When we talk about success one of the biggest factors that determine whether we will reach our goals, is our communication. To make life easy for everyone on Addicted2Success, I decided to interview the world expert on the subject, Colin James.
The part of the interview that left me speechless was when Colin talked about his recent battle with cancer where he had half his bottom lip cut out and cancer on his face. He told me that we are all going to die at some point, and a lot of people live in denial of this fact.
Colin’s way of thinking is “hey I survived cancer twice… so who really cares about anything – just go for it.” I absolutely loved the way he reframed this difficult experience and how he is 100% committed to delivering the best knowledge and insights he can to help people in different area’s of their life.
The business that Colin has run for 27 years is mostly centred on teaching corporates and individuals in the areas of leadership, communication and followership. Leading up to the interview I attended one of Colin’s master classes to find out if all the talk was just marketing hype or genuine.
That night, while watching Colin, I took pages and pages of notes and laughed harder than when I used to watch Seinfeld. It usually takes a lot to make me laugh, but Colin had me thoroughly entertained and educated the whole time. Check him out; he will redefine who you are!
Below are Colin’s eleven ways for anyone to build mastery as a communicator.
1. Belief is part of the skill
One of the difficulties with communication is that people don’t believe that they can master it. Everything in your life that you believe is an arbitrary intellectual construct that you created and can be changed at any time.
During one of Colin’s events, he proves this by getting the audience to draw a three-dimensional, artist quality picture in sixty minutes that most believe they can’t do. One hour later, Colin, has them holding their finished portrait in their hands. Every skill can be learned.
After deconstructing the ‘talent vs skill’ paradigm (for example, the belief that artistic ability is a talent), he then tells them “if it’s possible in the world then it’s possible for you. It’s only a question of how, and a skill is just the how.”
2. Follow what good leaders do and pretend you know how
Good leaders pretend they know what they are doing. When you are the leader, there is an assumption or a presumption that you know what you’re doing in regards to managing the business and the strategy. This phenomenon creates an artificial sensibility that these leaders are somehow in an elite level of capability.
Have you ever been in a room when the CEO walks in? The whole vibe of the room instantly changes and people all of a sudden become self-conscious, they talk differently, they change their posture, their tonality alters, and they become more formal
The moment the CEO walks out of the room people then visibly start to relax again. What’s going on here is that a human being has walked into the room and the assumption of this person is that they have some sort of prowess or elevated state. The reality is that this human being is just making things up as they go along just like everybody else is.
“Everyone tries to make up their version of reality and then try and encourage other people to comply”
The future leaders will be the ones who have the courage to say and reflect that they too are in a state of creation on a daily basis. What the CEO has isn’t some special capability or gift, but more likely a result of circumstance and intent, rather than a gift they have been given.
This trait amongst senior leaders is a weakness because it creates a divide between the senior executives and their staff. Finding more of a sense of equality would be a lot healthier for the business.
“Millennials aren’t impressed with status anymore; they are impressed by competence”
3. Become “other conscious”
Always think and design everything you communicate from the audience’s points of view. The way you position or frame your messages needs to be within their reality.
Let’s say you have an idea or strategy you want to get across. You can’t persuade someone from your position towards theirs, you must start with their world view first. There are a couple of benefits to this way of communicating. First of all you start to think the way that they think which means you understand their frames of references and what’s important to them – this will give you the framing references for your content.
The other benefit is that you are focusing on someone other than yourself. The biggest mistake people have in communicating is that they become self-conscious, and they worry what people will think of them. I am sure everyone has been in an interview where you have thought to yourself while communicating an idea, “I hope this is making sense, and I am making a good impression.”
An internal dialogue that is self-conscious in its origins will immediately impact on your ability to communicate a concept to someone. Become what Colin calls “other conscious.”
4. Change the self-talk in your head
Try to get yourself familiar with the idea of consistent commitment to excellence, which is that you never have a bad day or an average meeting. Every meeting you attend, you should go in with the intent that the meeting is going to be significant rather than being in cruise control like most people.
