Wow, what a year of sporting activity 2021 is turning out to be! Whether you’re a hardcore football fan, an annual Wimbledon club member or just flick the telly on for your favourite Olympics event every few years, there’s no denying that sport has lifted the nation’s spirits this summer and given us a good distraction to everything that’s happened in the last year. As well as reminding us that sport can unite people from countries that haven’t always seen eye to eye, sport attracts people who are so committed to their goals that they will do anything and everything to achieve them. For them, failure is simply not an option. So, what can we learn from these elite athletes? Here are seven skills that will enhance your communication and relationships in everyday life.
"Sport is the best means of communication between people from different religions and countries." - Yao Ming
1. The power of the pause
Our beloved boys in white may not have brought it home this time but they have taken the nation on an amazing journey through the Euros this summer and we are so proud of them. Many of us have been looking at Gareth Southgate with nothing but admiration. The way he speaks makes you feel that it totally comes from the heart, and this makes us warm to him. How does he achieve this though? What Southgate does in interviews and press conferences is wait a couple of seconds before he answers a question. By using these pauses, he shows us that he is in tune with the subtleties of his own emotions and prepared to discover them and respect his own process, rather than rushing from a cerebral headspace.
It might sound obvious, but by taking a moment to think about what you’re going to say, rather than spewing a random stream of words, you can gather your thoughts and avoid silly mistakes. Like Southgate, give yourself dignity and take the time that you need to tune in with your thoughts so that your response is full of value. Using pauses to divide up your thoughts is one of the most effective ways of sharing your ideas. It makes you sound steady and in control, which, in turn, helps the listener to process what you are saying and stay with you from beginning to end.
Here are three reasons why pausing in speech is crucial:
2. Build a rapport with your audience
The face of the Olympics and just about any sporting event you can think of, Clare Balding has a way of engaging a crowd like no other. She can also get the most out of anyone she interviews. But how does she make it look so easy? It’s all about building a rapport with your audience.
Be prepared to listen and respond to who you’re talking to - little subtleties like making eye contact, laughing along with them and nodding sincerely lets the listener know that you are really engaging with them. This is what we call level two listening - when you’re clearly considering what the other person’s saying and becoming increasingly curious about them, as opposed to thinking about how what they’re saying relates to you. If you’re interested in what someone is saying, it will be obvious to the speaker and they will be encouraged to continue. When you’re conversing with someone, be sure to ask relevant and open questions. This shows that you’ve heard what they’ve said, understood the information and retained it.
3. Practice really does make perfect!
We’ve all heard about the crazy diet of Michael Phelps and the Olympians who have been fully committed to hardcore training since they were five years old. We’re not saying you need to go that far, but we do agree with that classic saying, practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to improving your communication. Many people believe that communicating brilliantly is something you are born with, and if you’re not, that’s just bad luck. We’re here to debunk that theory...
At London Speech Workshop we hand over simple tools that make speaking easier. This seems obvious, but it is often overlooked: there is nothing like practice to get you ready for an important presentation or speech. If you have not rehearsed, you are more likely to have a lack of focus and intent in what you are saying, partly because you yourself do not know where it is heading. Practicing in front of a mirror will help you to become familiar with it, build muscle memory and identify rough spots. Try recording a voice note or filming yourself, then analyse what you liked and the bits you can improve. If you are able to practice in front of an audience, take notice of when they seem engaged and when they are not. At the end, ask for their levels of engagement at different points and what they got out of it, and see if that aligns with your objectives.
4. Do a power position before you speak
Some people are completely at ease when they speak to an audience, while nerves get the better of others. Some of the world’s greatest sports players are terrified of public speaking, but their need to play their sport is greater than this fear, so they overcome this dread. If you really want to communicate your message, embrace your need to speak.
Use your body to send positive signals to your brain. It has been proven that if you stand in a power position for two minutes, you will significantly reduce the cortisol stress hormone in your system and elevate your energising testosterone levels. So before speaking, go somewhere private and stand with your arms outstretched and legs open and firmly planted on the ground. To understand this better, Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk explains it perfectly.
5. Turn your errors into powerful lessons
“I know fear is an obstacle to some people, but it is just an illusion to me.” - Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan didn’t make the team when he first tried out for basketball at school. Instead of giving up though, he overcame his fear of failure by simply working harder. Despite losing the first few seasons, he never let embarrassment fuel fear. And now look at him! The same can be applied to everyday life. So how do we respond effectively to our mistakes and bad judgements?
Try owning up to your errors by turning them into something you can learn from. Focus on where the mistakes have helped you learn, grow, make new plans for the future and most importantly not make the same mistakes again. Rather than running away from failure, turn it into a ‘powerful event’ - this invites positive reflection and puts you in a better position to learn from it. Read our blog on how mistakes bring powerful lessons.
6. Claim your space
Throughout the Euros, were you in awe of Jordan Pickford’s ability to dive several metres with milliseconds of notice? We certainly were! Goalkeepers have the immense challenge of covering a 24 x 8 ft goal. How do they do this? By making themselves huge and powerful, poised to change direction at any given moment. And believe it or not, this technique can be transferred to public speaking!
Whether you’re standing on a stage or in a meeting room, take a moment to find your position and notice the space you’re in. Stand firmly and use the floor to ground you; it can help you feel anchored and confident. Ensure your posture is upright and your shoulders are back and down. Use the space around you to your advantage - don’t feel that you have to stay in one place the whole time. The more you use your body, the more it creates a positive feedback loop for you internally because it sends a message to your brain that you are feeling comfortable and confident. That in turn frees up your vocal resonance and your imagination. It also brings to life what you’re saying and shows your audience that you are truly enjoying your words.
7. How to remain calm under pressure
Roger Federer shows us that even when the whole world is watching you, it’s possible to remain calm and confident. He adopts a calm exterior and doesn't allow the pressure to get to him, even on the grandest of stages. There are ways you can achieve this if you put your mind to it.
Before a presentation, breathe everything out and then take five deep breaths. This takes you out of your fight or flight mode and into your space when you're feeling more relaxed. Change the messages you tell yourself about what's going on in your body. If you have sweaty palms and your heart is racing, tell yourself you're excited! Remember we’re not born with confidence or zero confidence - it’s something we all have available to us, and it’s just a question of finding it through simple tools. Download our fantastic eBook on how to sound confident even when you’re not.
8. Try positive visualisation
Positive visualisation is an incredible skill that separates the elite athletes from the average ones. With the help of sports psychologists, they are taught to visualise their athletic performance from start to finish, imagining how it feels to perform in the desired way. This technique uses all of the senses - perhaps they can they hear the roar of the crowd, feel the sweat on their brow and see the finish line.
And guess what, we use it in communication too! Let's say you have an interview coming up. Rather than imagining all the things that could go wrong, picture the perfect scenario in your head - think about what you're wearing, how you enter the room, what the interviewer's handshake feels like and how they react when you answer all the questions to the best of your abilities. This creates positive brain pathways so when it comes to the real thing, you'll know what to do!
That's all for now folks. Try out some of these simple communication exercises in everyday life and see what you can learn from your heroes.
Good luck and let us know how you get on!
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