillfully, to multiply the power of one into hundreds and thousands – even millions.
3. Remembrance vs. Reverence: Monumental Differentiation of History from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, May 19, 2017
Amidst the many divisive moments that defined 2017, the removal of Confederate statues flared emotions, incited protests and also presented an opportunity to redefine the way we relate to our history. Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, powerfully addressed the moment to shift perspective from reverence to remembrance. He found common ground in our humanity, asking, “Consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? … When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth.” Change is hard. Changing something that is as emotionally charged as history and race seems impossible. Landrieu did – and it’s a speech for the ages.
So What: Aligning a team – especially on a tough, divisive topic – is how great leaders differentiate themselves from good leaders. Leading with a listener-focused message creates common ground, and it gets people to nod, saying, “Tell me more.”
4. Raise Your Glass: Pink’s VMA Video Vanguard Acceptance Speech, August 27, 2017
When Pink was presented with her award, people may have expected a standard acceptance speech: obligatory thank yous followed by some kind of edgy-yet-generic political opinion. She didn’t do either. Instead, she seized the opportunity to influence and deliver an important message about body image and gender. She spoke directly to her daughter, who was in the audience, and broadened the message to parents and children everywhere. Like other “moments” in this year’s list, with vulnerability and humor, she shared her own story about being bullied. She used her message of common ground and shared experience to draw others to the cause, rather than push them away and divide. She spoke with passion and purpose, and she used her moment to “help other people to change so they can see all kinds of beauty.”
So What: We’ve seen how stories help us relate to others, elicit emotion and motivate action. An equally important benefit is how it changes the way we deliver the message. We’re way more excited to share our stories than we are to walk through an analysis. That passion is contagious; it keeps your audience tuned in, and it strengthens connection.
5. A Whole New Medium: President Trump’s First Tweet in Office, January 20, 2017
From the moment that President Trump grabbed the @POTUS Twitter handle and began using it as his main platform, he opened a direct line of communication, changing the way that a world leader communicates with the world. DO NOT MISS THIS: The lesson here is about the medium, NOT the content of President Trump’s tweets. For better or worse, the president opened a public, real-time, direct communication channel in a way that’s never happened before. For the United States, it’s the 21st century’s unfiltered version of FDR’s “fireside chats,” which provided the opportunity for citizens to hear from the president directly. Like it or not, President Trump’s use of Twitter provides an unprecedented level of access and visibility that influences and shifts the mindsets of supporters and dissenters, alike.
So What: A direct line of communication is powerful. That doesn’t mean you have to use Twitter as your platform. We’d rather have a face-to-face conversation to discuss an important topic. Great business leaders use Town Halls, all-hands meetings, webcasts and video updates to let their teams hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. When done effectively, this provides leaders with an opportunity to boost transparency and trust throughout an organization, providing a conduit for influence.
6. Going to the Next Level: Jimmy Kimmel’s Personal Story and Plea, May 1, 2017
The audience was undoubtedly expecting some hearty guffaws, but instead it was brought to tears. During the opening monologue of his late-night show, Jimmy Kimmel, teary-eyed and with a shaky voice, shared the story of his newborn son’s congenital heart disease, emergency open-heart surgery and subsequent treatments and procedures. He detailed how the moment of his son Billy’s birth shifted from joy and hope to panic and worry, “…they determined he wasn’t getting enough oxygen into his blood… It’s a terrifying thing, my wife is back in the recovery room, she has no idea what’s going on, and I’m standing in the middle of a group of very worried-looking people.” Kimmel used this powerful story to connect and drive home a strong Point Of View about healthcare, “If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right? … No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.” In his vulnerability, Kimmel created a moment that mobilized action, using his personal experience to activate support.
So What: Logic makes you think, emotion makes you act. We often forget or set aside the power of emotion to inspire action. We naturally default to creating a great logical argument to make a point. Kimmel could have just given stats and cited research about pre-existing conditions. That would have made some people think pretty hard about healthcare, but the power of personal story elicits emotion that motivates change.
7. Championing Humble Confidence: Another Grand Slam Victory for Serena Williams, January 28, 2017
Despite being fierce on the court, Serena Williams’ first words after winning her 23rd Grand Slam at the Australian Open were words of gratitude. With a huge smile, she dedicated her win to her sister, Venus, for inspiring her to be the best player and admits that Venus is the reason she has worked so hard every step of the way. One of the best athletes of all time, Serena is a phenom to watch. And, yet, we cheer for her because of how she communicates. “To me, it’s being a champion, but not only by the way I play, but the things I do off the court as well,” she said. And it shows.