Tell yourself that this meeting will be useful and that what you will say, do and participate in will leave the people you encounter better off as a result of your contribution – this is how reputation is built.
Most people will have good days or moments rather than having excellence as the norm. Ever noticed how in sport the great players are consistently great? The reason this occurs is because of their consistency, which ends up building their reputation.
5. Your smartphone determines your status when communicating
Most people are drawn to their smartphone rather than communicating with people around them. In more sophisticated countries like Japan and Korea, it’s already becoming socially embarrassing if you are looking at your device in a social context. To be on public transport in one of these countries and to be looking at your smartphone, is considered to be as bad as spitting on the ground.
“Technology has changed the way young people think, and they don’t necessarily think in hierarchies anymore but rather in networks”
In places like Singapore, if you go to a meeting and put your smartphone on the table, it instantly signifies you as low in status. This one act shows that you are a junior because you are at the beck and call of others and are not important enough to be fully present in the room.
At the start of a meeting, from now on, ask everyone if they can put their phones away and off the table. Watch how this transforms the way you communicate. By creating some boundaries around this smartphone requirement in meetings, you will find that people respect the rule.
You need to be committed in meetings to context and context means to be present. As the communicator, it is your role to set the context, and this goes for technology as well.
“Everyone’s busy. The person at the reception is as busy as the executive sitting at their desk. Somehow there appears to be a hierarchy of busyness these days “
6. Tell stories that meet your contention
Stories are the most powerful way to influence and a core skill that any communicator has to develop. The best stories are true, from your experience and link to your communication outcome. It’s best delivered in a punchy way without excessive detail.
Through the telling of a story it allows you to embed a recommendation around behaviour, an invitation to overcome resistance and objections, alleviate stress and anxiety, or it can be social proof to validate your argument or theory.
In other words, your story needs to have a point and link to your outcome or theory. Stories also have to have the little touches of truthful detail that give it context and legitimacy like a persons name, the time, and the location.
7. Stop killing people with weapons of mass destruction (Powerpoint)
“Death by Powerpoint” has become a popular catchphrase and the best way to avoid this is to rarely use it. If you must use Powerpoint slides, keep them outcome focused and make sure they validate what you’re saying, not act as a script of what you’re saying.
Love the B button!
If you have a Powerpoint showing for the whole time you are communicating with an audience, the attention of your audience will be unconsciously drawn to the slides rather than you. The best way to use Powerpoint is to display a slide that validates your point, and then once you have made your point, flick the presentation back to the all black screen.
“Powerpoint should only be on when it’s adding value otherwise it should be off”
Powerpoint is starting to become banned in large companies like Australian Banks, Yahoo and Apple because people are using Powerpoint for their own benefit, so they can remember their talk, rather than for the benefit of the audience.
8. Reframe your thinking to deal with public speaking nervousness
With public speaking, a lot of nervousness is linked to self-belief. This self-belief is sometimes clouded by a lack of perspective or being too focused on what the audience will think of you.
Shift your attention to the audience and only think of being generous and giving value. This one adjustment can be a significant game changer in anyone’s capacity to communicate and will immediately eliminate self-consciousness.
“Focus on what you can give, rather than what people might think”
If you have ever been in the emergency section in a hospital late at night you would have seen that there are drunks and drug addicts yelling at the nurses, but even with all the shouting, the nurses just focus on being professional and caring for them as a patient. They don’t take it personally – that’s how you need to be with public speaking. The nurses weren’t self-conscious, they were doing their jobs.
Your job in public speaking is to deliver the content. Getting that matter of fact about it can help with the nerves. While you’re thinking about presenting in front of a group, this same group hardly even know you’re alive, and they will more than likely forget that you exist the moment you leave the room.
What they want is to hear something that will make their day to day challenges easier to deal with and their outcomes, easier to achieve. Help them to do that and they will love you…they won’t care if you aren’t word perfect and polished. To demonstrate this point, Colin told me about a woman that attended his seminar who was a high profile, actuary.
Before Colin’s training, she was terrified of public speaking and lacked communication confidence. After two days of Colin’s seminar her voice filled the room, she stood with total confidence and spoke with such eloquence that people were shocked by her transformation.
