What it really takes to get people to listen to you

fedorahatbydaviddClad in a tan felt fedora hat and a black leather bolo tie, he bounded to the front of the class. He was short-ish, maybe 5′ 5″ tall, but he owned the front of the room immediately. I was shocked at first, intensely curious about who this man was and what he might say.

“Welcome to Intro to Anthropology!”, he hollered jovially.

I felt the corners of my lips turn up in a tiny smile. Now this was going to be an interesting class.

That was 24 years ago – my first year of college – but I still remember it vividly. I also remember way more than I would ever have dreamed about Charles Darwin, peyote and brachiating. (Incidentally, you might be surprised how often I’ve gotten to use that information, too.)

Why do I remember what my first anthropology professor taught me so well? Because he used so many captivation and engagement techniques in his teaching that I could not help but listen.

At the time, I didn’t really think a lot about the choices he was making in his teaching. I just knew that he was one of the most fun and interesting teachers I had ever met – and the class session flew by every time.

Now, after spending the last twenty years studying what it takes to get and keep people’s attention when communicating, I see what a genius he was. He had a gift for vivid descriptions (ones that create exciting pictures in your mind), he told stories that made you fall in love with neanderthals and apes you’d never meet, and he built connection with us college students in a way that felt natural and meaningful.

I can (and will) write full articles about each of those captivation and engagement techniques listed above. Today, though, I just want to talk with you about the last one – the power of connection for getting the attention of others.

Let’s talk about three strategies my anthropology professor used – and you can use, too – for creating meaningful connection with people in the audience.

I’m a lot like you (but I get it that I’m not you)

He was at least 20 years older than most of us in class, but somehow that was never at the forefront of my mind when I was talking with and listening to my Anthropology professor. I felt like we had a lot in common, actually. He loved life, liked to have fun. He shared stories about when he was first in college and the mix of emotions he experienced. He didn’t act like he was in college, but his stories and memories shared made me feel connected to him. I trusted him to give me information that I would enjoy because I had the sense (though I didn’t know it at the time) that he knew how to “filter” and choose information just for me (for us college students).

This “I’m a lot like you” way of communicating makes listening easy and natural. We open up to the speaker when they communicate appropriately this way.

What about you: How can you choose stories and examples that show a direct connection between you and your audience?

I get where you are (but I won’t pretend to know exactly how you feel)

While seeing how we were alike helped me listen and engage, it would not have worked if my professor acted like a college student. It was important that he not tell me about the wild party he went to over the weekend (even though I never once went to a wild party in college). When he told me about his challenges in college – or as a young adult overall – I listened keenly. I wanted to know how it worked out for him – what I could glean from his experience. He made analogies about oh, say, procreation… evolution and even early tribal life that showed me that he understood my own relationships, family dynamics and juggling of work and school.

His examples showed me that he “got it” about my experiences. The way her made unexpected connections between my experience and the material he was teaching kept me easily engaged.

What about you: What examples can you share with your audience that will clearly show that you get it about what they are likely experiencing?

I’m not perfect (but I am definitely good enough to be really helpful to you)

We talked a lot about well known leaders in the anthropology field – researchers and famous experts – in that college class. My professor was pretty self-deprecating and there were more than a few times when he talked about how much he didn’t know about specific areas of anthropology. He had high confidence in his Native American history expertise but was less expert at the intricacies of evolution and recessive genes and the like. The important thing was that he didn’t pretend to know everything. If he didn’t know the answer to a question, he’d offer to find out – or, often, invite us to research for ourselves and report back.

This honesty and humanity made me trust him. I knew that if he gave me a direct answer, he was certain it was accurate. This kind of trust is so peaceful to the people in your audience. They want to know that they can open up to your information and use it with great confidence themselves.

What about you: How can you confidently express the edges of your expertise? Are you willing to commit to owning what you know and peacefully and confidently saying, “I don’t know” (in whatever words are best for the circumstance) when you are outside of your expertise?

And a bonus one on this one: Where can you share a vulnerability in service of connection? Maybe a story that will help your audience really get it that you understand where they are because you, too, aren’t perfect? (After all, human = not perfect.)

The fact is, if you don’t have rapport – a warm connection – with your audience (whether that audience is live or virtual) you will have a very difficult time getting and keeping their attention. The way to establish that connection is to get to know who they are, understand their experience of life and work and learn what they need and want. Then, from the center of your genuine caring, be of service to them from your area of expertise.

That’s exactly what my Intro to Anthropology professor did and his influence has stayed with me for 24 years – and, in fact, rippled out through lessons I share with my daughters even today.

