Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Weaponize your voice

Use your voice as your secret weapon. That's the advice I give my clients. And if you have ever had the experience of feeling like your words were going nowhere, that you were speaking into a void, that you just were never going to be heard, such a strategy is something you should consider.

Many experts, coaches, and consultants (myself included) will tell you that judgments about you hinge as much on how you sound as how you look. That sounding like a leader is every bit as important as looking like one (see Romney, Willard Mitt). But most people will concentrate on crafting their content, their position statements, their speeches or talking points, and not think twice about what their tone conveys. About what they sound like, and what that signifies to the listener. Unless you are trying to overcome the handicap of not fitting the traditional leadership image (see Clinton, Hillary Rodham ) the tone of your voice might remain a subtle, subconscious influencer.

But it shouldn't, because its power cannot be discounted. The "power of voice" is a phrase I have heard at many meetings, conferences, symposia. In this phrase "voice" is used metaphorically, in the context of motivation. "Reclaiming their voice" is shorthand for empowering women or members of minorities to stand up and speak out.

I use the phrase, "unleash the power of your voice" with my clients in a much more direct way: use your rich, fully-realized sound to connect with anyone and everyone in your space. When your "instrument" (your breathe, voice, resonators) is working efficiently and well, it sends your sound vibrations out to the farthest corners of the room. You reach everyone. And touch them--literally--with those waves of sound. The more overtones and undertones you have (think of a rich chord played on the organ), the more your sound touches people.

If you are a fan of live music of any kind you already now this. Why would we rather hear our favorite musicians play at a live event? On recordings they are closer to perfection than in their performances. But the cost of that mediated perfection is the immediacy of sharing the space with the musicians, of sharing their energy, of feeling their vibrations run through us in a thrilling physical sensation.

I saw a brilliant illustration of this recently on Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyessy. In the April 6th episode, "Hiding in the Light," host and astrophysicst Neil deGrasse Tyson  explains the spectral code of light, juxtaposing the way light waves travel with the way sounds waves do. We listen to the great organ in Benedikbeuern Abbey play "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana as we watch visible sound waves pulse and expand throughout the space.

That is what your voice can do, if you learn to "play" it. Your sound waves, your voice, your message can reach out and touch each and every one of your listeners. When your sound grabs them that way, people will listen!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I'm no marathoner. Or am I?

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
I live-streamed the Boston Marathon for a bit late yesterday morning. I wanted to recapture the excitement of the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel at mile 13 of the race. The 118th Boston Marathon started earlier than I recalled; when I cheered for those first runners coming down Route 135 it was definitely not before noon! So I tuned in too late to see coverage of the Scream Tunnel. But I did catch the last five miles of the elite first heat of women. I saw Rita Jeptoo make her move and break away from the others, and saw the joy in her face when she crossed the finish line. But the final miles of the men's race were really exciting: I tensed as Meb Keflezigh's race-long lead diminished, then cheered as it widened again. I watched in amazement as he almost sprinted has way up Boylston Street to an astonishing victory.  It was an incredible day for Boston, for athletes, and for those of us who watched. As Nicholas Thompson blogged at The New Yorker,  these two top-finishers demonstrated very different ways to win a race.

I am not a marathoner, and have never, ever had that urge. I used to go for short runs, and may do so again, but the endurance test of a long-distance run is something I can't imagine doing. I am in awe of those athletes who do it, who can keep up the pace for 26.2 miles. And particularly someone like Meb who was no longer ranked at the tippy-top, who had lost his Nike sponsorship and who was thought to be over the hill, a has-been, at 38.

So I thought I had little in common with Meb, Rita, and my husband's classmate Joanie Benoit Samuleson. But this morning I was on a call with Belinda Pruyne, business coach extraordinaire at Business Innovation Group.  And Belinda said, "the people who find success are those who go the extra mile, who aren't afraid to do the work needed to separate themselves from the pack." Belinda has a lot of good advice for how to separate yourself, beginning with knowing and acting upon your non-negotiable core values.

Now, as you may know, I do a few different things in my work world, and I do them in a pretty unique way. I like to think of my approach as "muscular creativity"--making connections others don't/can't/won't see. And working at it; putting in the time to tease things out and put them back together. Working to help others communicate more effectively. Applying those same techniques to get my message across. So maybe I do have more in common with those runners than I thought. Maybe I am a marathoner, metaphorically, and don't even know it. Maybe you are, too!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Weaving the safety net of trust

Photo of Nik Wallenda by dpape on Flickr
Walking the tightrope without a net. That's what it feels like for so many of us who work alone or in small businesses. There is just so much we have to do before we can settle down to getting the job done. We need to pitch, present, propose, negotiate. Finally, when we succeed at these, we get to do what we actually love. It is "the thing itself" that interests us. And our vision of it is strong enough keep pushing us along that tightrope.

But we will never make that vision a reality if we can't communicate.

As you doubtless already know, the first step for successful communication is listening to what prospective clients want. Completely. Give them your undivided attention. But don't forget the next step: tell them what you understood them to say. This eliminates initial misunderstandings that could set you off on the wrong path. And from a relationship-building standpoint, this step is crucial. People need to be heard. If they are considering hiring you, they want to know that you will listen to what they are telling you. And to be sure that what you heard is actually what they said.

So you have heard what they want. Good. But what happens when your expertise tells you that what they want isn't really what they need? This can be tricky, but again, you have to articulate what it is they have told you, then share how your solution will solve the problem. It may be a slightly different way than they had expected, but if you approach it as a joint effort, rather than telegraphing "I am the expert so I know better," you will get down to work much sooner. This is something like the "pivot" tactic used in political communication. And this technique is known in improv world as "yes . . . and" (as opposed to "no . . . but," a counter-productive blocking tactic). Even if you absolutely know from the start that what the clients want will never solve their problem, you need to hear them out. Your willingness (or lack thereof) to engage on this level will tell them a lot about how you will communicate going forward.

In our wildest dreams we will all be as successful as (insert name of favorite industry leader here). With that stellar reputation for excellence we will be given free rein. But until then we are in the position of asking our clients to trust us, to have faith that ultimately we will give them what they really need. So we have to work to establish a bond of trust. And hold onto it. Trust is never a given. It is a gift, an important connection that we need to reinforce with every interaction. It is our safety net. So never, ever stop listening!