So What: Whether in business, politics or athletics, it’s essential to show humble confidence. This perfect blend of confidence and humility creates likability, attracts fans, enlists supporters and generates support. When people like you, they’re more inclined to follow you and respect you.
8. Life Happens: Professor Interrupted Live on BBC, March 10, 2017
Now for a memorable communication moment that added levity to all of our lives in 2017, the video interview where Professor Robert Kelly was live on the BBC when his two kids and wife interrupted during the live video feed. That’s right, *#%t happens… and for Professor Kelly, it just happened to be perfectly captured on video for people all across the world to watch with both delight and empathetic agony, over and over again. The episode ended up getting much attention, and they embraced the attention with incredible grace and understanding for what it was: life.
So What: Be relatable. Whether through our actions or our words, we can wield enormous power when we give others the chance to relate to us. More often than not, it’s easier to relate to an oops than a triumph. We’re now in a time where the lines between our personal and professional lives are blurred, and working from home is standard. So, we get it – and we can relate to the dog barking, a doorbell ringing and even the curious toddler interrupting. Similarly, we’ve experienced the same technical glitch or unplanned interruption in more formal meetings. When something happens, don’t be overly apologetic. Roll with it, and move on.
9. A Legacy of Likability: Eunice’s Kennedy Shriver’s Son Accepts Her Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs, July 12, 2017
If you didn’t see Tim Shriver’s light, meaningful speech at the ESPYs this year, stop what you’re doing and watch all 6 minutes of it right now. His tribute, on behalf of his mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver, cheered the boldness of women, and it supported all athletes who compete, no matter their disabilities. From the beginning, Shriver oozes likability. With steadiness in his voice and lightness on his face, this warmth carries him throughout the speech. Once he gets through the critical thank yous at the beginning, Shriver gets real – showing passion, comfort and teaching us a bit of history in the process. It was a message of inclusion, fighting fear and discrimination.
So What: Research shows that when we meet people, warmth trumps competence as we seek to connect with one another. Likability engenders trust and can help influence others. After all, no one buys long term from someone whom they do not like. Simple behaviors like a smile, an open facial expression and extended eye communication can boost the emotional connection and rapport that you have with others.
10. Adding to the Mess: United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz Makes a Bad Situation Worse, April 11, 2017
The “friendly skies” have never felt less friendly. After a United Airlines passenger was aggressively and forcibly dragged through the aisle and off the aircraft of an overbooked flight from Chicago O’Hare to Louisville, the video of the incident instantly went viral. CEO Oscar Munoz’ reply, however, was nowhere near as timely or as convincing. From his first defensive statement, where he said, “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers,” to his later, more heartfelt apology during an interview, Munoz failed to communicate with empathy to turn the tide of the shocking video. As CEO, he needed to step up and represent the company. It felt like he was making an apology because a PR advisor told him to do it. What a huge, missed opportunity to show the brand’s friendliness, resilience and grace.
So What: To be able to respond with candor under pressure is critical for any leader. When confronted with a tough situation, we can respond in two different ways: self-protection or empathy. Self-protection results in an immediate defensive posture, and comes across as arrogant and prideful, casting blame on others. Empathy requires that you consider another’s Point Of View and respond with humility instead. All of us have less public situations to deal with, and we can learn a lesson here.
While on a recent JetBlue flight from Baltimore to Boston, something unusual and unexpected happened: Before takeoff, the captain stood outside of the cockpit, faced the passengers and greeted us over the PA system. Instead of the usual disembodied voice, he looked us in the eyes and smiled.
With one small decision, that captain completely changed our experience for the better.
What experience do you create? This question is at the heart of the Decker approach. People do business with those they like and trust, often at a subconscious level. We all have the power to build better experiences and relationships. It starts with self-awareness and intention.
Here are some examples:
You cross your arms because you’re always cold.
You do calls on speakerphone so you can multi-task.
It’s common practice at your company to text and email during meetings, so you do, too.
Creating an experience starts with understanding that our actions have impact, even if it’s different than what we intend. In a meeting, you might cross your arms because you’re cold, but you come across closed-minded or disinterested. Sure, it’s easier for you to do calls on speakerphone, but others on the call hear you shuffling papers or typing on your keyboard. Even if everyone else is on his or her smartphones in a meeting, it doesn’t mean you should be, too.