Making meaningful connection isn’t difficult but it can be hard to “fit in” in our overstimulated world now. That’s why I am thrilled to be a conbloom_your_audience_generaltributor in a brilliant 30-Day Bloom Your Online Relationships Challenge, which invites each of us (I’ll be doing the challenge, too!) to focus on deepening our relationships instead of growing “massive lists” as we are so often told we must do to survive in business. Given the list of leaders contributing their expertise and experience in this challenge, I just know we are all going to get some truly relationship deepening tips we will use for the rest of time. With Téa Godfrey of storybistro.com spearheading this challenge, we can all rest assured that the whole experience will be full of ease and richness.

I’d love to have you join me. You can join here: http://storybistro.com/bloom-audience-30-day-challenge/

 

Special thanks to Davidd on Flickr for the mysteriously framed fedora hat.

Three Strategies for Easing Speaking Anxiety In the Moment

peachtulips

A bit of visual peace for you.

As I stood there on that stage, the only light was the one shining directly on me. Faces shadowed in the stadium seats of the theatre, silence screamed at me: “Say it! Say the next line!” I was petrified, racking my brain for the lines I had prepared so many times. All I could think was, “Oh, Gohd, make me disappear!” I wanted a trap door to open under my feet. Even a big hook from stage left pulling me offstage would have been better.

Speaking anxiety is a wild and burly beast, isn’t it?

 

I wish I had known these three strategies seventeen years ago on that stage in San Francisco.

They would have helped me recover from that moment. (In case you’re curious, I did recover – just barely. And learned a cool lesson, too. You can see me tell the story here.)

Let’s make sure you have these tools in your toolbox now so that next time you have the opportunity to speak and anxiety starts to interfere with your ability to be truly brilliant in that speaking, you can call on them immediately. Here are those three strategies:

1. Catch It Early:

Possibly the trickiest thing about anxiety is that the very thought of experiencing it can make us anxious. In fact you might even be feeling a tiny bit of it as you read this (if you do, go read point #2 below and implement immediately :) )

Here’s a classic example: You are given the opportunity (or assignment) to speak. Your heart skips a beat and your hands get damp (early anxiety arriving on scene). Without even knowing it, this reaction causes you to tuck away this assignment – to “deal with it later.” It’s in the back of your mind but every time it comes up again, that discomfort arrives with it, and you decide something else more pressing must get handled. (Is this sounding familiar? If it does, don’t feel bad. You are so not alone!) By the time you get to preparing for this speaking event, the anxiety has grown even more – and you are pressed for time to boot!

This also happens in the middle of speaking. It happens while standing at the front of the room or on the stage and seeing the first “sea of faces” – or when you realize you just told that last story wrong (even though they have no idea how the story was supposed to go anyway). These are moments when we can catch the anxiety rising early and head it off before it takes us over. The “catch it early” strategy is only about noticing. It’s recognizing in the moment that we are heading toward (but not yet in the spiral of) anxiety. We feel our heartbeat quicken, notice our attention moving away from our message and the audience and into our own heads. The only thing to do in that moment is to notice, stop and implement point #2 below.

2. Take a Belly Breath:

Immediately upon noticing signs of increasing anxiety in your body, take a breath slowly into your belly. You’re probably thinking that will look strange to your audience – stopping and breathing. Trust me, it will do a far better job of keeping your audience engaged and feeling peaceful than if you don’t do this. Of course, wait to finish your current sentence. But only wait that long. Then take a short pause, a deep belly breath – maybe while walking to the other side of the room or stage – then speak again. The calm and ease this will bring you is so good. If you aren’t familiar with how to take a belly breath (it’s quite different than most of us breath normally), here is a video I created last year that shows you how.

This works beautifully in the moment – and it also works way back when you first learn about your speaking opportunity. Take a few deep belly breaths and get started on the preparation immediately. Nothing will ease your anxiety as well as giving yourself plenty of time to prepare!

3. Stay Over with Them and Out of You:

This strategy leads directly from my own speaking mantra, which is: “This is not about me. This is about them and how I can serve them more powerfully.” Read that aloud, will you? This is the truth. This thing you are about to do – this sharing of your message (whether from the stage, as a contributor in class, or writing an article for publication) – it is about service. You are here to make life better for people with your message. The stage, front of the room or whatever other place through which that message channels – it’s just that, a channel for your service to them.

If you can remember this – that it’s all about them – then your “performance” is so much less burdened. Your need to be perfect doesn’t even make sense. Your perfection doesn’t inspire change in others,  human connection and contribution does. Thoughtful, caring, connected communication does. And that’s what you’ve got in you, ready to share with them.

Because you started early enough, prepared like crazy and now, you are here to serve it all up for them.

These are three of my very favorites anxiety-reducing strategies. What are your favorites? Will you share them so we can all add them to our toolkit.

