Starting a new job is scary, right? It’s a bit like your first day of school - you want to make new friends, you don’t want to make a fool of yourself, not to mention proving your skills and expertise to your new employer. Whilst the pressure of this may be slightly less intense if you’re starting the new job from home (there’s nothing like a cup of tea and your fluffy slippers to make you feel more relaxed), you still want to put your best foot forward on each Zoom meeting or virtual webinar. Like at school, you’ll often find that all your worrying about what it might be like, was unnecessary, because as soon as you walk in the door or login you’ll be greeted with warmth and excitement. There are various work situations where your communication is under the spotlight though - meetings and presentations in particular, and it’s important to start off with impact and make a great impression from the get go. Here are some top tips from our trademarked method to make sure your new colleagues and clients see the best version of you as you embark on your amazing new job.
What you say
We’ve all had the experience of sitting through a boring meeting and thinking to ourselves, “Why did they not just put this in an email?”. Whether it’s speaking up in meetings or delivering presentations, the content of what you are saying should be balanced. At LSW we call this the meal plan - it’s about making sure you have the meat, the vegetables and the spice to make your perfect meal.
This technique will help you make you more engaging, authentic and powerful, build connections with your colleagues and deliver stimulating speeches that stand out.
Here's how to do it…
This is your objective. What you are saying and your reason for speaking. Think about the three to five ideas that you have to get across in order to achieve your objective.
The vegetables are your values. It's about connecting into what's really important to you, and your integrity. In the same way vegetables offer vitamins, so do the values. A meal cannot be healthy without them. This is where people admire you, and feel engaged on a gut level.
By this we mean the extra idiosyncrasies - your unique perspective, opinion, feelings, observations - the bit that makes what you're saying pop and unique to you. This is where people laugh and feel connected.
To practise, try rewriting a two-minute presentation you’ve given in the past, or something you need to prepare for a meeting with your new colleagues, and rewrite it with the meal plan.
What your body says
“I don’t like to hear a cut and dried sermon. When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.” - Abraham Lincoln
Back to the meal metaphor! When you cook, you don't just feed the palette, you have to feed the eye. It's the same with communication. When you communicate you feed the eye as well as the ear...
Did you know that 93% of the impression we make comes through our nonverbal communication, and about 55% of that is through our body? Make of this what you will, and of course the value of content is always relevant, but it is important to take into account how much of our message is portrayed not through our words but through our body and voice. It’s all very well perfecting a script and telling a story full of all the right words and numbers to impress your audience, but if your body is telling a counter story, they are far more likely to switch off.
If we do nothing with our body, we will find that this has the effect of constraining us not just physically, but vocally and verbally. Fear can also have this effect on us. Fear sends signals to our brains that we are constrained and therefore curtails everything.
So how do we make sure our body is saying what we want it to say? Fortunately, it is possible to become aware of the messages you are giving out with your body language, and then make sure they are consistent with the messages you want to convey. If we decide to consciously engage our body through gestures, then in turn, this sends signals to our brain that we are engaged, enthusiastic and having fun. This frees up our voices, giving increased melody and resonance, and also frees up our imagination so we bring in more detail, humour, personal perspective and even metaphors.
If you are feeling particularly nervous and defensive and about to go into a meeting, you can make sure your body language is expressing confidence and openness so you give a positive impression to the people around you.
If we strike a powerful posture, we appear more confident and make a stronger impression. This means making yourself larger, taking your shoulders back, making solid and direct eye contact and using firm hand gestures with purpose and intent.
When we use our hands and body to tell our story, as well as our words and voice, our messages become clearer, more engaging and more powerful. Our bodies can create the landscape or our communication. By changing position, we can signal a change of subject. We can separate ideas by moving around to different areas of our stage. Simple, isn't it? This involvement of the body brings an authenticity to the speech because the body is literally describing the scene as well. This also means increased engagement from the audience - they will tend to remember the speech or story better because the gestures act as anchor points in their memory.
If you are giving a presentation, starting with your arms hanging down can be challenging as it can seem like a large distance between your hands and your navel. Instead, start off with your arms bent at your elbows and if you like, you can rest one hand in another in line with your navel. This is a good position of readiness as your hands can spring out into gesture easily from there. This space, from your navel and above, is actually your performance space. So that is where you want your hands to be for any presentation or webinar. To practise, you can try in front of a mirror, perhaps reading a poem and using your arms to shape the scene or tell a story.
Another simple trick to make your communication more engaging is to use ‘active eyes’ to add emphasis to the important words in your sentence. Like a facial highlighter, you can widen your eyes over the important words. The effect of this is twofold:
It draws your listener’s attention directly to that word, making sure the meaning and impact go right in
It pushes you to slow down a little over that word and become more conscious of both saying it and its impact which, in turn, makes it more effective
How you say it
When you use different tones and bring different colours to your voice, your words will inevitably have a different effect on the person you are speaking to. The more aware you are of how your tone affects your listener, the more control you have over what happens in any given situation.
Communication is ultimately about sharing our ideas. The more clearly and engagingly we share our ideas, the more they are brought to life in the listener's imagination. Fillers get in the way of this 'bringing to life' because they interrupt the flow of ideas being transferred from the speaker's head to the listeners. They have to edit out the fillers in order to get a clear idea of what is being said. Even though they do this subconsciously, it still takes effort, which gets in the way of effective communication.
The best solution to this is to swap the fillers with an animated pause. This is a pause filled with intention where you frame the next unit of thought. Instead of a pause you can also use a linking word - 'and', 'now', 'well' or 'because' are examples of these. All you have to do is stretch the word out, while you are framing your next thought - we call this the mozzarella moment!
When you communicate, you are constructing a vocal landscape for your listener.
If your vocal landscape is vibrant and stimulating, you can transmit ideas and feelings effectively to your listener.
You have the power over what they receive and pay attention to
If the listener hears a flat vocal landscape, they have to do all the work building the ideas themselves and will find it hard to pay attention.
If your vocal landscape is colourful and stimulating, you have the power over what they receive and pay attention to.
By putting colour in your voice over certain words, you are yanking at the listener's attention, basically stating this thing is worth listening to. If on the other hand, someone speaks in a dull monotone, they feel justified in switching off, because if the speaker sounds bored by their own message, chances are it's pretty boring!
Your overall intention
No matter your job situation, most of us have had meetings with no structure, where you come out with a page of scribbled notes and think to yourself "right, so what am I supposed to be doing?". You should always go into your meeting or presentation with a clear plan of what you want to achieve - what is the best possible outcome, what do you want to get out of this time? What are the three to five ideas that you have to get across in order to achieve this? Constantly remind yourself of your values - this is the piece that brings in YOU - your authenticity - and makes people sit up and take notice.
And finally, don't forget that you’re entering an entirely new setting, with new colleagues and a whole new way of working, so cut yourself some slack and remember it takes a while to achieve new job success. Put these simple tools on effective communication into practice and you’ll be in the best position as you start your next chapter.
Go show them what you’re made of, and good luck!