Consider this true story: Colleagues gathered for a quarterly department meeting. Everyone went around the conference table, giving their updates. Then, one person stood up to deliver the update. It made such an impact that every person after that stood up, too.
Connection isn’t optional; it’s essential. We always have the power to prioritize connection, regardless of the audience size, stakes or medium.
In your next meeting, conference call or one-on-one conversation, ask yourself: What experience do I create? The answer might surprise you.
Great messaging is edgy. It’s easier to be safe—like when you’re sailing.
For any of you who have ever been on a catamaran, it’s safer to have both hulls of the sailboat in the water. But to win, you have to go up on one hull—and the professional sailors even hang off the edge during a race.
When creating great messaging, you have to cut through the waves – through the jargon, through the abstractions – in order to connect.
I recently helped an executive prepare a mainstage presentation to five thousand people in Vegas. When we started, his content was loaded with buzzwords and statistics so it read fairly flat and forgettable. Is your next presentation the same way?
I challenged this executive to be provocative and more memorable. So, how do you do that?
Include stories. Share a personal story that relates to your content. This might feel risky, but everybody loves a good story. Stories are emotional and have a strong impact on memory. They also help our audience visualize our point of view.
Come up with an analogy. Analogies help us convey a complex point quickly. Ask yourself, “Can I relate this to something else?” And don’t overcomplicate it. Keep it simple so the audience can have a quick ah-ha!
Be plain-spoken. This means using concrete, conversational words to help people ‘get it’. Writers at The Skimmdo this well.
Playing it safe is exactly what your audience expects you to do. Instead, surprise them with something unexpected. Or, shift gears and make them laugh. Anything that deviates from the current flow will help grab your audiences’ attention and keep them tuned in.
So, in your next town hall, finals pitch, QBR or board meeting, challenge yourself not to be predictable. Take down barriers, be vulnerable and get up on that edge. Your audiences will thank you.
Chances are you’ve heard (or used) the words above to describe a woman’s voice. Upspeak – the habit of pitching your voice up at the end of a sentence – along with its reality TV-ready sidekick, Vocal Fry (for the uninitiated, have a listen), strike again. Yet, we hear upspeak and fry in just as many men as we do women.
This isn’t just a Decker observation. According to NPR, the New York Times and many others, women and men are both guilty of upspeak and vocal fry. And yet, women tend to be singled out and judged for their vocal habits much more harshly. What gives? Lots of reasons:
Female voices tend to be higher in pitch overall, so they stand out above lower-pitched male voices.
There are more women in the workplace than ever before, yet only 21 Fortune 500 companies were helmed by women in 2016. Women in leadership roles often stand in a spotlight alone.
Millennial speech patterns are changing the way we communicate in business and, like it or not, the most frequent perpetrators of upspeak are often younger employees, across genders. Young women bear the brunt of criticism because of existing stereotypes and easy comparisons to other young women, like certain reality TV stars who are also noted poor communicators. As baby boomers, Gen X’ers and Millennials collide at work, so do their opinions of what’s okay to say – and how.
The ability to connect and convey warmth is the most important vocal quality for everyone, no matter their gender. So what are smart women – and men! – to do when smarting from vocal feedback?
Avoid the dreaded upspeak: Think of your voice like music notes and practice adding vocal variety, then end your sentences on a lower note than where you started.
Seek more feedback. It’s easy to shrink back, but ask for a vocal 3×3 from peers and colleagues to level set. There’s value in getting multiple perspectives from colleagues of all ages and genders.
Know your audience. Like all behaviors, the voice can shift based on the situation. If you’re in a high-stakes or more formal setting, push your pitch down to emphasize a lower tone. Casually chatting with peers who also swing up? Don’t sweat the upspeak as much – it’ll just get in the way of actually connecting with your colleagues.
Give feedback, too! As we learned from Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, men are rewarded for speaking out and women aren’t. Using the 3×3 feedback model ensures that balanced feedback is a two-way street. Bonus: giving balanced feedback helps you come across as both strong and warm, two vital qualities for women at work, according to Sandberg.
Record yourself and listen back. Then, ask yourself what you think is adding or detracting from your message. As Cicero said, “No one can give you wiser advice than yourself.”