Welcome. Thank you for visiting. May I give you a few gifts?

I am so happy you decided to stop by for a virtual cup of tea with me. I created this very short video to make our greeting a bit more personal:

Welcome to Michelle Barry Franco – Your Soul Crafted Message from Michelle Barry Franco on Vimeo.

Here are those free gifts I mentioned:

Turn Anxiety Into Useful Energy (this is a fabulous list of anxiety reducing strategies to use before you get on stage. You can also use them before a networking event, a client meeting or any other time you feel anxiety getting in the way of you bringing your best expression of yourself.)

Making Your Audience Personal (and Your Speech & Writing Way More Impactful!) (this process will guide you deep into the needs and wants of your audience so you can craft a speech, book, article, or website that truly calls their name.)

Storytelling with Impact (use this guide to pull out the important and powerful elements in a story. Stories are magic! Tell them often and well.)

Please take and use these gifts! I created them because they are processes that have worked for my clients to help them hone their message and step more boldly into making the life-changing impact message-driven, soulful people like us want to make in the world. Please let me know how they work for you!

Finally, do no miss out on my new free offer in the upper, right sidebar . It’s purple and called:  “Make Your Message Stand Out Immediately”  <== you can also click that link.)

I have never shared the Expression Elan process in this detail in a free product and I know you are going to LOVE it. It’s a deep process (15 page PDF) but so worth your time. If you’d like to read how much others love having their Expression Elans (these ones were revealed in one-on-one sessions with me), go here. Of course, I’d love for you to sign up for your own full-on Expression Élan process with me there, too!

It’s You Who Should Be Naked

You know not to picture your audience in their underwear, right?

No matter how often you hear that silly advice, never believe it. Don’t even try it. If you picture them in their undies, you will experience a myriad of distracting thoughts – some of which may be enticing, Yes – but none of which will serve you and your speaking.

The point is, you don’t need to put your audience in a less powerful position than you (which is the underlying goal of the underwear advice) to thrive on stage.

In fact, if anyone should near nakedness in this exchange, it should be you.

The best speaking has a lot in common with stripping down - yourself:

  • You reveal layers of you and your experience that will surprise your audience
  • You take risks in storytelling and passionate expression that can feel a bit like wearing a bikini in a mall
  • You allow for in-the-moment spontaneity and honesty, a sudden “peep show” into the workings of your heart and mind
  • You “bear it all” in great speaking, giving everything you’ve got in service of your audience

The honesty, openness and vulnerability in truly transformational speaking is risky. If you are pushing the edges of your own brilliance and self-expression, there is a chance (a certainty, really) that someone will disagree with your approach. It is even possible that you will get feedback that your daring, creative, naked speaking made someone uncomfortable.

Good. Discomfort inspires change. It’s where growth breeds.

Life-changing speaking must be revealing. It takes radical courage to be tranformative. You must remove your protective layers.

It’s a kind of naked.

So, keep your audience clothed – and make sure you have a soft cotton robe handy for afterward. You have earned a delicious lounge in a cozy place to rejuvenate – until the next disrobing event needs you and your message.

Photo credit here.

 

Thursday Thrill: Find a Stage

It’s Thursday, which means you might be beginning to think about how your week is wrapping up.

Thursdays are workhorse days. They are days to make up for all of the unexpected things that came up the first three days of the week.

That’s why I’m going to suggest a little thrill for you.

You don’t have to take me up on it today (after all, you’re cranking things out today, aren’t you?!)

But maybe you’ll want to do it on Friday, when we like to lighten things up. Or maybe you’ll mix it in with your weekend shenanigans.

In any case, here’s your invitation:

Go find a stage. Any stage.

Here are some places where you can find stages pretty easily:

  • high school auditoriums
  • local theatre houses
  • community center buildings
  • outdoor ampitheatres
  • movie theatres (they’re not elevated, but that area at the front is pretty much a stage)
  • churches

Then, at a time when the room is empty, walk up the stairs (or to the front, facing all those empty chairs) and face the audience. See their expectant faces.

Notice the full house.

Create the picture in your mind of you, there, sharing your life-changing message with power and authenticity.

Feel the yummy satisfaction of arriving there, showing up the way you know you can, and making that Impact.

Doesn’t that feel awesome?!

Now, resolve to yourself that you will arrive another time – possibly on another stage – with those seats full of people and your heart and mind full of your message.

And you will deliver that message, for them.

Because it matters that you do - so very much.

Oh, please do let me know how it goes! And if you have more ideas for where we can all find practice stages, please share them in the comments! You’ll be serving all of us.

Thank you, ParisLemon, for this exciting open stage image.