When Colin asked the woman how she changed so rapidly she said it was all about the shift in her perspective. At first she thought public speaking was all about her, but when she realised it was about the audience, she no longer felt nervous and she began to feel free and completely liberated.
Even though this woman was a subject matter expert, she learned that all she had to do was stand in her strength and deliver her content; after all she knew it better than anyone else. The shift began when she believed that she could be of immense value when she stood in front of a group and spoke.
9. Communication is not a perfectly practiced play
Memorising speeches is death. A good communicator does not go off and memorise text. A good communicator has a structure and free forms around this structure. This is more elegant because then you can adjust to the audience in front of you. Memorising text is a play, and that’s not communicating.
10. Be careful using acronyms out of context
It’s all about context. As an example, describing scientific processes can be a challenge because the full terms will make your sentences very long, and science has convoluted descriptions for almost everything. In this scenario, acronyms can be very handy when communicating your point.
Where the risk is with acronyms is that there is a presumption of understanding. When presenting acronyms to an audience, it’s always best to do it this way:
– Say the acronym in its long form description
– Introduce the acronym
– Repeat the long form of the acronym
– Reinforce the acronym
Before using an acronym ask yourself, does it serve the context and does it provide a neat shorthand, if it ticks these two boxes then its use is valid. The way you know not to use an acronym is if its use is lazy, doesn’t respect the audience’s level of knowledge or makes assumptions that people know what it means.
11. Your body has a language of its own – USE IT
Posture – the way you carry yourself communicates something about you. All of us have been in situations where someone walks into the room, and you say to the person next to you, “who is that person?”
What makes you say that is because the person looks like they carry themself with dignity and authority. There is an assumption of some competence just in their physicality, and most of this is posture related (this doesn’t mean that you strut around like some arrogant peacock, though).
So if you are going to walk up to the front of the room to deliver a presentation, you should be walking as tall as you can be right from the start.
Gestures – you need to develop a gesture vocabulary Colin says. One habit to avoid with gestures is your hands becoming a distracter. If you have ever seen someone speak who is flapping their hands all over the place, it becomes very distracting, and the hand becomes the focus instead of what the person is saying.
To demonstrate this, imagine you’re in a room with a speaker and the speaker says, “are there any questions?” If they did this with their hands open (palms facing up), you would feel that they are genuinely interested in the audience asking questions.
If they did this with their palms down it means the exact opposite and that they’re closing the conversation. Your hands have their own vocabulary, and they can give very different meanings to what you are saying.
Movement – if you are going to move then move with purpose – you’re not just supposed to waltz around a space. If you’re in a meeting, and you’re facing somebody, and you’re trying to influence them, everything you do should be from their left to right, not your left to right.
As an example, if you are tapping the table with your hand to signal three things that you want to talk about, you would tap them out from your right to left (their left to right). That’s the linear progression for them to follow what you are doing in the clearest possible way.
Facial expressions – be aware that your face is another communication tool. People seek meaning and cue off your facial expressions and voice tone more than off the words you are speaking. Colin used an example of a video he saw of me where he said that my words were very passionate, but my face came across very masked and not reflecting the same passion. It could cause a person to doubt my words.
A tip Colin gave me to help solve this issue when shooting a video for Youtube, is to make my facial expressions exaggerated and animate my face. To animate my face I could say something like “I am passionate,” so my whole face now goes into an expression of passion.
This might result in my mouth opening, my eyes closing, my face lighting up. After you have the first take, you go back and have a look at what you have recorded. If you have followed Colin’s tips, your face might look over the top although sometimes, Colin says, you look fine.
The reason for this is because at first we can think we are being over the top but in fact we are being appropriate, ask others for their feedback. On the second take, you might just modify your facial expressions to be one notch back if the first take looked too over the top.
Learn your face, play with expressions in the mirror. Go for exaggeration initially and then pull back a little bit from there. Most people in a corporate environment mask their face and become very formal which is why a lot of presentations in this context become very dull.