Aim for warmth, connection and authenticity as you practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it will make permanent when it comes to eliminating upspeak. Period, end of sentence.
The telephone game is fun, especially as a kid or with kids. It’s the one where everyone sits in a circle and one person would pick a word or phrase then “pass it on” by whispering it to someone next to them. The fun was seeing how much the message changed when the phrase reached the end of the circle.
The telephone game is not as fun in business. You share what you do or what a product or company does, and people aren’t able to decipher and explain it to someone else.
I came across an example of this recently when I read an article about the NBA’s new sponsorship approach of allowing teams to have logos on their jerseys. Last week, the Warriors (I’m a big fan) held a press conference and revealed that they’ll be sporting the logo of a company called Rakuten.
I wasn’t familiar with Rakuten, so I was interested in what this logo would be on the Warriors’ jerseys. The issue was that a writer who was there to hear the announcement, couldn’t explain what Rakuten does in his article the next day. Instead, he shared “even after a 40-minute presentation, I’m still not totally sure what Rakuten does.” We call that a missed opportunity.
Rakuten doesn’t care about who was in that newsroom—they care about the reader (the consumer, you and me)—and if you can’t penetrate through that layer, you’re missing the mark. We saw this in the past when cloud computing first started to come out several years back.
Jargon, abstractions and corporate talk are as strong today as they’ve ever been. The need to stay plain-spoken, simple and clear is so important in every aspect of business—and life. To influence or get buy-in from anyone, they have to understand what is being described or what is being asked. We have long been supporters of approaching messaging differently to help people get it and the power of SHARPs is the best way to stand out in the noise—especially analogies to help your audience to picture it or understand.
The next opportunity you get (speech, call or meeting), challenge yourself to use an analogy to help people get it. It will make it more fun for you to share and will increase odds of any sort of buy-in.
We did research on Rakuten, and it appears they’re “like the Amazon of Japan”—let’s hope they start to shift their messaging now that they’re part of these World Champion’s jerseys!
What’s the best way to get noticed, get into the up-and-comer pipeline and start to win more leadership roles earlier? Start by fast tracking your communication skills now—don’t wait for that big opportunity to project confidence and polish up your presence.
Before we dive in, an important disclaimer… men will benefit just as much from the advice below. We direct this to women to combat the stereotypes that can plague their progress.
Speak with Purpose and Vocal Conviction
Women can boost their authority with their voices. The three key areas to consider are pitch, projection and pace. In a business environment where the male vocal range is dominant, sing-songy voices can get steamrolled in important meetings. With naturally higher voices than men, it’s helpful for women to push into a deeper register (read: lower their pitch.)
How do you do that?
Push your voice out. Think about activating your core—just like in Pilates. Be careful not to push it up, where it sounds like you might be screaming at your parents or sibling. It’s hard to slip into upspeak (ending sentences on a higher pitch as if there are question marks at the end of each declarative sentence – sounds unsure and tentative) or vocal fry (the low, creaky voice that sounds hesitant and faux-raspy) when you are projecting your voice.
End sentences at the same or lower tone than they begin.
When it comes to pace, pause to add emphasis. Don’t rush through your content quickly moving from one idea to the next. Instead, pause to let each idea sink in. Remember, it’s “Bond. James Bond.”
Who does this well: Ginni Rometty, Kat Cole, Oprah
Who not to mimic: Gigi Hadid, Kim Kardashian, Rachel Zoe
Skip the Filler Words!
Like, um, uh, ya know, actually, just, so, honestly, truly, literally… the list goes on and on. These pesky little words get slipped into our narratives, descriptions, presentations and daily conversations. All of us have at least one filler word, even if we don’t notice it, ourselves. It won’t take extra time to cut them out – it will just take extra effort.
Here are two easy steps to cut out your filler words:
First, find out what your fillers are. You can’t change a habit until you realize it’s there. Record a voicemail to yourself and then play it back. Take notes on what fillers you hear. Common fillers to watch for: “like,” “just,” “um,” “uh,” “actually,” “you know,” “honestly,” “literally,” and – of course – “so.” Chances are, you use some of the same filler words as people around you.
Then, practice pausing. When you pause, you’ll naturally drop the filler words. Record another voicemail, and be intentional about pausing. Challenge yourself to pause for longer than it feels comfortable. The average pause is only about half a second. Try and stretch that out to 2 – 3 seconds.
