It’s Christmas. Whether we are slowing down or speeding up before we stop work, we are all still doing one thing — communicating. Everytime we open our mouths, apps or inboxes, words tumble out of us. So when work is finally done and the Turkey (or nut roast) is in the oven, the tumbling of words will continue. But, is it possible, in this mad period, to control that tumbling, to communicate with impatient colleagues and polite relatives in such a way that you can actually make an impact, enjoy the conversation and still feel like the best version of yourself?
I think so. Like Christmas dinner, it just requires a little preparation. Unlike Christmas dinner, it doesn’t cost a small fortune and only takes 20 minutes of your time (5 to read this blog, 15 to put it into practise). So here are my 5 principles to make sure you glide through through the next few days as a story-telling guru, armed and ready to turn a polite/frustrating exchange into a worthwhile connection.
1) Speak in story because we live in story.
We live our lives in story. We give wildly and sacrifice our time and energy, running marathons and Tough Mudders for causes and charities we care about. I guarantee those charities will have stories, that, in our most convicted moments, we happily re-tell to complete strangers. Uri Hason from Princeton University did a study of the affect of story on people’s brains. The audience were wired up, as was the speaker. Until the speaker started his story, everyone’s brain was lighting up differently, their attention was all over the place. As soon as the speaker began, everyone’s brain (including the speaker) lit up in the same place. They were all connected and on the same page, simply through the act of story-telling. If you want to connect like this with your audience, tell a story!
2) When you tell a story imagine your audience are aliens (you may feel like they are anyway).
Aliens don’t know about our world, so we can’t use jargon when talking to them. We have to paint pictures and be creative with how we describe things. We have to use emotion to translate our passion for what we are talking about. If they hear a phrase they don’t understand they will make up their own definition of it or simply not hear it. As human beings we also do this — we hear a well-known phrase we don’t really get and we let is pass us by. We switch off. Never let the audience switch off. You will be amazed what phrases and words you come up with that actually mean something to you if you work hard at this. If they mean something to you then they will mean something to the audience — passion translates better than words.
3) Speak 10% louder than you normally would and only pause at the end of your sentences.
95% of my clients do not speak loud enough and they have learnt from newsreaders to pause in the middle …… of the sentence. I believe with my whole heart that everybody just wants to hear a series of good, punchy sentences that end well and tell the story. Volume often releases that much needed energy and pressure to deliver the story succinctly.
4) Imagine your audience are child-like in their attention.
Everything is at stake when we tell children a story — will they let us get to the end of the page? Our energy levels are naturally higher. It is just the same with any presentation — we must keep the energy levels high, because everything is at stake. We must start at the beginning, power through to the middle and end on a high. If kids are bored they will get up, walk out of a room and start talking about something else. Adults hide this behind emails, tweets and mental lists of things not done. You can’t phone in a story to children, you have to actually tell it with characters, different voices, your body, your pace. That is simply how you tell a story. Take those principles into your adult audience, and you will see the difference.
5) Stand/sit tall.
Feet- put them shoulder width apart when you are speaking, like you are standing on skis. If your legs are glued together you look like a school boy/soldier. If you cross one foot over the other you look nervous and unconvinced. If you stand with your feet far apart you look like a cowboy! Don’t underestimate the power of a very physically present speaker. It will feel weird, but you will look compelling. And as good old Albert Mehrabian discovered, 55% of what people read from you when you present is in fact, body language.
These five principles are very simple building blocks of communicating powerfully. There is always more, but why not give these a go over the next two weeks and see what difference it makes, to you, to your audience and to the room.