Own Your Space
Show that you own the room by taking up more physical space. Women have the tendency to want to look smaller and take up less space by crossing their arms and legs, hiding their midsections, and keeping everything close together. Instead, use purposeful gestures that take up space and draw attention to key content points.
How do you do that?
When you’re standing, drive home a point using big gestures, where your elbows are fully extended. It might feel outrageously big, but these large gestures will add authority if you use them with purpose, for example, when comparing and contrasting.
If you are seated at a table, move your weight forward, and keep your arms resting on top of the table.
Who does this well? Wendy Clarke, Sheryl Sandberg, Glennon Doyle Melton
We work with many women who have so many ideas that they come across as scattered. But what’s behind the scatter? They’re just trying to prove their credibility. By including their analysis, their research, their findings, rehashing and recounting their play-by-play… it quickly ends up being a message about them. It doesn’t have anything to do with the person to whom they are speaking. Instead, be declarative and direct.
What is the one thing you want your audience members to take away? What’s the big idea, the main point you want everyone in the room to walk away knowing, the goal of your entire presentation? This is your point of view. It’s the biggest change in how you want your listeners to think about or act on an idea. It’s the “ask” without showing your selfish ambition.
How do you choose your Point of View?
Find the lead of your story. Boil everything down to just one thing. Often, it’s a challenge, but you have to choose just one main idea and ruthlessly edit the rest.
That way, you can be declarative and direct. Your audience will walk away knowing your main point.
Who does this well? Elizabeth Gilbert, Meryl Streep, Misty Copeland
Lead with Warmth
Women excel at connecting one on one. According to social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, “Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and communication and absorption of ideas.” Women have an opportunity to leverage warmth and trust to connect with individuals. Leading with warmth and connection is a different brand of leadership than men traditionally use.
It doesn’t need to be a plastic ear-to-ear grin, but do turn up the edges of your mouth.
Who does this well? Gwen Stefani, Michelle Obama, Alicia Keyes
Open Conversations for Discovery
Including all viewpoints and perspectives is a core strength that women can leverage in times of discovery. Economists have found that women are more collaborative than men.
Gathering information is an important part of the persuasion and planning process. When collaborating on a project or developing a solution for a product, conversations for discovery can be especially helpful. They also allow for increased connection, which allows for more trust. It’s also a great way to share empathy. Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to intuit what that person is feeling. Research shows that empathy comes naturally to women. Conversations for discovery and empathy are great tools for building connection.
How do you do this?
Ask each person in the group for her/his perspective on the problem or issue.
Try not to solve right away. Listen – and discover – more.
Determine how this impacts each person personally, and try to put yourself in their shoes.
“I’m sorry.” “Oh, sorry about that.” “Are you okay?” Does this clip seem familiar? Women have a tendency to over apologize.
Saying “I’m sorry” too frequently doesn’t come across as overly polite. Instead, it weakens your overall message and presence. And at times, it can have an even bigger cost. If you’re asking for deadline extension, additional resources or even a raise, the last thing you want to do is start your pitch with an “I’m sorry.” While sometimes an apology is necessary (like if you spill coffee on someone during a meeting), most decisions and actions in business don’t need an apology. Instead, move on.
Here’s what to do:
Instead of relying on “I’m sorry,” say what you really mean. Try it out in a low-risk situation – like the next time your order comes out wrong at Chipotle. Instead of, “I’m sorry, but I ordered the chicken burrito, and I got the steak,” drop the “I’m sorry.” Try, “Can you fix my order? I ordered the chicken burrito, and I got the steak.”
Separate your reaction from the response.
Women often get cast as “too emotional” when they don’t separate their reaction from their response. Too often, our reactions are not influential in the way we want them to be. When we react, we jump to an emotional conclusion, triggering anger, disappointment, resentment, frustration or something else.
Here’s what to do:
When it’s time to respond— which might be right away—stick to the concrete details and action steps. What happened? What do we do now? (Save the “how do I feel about this” for another time.)
Don’t get defensive, and don’t blame someone else.
Who didn’t do this well? Hope Solo, Paula Deen
Don’t defer to someone else! Giving away the opportunity to speak, lead a meeting or present your work only gives away your power. Seize the opportunity to let your behaviors and content shine. Visibility leads to more opportunities.
Communication can win leadership roles, so make it a focus and a priority. Don’t wait for the opportunity to find you—get discovered!